No, it clearly cannot get any better. Shashi and Rekha are fab! And remember Koncam Koncam?! (Ooh-ooh-ooh!)
By the way, India Weekly: it's been a month now, and we are still waiting on Vijeta. Any day now. Any day now.
The real review: First of all, large kudos to Gulzar for tackling a thorny, oft-mishandled subject - mental illness - with sensitivity and sympathy. Baseraa is a quiet, unassuming movie that instantly appeals by combining (1) the painful emotional ironies of your standard, squishy masala dil with (2) interesting variation, intelligence and maturity. It reminded us a lot of Masoom, in that it was a naturalist portrayal of domestic life gone horribly awry. Also, like Masoom, the narrative structure was like an onion: as things progressed, important points were revealed, layer by layer. This was in startling contrast to the usual 1970s masala convention of beginning immediately on a prologue/info dump. Baseraa, instead, often teases you with allusions to unknown past events which are only later explained. Despite our love of straightforward, populist masala, we at the PPCC are actually BIG BIG fans of zero exposition. We like to work for our narrative. Hence, we were lovin' Baseraa.
Have Rekha and Rakhee been in anything else together? They were fab!
More wonderful Shashi-Rekha. With some angst, plz.
The story follows the your usual happy family clearly on the way to destruction. There is, as per usual, the jolly father, Balraj (Shashi Kapoor), the good-humored mother, Nima (Rekha), and their two sons, Sagar (Raj Kiran, who played Shashi's romantic rival in Bezubaan released the same year) and Babbu (Master Vikas). Sagar is now of marriageable age, and he has fallen in love with the pretty, smart med student Sarita (Phoonam Dillon). Sarita is clearly your Perfect Daughter-in-Law, and in one sweet scene, she stuns the family by singing early morning pooja. The parents heartily approve, and all seems well.
There's even a children's song, like the one in Masoom.
However, already there are cracks in the perfect façade. It is revealed that the mother of Sagar is actually Sharda (Rakhee, real-life wife of Gulzar) - Balraj's first wife, Nima's older sister. Fourteen years ago, it seems Sharda had been having psychotic episodes. Eventually, she had to be taken to the local asylum. The family still grieves for Sharda, and they are in close contact with her doctor, Dr. Gokhale (Iftikhar, who is always in everything!). Sharda has recently had a minor accident in the asylum. When she recovers, however, her mental illness seems to have dramatically improved, and Dr. Gokhale decides to try to continue the improvements by sending her home to heal. He informs the family, however, that Sharda's mental health is fragile, and so no big emotional shocks, please. Ergo, Balraj and Nima must revert to their roles from 14 years earlier: Balraj as Sharda's husband, and Nima as a widow. The rest of the film watches this impossible drama unfold.
There is much angst, as you'd expect.
Which is juxtaposed nicely against flashbacks where everyone was a lot happier. Rekha, in particular, is so much fun when she's allowed to be a bit crazy! (e.g. her Punjabi disguise with Amitabh in Suhaag!)
The weakest point of the film, for us, is the somewhat tenuous tension. Sharda's mental illness is never specified, and Dr. Gokhale's advice that everyone must pretend it's fourteen years ago is a little hard to believe. Sure, it must suck to be Sharda, when your sister has wed your husband, but we couldn't really imagine her going demented over it - at least, the movie seemed far too realistic to resort to such a filmi convention. Another weak point was the misguided use of whatever drum that was. It was your standard comedy slapstick drum sound, but they kept using it whenever they needed to emphasize a tragic point.
Nonetheless, the film was so well done in other ways that we overlooked the kind-of-silly plot idea and the drum. Rekha, Rakhee and Shashi all gave good, honest performances - in other words, they were in their 'Parallel Cinema' modes, which we love! But the best aspect, for us, was the portrayal of Sharda's mental illness. Rather than exploiting it for laughs or demonizing it, Sharda's illness is portrayed as just that - an illness. In one poignant scene, Balraj loses patience with Sharda, and she reminds him that she never wanted to be ill, and she hates it as much as he does. Another effective scene is in a brief flashback, when Balraj and Nima remember the day Sharda was taken away. In a very long tracking shot from the bedroom, down the stairs, to the living room, the camera follows the tumult as hospital workers restrain Sharda, while her husband and her doctor try to calm her. It's very painful to watch, and thankfully it is presented honestly and straightforwardly, with little melodramatic embellishment.
The most painful scene, done with a great tracking shot.
Poor Rekha, too! Poor son! Poor all of you!
The songs were mostly OK, with our favorite being the one where Balraj remembers his life with Sharda. It had a lovely haunting quality, relying mostly on Lata's voice and the piano. But we don't feel confident to judge the songs or the dialogue, since Gulzar is always lauded as being such a poet, and yet we can't understand Hindi all that well (and our subtitles kind of sucked too).
Overall, we've been really enjoying these early 80s Shashi films. After all the excitement of the 60s and 70s, they are a welcome respite. One of these days, we'll make a list of our favorite Shashi movies, and a lot of these 80s movies are definitely going to show up. And ARRGH India Weekly! Now we're dying to see Vijeta - especially after this wonderful clip and after learning that it was directed by Govind Nihalani, who directed the powerful Droh Kaal! Aaarghhh.