Watching Ijaazat in 2020

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After many a “How could you not have watched Ijaazat until now!?!”, I finally got around to it. As usual, I wanted to keep all I had heard about it at bay. I’m not sure I was entirely successful because I started out with a feeling that it would have insights about relationships that I would really enjoy. I also had a niggling feeling that it would have cringe-worthy tropes typical to Hindi films from the time. The feeling and the niggling played out—more or less. I liked what I liked much more than expected. And the bits that I didn’t like were a lot worse than I thought they’d be. This response has a lot to do with the fact that I watched it in this time and age.

The film’s theme, and more importantly the dynamics of relationships that it picks on, are unconventional compared to even current Hindi films. I assume, they must have been quite a shocker over 35 years ago. Even if pre-marital and extra-marital affairs were shown on screen, they were rarely given such a matter-of-factly treatment. And how many films, including the ones made today, have 100% transparency between a husband and a wife? Yeah-yeah-yeah, that is unlike most couples in real life. But all the out-in-the-open talk allows Ijaazat to explore spaces that aren’t usually touched upon in films. It, of course, helps that Rekha, Anuradha Patel and Naseeruddin Shah play their roles with just the right amount of ease and unease, as required by Sudha, Maya and Mahendra, their characters.

The highlight of watching Ijaazat, however, was experiencing the context in which the song, ‘mera kuchh saamaan...’ is set. Like anyone born in the 60s-70s, I know it word-for-word. But, I didn’t know why this lady was so hurt or why she was playful about it. Very rarely does the situation in the film elevate an already beautiful song.

Also, the characters are well-defined, consistent and lovely shades of grey. The wife is giving and understanding, but carries the burden of her insecurities and refuses to be taken for granted. The girlfriend is addicted to her “love” and quite literally accepts him with all his flaws. The husband is well, a man, who is torn between duty and love.

And here come the problems of watching Ijaazat in 2020. This 2020-Meeta is extremely uncomfortable with some of the gold-grade non-sense. Most of this is me being shaken a bit by how genders are portrayed by what seems like a progressive film. The most striking one being how the women are contrasted against each other. The ‘sanskari biwi’, the traditional wife drapes only sarees, knows the Gayatri mantra, knows the ways of the family, makes sure her husband is well-fed and carries a matchbox for his cigarettes. The girlfriend wears strappy dresses, loves riding bikes and is ‘wayward’. Even her name is Maya, which can be loosely translated to illusion or enigma.

Sure, the contrasts within their characters highlighted the greys and added a fascinating layer. Sudha, domesticated and virtuous, stands her ground when things go beyond her tolerance level. And as progressive as Maya is made out to be, her life is entirely governed by the man of her life. This could also be why the following sticks out. Both women have careers of their own and are strong-willed. Yet, as soon as a man enters her life, it becomes all about the man. I couldn’t help but think—other than being straightforward, he doesn’t have too many redeeming features. But hey, when one is in love, they are in love, so things are to be allowed to pass under that radar.

Yet, it is bewildering that do what he may, the man is the misunderstood one, the helpless one, the one who deserves forgiveness. In contrast, the women come across as unreasonable. Even though the writing tries to showcase itself as presenting all points of view, it ultimately feels like a lop-sided explanation from the man’s perspective.

And don’t even get me started about the parting scene between Sudha and Mahendra at the end of the film. It just didn’t feel like a part of the film. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a behind-the-scenes story of someone wanting a traditional touch forced into the otherwise unconventional theme, for this reason, or that.

But then again, that is the very premise of the film. Ijaazat, permission, the husband’s permission—is a poetic climax—for a wife to leave him! That ijaazat was necessary for a lover to take her last breath in her love’s memory. ‘ek ijaazat de do bas, jab isako dafanaaungi main bhi wahin so jaaugi...

- meeta, a part of the audience

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