Classic 'Gharonda' resonates even after 40 years; Watch it to know why

·Columnist
·7-min read

Director: Bhimsain

Cast: Amol Palekar, Zarina Wahab and Dr Shreeram Lagoo

Story: Dr. Shanker Shesh

Screenplay: Gulzar

Dialogue: Gulzar/Bhushan Banmali

Music: Jaidev

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Gharonda (1977) is an urban narrative that spotlights challenges of modern-day living. Of the hunt for a home in an exorbitant metro. A world where dreams touch the sky but are measured stringently in square feet. Where preserving the self often claims the soul.

Along with the aspirations of possessing the proverbial home, runs a subtext of relationships. Of how romance surrenders to survival. How compromise transforms into commitment. How heartbreak, no matter how debilitating, is not the end of the road. Just a detour… in a winding journey…

In Bhimsain’s Gharonda there are no villains. Only humans, who falter, fail and eventually find themselves. Apart from the three central characters Sudeep (Amol Palekar), Chhaya (Zarina Wahab) and Modi (Dr Shreeram Lagoo) there is a fourth character – the city of Bombay. 

Against Bombay's lofty skyscrapers and clustered chawls, plays out a drama of hope, dejection and acquiescence ably aided by Gulzar’s allegories and Jaidev’s tunes. Gharonda is an ode to the maximum city, which beguiles all yet owes fidelity to none…

STORY:

Sudip, a clerk, falls in love with the new typist in office Chhaya. Both of humble origins dream of giving a ‘concrete’ culmination to their love in a city that has no empathy for have-nots. They moonlight odd-jobs to bulk their earnings. Sudip eventually books a house. But he’s duped of the money.

Broken and bereft, in a weedy moment, he suggests Chhaya marries their millionaire boss Modi, who has a glad eye for her. The 50-plus and ailing proprietor would anyway succumb to his feeble heart. That would be a ‘shortcut’ to their dreams.

Chhaya is enraged with this wheeler-dealer pitch. On the rebound, she marries Modi. Sudip, on the other hand, spirals down into depression and debt. He stalks Chhaya, asking her to return into his life. Chhaya and Sudip undergo their individual moments of epiphany along with Modi, who’s aware of the shenanigans a past love can play.

Revisiting the film through its characters…

SUDIP (AMOL PALEKAR)

Tailored bell bottoms, partially unbuttoned shirts, habitually reaching for a smoke, Sudip is a plebeian prototype. 

His extra-helpfulness wins over rookie Chhaya.

Realising that she’s no girl you can just have fun with, Sudip wants to marry her. Stretching himself to the limit, Sudip manages to buy a house only to get swindled. 

A broken Sudip, suggests that they adopt the rules of the game. Justifying, “Yahan doosron ke sar par pao rakh kar hi aadmi upar chaddh sakta hai,” he encourages Chhaya to marry their millionaire boss, Modi, whose mortality is imminent.

Chhaya is disillusioned by Sudip’s pliable ethics. As reprisal, she marries Modi. Sudip loses Chhaya forever. Desperate, he makes a last-ditch attempt in influencing her to flee with him. 

Amol Palekar’s character as Sudip traverses an arc. First as a flirtatious young man, then a man with honourable intentions and then as the man consumed by jealousy and a Devdas-kind of descent.

The melancholic Ek akela iss shaher mein, an antithesis to the chirpy Do deewane (Gulzar won the Filmfare Award for Best Lyricist), resonates Sudip’s loneliness as also the indifference of the city.

Sudip’s shaken out of his defeatist inertia when Modi chides him for taking ‘shortcuts’, at the same time giving him the option to take Chhaya along. Modi’s generosity of spirit leaves him both embarrassed and enlightened. 

