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BLAST FROM THE PAST

Reshma Aur Shera 1971

Sunil Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, Rakhee, Vinod Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Jayant, Amrish Puri, Ranjeet, Padma Khanna



Speaking eyes Sunil Dutt as Shera left a lasting impression

An intense, violent love story set in the deserts of Jaisalmer. Beautifully cinematographed by Ramchandra with lilting music by Jaidev, the film did not work wonders at the box office, though Sunil Dutt had staked his heart, soul and fortune into it. He thought it would be one of the world’s 10 best films. Based on a concept purportedly drawn from a Rajasthani legend (questioned by scriptwriter Ali Raza and husband of yesteryears actor, Nimmi) by documentary filmmaker S. Sukhdev who was to also call the shots, the film has Reshma (Waheeda Rahman) and Shera (Sunil Dutt), belonging to different feuding clans, the Kardas and the Pochinas. When the relationship is discovered, Shera’s father (played by actor Jayant) orders him to kill the girl’s family. But when he fails to fulfil his father’s vengeful wish, the sharpshooter mute younger brother, Chhotu (Amitabh Bachchan) is dispatched to kill Reshma’s father, and the newly-married brother, Gopal (Ranjeet). Later, when an enraged Shera discovers the truth, he goes after the assassin, but in order to bring an end to the age-old acrimony Reshma intervenes, and saves Chhotu from his impending doom by marrying him. A grief-stricken Shera finds himself helpless, and in a dilemma: how could he kill her beloved’s husband.

Shera finds Gopal’s innocent widow’s (played by Rakhee) grief unbearable, and blaming his own father for her misery, shoots him. But guilt, remorse and loss of love turns him into a loner who sings the desert silence like a requiem, walking around like a man possessed, leading to his own suicide in the climax.

The climax has Reshma rolling down the sand slopes to where Shera’s body lay while a sandstorm provides a natural grave for the lovers united in their death, bringing the 158-minute narrative to a somewhat predictable end.

Ramachandra excelled himself in filming the climax, the colours merging in white sand dunes.

Conflicting stories

Several conflicting stories surround the making of this engaging love story: that finding the premise implausible, a reluctant Ali Raza tried to persuade a determined Sunil Dutt from making it; that when previewed in Bombay the rushes, shot by the legendary Sukhdev, turned out to be so disappointing that they had to be scrapped, and the producer (Sunil Dutt) himself took charge of the megaphone, refusing several acting offers in the process; that relentlessly pursued by wife Nargis he agreed to cast Amitabh Bachchan (reportedly armed with a recommendation letter from Indira Gandhi), and ignoring the youngster’s claims of possessing a deep baritone voice, he offered him the role of a mute character (co-star Ranjeet disputes the claim); that besides Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Amrish Puri, Rakhee and Ranjeet were also relative newcomers.

Then there are stories like the director wanting 100 camels for a sequence but finding only 99 refused to shoot; Rakhee was made to sport jewellery weighing 15-kilos and practice walking in the village before she faced the camera.

The 90-something strong unit bore the brunt of living in tents for over two months in a village called Pochina, 80 miles from Jaisalmer from where tank loads of water were also transported at a heavy cost every third day (not to speak of regular supply of Scotch whisky from the tinsel town).

At least, 15 of these 60-odd days were spent in acclimatising the weather though Dutt had originally (quite unrealistically) planned to can the whole drama in two weeks.

The film represented India at the Tashkent and Berlin Film Festivals in May and June, 1972, and picked up three National Awards: Best Actress (Waheeda Rehman); Best Cinematographer (Ramchandra); Best Music Director (Jaidev).

Compositions like “Tu chanda mein chandni” and “Ek meethi si chubhan” still conjure up visions of what melody Jaidev was capable of producing while the qawwali, “Zaalim meri sharab mein yeh kya mila diya” (in which the 10-year old Sanjay Dutt made his first screen appearance), and the natty hip-swaying, bosom-heaving Padma Khanna number, “Tauba tauba meri tauba” brought in some relief to an otherwise intense film.

SURESH KOHLI

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