I saw a movie the other day, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. Translated in English, it means ‘A thousand desires such as this.’ I think the significance of the title can best be understood in terms of the backdrop the love story is set against, rather than the main plot. The backdrop is a post-independent India that is trying to find its version of democracy between 1969 –to late 1970s. And the post-independent India that is trying to do that is the educated, urban, affluent youth. This is the youth that seems to be afflicted with ideals and very knowledgably so. They know about Tilak and Rousseau, and Cuba and pot, and willing to take on the ground realities right where they arise, which refreshingly is not the coffee table. This movie is the story of 3 people who grew up in these times, and loved, lost and desired…a thousand things.
When I watch movies or read books or hear stories that are set in a particular period, I naturally think about the age I live in. I suppose its because time is a continuum. The times that we are living in now were conceived in some other age. Therefore the past can never really be very distant. As I watched ‘Hazaaron…’, I wondered if there is a collective gripe that my ‘age’ shares. Sure, we think about money, we think about direction, we think about where we’re headed, but I feel that the scope is still individual. I think if anything, my age can be characterized by a lot of individuals and their issues. There may be a consciousness that is common, but I don’t think it is common enough to be collective. If a movie such as this is based on my times, I wonder what the backdrop would be.
Getting back to the film: there are two men who love one woman. One of the men, Siddharth, is the son of a respected judge who decides to change India. The other one, Vikram, comes from a lower economic strata. He decides to stick on in the system that is battered and corrupt, and use it to serve his purpose. The woman, Gita, first experiments with a conventional life, gets married to an IAS officer or someone as acceptable in society then, and later chooses to follow Siddharth, her lover, in his mission.
So, there you have it - two people who decide to opt out of a system they don’t believe in and another one who stays in the system simply because he knows he can use it to get rich and perhaps powerful later. You’d look at Vikram as the black sheep of the group – as the guy who sold out.
In fact, there is a scene when all three get together by a river and Vikram makes a joke about peasant unrest. Siddharth being the intense idealistic outlaw doesn’t take too kindly to this and gets up to leave. Gita is also suitably offended. Vikram, simple, superficial Vikram, appeases them and naively proposes a toast to the peasant uprising. Gita and Siddharth don’t join in and Vikram sits shamefaced with the bottle in his hand. (there’s mirth and laughter the very next minute but that’s not the point.)
So you have two people with very noble ideals looking down upon a man with very pedestrian ones. Vikram doesn’t have an ideological commitment and doesn’t think much of those who do. But to make a couple of pals happy, he raises a toast to the principle they live by. Sure, it’s not deep but it’s genuine.
Then there are these twists and turns in the movie where Vikram is called on to help Siddharth and Gita…and he does, because he loves Gita, always has. In the process, he loses out on so much that it’s heartbreaking. Siddharth decides to leave the country after he’s had enough and Gita, who embraced an ideology initially because of her lover, goes back to the village to continue changing India. The mantle of the idealist has passed on. By that time, Vikram is mentally ill but even in that state, there is still one thing he is certain of – that he loves Gita.
This is a very simplistic gleaning of the movie’s message; you really need to watch it to hear what it tells you, but it got me thinking on several things.
The first is that some of us are so superficial – the people who arrogate themselves to believe that just because they are ‘deep’ they can look down on those who aren’t. Siddharth was deep. You admire him, you fall for him, you follow him wherever he goes striding confidently. Then he changes tracks and with equal depth, his dark eyes would gaze into yours while he leaves your hand and tells you that he’s going away. This guy would look down on someone like Vikram. We all would – he is the street smart maverick who can’t be bothered with principles. But Vikram stuck around for love. He always knew he’d do that, and that’s what he always did.
Then there are people like Gita, who move from one person to another like an empty vessel waiting to shaped by their imprints. Then one day, they come into their own..they say their goodbyes and move in the direction they first followed and later chose.
I don’t mean to look down on any of them but I know that I am. The paradox is that I look down on Gita and Siddharth because they looked down on Vikram. And I wonder what gave them the right to do that. After all, he didn’t alter the course of his path, he didn’t waver from the one ideal he had – love for Gita, yet in the course of the time they all spent together, he was the target of upturned noses and high-brow sophistry.
Then the next thing that struck me is that at a personal level, one can be so shielded from massiveness. There’s a line in the preface of Eric Segal’s The Class that sums this up. (I don’t remember verbatim, but it’s along these lines) ‘We lived in an age when sex came in a packet, when freedom came in a matchbox, when psychology was all in the mind...what we did not know was that we were a generation.’ I too do not know what it means to be a generation.
I suppose if a movie is made 20 years hence, the backdrop of the film could be this disconnect; this world where there were a lot of individuals with a consciousness that was common but not collective. This disconnect would perhaps be, as Nicholas Sparks put it in This is the Schoolroom, the indictment of our age.