Zinadgi sirf chayya (illusion) nahin!” saying this Sudip walks away. Bhupinder’s refrain, “Jab haath pakadle raah koi uss rah ko manzil kar lena,” plays in the background as Sudip cuts a vignette blurring (or blending) amidst the high-rises…

CHHAYA (Zarina Wahab)

A fuss-free bun, home-washed cotton sarees, a sling bag that’s more functional than fancy… Zarina Wahab’s Chhaya is earthy in demeanour and earnest in love.

Chhaya’s nevertheless impetuous. Like when she rebukes Sudip for taking her to his lodge with not exactly honourable intentions. Like when aghast at Modi’s audacity to sponsor her brother’s education, she accuses him saying, “Aapke mann mein paap hai!”

Or when she breaks up with Sudip, appalled that he wants her to enter into a marriage of motives with Modi. “Chhee! Kisi ki kabr pe mera ghar banaaongi?” is her outburst.

But when she has made the choice, she honours it. It’s her surrender, her care, that sets the thaw in their uneven relationship. The cocoon of luxury however cannot distance her from Sudip’s pain.

Though her heart bleeds for Sudip, she cannot dishonour her vows. In an act of integrity, she makes Modi a part of her dilemma and the denouement. Her name Chhaya has two connotations – she’s a shadow for Sudeep and shade for Modi.

MODI (Dr Shreeram Lagoo)

Dr Shreeram Lagoo’s Modi is the ‘supporting character’ in the film. But in fact, he’s the mover and shaker of the narrative.

He’s all mind, all method, as in his business dealings. He hires Chhaya because she resembles his late wife. And he straight talks to her: “Tum mujhe acchi lagti ho.” 

Though not perceptibly exploitative, he proposes to Chhaya though he’s aware of her relationship with Sudip. He offers a loan to her brother, which is not devoid of self-interest. 

He censures Chhaya for carrying the ‘garibi ka medal’ around her neck. “Maddat lene mein aur dene mein mujhe koi complex nahin,” is his maxim for mutual benefit.

Zarina Wahab and Dr Shreeram Lagoo in Gharonda
Zarina Wahab and Dr Shreeram Lagoo in Gharonda

Yet Modi’s also all heart. Like when he refers to his erratic ECG as the ‘language of the heart’. Or when he says, “Majboor hoon iss dil se. Heart patient hoon na,” his humour is evident. He’s a connoisseur of sentiments as sensed in his choice of ghazals (Begum Akhtar’s Apnon ke situm plays in his drawing room).

When he visits Chhaya's chawl – out of breath because of the climb, yet holding the bouquet – there’s a fragrance of truth. His steely eyes, which can size up a person, later also reflect the fear of Chhaya deserting him.

It’s his magnanimity when he credits Sudip for helping them all find closure saying, “Sudip ne mera karza maaf kar diya hai!” 

A Best Supporting Actor Filmfare Award was a befitting honour for Dr Lagoo.

BOMBAY CITY

Bhimsain and cinematographer Apurba Kishore Bir along with Binod Pradhan, D. G. Debudhar and Virendra Saini, capture the scent and sweat of the maximum city. 

The camera sweeps across the city’s much-frequented beaches, the now defunct Café Naaz atop Malabar Hill, the rocks at Bandra Fort… with the ease of a native.

The song Tumhe hona ho, evocative of love in denial yet yielding, is written by Naqsh Lyallpuri and sung by Runa Laila. Filmed across beaches, where naryal pani and chaat raise a toast to romance, it captures a megapolis where there’s plenty of room for love though little privacy.

The frames bring out the dichotomy peculiar to the city – contrasting skyscrapers with threadbare tenements (where curtains double up for bathroom doors), the screeching 10 am siren and the ‘clickety’ typewriter…

A city where brooding nights and balmy days learn to co-exist… where everything can be bought and sold. “Yeh Bambai hai, pyaare! Yahan toh shamshan ki raakh bhi bikta hai,” says a character in the film.

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The most moving symbol however remains the Charni Road overbridge.

The bridge that once stood witness to their love, becomes an allusion of their estrangement. The bridge that sees a thousand footfalls in a day, mourns their faded footprints…

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