Deaf, Dumb, and Blind

I have always admired West­ern films fea­tur­ing the hand­i­capped, such as Chil­dren of a Less­er God, Scent of a Woman, and the clas­sic The Mir­a­cle Work­er. So the last week­end, I decid­ed to explore sim­i­lar Indi­an films. Warn­ing: this post con­tains spoil­ers.

Koshish (Effort) (1972)

KoshishDirect­ed by the sen­si­tive Gulzar, fea­tur­ing stal­warts San­jeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri, Koshish (IMDB) is about the life of a deaf and dumb cou­ple who try to live a nor­mal life in an insen­si­tive soci­ety. It was very coura­geous of Gulzar to make a pop­u­lar, com­mer­cial film of such an unusu­al plot, unlike the par­al­lel art cin­e­ma of the times. After their first child dies due to an acci­dent that they could not pre­vent as a result of being deaf, they get help from a blind friend to help raise the sec­ond child suc­cess­ful­ly.

It was heart­warm­ing to see a film being made on such a sub­ject using a pop­u­lar cast. It does suf­fer from the usu­al draw­backs of pop­u­lar cin­e­ma — exces­sive music, lot of melo­dra­ma, stereo­typ­i­cal vil­lains, etc. How­ev­er, viewed from a larg­er per­spec­tive, the direc­tor must be praised for tak­ing the effort in try­ing to raise aware­ness among the mass­es.

There are touch­ing scenes aplen­ty. The friend­ship and com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the deaf and dumb cou­ple with the blind friend is poignant. The anx­ious­ness of the par­ents to have a ‘nor­mal’ child is well done. Cre­ative flour­ish­es include a con­trap­tion used by the blind friend to alert the par­ents when the baby awak­ens and cries at night, and a scene where the young child is danc­ing to music from the radio and the par­ents touch the radio speak­ers to feel the rhythm. Both San­jeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri play their roles very well and won the Nation­al Awards for Act­ing.

The arti­fi­cial sets look too arti­fi­cial. Anoth­er gripe I had was the same as Roger Ebert had with Chil­dren of a Less­er God — there is no scene with­out music to real­ly let the audi­ence feel how the world is for the cou­ple. I moral­ly dis­agreed with the plot at the end, where the son is vir­tu­al­ly forced to mar­ry a deaf and dumb girl. Over­all, still rec­om­mend­ed, as it is one of the rare Indi­an Sign Lan­guage Films.

Shwaas (Breath) (2004)

India’s failed attempt at the 77th Acad­e­my Awards was the film Shwaas (IMDB), which was a Marathi Indi­an Nation­al Award win­ner after 50 years. A rur­al boy with a rare reti­nal can­cer is brought to the city hos­pi­tal by his grand­fa­ther. A life-sav­ing surgery would ren­der the boy per­ma­nent­ly blind. This dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion is dra­ma­tized in the film sen­si­tive­ly or over-sen­ti­men­tal­ly — depend­ing on the viewer’s appetite for melo­dra­ma. While most Indi­an audi­ences find lit­tle or no melo­dra­ma in the film, most West­ern review­ers find it mawk­ish.ShwaasPoster

The long drawn out for­mal­i­ties in the hos­pi­tal may appear too stretched, but that under­scores the plight and frus­tra­tion of mil­lions of Indi­ans who deal with the Indi­an med­ical bureau­cra­cy. The hos­pi­tal scenes appear authen­tic because six months were spent by the crew study­ing the goings-on in a real hos­pi­tal. Both Ash­win Chi­tale as the boy (Nation­al Award for Best Actor), and Arun Nalawade as the grand­fa­ther deliv­er ster­ling per­for­mances. The doc­tor and social work­er help­ing them cope with the sit­u­a­tion are pass­able. The rur­al scenes of the boy’s vil­lage are a coun­ter­point to the hec­tic city life. These are cap­tured with cin­e­mat­ic beau­ty, an accom­plish­ment for Sandeep Sawant’s direc­to­r­i­al debut. The music is gen­er­al­ly fine, with an excel­lent inter­lude of piano with strings in the mid­dle.

