Subhash K Jha: They don’t make screen-moms like Rekha and Hema any more!

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It is deliciously ironical that during the week that our tennis queen Sania Mirza announced she would marry in Pakistan, comes this film where the young desi pair threatens to get married and move to Pakistan.

Life often imitates art. And art is often a close companion of kitsch and melodrama. Kitschy melodrama is attacked by purists. But there’s something to be said about a good old-fashioned melodrama like Sadiyaan where the biological and foster mothers, played by Hema Malini and Rekha respectively, vie for a son’s love and attention and outdo each other in the sacrificial arena.

They don’t make screen-moms like Rekha and Hema any more.

Raj Kanwar induces great dignity into the tussle between the modern day Devaki and Yashodhara. Yup,there’s something to be said in favour of nostalgia. Just see how Hema Malini, Rekha and Rishi Kapoor light up the screen in this surprisingly-watchable-in-parts ode to fugitive parenthood. Cleverly veteran director Raj Kanwar who in the past has made some very successful melodramas, focuses on the older generation in the second-half so that the story of young love gets a strong back-projection.

Sadiyaan has its heart in the right place even when it, the heart rests in callow place. The courtship between the two newcomers in the first-half lacks a virile force. The rituals of romance are rather routine. As a matter of fact the cynics can accuse the scriptwriters of investing too much heart into this tale about the pangs of Partition that tore India into two messy halves more than sixty years ago.

We’ve had some remarkable Hindi films on Partition ranging from the classic Garam Hawa to the extraordinary-in-its-own-rights Gadar Ek Prem Kahani. Sadiyaan is not quite in the same league. It isn’t lacking in emotions. Nor does the narrative miss out on putting the right punctuation marks in every sequence. What prevents the film from taking wings is also the quality that lifts the film above the culture of prevalent puerility.

Sadiyaan has that fast-fading quality called tehzeeb. To get to that core of genteel emotions one has to forego the fast-food pleasures of contemporary commercial cinema where any shot that lasts more than 5 seconds is considered distracting. Sadiyaan revels in lingering moments and interactive dialogues that speak of mythology in a semi-historical context.

The main actors lead the narrative gracefully into a heartwarming conclusion.

The dialogues by Javed Siddiqui convey a cutting edge touching long-forgotten chords and opening wounds of history’s failings that never healed without getting involved in polemics. Anshul Chobey’s camera sweeps over the idyllic innocence of Amritsar with a panoramic grace.

The debutant Luv Sinha conveys a rawness and innocence that go well with his character. His dialogue delivery and body language need fine-tuning. Time always takes care of the rough edges. That’s what this film is about.

Trust the strong stalwart cast to steel and steal Raj Kanwar’s engaging screenplay. Rekha and Hema Malini as young Sinha’s two screen moms are a study in contrast. Rekha is exuberant and restless and quite an antithesis to her husky mysterious characters. Hema is dignity and restrain personified. Her arrival after intermission signals the film’s most watchable portion. As for Rishi Kapoor, has he ever let a film down?

The narrative follows old-world conventions like comic relief (between an Indian and Pakistani domestic help) and a Mujra (performed spiritedly by Neetu Chandra) during the wedding. But it’s the irony at the core of the plot that sweeps us over the glitches and hiccups. A Hindu mother decides to find her adoptive son’s biological Muslim parents so he can marry the girl of his choice.

Sadiyaan appeals at a very basic level. They don’t make too many movies like these any more.

Rating: ***

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