What makes Khamoshi so memorable despite its flaws, and what makes it so different from the plethora of alleged ‘remakes’ internationally, is Bhansali’s insistence on making (and calling) it a “musical”.
During a discussion on the making of Parinda (1989) at Jio MAMI Film Festival 2015, director Vidhu Vinod Chopra and actors Jackie Shroff and Anil Kapoor spoke about how eerily silent Sanjay Leela Bhansali was on the set. Sanjay was assisting Vidhu Vinod with the film. He was credited as Associate Director – Songs. His strong musical sense might have been the reason behind this appointment. He went on to work with Vidhu Vinod Chopra for almost a decade, which included two more films, 1942: A Love Story (1994) and Kareeb (1998). He also worked on the screenplay for 1942.
Jackie Shroff recalled an incident during the making of Parinda. Shroff was dubbing at Anand Theatre for an intense monologue where he lets it loose on his brother, Anil Kapoor. It was a long diatribe, and he was forgetting his lines. Jackie swore in exasperation. Suddenly he realized that the Bhansali kid whose job it was to supervise the dubbing was not there. The sound recordist told him that the assistant had left, and he had no idea why. In a little while, Vidhu Vinod Chopra called Anand Theatre and asked to speak to Jackie. He revealed that it was the cuss word that came out of Jackie’s mouth which made Sanjay leave. Throughout the making of Parinda, Anil Kapoor doesn’t recall ever having interacted with Bhansali, who preferred to perform his duties in utter silence.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s father had been a film producer back in the 50s. He made films like Jahazi Lutera and Pak Daaman (both 1957). His films failed to make any impact at the box office, and by the time Sanjay was born, Navin Bhansali had long given up. He had spiralled down the neck of the bottle. Those were dark times for the Bhansali family, and it was Sanjay’s mother Leela who took over the reins. She used to sew and sell sarees from door to door to make ends meet. Sanjay had a conflicting, often confusing relationship with his father. On the one hand, Navin would insist that he watch Mughal E Azam (1960) as many times as he can and introduced him to the divine music of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Naushad.
When little Sanjay wanted to watch romcoms like Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965), his father would make him sit through Navrang (1959). He introduced him to the staggering beauty in the universe of Satyajit Ray, Mehboob Khan, Raj Kapoor and K. Asif. On the other hand, the senior Bhansali was angry and violent most of the time. Not that he beat anyone up, but on one occasion, he broke all Sanjay’s favourite LP records to smithereens. The boy was crestfallen. It was his mother that filled Sanjay’s life with sunshine. She was a being of pure light. In the midst of all the doom and gloom, she would often break into a jig. She loved to dance and would indulge in it at the slightest provocation. Throughout his childhood, Sanjay witnessed his mother suffer and work really hard, but she also infused her son’s life with fun and laughter.
Many years later, Sanjay reached out to his sister Bela with a script. If Sanjay was assisting Vidhu Vinod Chopra in filmmaking, Bela was busy learning the ropes of editing from the great Renu Saluja. She had been an assistant editor on Pestonjee (1988) and Parinda with Saluja. After working with Vinod Chopra for a while, Sanjay now wanted to take plunge into filmmaking himself. And who better to edit it than Bela? That day, as Sanjay finished narrating the script to her, she had tears in her eyes. The story of Annie Braganza and her deaf-mute parents was brimming with pathos. It was difficult not to be touched by it. Between sobs, Bela told her brother he had a great film on his hands. Khamoshi: The Musical was, besides being a heart-rending universal tale, also autobiographical. Obviously, Sanjay’s parents didn’t have the physical disadvantages Annie’s parents had to grapple with. But the poverty and squalor the family had to experience were similar to Bhansali’s own childhood. Much like her mother Flavy, his mother Leela had to make a living sewing clothes and selling them. Joseph (Nana Patekar) went on a rampage on Annie’s (Manisha Koirala) records just the way Sanjay’s father did in his childhood.
