Why is Rajesh Khanna’s Avishkaar the polar opposite of Bollywood romcoms?

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Rajesh Khanna’s career was experiencing a weird halt in the early 1970s. For a few years, he had been a superstar, but the younger stars of the moment were catching up. His distinctive style had run its course, and despite the fact that he was a capable actor, he was primarily cast in singing and dancing roles at the time. He needed something that would highlight his craft without the trappings of usual filminess at the time. Khanna arrived in Basu Bhattacharya’s Avishkaar at that time. The film, which starred Sharmila Tagore, who had previously given excellent performances in a variety of genres, tackled urban loneliness and relationships in a way that is still heartbreaking almost five decades later.

The sad death of khwab aur khwahish (dreams and ambitions) when someone is caught in the cycle of monotony is discussed in the opening scene of Avishkaar. That monotony is equated in the Basu Bhattacharya film with marriage, the kind where the simple presence of the other person in the room causes a violent argument. The relationship, which began with the promise of love, has now devolved into a battle of wits. Basu explores urban marriage relationships in Avishkaar, where the formerly inviting ‘Ghar Amar Mansi Ka’ has become a stage. As the audience leaves, Amar, portrayed by Rajesh Khanna, and Mansi, played by Sharmila Tagore, put on small plays of togetherness for their friends, and their passionate act shifts gears and turns into wrath.

rajesh khanna is a rajesh khanna is a A shot from the film Avishkaar with Rajesh Khanna.
Avishkaar is one of those delicate films in which Basu relies on his performers’ restraint. While Khanna and Tagore were superstars at the time, he strips them of their glamour and positions the camera directly in front of their faces, allowing viewers to witness the depravity of their relationship. There is no saving grace here; no one is the archetypal ‘bad husband’ or’sacrificing wife,’ but the relationship’s suffocation, exacerbated by the dense smoke of cigarettes, prevents you from breathing as you watch their marriage go through another tumultuous battle.

Avishkaar takes place over the course of one night, which also happens to be Amar and Mansi’s wedding anniversary. They’re in the midst of a major brawl, the kind where they’ve lost track of how it all began. Amar and Mansi are both fighting for a way out of their relationship, and the only thing standing in their way is their baby. We see flashbacks that introduce us to their connection over the course of the two-hour film. Their love for one other looked unconditional during their courtship days, the rebellion that had them fighting against the world, and the first wedding anniversary where they simply walked the streets of the city in a taxi with another couple.

Amar has played with the idea of cheating on his wife during the course of their marriage, and she has grown bored with simply being his cheerleader, but these are not the sources of their discord. Mansi informs Amar in one of the flashback sequences that generations of men have felt that they are the sun and that their wives’ lives revolve around them, and that Amar will eventually expect the same. Mansi becomes convinced in that moment, as if she is encouraging herself to believe in the romance after Amar rejects it. As we return to reality, we see Amar transform into the guy he claimed he’d never be, and Mansi become into the wife she never imagined herself to be.

avishkaar Avishkaar stars Sharmila Tagore and Rajesh Khanna.
Every age believes their relationship issues are unique, but watching Avishkaar in 2022 makes you feel that this could be the narrative of any couple, from any generation. Its eternal quality stems from its awareness of relationships that basically remain constant, with only the expression changing. Mansi describes the colour blue in the sky as a farce that everyone has merely accepted, similar to the farce of her own relationship with Amar, and it is her awareness of the truth that allows you to empathise with their story.

We’ve seen a lot of rom-coms in Hindi cinema, but looking at the harsh realities of a close relationship has always made us uneasy. Of course, it’s not romantic or aspirational, but it’s the bleakness of a troubled relationship that makes us question why Amar would fight all night while remembering their anniversary, and why Mansi would simply yield the next morning.