classic film

Films at 50: Mystery thriller ‘Mera Saaya’ was a career best for Sadhana

Raj Khosla’s 1966 movie features the 1960s star in an indelible performance alongside Sunil Dutt.

“Tu jahan jahan chalega, mera saaya saath hoga (Wherever you go my shadow will follow)”: these words from the title track of the movie Mera Saaya have taken on a sadly ironic meaning after the death of the lead actress, Sadhana, on December 25, 2015.

Sadhana was a leading name in the decade of the bouffant and the colour film set in Kashmir, but she wasn’t just the epitome of glamour. An understated and extremely competent actress, Sadhana was unfairly underrated as a performer in spite of her fine work in such films as Parakh (1960), Hum Dono (1961), Asli Naqli (1962), Woh Kaun Thi? (1964), Arzoo (1965) and, of course, Mera Saaya, which completes its fiftieth anniversary this year.

Mera Saaya (My Shadow) was Sadhana’s third film with the versatile director Raj Khosla. It is described as the second of the so-called mystery trilogy with the actor, the others being Woh Kaun Thi?, an adaptation of Wilkie Collins’s novel The Woman in White, and the comparatively disappointing Anita (1967). Common between the stand-alone films is the way Khosla most effectively uses Sadhana as an enigmatic catalyst who gets the plot moving. In all three films, Sadhana is the key to solving the mysterious events taking place around the leading men.

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Mera Saaya is the third version of the story first seen in the Marathi film Paathlaag (1964) and then in the Tamil film Idhaya Kamalam (1965). Thakur Rakesh Singh (Sunil Dutt), a lawyer who has gone abroad for higher studies, rushes back home to his ailing wife Geeta (Sadhana), who dies in his arms. Shattered, he cremates her, builds a memorial for her and mourns her. One day, the police contact him. They’ve arrested a woman from a gang of dacoits who claims to be his spouse. When he meets the woman (Sadhana again), he is gobsmacked: she is a dead ringer for his wife. When efforts to prove her identity land up in court, she seems to know all the details of their wedded past, including the most intimate ones.

Though a remake the second time over, Khosla makes sure the film bears his trademark stamp. He keeps the narrative fast-paced, especially in the courtroom scenes. The mystery element holds its own right till the denouement. The final explanation is a relative letdown after a fine build-up. The film handles the romantic scenes in the flashback sequences tenderly and lovingly, most effectively juxtaposing them with the thriller track and the red herrings scattered across the present. The handling of the song sequences, which were Khosla’s big strength and a skill he picked up from mentor Guru Dutt, holds up well even today, making great use of the gorgeous Lake Palace in Udaipur that serves as Sunil Dutt’s house in the movie. However, the lengthy comedy track could have been done away with altogether. It adds little to the film.

While Sunil Dutt flawlessly plays the devoted husband mourning for his beautiful wife, it is Sadhana who owns Mera Saaya. Playing her second double role after Woh Kaun Thi?, she not only looks beautiful but also brings grace, dignity and even cheeky humour to her role as the ideal wife. Some of the photos of her wedding in the film were taken from her own nuptials.

Credit: A still from 'Mera Saaya.'
Credit: A still from 'Mera Saaya.'

Sadhana brings just the right amount of greyness and ambiguity to the role of her bad twin. It is easily one of her better performances, and hardly surprising. Khosla was known in his time, like George Cukor in Hollywood, as a women’s director. Not just Sadhana, but also Suchitra Sen in Bambai Ka Babu (1960), Asha Parekh in Do Badan (1966) and Chirag (1969), Simi Garewal in Do Badan, and Nutan in Main Tulsi Tere Angan Ki (1978) all did extremely fine work under Khosla’s direction.

The other big star of Mera Saaya besides Sadhana is composer Madan Mohan. In a career studded with memorable music, Mera Saaya is one of his definitive scores. The songs, written by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, are beautifully composed, be it the haunting title song, the soulful Aap Ke Pehloo Mein Aakar Ro Diye, the playful romantic ditty Nainonwali Ne Haay Mera Dil Loota, the ultra romantic Nainon Mein Badra Chhaye or the saucy Jhumka Gira Re. The title song, in particular, stays with you long after the film is over. Picking it as one of her 20 best ever songs for the Hindustan Times newspaper in 2013, Lata Mangeshkar said, “It’s a beautiful composition by Madan bhaiya about yearning for a loved one that you have lost. Exceptionally touching and close to my heart.”

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.