This Sharmila Tagore home production took years to make and it shows, mostly in Rajesh Khanna’s hair. But it’s sort of fitting, actually, because the story itself takes place over years—as do all of the Sharmila-Rajesh movies, with lots and lots of suffering and noble sacrificing principles (tyaag!) along the way. This is full of all that, but still I enjoyed it: sometimes angst is not misplaced and human frailties can cause a lot of trouble. I will say that the subtitles leave a lot to be desired—they are patchy in places (long dialogues with short or no subs) and hard to read at best. My friend Suhan did her best to fill in the gaps but even so a lot of the dialogue went over my head, making the film much less meaningful for me I think than it might otherwise have been. The music by SD Burman (his last soundtrack) is also very pretty indeed (my favorite is the duet “Hum Tum Hain Tum Hum”).
Our story begins in the Central Jail, where a prisoner (Raza Murad) being hanged in the morning is desperately bewailing his fate. It’s a pretty grim start!
His fears are soothed somewhat by another inmate named Chetan (Rajesh Khanna) who tells him that he is not dying, but starting a new life elsewhere in a body free from sin. Very Indian philosophy! and possibly not very comforting to everyone (i.e. ME), but it works for this prisoner.
Chetan has served a long sentence for murder, and is about to be released early for good behavior. The Jailor (Murad) is curious how such an obviously empathetic and honest man as Chetan has proved to be could be a murderer as well, and he asks Chetan to explain; Chetan refuses gently.
Credits roll, and we now meet Chetan and the lovely Sunita years earlier. They are a beautiful, beautiful pair. For some reason which I have been unable to fathom, I really prefer Sharmila when she’s opposite Rajesh than in any other jodi—even (or maybe especially) Shammi.
I think it might be because she stands up for herself against his sanctimonious preaching (yay Sharmila!) (although it leads to much misery of course). I prefer Rajesh himself with Mumtaz, because he isn’t nearly as preachy in his films with her and seems to have a lot more fun (yay Rajesh! and of course Mumtaz!). Anyway. These two are still beautiful together.
Chetan is a penniless poet while Sunita is the daughter of a wealthy man (Kamal Kapoor). Chetan’s close friend Bansi (Gurnam Singh, Rajesh Khanna’s real-life secretary) thinks Chetan should use his education to get a job to keep the creditors from his door, but Chetan clings stubbornly to his “art”—with Sunita’s full support.
But Sunita’s father is ready to get her married off to a man he has chosen named Gopal (Dheeraj Kumar), a doctor from a “good” family. Gopal and his mother (Sulochana Latkar) attend Sunita’s birthday party, as does Chetan when she invites him. At the party her father is rude to Chetan and then announces her engagement to Gopal—she swallows her anger in order to maintain a good front before the guests, but later goes in search of Chetan at his home.
This is a really pivotal scene, beginning as it does the downward spiral into misery, but is very poorly subtitled. There is a lot of nuance that I miss, although I understand at least that it is very DDLJ-like for a bit: Sunita wants to elope, and Chetan refuses. He wants to go to her father and ask for his blessings but Sunita—who likely understands her father better than he does—knows he won’t give them.
The primary reason that I don’t care much for DDLJ is that Kajol’s character is nothing but a pawn in the power play between and hands of the men in her life, although at least here Chetan promises that if her father refuses to give his permission they will get married anyway. Sunita clearly doesn’t believe that this will work out well (she gives the impression that she fears her father may hurt or kill Chetan) and she pleads with him. Chetan is steadfast in his refusal. He points out that society will disapprove and she might regret it someday and furthermore:
Sunita’s response to this patronizing nonsense is—thank goodness!—to call him out on what’s really going on.
She points out that if she is willing to give up her family, her wealth, her reputation—everything—for the sake of their love then why isn’t he? Chetan remains obdurate though, and when she realizes that he won’t budge she is hurt and furious. Yay Sunita! She accuses him (accurately) of selfishness and hopefully some other stuff (cowardice? ego?) which isn’t translated, sadly. Realizing finally that his values are more important to him than she is, she storms out.