But most of all, the joy and cheer the Braganzas exhibited despite the poverty – even death – in their lives, does bring to mind Leela Bhansali’s zest for life. As Annie’s grandmother Maria Braganza (Helen) breaks into a dance ever so often, it is an echo of Sanjay’s mother’s love for dance. For once, Salman Khan was offered a fleshy part which he slipped into quite effortlessly. While the role of Raj Kashyap had every bit of the playfulness and charm Salman was known for in the 90s, it also allowed him to tap into his emotional side. During the climax, Salman gets to be the “voice” of Nana Patekar which, in a warped sort of way, is quite historic. To this day, it remains one of the handful of films he lent his name to, where Khan was expected to deliver a serious performance, and he did rise to the occasion.
Manisha Koirala as Annie was quite the revelation and won a Filmfare and a screen award to show for it.
Nana and Seema Biswas are at the throbbing heart of Khamoshi. They are the deaf-mute parents the film extracts most of its pathos from. Seema was fresh from the worldwide acclaim she garnered for Bandit Queen, and she delivered the goods as the emotionally fragile Flavy. In an interview during the release of the film, Nana revealed that he accepted the role because it was perceived that dialogue delivery was his plus point, and he wanted to challenge himself. Because he, Seema and Manisha needed to know and “speak” sign language fluently, two women from a deaf-mute organization were assigned to teach it to them. Sangeeta was a teacher at the organization and Asmita herself was deaf. Over the span of a year, they taught the team how to communicate in sign language.
What makes Khamoshi so memorable despite its flaws, and what makes it so different from the plethora of alleged ‘remakes’ internationally is Bhansali’s insistence on making (and calling) it a “musical”. Not only the plot, but the whole film is structured around songs and music. Bhansali was familiar with Babloo Chakravarty, who was an arranger with music director duo Jatin-Lalit. That’s how he reached out to them. Jatin later said in an interview, “When Sanjay came we knew in an instant that we liked him. He was very non-filmi and he had a great script and song situations, everything he narrated to us, and we were very comfortable with him. “Bhansali knew exactly what he wanted for the music, and that included the lyrics. He roped in the veteran Majrooh Sultanpuri and as usual, the 77 year-old tapped into the teenager in him with tracks like Aaj main oopar/ asmaan neeche, Jaana suno/ Hum tumpe marte hain, and the eternal favourite of cover singers, Baahon ke darmiyan/ Do pyar mil rahein hain…. Sanjay had specific briefs for his composers. Lalit said later, “For a song like ‘Jaana sunno hum tum par marte hain’, he told me to make a mukhda which was never thought of before. Just have a long mukhda, he said. And if you hear the song, the mukhda has got 14 lines. The song would start right from the lower note. Slowly the orchestra grows, then it goes very high with the full orchestra, brass and everything. I had never done anything like that before and I’ve never done anything like that since.”
Khamoshi: The Musical was produced by Sibte Hassan Rizvi, who had earlier produced Joshilaay (1989) and famously stepped into the director’s shoes when Shekhar Kapoor had abruptly abandoned the project. There was a musical piece in Khamoshi early on when Salman is seen playing a tune on a piano at a music store. Sibte later utilized the same tune for the title song of Pyar Koi Khel Nahin (1999), which he also produced.
Nana Patekar’s searing performance, instead of being an asset for the film, actually became one of the reasons for its downfall. The mainstream Hindi film audience in the 90s knew Nana Patekar for his bombastic dialogues and loud histrionics. They didn’t care for his understated performances in Thodasa Roomani Ho Jaaye (1990) or Prahaar (1991). They rooted for him in Krantiveer (1994) instead. So a mute Nana didn’t go down well. Despite being a heartfelt film which it so obviously was, Khamoshi: The Musical flopped miserably. On the Friday of release, Sanjay Leela Bhansali got a call from the producer Sibte Hassan Rizvi who told him, “Film baith gayi hai”. Still ill at ease with colloquialisms, Bhansali didn’t know what that expression meant. Rizvi explained to him that the film was a conclusive flop, and the “public” was tearing off screens and breaking chairs in the theatres. Sanjay calmly put the phone down and quietly resolved never to answer a call on release day again.
Like many cult favourites, time has been kind to Khamoshi and its music. Despite its failure, it is still remembered with fondness by many who discovered it in the theatres upon release or over the years on television. To Bhansali’s chagrin, there are some who still consider it one of his best works. Despite the big ticket, expansive blockbusters he has made a name for, it is that small, intimate film of his youth that we often go back to.
Amborish is a National Film Award winning writer, biographer and film historian.
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