This story of an illegitimate child is a real weepie, which picks up the theme of forgiveness that runs through so many Hindi movies. It is said to be based on Man, Woman and Child (1982), a film adapted from the book of the same name by Erich Segal of Love Story fame, although, in a seeming reversal of trends, this version by Gulzar seems less melodramatic than the western one.
D. K. Malhotra (Naseeruddin Shah) lives a seemingly idyllic life with his beautiful wife Indu (Shabana Azmi) and their two little girls, Twinkle (the young Urmila Matondkar, who later became a star in Rangeela) and Minni (Aradhana, a true star who, I believe, died soon after the film was made). However, it emerges that he had had an affair with Bhavna (Supriya Pathak), a desperately lonely woman, at his college reunion and a son, Rahul (the young Jugal Hansraj), was born. After Bhavna’s death, D. K. is told about Rahul, who comes to live with D. K.’s family in Delhi. Indu cannot forgive her husband, whom she now rejects, and refuses to accept Rahul. Indu uses harsh words to Rahul but occasionally moves towards him, only to draw away again. The girls welcome Rahul immediately and D. K. and Rahul develop a close relationship, although D. K. cannot bring himself to tell his son that he is his father whom he hopes one day will come to find him. Rahul finds a letter that reveals his parentage and runs away. Indu tries to accept him but cannot until the ultimate moment of the film.
The theme of forgiveness runs throughout. Even Bhavna’s ‘sin’ is forgiven by the narrative, as her affair with D. K. is explained as the action of someone deprived of all affection. The girls and Rahul are shown to be naturally forgiving and accepting of others, and are clearly the model to follow. Both the protagonists are in need of forgiveness: D. K. needs Indu to forgive him for his affair, while she needs to be forgiven for her refusal to let herself love an innocent (masoom) child because of her husband’s actions.
The pain of the two adult protagonists and Rahul is dwelt on at great length. It is occasionally verbalised, but the film uses gesture and performance, as well as song, to convey the emotions of the characters. The skill of the film-maker is to make us understand Indu’s treatment of Rahul, even while we sympathise with him. There is only one solution, namely the reunion of all the family, but the route to this is shown to be realistically difficult.
Masoom reveals a great upper-middle-class sensibility in its characters, their occupations and lifestyle. The women’s saris have an almost nostalgic value for a certain kind of elegance associated with the Delhi elite. The music is the light classical type, with haunting melodies by R. D. Burman and lyrics by Gulzar, including ‘Tujhse naaraz nahin zindagi’ (Lata Mangeshkar).
Naseeruddin Shah, one of India’s major acting talents, delivers an outstanding performance as the errant husband and devoted father, as does Shabana Azmi, who manages to portray her deep ambivalence to the child. Saeed Jaffrey, as always, provides strong support and the children are excellent.
Shekhar Kapur has made few Hindi films but all of them have been significant, including Mr India and Bandit Queen.
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 1982, Genre – Drama, Country – India, Language – Hindi, Producer – Chanda Dutt, Devi Dutt, Director – Shekhar Kapur, Music Director – R. D. Burman, Cast – Naseeruddin Shah, Saeed Jaffrey, Shabana Azmi, Supriya Pathak, Urmila Matondkar, Tanuja, Jugal Hansraj