Silences of the heart
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Cinemas Of India,
One of the near-forgotten gems that NFDC's Cinemas Of India DVD series has rescued is a film called 27 Down. It came out in 1974, just a year after Amitabh Bachchan had begun his climb up the superstar ladder with Zanjeer, and Shyam Benegal had unleashed his brilliant Ankur upon us. Bachchan is still amongst us. So is Benegal. But the young director who made the remarkable 27 Down couldn't do anything after his debut because he died in an accident soon after.
Awtar Krishna Kaul was too young to die, but he had just about enough time to create a film which looked at a young couple as they came at each other and made tentative stabs at finding oneself in the other in a way most young people today would find familiar. Delhi theatre veteran MK Raina plays Sanjay, son of a railway employee who wants to do anything other than join his father's profession. Circumstances will otherwise, and Sanjay's days are spent ticket-checking, and nights sacked out on rail berths. His meeting with Shalini (Rakhee Gulzar) takes him out of the ennui he is sunk into, and you travel along with them, as they go up and down trains, pausing to make conversation and have tea, waiting for them to get somewhere.
Filmmakers will tell you what a nightmare it is to shoot on railway platforms. The chaos is never ending, and there is no control over crowds. Which is why most movies are shot during nights, or in abandoned sidings which are converted into bustling arrivals and departures through extras. 27 Down was shot on actual locations, so you can get a sense of the tumult outside. As well as within. There are no grand gestures in the film, no speeches. Just a quietness that settles in on the lives of the characters as they travel to and fro, marking yet another day.
A recent conversation with Raina, whose jet black beard (in the film) is now speckled with grey, yielded interesting factoids. Chief amongst which was the wiles he had to use to get Rakhee, the biggest star of the film (the rest, Sudhir Dalvi, Sadhu Meher, were practically unknown at the time) to dub for the film. He also spoke about how much of the shoot was done in stealth to keep everything natural, and how a lot of it was done on a wing and a prayer because there was so little money. Par hamne kaha dekhi jayegi, ek din aur shoot kar kete hain, (but we said, we'll see, let's just get this day over and done with) said Raina, whose character oscillates between filial duty and romantic love, trying to find a way out.
27 Down is compelling because it is quiet. It doesn't shout. And it is a testament to a time that is past, and feelings which will always be current.