Sunday, December 12, 2021

Ahista Ahista—Fall In Love Gradually

Early in his career, Imtiaz Ali had written one of the episodes of Star Bestsellers called Witness that had shades of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's White NightsIn 2006, Shivam Nair adapted Witness on the big screen in Ahista Ahista with the story and the screenplay credited to Imtiaz Ali. The story was based around Ankush (Abhay Deol), who made a living by acting as a paid witness at Delhi's marriage registrar bureau. One day, Megha (Soha Ali Khan), who has run away from her home in Nainital, comes to the bureau to marry Dheeraj (Shayan Munshi). Due to unknown reasons, Dheeraj does not show up at the registrar's office. Megha is left dejected, and Ankush helps her eke out a living.
A relationship gradually brews between Ankush and Megha. He starts falling in love with Megha ahista ahista. He takes a loan of ten thousand rupees for her and then decides to find a job at a bank to earn enough money to repay his loan. In his interview, he is told that speaking English is a requirement for the job, and he promises to learn it. This time, Megha helps by teaching him English. He starts to dream of a future with her. Ankush might be one of the few Imtiaz Ali heroes who want to work at a day job. From Aditya in Jab We Met to Ved in Tamasha, Ali's heroes are stuck in their vocations that bind them. They are forced to wear a tie. On the other hand, Ankush wants to work at a bank so that he can come out of vagabond life. He wants to wear a tie, and in one particular scene, he even kisses it.
Ankush hopes to move up in life as he is aware of the class differences between Megha and him. When he initially takes her to a friend's place, he frankly tells her that he helped her only because she was a girl. He feels proud to help someone of her stature. He further remarks, "Tumhare jaise ladki ke saath mera to koi chance nahi. Tum toh class wali ladki ho naa." He had no chance with someone like her. During his interview at the bank, he reiterates that the job is crucial for climbing the social mobility ladder. He wants to emulate his interviewers and become a dignity-wala aadmi. Ankush believes Megha will help take him out of the "gutter." He is a "mamooli" boy, while she belongs to the upper class.
Dheeraj, however, returns all of a sudden. Neither does Ankush inform Megha about him nor tell Dheeraj that he knows Megha. He lies to Dheeraj that Megha has passed away. One of his friends advises him that he should not be worried if he trusts Megha that she loves him. Therefore, he should speak the truth to Megha. If she decides to leave him, she had never loved him in the first place. Ankush replies that he is not a Hindi film hero who will let go of the girl and cry on a song. He will fight for her. He tries his best but ultimately realizes that his friend is probably right. Ankush is honest about his feelings. Perhaps, that is why Megha also did not react harshly when she found about it. She understands his reasons for lying.
In the end, Megha decides to be with Dheeraj. There is again a lot of grace with which Ankush accepts it. He realized that Megha never really loved him. She had agreed to marry as an ehsaan to return the help he gave her. He was confusing friendship for love. He does not become angry or bitter like Devdas. He simply walks away from her life. In the film's last shot, he walks into the crowd and becomes a part of it once again. Their story started and ended at the same place. It is a sad end to Ankush's love story where he does not get to wear the tie, but there is also a relief that he will be fine. He assures her that he will not break in life. He acknowledges that she has helped him a lot in life and positively changed him. They helped each other when they were together. He had wanted to be a dignity-wala aadmi. He might not become a dignity-wala aadmi belonging to the rich upper-class man, but he did become a dignity-wala aadmi in a different way, walking away with self-respect when it was time to let go. There are many ways to fall in love, but there are also many ways to be out of love. He chose the path of dignity.
On the first night of their meeting, Ankush takes Megha to Nizamuddin Dargah. This sequence is also reminiscent of Rockstar that Ali directed in 2011 where Jordan (Ranbir Kapoor) finds refuge for a few days in the same place when he has nowhere left to go. Interestingly, in 2007, Ali directed Jab We Met that also had shades of Ahista Ahista, where Geet (Kareena Kapoor) runs away from her home to marry Anshuman (Tarun Arora), who refuses to marry her. Aditya (Shahid Kapoor) is grateful to Geet for helping him understand the meaning of life when he was going through a difficult break-up. He helps Geet to get her life back after Anshuman rejects her. He falls in love with Geet. However, Anshuman comes back, and Geet is willing to forgive him. But, unlike Ahista Ahista, Geet chooses Aditya and not Anshuman. At one point in Jab We Met, Geet and Aditya go to a hotel. She reminds him that she is a girl and he should not take advantage of her. A related conversation happens between Megha and Ankush in Ahista Ahista when he takes her to his friend's place. He tells her that she should not worry as he is not looking for any physical relationship in return for his help. In Jab We Meet, Geet advises Aditya to flush down the pictures of his ex-girlfriend in the toilet. This scene was also present earlier in Ahista Ahista where Megha flushes down all the pictures of Dheeraj when he does not return.
