Gulzar’s Namkeen was the Jee Le Zaraa of its time that cast three female stalwarts in one film


When Farhan Akhtar announced Jee Le Zaraa with three leading female actors, it was applauded for such films are not made very often. But 41 years ago, Gulzar made a film with three leading women that never got as much recognition.

sharmila tagore, shabana azmi, namkeen, gulzarGulzar’s Namkeen stars Waheeda Rehman, Sharmila Tagore and Shabana Azmi with Sanjeev Kumar. (Photo: Express Archives)

Listen to this article
Your browser does not support the audio element.

It has been a couple of years since Farhan Akhtar first announced his next film Jee Le Zaraa with Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt. While no one knows the details about the film, a lot has been speculated about the male actors that would be cast in the film. It is famously known that there aren’t many male actors who jump on the chance of working in a film that’s largely driven by female characters and while the reason for the same has been speculated by many, one can imagine that most mainstream heroes are more interested in being the star of the film, than be one of the actors. But, when Gulzar made Namkeen in 1982 with Waheeda Rehman, Sharmila Tagore and Shabana Azmi, who are possibly the best actors of their respective eras, he cast Sanjeev Kumar in a role that wasn’t heroic in a traditional sense.

Namkeen opens with Sanjeev’s Gerulal arriving to a small town in the mountains where he is supposed to live with a family of four women as a tenant. Gerulal finds this arrangement odd and wonders if ‘there are no men’ in this town who can offer him a place to stay. He comes from a world where women aren’t supposed to support themselves. The director reminds us time and again that the neighbourhood sees this house full of women as an opportunity and no one leaves a chance to attack them like vultures. But, the women, without making a statement about their independence and liberty, continue to live their life as they see fit. Waheeda plays the matriarch who is starting to lose her memory with age but the memory of her abusive husband has scarred her so deep that even his name alerts her senses.

Sharmila Tagore, Shabana Azmi and Kiran Vairale play the three sisters who are struggling to make ends meet while also trying to keep themselves safe. They know their bittersweet life has no chance for a turnaround. When Gerulal moves in, he offers to help the women with their daily chores, but Sharmila’s Nimki, the pragmatic one, declines. Not because it’s an attack on their independence but because she knows that they need to survive on their own. Shabana’s Mithu likes to look at life through her rose-tinted glasses but that’s largely because the ill-treatment of her abusive father has left her mute and she now chooses to look the other way.

Sharmila Tagore and Sanjeev Kumar in Gulzar’s Namkeen. (Photo: Express Archives)

Gulzar’s storytelling here is a constant reminder that we live in a world where one’s gender ends up defining their existence. The women of this story are aware that the society around them is exploitative, so they choose to live a quiet life without making much noise but little do they know that their existence is enough to invite lechers. Gerulal wishes to be the agent of change in these women’s lives but Nimki’s pragmatism has solidified her belief that there is no escape from life’s struggles so she rejects his proposal. In a significant scene, when Gerulal runs into Chinki many years later and learns that the sisters aren’t a family anymore, he isn’t shocked to learn that the vultures tore them apart.

In an earlier chat with Subhash K Jha, Gulzar spoke about Namkeen and Gerulal’s relationship with the four women. “To me, the most interesting part of Namkeen were these four women, one of them past the age of marriage, the other at a marriageable age and the third approaching the age of marriage. And their mother who is worried about them. I underlined her fears in my film. And the way the women cling to the man who enters their life. Soon, he ceases to be just a tenant and becomes their support system. He shares a unique relationship with each one of them,” he said.

Gulzar’s Namkeen released in 1982. (Photo: Express Archives)

Namkeen’s three sisters are each named after a flavour, which describes them in some way. While Sharmila’s character is named Nimki, she is not the reason behind the film’s title. Gulzar spoke about the same and said, “The film’s title Namkeen had a special relevance. I feel a film should be defined totally by its title. One of the sisters was named Nimki. But that’s not why I called the film Namkeen. If one tries to probe a title it ends up sounding absurd. A film’s title should have the space to grow with time,” he said.

41 years later, the film’s title has grown, and so have its characters. Nimki and Gerulal’s innocent love story that finds a bittersweet end finds its conclusion amid a sea of tragedy but much like everything else here, it gives them the hope to move on.

© IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd

First published on: 06-05-2023 at 08:01 IST

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top