Films that are 50

Films that are 50: ‘Aakhri Khat’ features a baby on its day out and future icon Rajesh Khanna

The debutant actor hunts for his misplaced son in Chetan Anand’s unusual movie from 1966.

Aakhri Khat would have been as intriguing today as it was 50 years ago. Although this was Chetan Anand’s immediate release after Haqeeqat (1964), there weren’t any great expectations from the film since it was the polar opposite of the star-studded war opus in terms of scope and execution. What truly got people interested was the presence of a certain Rajesh Khanna, the winner of the Filmfare-United Producers’ Combine talent contest. Considered the biggest discovery in popular Hindi cinema at the time, Khanna was to have been launched by heavyweights such as GP Sippy, Nasir Husain and Shakti Samanta, but his first release turned out to be a black-and-white experimental film in which he shared the screen with an unlikely co-star.

Rajesh Khanna in ‘Aakhri Khat’.
Rajesh Khanna in ‘Aakhri Khat’.

Made by a filmmaker who was an anomaly in the Hindi film industry, the movie featured a hero who played second fiddle to a toddler and contained a climax that was virtually silent for over 600 feet of film. The story is about Govind (Rajesh Khanna), a young sculptor from Mumbai who falls for village woman Lajjo (Indrani Mukherjee) during a vacation. He leaves her and returns to the city, and when she shows up at his house with a child in tow, he doubts her intentions. The plot was unexceptional for Hindi films of that period. But Anand’s screenplay and the narrative structure infused something extra into Aakhri Khat. Unable to take Govind’s rejection, Lajjo leaves behind a final letter, or “aakhri khat,” and walks away with her son. She ends up dying a few moments later, leaving behind the infant (Master Bunty) all alone in the big bad world.

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The song ‘Rut Jawaan Jawaan’.

A significant portion of the film is intercut between the guilt-ridden Govind frantically searching the city for his son and the toddler ambling along the bustling streets of Mumbai. Anand’s cinematic experiments includes numerous sequences of Govind reacting to Lajjo reading out her letters as well as lengthy non-choreographed shots in which the camera follows the child’s natural actions. Shot by Jal Mistry on actual locations, including overhead bridges and traffic intersections, across mid-1960s Mumbai, the experimental streak overpowers the narrative to such an extent that the proceedings seem boring after a point.

One of the doyens of the Indian People’s Theatre Association, Anand found it liberating to work outside the star system. He inspired Mistry’s camera as an active participant in the proceedings as well as pushed his lead actor. Anand got a complete greenhorn such as Khanna to delve into his own stage background by giving him scenes in which the debutant could express a range of emotions in a single take. Among the standout sequences is the one in which the “aakhri khat” is read out, leaving Khanna alone on the screen for over two minutes to relive the entire relationship. The other is the climax in which Govind hasn’t slept for three days and is almost about to give up when his fifteen-month son miraculously saunters into his studio. For the climax, Anand kept Khanna awake for three days, calling him in the middle of the night to break his sleep and even getting his assistants to keep the actor up.

The director’s son, Ketan, was in college when his father was shooting Aakhri Khat. In an interview to the writer for his book on Rajesh Khanna, titled Dark Star, Ketan Anand recalled how the crew was instructed to debar Khanna from eating or meeting anyone. When Khanna arrived on the sets three days later, his nerves were shot through. During the nearly five-minute long climax in which the infant totters into Govind’s studio and stands before a statue that looks like his mother, Anand was constantly instructing Khanna. The actor does waver every now and then and give hints of the king of melodrama that he would later become, but he still delivers a restrained performance.

The film barely made a mark commercially and critically, but apart from Khanna and Mistry’s cinematography, Aakhri Khat has another silver lining in the form of a lilting Khayyam tune, “Aur Kuchh Der Thahar.” Written by Kaifi Azmi and sung by Mohammed Rafi, the song is one of the few instances in Hindi cinema in which the hero displays as much sensuality as the heroine. Looking back, it’s hardly surprising that Khanna went on to wreck havoc among female fans.

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The song ‘Aur Kuchh Der Thahar’.
Gautam Chintamani is the author of Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna.
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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.

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