Ahista Ahista and Rockstar
Ahista Ahista and Jab We Met
Ahista Ahista is yet another Imtiaz Ali-written film where the women are often left in vulnerable positions. Megha is left stranded all alone in the city. She has no money and no place to go. The station-master had mentioned in Jab We Met 'akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai' when Geet missed her train. In Highway, Veera (Alia Bhatt) is not scared after she is kidnapped and, in fact, she becomes friends with her kidnappers. In Tamasha, Tara (Deepika Padukone) loses her passport and money and is left all alone on an island in faraway Corsica where no one even understands English. In Jab Harry Met Sejal, Sejal (Anushka Sharma) goes on a Europe trip with a man she does not know. In Love Aaj Kal (2020), a drunk Zoe (Sara Ali Khan) is left stranded in the middle of the night in Delhi after an altercation with a guy who had been trying to hook up with her. For another woman, these would have been dangerous situations, but these women manage to make these circumstances a memorable (or an unforgettable) one for themselves.
Ahista Ahista also incorporates flowers at different stages in the film. It opens with a child giving flowers to a newly married couple. Later, in a lovely scene, Megha is sitting surrounded by flowers. Towards the end of the film, Ankush brings a bouquet of roses for Megha but does not give it as Dheeraj is with her. There is also a lot of Delhi in the film. Places, such as Qutub Minar, Nizamuddin, Red Fort, and Connaught Place, frequently appear in the film. In one beautiful scene, Ankush talks to Khala (Kamini Khanna) and the camera pans to depict the stunning Jama Masjid in the background.
Some bits that did not entirely work for me, and appear a bit dated now. The sequences between Ankush and Khala are irritating. The character of the phone booth owner, played by Brijendra Kala, who is only interested in sex, felt out of place. Abhay Deol looks far more sophisticated than his character Ankush, which was not the case in the characters of Witness. He does not appear to be the mamooli guy. I guess that may be more because I watched the film fifteen years later, subconsciously, affected by his image in the repertoire of his work where he has played off-beat sophisticated characters. 
There are some nicely done scenes in the film. There is one scene in the old-age home when Ankush comes to meet Megha. They have to pretend that they do not know each other. Thus, they talk via an older person sitting between them, which is endearing. Then, they have the first kiss, which is slightly awkward but feels realistic. It just happens, and it is not a big deal. I also liked the way Ankush confessed his feelings in front of the Father (Sohrab Ardeshir). But the most memorable moment for me was when Megha sits in the Nizamuddin Dargah, he asks a dua for her. He does not know her, yet he prays for her. It is a beautiful moment where he is praying for a stranger. Irshad Kamil's qawwali Aawan Ankhiya plays that says, "Aawan ankhiyan, jaawan aankhiyan, hijra mein tere saawan ankhiyan." The poet's eyes yearn to see the lover. His eyes became drenched with tears, like the monsoon, due to the separation from the lover. In Jab We Met, Kamil writes, "Aaoge jab tum, O Saajana. Angana phool khilenge, barsega saawan jhoom jhoom ke." When the beloved will return, the flowers will blossom and the rain will pour down. Words often remain similar but the emotions they can bring out can be so wonderfully different. And, that is how they make us fall in love with them gradually. Ahista Ahista.
1. Imitiaz Ali had directed an episode in the series Rishtey called Highway that told the story of an affluent girl abducted right before her wedding and then became attached to her kidnapper. In 2014, Ali made Highway with the same theme as his episode in Rishtey. Ali had wanted Highway to be his debut film, but somehow, things did not work out for him. It was only quite later that he made the film even though he had the story ready from the early 2000s.
2. A poster of Shakti Samanta's Jaane-Anjaane can be seen in Ahista Ahista.
3. D. Santosh plays Ankush's friend Pipni in Ahista Ahista. He was also Girish in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year.
4. The song Aahista in Sajid Ali's Laila Majnu had a line, "Mere hona aahista aahista." The lyrics of Ahista Ahista and Laila Majnu are by Irshad Kamil. 

Other Reading:
1) Television in Films—Link
2) Fyodor Dostovesky in Hindi Films—Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"Aawan ankhiyan, jaawan aankhiyan, hijra mein tere saawan ankhiyan."
Ahista Ahista

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