Oooohhh, Arth is an incredible film!
Every bit worth the wait it took it get my hands on a copy that actually played (Special thank you to Nicki for sending me one--you're a sweetheart, girl!), Arth was probably one of the best Hindi films I've ever seen. First of all, it stars not one, but two remarkable women in Indian cinema--Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil. Need I say more?
The movie is about a woman named Pooja(Shabana Azmi) whose husband, Inder (Kulbhushan Kharbanda)is having an affair with a film actress(named Kavita, played by the late Smita Patil!). When news of Inder and Kavita's tryst comes to light, Pooja finds herself alone and abandoned. With nowhere to go, she ends up living at a women's hostel, having to learn how to support herself as a newly single woman. She finds solace in friendship with Raj (Raj Kiran), a musician who appreciates what Inder did not.
Sounds simple, right? Well, actually it is. Unlike most Bollywood films, there aren't many plot twists or side stories going on in Arth--for the most part, it manages to stick to the issue at hand. And that's when it really shines, thanks to the smooth, controlled performances from the three leads!
I've wanted to see both Shabana and Smita onscreen for quite some time, but hadn't really seen anything until now (If anybody has any recommendations on these two, please do share!). Both women were deliciously good in Arth. There's a scene when Pooja confronts Kavita and Inder at a party, and let me tell you, sparks fly! Its one of the most effective scenes in the film, and fortunately, in Arth there are plenty.
Smita'a performance as the glamorous yet insecure Kavita rang so true that I really felt worse for her character than I did for Pooja. Pooja was strong-willed, and I knew she would recover once the pain of losing Inder lessened with time. But as Kavita unraveled, she showed true fragility despite her fame and beauty. Moreover, her guilt in having "stolen" Inder from Pooja haunted her to no end, turning to psychotic paranoia that prevented her from the life she had wanted so badly in the first place. She was also extremely passionate--there was a scene where she literally licks Inder's tears. As I watched Smita at work, one thing was clear--I finally understood just what a loss the untimely death of this talented actress was to the Indian film industry!
Though he was more often than not overshadowed by the two actresses, Kulbhushan Kharbanda's understated portrayal of Inder was just what Arth needed its leading man to be; He had to convey just the right amount of emotion with saying and doing very little. He did a perfect job of this--Anything more from him would have been too much given the intensity of the two women.
The music of Arth was not you typical Bollywood fare. Most of the songs were woven into the story, since Raj was a musician and liked to sing to Pooja. Overall, I enjoyed the songs very much; They were few and far between, but welcomed nonetheless. Yet it was the eerie melody that played during the opening credits that reeled me right in--I knew trouble was ahead, and I was at the edge of my seat with anticipation as the story began to play out. It was almost as if I was watching a thriller or a horror film! Funny, isn't it? Sometimes the actions of humanity are scarier than monsters and murderers.
In addition, the film had a sort of sepia tone, which added to the unshakable sense of foreboding. I'm not sure if this was the director's intention, or the quality of the actual film being used, but it worked.
After watching Arth, I found out it was supposed to have been based on director Mahesh Bhatt's real-life affair with yesteryear actress Parveen Babi. First of all, I was already intrigued with Parveen Babi after seeing a couple of her films with Amitabh, because she was just so fascinatingly beautiful! But after reading up on the stories (whether they are true or not), I learned what a sad life she is said to have had. Her issues with paranoia and schizophrenia bore an uncanny resemblance to Kavita's...
Second of all, the fact that Mahesh chose to focus on Pooja's character, Pooja's strength, and Pooja's fate said a mouthful. If Mahesh was in fact trying to tell a story based on his own actions with Parveen, he certainly humbled himself enough--Inder ended up looking like a big fat loser up to the very end.
It was a no-brainer that Pooja would end up with our Teddy Bear Musician, Raj, by the end...but, wait....she didn't!?! Nope, that's right folks, even in 80s Bollywood you don't need a man to feel good about yourself(well, that's rarely true in Indian cinema, but let's just enjoy it here, shall we?)! Pooja's rejecting of Raj in the final scenes showed her strength and sensitivity at the very same time. She didn't need to replace Inder to make herself feel complete, and she wasn't going to be unfair to Raj by using him as a rebound boyfriend. Hooray!!!
Have I convinced you to see this film yet? It's truly amazing, and I'm so glad I didn't give up on the search!