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'Namkeen': The tears are salty
'Namkeen', Gulzar’s famous film (1982), talks about three woman and their sacrifices for the family. The story of film could have been a lot different if the notions of sacrifice was changed. How important is it for a woman to sacrifice for the survival o
GULZAR’S WELL received film, ’Namkeen’was released way back in 1982. The film has a cast of woman characters and the lead is Waheeda Rehman, a spectacled old lady led into manual labour by the vagaries of her husband, a sarangiplayer who is insatiably addicted to alcohol and the rural theatre of nautankiand though not explicitly stated, to the debauched life that such artistes were generally understood to be attracted to.


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There is certain helplessness, hopelessness and a sense of doom about the manner in which the three daughters of Waheeda – Sharmila Tagore, Shabana Azmi and Kiran Vairale carry themselves. Because, of course, if women are really the burden they are shown to be in the film and as their own mother understands them to be, then no amount of legislation will effectively deal with the matter of women’s’ empowerment.


Waheeda’s constant lament about the ’burden’ of three daughters also comes into focus for it shows how those three women, who otherwise come through as extremely capable and competent have been brought up by their own mother. In her prime, Waheeda herself used to perform in nautankiswith the quicksilver name of Jugnu. Undoubtedly, a burnt and singed Waheeda kept the girls in a quasi purdah and away from the beckoning arms of the nautankiarc lights but did she really succeed? Of course not.


All three daughters are unique -- Shabana very literally as the girl who can write exquisitely beautiful poetry but cannot speak; the spunky Kiran Vairale, who is the picture of docile obedience and dogged rebellion at the same time and of course Sharmila, the text book woman of sacrifice but whose sacrifice not only leaves her own life incomplete but also avails little in the context of the family she struggles to protect.


The story of ’Namkeen’ could have been a lot different if the notions of sacrifice – especially, meaningless sacrifice and almost always by women had not been so prevalent. The matter of sacrifice – just how important is this or the survival of a family, a society? A society that is entirely sold over to the notion of self-satisfaction is, of course, a matter of concern but is a society that is morbidly crucifying itself, particularly the women, just how healthy is that? Is it a virtual replay of the notion of Sati -- then an incineration of the body and today a casting out to the ashes of one’s emotions – a more repetitive act? Is after all a woman’s happiness, in particular, a trifling thing and can be and should be and is some thing that can be and is something to be glossed over? Come to think of it, just how prevalent is the notion of self giving, self effaces effacing sacrifice today? Or is something that was prevalent in the 80s of the last century and then quietly disappeared like a silent mist?


Unfortunately, in society there are no grey areas for behavioural norms -- all conduct and more so for women has to be interpreted in black or white although most of life is actually grey and the movie indicates that the taste of life and its inevitable tears is neither sweet nor sour… it is simply salty.
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