At this point I am cheering her on, although the beauty of this film (and Rajesh’s performance) is that I do feel very sorry for him—I know that he thinks his “sacrifice” is the right thing even though—like her—I don’t agree. I feel strongly that he owes it to her to understand that she knows her father well and if she is ready to take such a drastic step it must be with good reason. His lack of trust in her judgement bothers me enormously. I wouldn’t want to spend my life with someone who thought so little of me and my ability to make the right choices.
I understand that I am supposed to view Chetan as a god-like type who is the warp and weft of the fabric of society; but life is to be lived, and lived happily! Is a culture which restricts people (and it’s always women in particular) from governing their own happiness worth holding together? I just don’t think so, and misplaced loyalties to it are really *eye-roll* inducing for me.
So when Sunita marries Gopal I am not as sad as I am supposed to be either. He is quite handsome and seems smitten with her—and as Suhan points out, Indian women are very adaptable (they have to be!). She seems content enough with her lot.
She can’t leave well enough alone, and feels compelled one day soon into their marriage to tell him about her past.
Argggh Sunita, why?! I suppose I could analyze this as a subconscious wish to sabotage her marriage or punish herself for losing Chetan, but honestly it’s just STUPID. Gopal does not take it as well as he might either, and so loses my support now too. He goes off to England for years to further his medical studies, abandoning Sunita to bring up their son Munna (Master Tito) and take care of his mother.
Chetan meanwhile channels his despair into writing and becomes critically renowned and popular; one of his biggest fans is Sunita’s mother-in-law. His greatest work is a novel called Tyaag—the story of his romance with Sunita, although nobody knows it.
Sunita still harbors a deep anger (and grief) over their relationship, although finally the rift with her husband at least seems to be on the mend. I guess her continued fidelity and stellar abilities as a mother and daughter-in-law have endeared her to him again and he plans to return home soon, to Sunita’s joyful anticipation.
Little Munna is impatient (and also, the brattiest child ever seen on the face of the earth). He runs away from home to look for his long-missing father and of course meets—and bonds with—Chetan himself, who brings him home not knowing that the unforgiving Sunita is Munna’s (inept) mother.
We are now flogged with what seems like hours of Munna tantrums as the spoiled little monster refuses to let Chetan leave and get on with his life and the adults indulge him senselessly. Seriously, if he were mine I would put him in a permanent timeout in a dungeon somewhere. Poor Sunita is forced to struggle with her not-quite-put-aside love for Chetan, as he is with his feelings for her.
And all the trauma-drama-o-rama is not over, not by any means. Will Sunita ever forgive Chetan and understand his sacrifices (*cough*)? What will happen when her husband comes home? How will this triangle resolve itself? Will Chetan ever find happiness outside of his angsty books? Whom did he murder, and why? And please for the love of god will someone give Munna the spanking he really, really needs?
I must say that it is pretty entertaining stuff, even if I disagree wholeheartedly with the entire premise: it is well-done, and probably I would have found more to like if I’d understood the dialogues better. My sense was that the arguments for and against Chetan’s philosophy were more balanced than I could give full credit to, although in the end we are still supposed to be on board the Noble Sacrifice For The Sake Of Societal Norms Train with him. That will never happen, but at least my view of things was represented seriously. Plus, I enjoyed hating Munna and looking at pretty Rajesh and Sharmila and the nice song picturizations and generally ranting to poor Suhan watching online with me. Soap operas can be fun too. And Tun Tun is in it!
Suhan has generously uploaded Tyaag in two parts, here and here. It’s very hard to find and I guess sank without a trace when it was finally released (the producer was Sharmila’s secretary NS Kabir). Another obscurity surfaces (thank you Suhan)! If you are in the mood for intensely melodramatic romance and can tolerate the kid and the message (and the poor subs, if you need them), you could do worse.