by Vanya Lochan
There are some films that touch us - both literally and figuratively. Sparsh (Touch) (1980), directed by Sai Paranjpye, is certainly one of them. This film, with Naseeruddin Shah as Anirudh Parmar, the principal of a blind school, and Shabana Azmi as Kavita Prasad, a widow who goes on to become a fundamental part of the school, deals with several issues, emotions and ‘sensations’ on various levels.
The story, as is the speciality of movies featuring seasoned actors Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi, is very simple and mature, but what make it very special are the deeply rooted nuances and mirrors that make the audience ‘look’ deeper into the way the society treats the differently abled. As opposed to mainstream Bollywood, the protagonist, the ‘hero’ is visually challenged. However, he sternly rejects any gesture of assistance or help coming from ‘normal’ people that might make him come out as weak or disabled. He believes that blind people do not need sympathy. They need empathy and camaraderie. This is why, even while teaching his students, he never makes himself or them feel that they have something missing in their lives. For instance, in a scene wherein he reads out adjectives from a book to his young students, he turns the page while quizzing them on it and tells them that he is turning the page so that ‘neither he nor they can see the words’ to avoid any kind of cheating. Anirudh is portrayed as a very passionate man who is very firm about his belief system.
One day, he mistakenly arrives at Kavita’s doorstep who is rehearsing her Hindustani music. They soon meet at a common friend’s party and Anirudh, who is by now awestruck by Kavita’s music, requests her to spend some time at school and befriend the children, tell them stories or teach some music, drama and handicraft making. He tells her how funds and financial support, even though important are not enough for blind children because just like all other kids they also need exposure to love and all other things that ‘normal’ children at their age receive. Kavita, having lost her husband some three years ago, is shrouded in a darkness of her own and while she initially denies, she later joins the school and becomes a favourite of the students and Anirudh. They eventually fall for each other and get engaged. It is Anirudh’s dealings and negotiations with his daily life that make Kavita realise who he really is as she falls in love with him.
This story, as Azmi’s character says, is the coming together of two sets of shadows that join to churn some rays of light for themselves. What is spectacular (mind the pun) about the film is how subtly it makes us realise several problems and complications blind people face every other day, for instance, how people do not talk to blind people directly and ask someone else to assist them in doing something as ordinary as taking a cup of tea! Or, even, how the staff at a restaurant bring the cheque to Kavita even though Anirudh asks for the bill. Or even something as important and essential as how there are only text-books for blind children printed in Braille, as if denying them access to mythical and fantastical characters or cartoons like Sindbad or Mickey Mouse, and definitely shunning their access to creativity and an alternative means of entertainment. Anirudh laments how everyone seems to pity them but no one actually takes the initiative to perhaps learn Braille and write books for children.
What is perhaps even more touching and genuine is the interplay of feelings and emotions that is displayed in this film. Anirudh feels that Kavita’s love is nothing but ‘sacrifice’ and that he can never be loved like other ‘normal’ men because he will always be the weaker one, the one everyone pities and can only be with in the face of an enormous challenge of sacrificing themselves. The baggage behind their own lives rears itself, an ugly reality begins to dawn on them. Subsequently, however, they reconnect with the "touch" of love.
The film is really intricate and delicate in the little ways in which it deals with love. For the sake of Anirudh, who finds Kavita beautiful for her smell, her softness, she begins to look at the world through his eyes, his sensation. For instance, there’s a scene wherein she chooses a sari that feels soft and smooth over the one that ‘looks’ better. It is beautiful how Kavita perceives him as her partner and for the sake of love, takes the brave step of forsaking her baggage and loving Anirudh, not because he needs her, as she later clarifies, but because he and the school make her happy.
One indispensible stratum in the film is the music. The film’s background score as well as the songs are entirely based on classical music. It is beautiful so see how the same words ‘pyaala’ (saucer) and ‘darpan’ (mirror) are used to compose two songs in the same raga( Raga Bhathiyali) but with completely opposite moods. The main attraction, however, is definitely Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s Sarod concert within the film for how often does one get to listen to the maestro in the midst of an equally beautiful film?
Sparsh, on every level is beautiful, soulful and equally inspiring. It is as much about self-reflection as it is about appreciation of the subtle beauty of relationships and the meaning they hold in one’s life.