It may have been over two decades since the release of Arth (1982), but it returns as a recurring reference for every film on infidelity, the latest being Vikram Bhatt’s Ankahee and Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna.
Similar is the case with two other films from the 80’s, now invoked as classics in their genre — Ardh Satya (honest cop against a corrupt system, 1983) and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (satire, 1983). The three have inspired innumerable scenes, characters and lines ever since.
In a candid tête-à-tête with some who contributed to the making of their magic, HT Style finds what makes them landmark movies in Indian cinema and a yardstick for subsequent films on issues they may not have been the first to tackle, but left their stamp on.
Shabana Azmi on Arth
At a retrospective of my films at the American Film Institute in Washington DC a few years ago, I was amazed to find the kind of reaction
evoked in an audience that comprised largely of white Americans.
In the early 80’s, when the film was first released, I used to have motley groups of women turn up at my house not as fans, but expecting me to resolve all their marital conflicts. Over the years I have met thousands of women who tell me how Arth gave them the courage to restore their sense of dignity in a marriage gone sour.
Infidelity is as old as the human being is. What has changed is the response to it. Pooja in Arth, begs her husband to give her another chance but he doesn’t.
That is her liberation. She discovers herself, her strength. She finds the magnanimity to forgive the woman who snatched away her husband. She finds the courage to walk away from another crutch, a young man in love with her. She has the confidence to ask her husband if he would have forgiven her had she left him for another man. When he is honest enough to say no, she walks away – not gloating but with serenity.
Distributors loved the film but begged us to change the end because Indian audiences would never accept a wife who would choose to leave. They were wrong. Arth became a cult film because of its end. Men would ask if Pooja wasn’t destroying the institution of marriage. She wasn’t – she was challenging the status quo.
Twenty odd years later the new age man is inching towards acceptance of the changed equation and that’s why Arth remains the definitive film on infidelity.
Mahesh Bhatt made me wrench my guts out in Arth. and I will always be grateful to him for giving me Arth.
Kundan Shah on Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro
‘I will eat my hat if it doesn’t run…’ Naseeruddin Shah said when he first saw the film, but we never thought it would be such a cult film. The film was made on a wafer-thin budget of just Rs 7,30,000, thanks to NFDC. What made it unique was perhaps the inclusion of events from my life and its references to high-society through some studied caricatures.
Om Puri on Ardh Satya
It was pathbreaking in many ways. It was a well made film, based on a real-life short story written by a customs officer, developed into a masterly screenplay by Vijay Tendulkar. It became a cult film courtesy its success sans any songs or attendant paraphernalia, making it a reference point for anyone wanting to attempt a realistic policeman’s role. It not only endeared itself to the middle class, but also touched the working class, which was assumed to only view the escapist, commercial cinema.