Gulzar’s Aandhi is not just ‘that film on Indira Gandhi’, Sanjeev Kumar-Suchitra Sen explore how lack of ambition can ruin relationships

Gulzar’s Aandhi is not just ‘that film on Indira Gandhi’, Sanjeev Kumar-Suchitra Sen explore how lack of ambition can ruin relationships

When Gulzar’s Aandhi was up for release in 1975, it was said that the film was based on the life of then PM Indira Gandhi. While the filmmaker kept insisting that the Suchitra Sen, Sanjeev Kumar starrer had nothing to do with Gandhi, comparisons were made based on how the character played by Sen was styled in Indira Gandhi’s fashion, how she looked like an ambitious woman, how she walked with purpose. It’s not like Indira Gandhi had a trademark over any of those not-so-specific traits but there were such few female politicians at the time that the introduction of a fictional character had people comparing her to the PM. The film screened in theatres for a while, but was then banned since it was decided that the film could affect the outcome of the general elections of 1975.

In the years since, Aandhi has been remembered for how it caused the aforementioned controversy, the music lovers remember it for its music by RD Burman that had some classics like ‘Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi’, ‘Tum Aa Gaye Ho’, ‘Is Mod Se Jate Hain’ and while those are all the things that could describe Aandhi, that’s not what the film is about. Aandhi is the story of a highly educated, ambitious woman, Aarti (played by Sen) who falls in love with a man, JK (played by Kumar), who does not want much from life. As long as he earns enough to pay the bills, and can write some poetry, he is satisfied. Aarti comes from an affluent family so there is an obvious economic and class divide between the two, but that is not what bothers her, she is affected by the lack of ambition that plagues JK.

Suchitra Sen and Sanjeev Kumar in Aandhi.

When Aarti decides to get married and shares this with her father, he is disappointed in her and not because JK isn’t of the same social class, but because he knows that marriage is the end of the road for a woman in this society. He wants her to be someone of importance, and not just a woman who run her household. Upon Aarti’s insistence, she and JK get married and this is where Gulzar starts to navigate how the lack of ambition in one partner can draw a wedge between the two.

Sanjeev Kumar’s JK does not want Aarti to be involved in politics, and she wants him to do better in life. After ignoring their little disagreements for a few years, they part ways when she decides that her dreams are worth more than her life as a homemaker. She packs up her bag, and leaves. JK, who has never supported Aarti in her endeavours, does not want to be an obstacle. All he demands is that if she were to leave, she should do that quietly. In a parting note, she writes, ‘Agar hum ek dusre ki taraqqi ki vajah nahi ban sakte, toh ek dusre ki barbaadi ka kaaran bhi kyu bane (If we can’t be the reason for each other’s success, then why be the cause of each other’s tragedy)?’

Gulzar keeps underlining how women are not supported by their partners when they want to work, but he also does not villainise JK explicitly. Rather, he keeps going back to how they continue to love each other even a decade later. Aarti enjoys revisiting those little pockets of memories where she would cook in the kitchen, JK flips through an old photo album to revisit those earlier chapters from his life. The two share a daughter and in a very unorthodox move, the film chooses to not trap Aarti for her ‘duty’ towards her daughter. This is where the film’s other unorthodox choice appears as well – JK, too, has no qualms about raising their daughter alone and never complained about Aarti leaving the child with a single parent. There are no right or wrong choices when it comes to the decisions of fictional characters, but it is almost unbelievable to watch a man not complain that his wife left him and his daughter behind.

Aarti leaves JK and her daughter and the film does not blame her for her actions.

As the film jumps between flashbacks and the present timeline, it is obvious that not much has changed in their personality, and their present-day relationship soon starts mirroring the one they shared years ago.

In the most powerful scene of the film, Aarti and JK look at each other silently as she has just won the election. He knows that this time too, Aarti is going to leave him. She looks at him with a grace that makes her proud of her achievements, and a longing that conveys that she is going to miss his love. He looks at her with a quiet understanding that he might not enjoy her professional space, but he understands that this is where she ought to be. In that one scene, Gulzar conveys the essence of the film.

Sanjeev Kumar and Gulzar received a lot of accolades for the film. With many awards coming his way, the actor was applauded for his sensitive portrayal of a man who was seen as ‘progressive’ at the time. Gulzar was praised for putting forth a story set in the ruthless world of politics that has no place for love, as the film’s core idea explored how relationships need more understanding, than love.

For Suchitra Sen, this was one of her last films as an actor as she moved away from the screen shortly after Aandhi. After being involved in many controversies, Aandhi released on television after the Emergency was over in 1977 and is still often quoted when any mainstream Hindi film runs into political controversy.


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