Among the neg­a­tives is an over­ly dra­ma­tized sequence when the boy ‘dis­ap­pears’ from the hos­pi­tal. The exag­ger­a­tion is unre­al­is­tic. The par­ents absence from the key action seems implau­si­ble. The surg­eries of oth­er patients are post­poned with an alarm­ing insou­ciance. Despite these minor blem­ish­es, Shwaas is a breath of fresh air about find­ing opti­mism in the gravest of cir­cum­stances. One of the finest Indi­an films in recent times.

Sparsh (Touch) (1980)

SparshPosterSai Paranjpe’s Sparsh (IMDB) offers an unpar­alled insider’s view of the world of the blind. It is a very sen­si­tive­ly han­dled sto­ry of the roman­tic rela­tion­ship between a blind man Anirudh (Naseerud­din Shah) who runs a school for the blind, and a bereaved wid­ow Kavi­ta (Sha­bana Azmi). The scenes of blind chil­dren of the school are used to form a back­drop to the cen­tral dra­ma of the rela­tion­ship. Of all these three films, this is the most ‘art­sy’, the least melo­dra­mat­ic, and hence most to my lik­ing.

Both the char­ac­ters are liv­ing in a kind of a shell, afraid to open them­selves up in fear of hurt. Anirudh is extreme­ly inde­pen­dent, fierce in his deter­mi­na­tion, and pas­sion­ate­ly resists any attempt by oth­ers to treat him dif­fer­ent­ly because of his blind­ness. His inter­nal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty is revealed lat­er in the film. Kavi­ta is liv­ing an iso­lat­ed life while appar­ent­ly cocooned in her bereave­ment. After a chance encounter, Kavi­ta accepts Anirudh’s sug­ges­tion of teach­ing the chil­dren at his school.

The scenes of the chil­dren at the school are endear­ing. The only sight­ed boy once has a fight with a blind class­mate and shuts his eyes to have a fair fight. The chil­dren play games, act in a dra­ma, cre­ate can­dles and arti­facts, and all these scenes are with­out a shred of pity — rather they’re a trib­ute to the tri­umph of the human spir­it.

Soon, Anirudh and Kavi­ta are in love, and they are engaged. This is where Anirudh’s inner inse­cu­ri­ty leads him to sus­pect that Kavi­ta is mar­ry­ing him out of sac­ri­fice and com­pro­mise, and that she doesn’t real­ly love him. His dichoto­my — on the one hand he wants oth­ers to treat him just like a nor­mal per­son, and on the oth­er, is hes­i­tant to accept it when Kavi­ta does — is extreme­ly well han­dled. Naseer’s per­for­mance strikes just the right tone. He won the Nation­al Award for Best Actor. This is one of the rare per­for­mances in Indi­an films where a lead actor per­forms a blind role with­out the use of opaque glass­es. His method act­ing is superla­tive.

All scenes are giv­en just the right emo­tion­al treat­ment, and the cast deliv­ers Sai Paranjpe’s vision of a sen­si­tive film about intel­li­gent, human char­ac­ters. It was this film that inspired the poem in my ear­li­er post “Blind Love”. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

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  • Hi Mahen­dra,
    I have only watched Sparsh out of the three and whole heart­ed­ly agree that Mr. Shah is excel­lent in the film.
    Hav­ing just fin­ished read­ing ‘Slow­man’ by JM Coet­zee last week,
    I was won­der­ing about humans who lose a sense or a body part and have to con­tin­ue liv­ing amongst those obliv­i­ous to their hard­ships.
    But it is inter­est­ing to note that there are many who have not phys­i­cal­ly or phys­i­o­log­i­cal­ly lost any­thing, but every day their free­dom is con­trolled or lim­it­ed by peo­ple around them.

  • Vivek Khad­pekar


    Thank you for your review of ‘Shwaas’. All this time I had regrets about not hav­ing seen it. Now I don’t.

    The movie scene in Marathi today is large­ly appalling, which is sad con­sid­er­ing the gen­er­al­ly high stan­dards of Marathi the­atre, and some out­stand­ing films that emerged more than half a cen­tu­ry ago. I sup­pose this has part­ly to do with the gen­er­al absence of reser­va­tions about Hin­di among Maha­rash­tri­ans.

