But a year ago that touch really put them on a firm footing. It was never released properly as its producer Basu Bhattacharya (quite famous filmmaker) decided to shelve it with all his wisdom. A pity, because it finds Naseeruddin Shah at his career best as a blind man who can see that the world is trying to coax him into sympathy and nothing will come of it.
What makes Sai Paranjpe’s Sparsh such a special film about a specially-abled character is Anirudh’s (Naseer) refusal to slot in as a victim. Anirudh is so stubborn in bypassing the empathy and even sympathy of those around him that he practices an opposite type of disability-oriented alienation, where the victim is so desperate to appear ‘normal’ and feels rejected by society. So eager to belong to the mainstream. That he alerts people around him about how a specially-abled person should not be allowed to feel disabled even for a second.
Throughout the finely threaded film, we see that Naseeruddin Shah is not looking blind at all. The National Award for Best Actor that he received for Sparsh was a modest reward for arguably the best portrayal of a blind man and his inner world in the history of world cinema. And I include such universally accepted portrayals of the blind as Audrey Hepburn in Wait Till Dark, Rani Mukerji in Black, Kimura Tatsuya in Love and Honor, and Jören Seldeschlachts in Blind.
Naseer is more than all these timeless portrayals of the blind. His performance is far better than the film. Looks like Saiee’s film has faced a budget crunch. But it compensates for the rough edges with its unflinching message on humanism. Some of the scenes with the blind school children are really heartwarming. At one point when Shabana Azmi buys a candle for a blind boy, whose friend is shown teasing him about his unsold creation, the overwhelmed boy responds to her kindness by saying, ‘Didi, aapki saree pyari’ Is.’
Common sense on touch:
Filmmaker Basu Bhattacharya, the producer of Sparsh, for reasons best known to him, did not want to release the film. It was in the box for 3 years. Finally Shabana Azmi and Sai Paranjpe made a vocal public protest against creative repression. Then the film was released.
Actually the film was shot in a blind school. And Naseeruddin Shah’s character was based on the principal of a blind school.
The year Sparsh released the same year Om Puri achieved major success with Aakrosh, had a small role in Sparsh.
Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, then only in his 20s, made a guest appearance at a public concert.
Sparsh Sai Paranjpe made several notable films, such as Chashme Baddoor (1981) and its “spiritual sequel” Katha (1983), Disha (1990) and Beyhadh Khabar Saaj (1997) where he cannibalized and dramatized Mangeshkar’s life. Sisters to make a pulp ‘abrasive’. Watch Sparsh again, and you’ll forgive all of Sai’s crimes.
Chashme Baddoor (1981) was Sai Paranjpe’s painfully sweet rom-com that harkened back to a time of innocence when college boys would chase girls across town hoping to get them to agree to coffee or a movie. Sex, if at all, was never discussed. The slowly clever plot of Sai’s film can be divided into three movements. The first part has Rakesh Bedi and Ravi Baswani playing haughty misguided friends to the relatively quiet Farooq Shaikh, cooking up an elaborate fantasy romance with Deepti Naval. In the second part, the evil duo tries to spoil Sheikh’s romance with Deepti. And in the third and final movement, Bedi and Baswani do their best to reconcile the lovers.
The narrative is strewn with a warm bond that suggests a sense of balance in the universe, even when human intentions are far from legitimate or sensible. What works wonderfully well for Sai Paranjpe’s game-plan is the believable cast, each embracing their character with the conviction of enduring mastery.
Farooq and Deepti are as convincing a couple as any two strangers who decide to hook up perhaps because they haven’t found too many potential soul-mates to choose from. The wickedness of Baswani and Bedi propels the action of the plot to a logical conclusion.
Incredibly the Farooq-Baswani-Bedi trio smokes the entire film. There is hardly a frame where one or all three Cancers are not seen hissing at the stick. Perhaps this is a nod to the relatively innocent times when youth smoked because they thought they looked cool doing so.
While most episodes still play catch up with the editing pace, what seemed cleverly innovative 30 years ago now seem merely self-indulgent. There is an elaborate song in a park where Farooq and Deepti wonder how couples in films sing loudly in public places. They then proceed to do the same to the laughter of the audience.
Offbeat filmmakers have always demonstrated a discomfort with the conventions of mainstream cinema. Were they really disdainful of potboilers or self-righteous in their inability to cope with conventional material? Chashme Baddoor Sai Paranjpe skilfully straddles the two worlds of cinematic conventions and a superior intellectual projection of mass entertainment. Watch the film for its endearing and still-fresh take on love and courtship.
And of course, there is a cameo of Big B and Rekha where he pretends to be in love with the girl after getting her a handkerchief. This was the 1980s. No one could escape from Bachchan’s trap. Not even Sai Paranjpe who civilized the art of girl patana. Even when the protagonist used cheesy pickup lines, they were never offensive. A waiter is shown about Farooq’s courtship with Deepti. It is the waiter who announces the interval in the film. The characters in this film are allowed to be clever even at the cost of crossing the camera range.
This is a world of cerebral satire where lovers avoid being filmy but don’t mind if their togetherness suggests an affinity with screen couples who woo each other with song and poetry. Chashme Baddoor The world is free from pain. Although the characters live in the middle-income group, they are immune to suffering. No one dies in Chashme Buddoor. Not even while laughing. There is no ‘LOL’ moment in Sai’s comic plan. We smile because the sound of loud laughter doesn’t suit the purposes of this film. Easy.
Sai Paranjpe is rightly celebrated for Chashmebaddoor, which set a new benchmark for satire and farce, and also gave Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval an opportunity to showcase their comic timing. But Sai was far more assured with his laugh lines in Katha (1983), a wonderful retelling of the tortoise and the hare story with Farooq and Naseer playing off against each other with remarkable ease and fluency. Deepti Naval was the chawl girl with a big flower in her oiled hair whom both the actors wanted to win over. What a delight to watch Farooq as the evil wheeler dealer. Sai named him Basu Bhatt after filmmaker Basu Bhattacharya, who did not allow one of his best films, Sparsh, to release.
Trivia on Katha:
Film critic and filmmaker Khalid Mohammed recreated the legend of Sai Paranjpe. The remake, produced by Anjum Rizvi, which Khalid described as his tribute to Sai, featured Manish Paul, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Sharmila Mandre for the first time. It never got released. Unlike David Dhawan’s Chashme Baddoor remake, Khalid’s story had Sai’s approval.