    I once asked why she, as a sen­si­tive and tal­ent­ed direc­tor, pre­ferred to do Hin­di rather than Marathi films. Her answer was sim­ple, though it did not con­vince me: Hin­di has a more pay­ing mar­ket. If this were all that true there would not be such good films com­ing out with fair reg­u­lar­i­ty in Assamese, Manipuri, Kan­na­da and Malay­alam (not to men­tion Ben­gali).

  • Vivek Khad­pekar

    Par­don an omis­sion in my third para­graph. It should read “I once asked Sai Paran­jpye why…

  • I have watched Koshish and Shwaash. I don’t remem­ber Koshish much now as it was a long time ago but I remem­ber lik­ing it. I saw Shwaash when it was released and I loved the film. One of the best films I have seen inspite of some amount of melo­dra­ma like you men­tioned. But after all it’s a movie! I loved those scenes from the hos­pi­tal, they were absolute­ly authen­tic like you said. I also loved the coun­try scenes, the pho­tog­ra­phy.

  • I loved Koshish and Sparsh.
    SaiParan­jpe has made excel­lent come­dies also like-Chasme Badoor and Katha.Her favourite actors are Naseerudin Shah and Faruo­qh Sheikh and they have per­formed well in the com­ic roles as well.
    Excel­lent review Mahen­dra.

  • Loved Koshish. It was per­fect for me who did not under­stand a sin­gle word of Hin­di 😉

    But seri­ous­ly, I remem­ber the scene where they were heart­bro­ken that the baby did not respond to the rat­tle think­ing it was also deaf, but then their friend (?) demon­strat­ing to them that the rat­tle they used was bro­ken and just snaps his fin­gers to which the child imme­di­ate­ly turns his head. A superb, superb scene!

  • Have you seen Mani Ratnam’s “Anjali”. It’s about a child with a men­tal dis­abil­i­ty. It’s very well tak­en

  • I have seen koshish and sparsh… dont remem­ber much about the sto­ries, but I do know that I loved these two movies… thanks for the recap 🙂

  • Vivek Khad­pekar

    Weird Sci­ence:

    That was…er…heavy read­ing! A pity it has to do with human occu­pa­tions, not clever inven­tions — some of which, I am sure, could qual­i­fy for the IgNo­bel. 🙂

  • Mahen­dra,

    What a lot of work you’ve done, watch­ing and review­ing these three films, all fol­low­ing sim­i­lar a sim­i­lar theme.

    I haven’t seen these movies, because I don’t watch much TV or get out to the art cin­e­mas in my area (there aren’t many in Atlanta, GA), but I’ll look for them on Net­flix.

  • Mahen­dra,

    I’m not sure if you have time, but if you do I’d like to tag you for this meme:




    I had a lot of trou­ble with it, because to be hon­est, if I feel guilty about some­thing I don’t do it. And if I still do it I don’t want any­one to know! I changed post to incor­po­rate a few oth­er memes. I’m just about ready not to respond to any­more of them, so I under­tand if you don’t either. If you want to see a good exam­ple of this writ­ing prompt, go to G’s site, who tagged me.

    By the way, I see you haven’t post­ed in a while. I hope every­thing is going okay for you, and that it’s because you’re just hav­ing too much fun to be both­ered with blog­ging. 🙂

  • where are You?

  • Dit­to to Pre­rna.

  • 10yearslate

    Shwaas’ is on my list of to-watch movies. One of these days!

    One of Kamal’s ear­li­er efforts-Raa­ja Paar­vai dealt with the life of a blind musi­cian. Was what you might call a crossover film.

    A cou­ple of Suresh Heblikar’s movies in Kan­na­da too. ‘Usha Kirana’ and ‘Aaghatha’ if I remem­ber, dealt with psy­chosis.

    A real­ly mov­ing ‘com­mer­cial’ movie was ‘Man­asa Sarovara’ by mae­stro Put­tan­na Kana­gal, again in Kan­na­da with a psy­chi­a­trist as the pro­tag­o­nist.

  • Have seen Koshish. Yet to sparsh and shwaas… 🙂

    After read­ing ur blog, they are on my to-watch list (urgent)!!

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  • manushi

    i am watch­ing all of these …thanky­ou! 🙂

  • i have watched koshish and sparsh and i loved sparsh… havent seen swash, will keep in to-watch list! 🙂

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