Cult film

Rajkummar Rao isn’t the only one who is trapped – he shares his agony with Sunil Dutt in ‘Yaadein’

Both films document the travails of men stuck in an apartment.

The March 17 release Trapped, about a man stuck in an apartment, and Sunil Dutt’s Yaadein (1964), a solo-act drama about a man returning to an empty house, couldn’t be more dissimilar. The characters are in a house arrest situation, but their efforts to break free aren’t alike.

Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped is the story of Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao), who finds himself locked in an apartment he cannot break out of. In Yaadein, Anil (Sunil Dutt) returns to his apartment after work and is shocked to find out that his wife Priya (Nargis Dutt) and child have left him.

While Shaurya panics and tries to escape the apartment because he has a date to keep with his girlfriend Noorie (Geetanjali Thapa), Anil loiters inside his spacious apartment and doesn’t step out to look for his family even though he is free to move.

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Trapped (2017).

Unlike in Trapped, where the camera follows Shaurya around the apartment, we stay with Anil for the duration of the 113-minute Yaadein. The narrative has experimental layers and jumps between genres. The movie becomes one long show reel for Sunil Dutt’s capabilities as an actor, producer and director.

After appearing in BR Chopra’s multi-starrer films such as Gumrah (1963), Waqt (1965) and Humraaz (1967), Dutt’s career had flourished enough to encourage him to branch out as a producer. His first production, Yeh Raastey Hain Pyar Ke (1963), was inspired by the sensational Nanavati adultery and murder case.

In his next production, Moni Bhattacharjee’s Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), Dutt played a hot-headed dacoit. Emboldened by the movie’s success, Dutt embarked on Yaadein the following year.

The opening credits of Yaadein proudly champion it as the “World’s First One-Actor Movie”. Dutt took a big gamble with Yaadein. The movie’s mix of arthouse and commercial elements divided critics and moviegoers.

Som Dutt, the actor’s brother and production manager, was apprehensive about the project. In Kishwar Desai’s book Darlingji, a biography of Sunil and his wife Nargis, Som Dutt told the author that he had advised his brother against Yaadein. An undeterred Sunil Dutt said, “You don’t know, it will definitely run.”

In the opening scene, Anil returns to an empty house and begins to fret and fume. He then sobs and prays for Priya to return home. He launches into several lengthy monologues, revealing in one about an altercation he had with Priya the night before. Cartoonist Mario Miranda’s murals appear in flashback scenes along with balloons standing in for real actors.

Yaadein is devoid of formulaic elements, but is a Hindi film ever complete without a song? Lata Mangeshkar croons Dekha Hai Sapna Koi, giving Yaadein its dreamy ending.

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Dekha Hai Sapna Koi from Yaadein (1964).

The film was inspired by incidents from Dutt’s life. Nargis was attending the Karlovy Vary Film Festival as a judge, and had taken their children Sanjay and Namrata with her. Dutt was consumed by the silence in the house. The experience encouraged him to explore the idea of whether loneliness and grief affect men the same way they do women – and whether these emotional states have been depicted in a solo performance in cinema.

Raaj Grover, who worked on the film’s production, told Kishwar Desai that the unit shot for 47 days in Kardar studio in Mumbai. Everyone, including Nargis, wondered what Dutt was up to, but the stubborn actor was confident. “I will achieve wonders with this film,” he predicted.

Dutt shot the film in black and white at a time when colour film was popular. With an unconventional plot, little room for multiple songs, and no co-stars, the film was a box office risk. The reviews didn’t help – the influential Filmfare magazine called it a “worthy experiment”.

A Hindi newspaper wrote a ditty about the film:

“Suni Dutt! Sunil Dutt!! Sunil Dutt !!!
Duniya uski soojh par, jabki de rahi hai daad,
Kalakaar chotey karen ro ro kar fariyaad!
Ro ro kar fariyaad, haath kya unke aaya?
Saheb ney apney matlab ka chitra banaya!”

“(While the world is paying tributes to his intelligence
All the junior artistes are crying and pleading before him!
For what have they got out of his film?
He has made a movie meant only for himself!)”

Friends and colleagues appreciated Dutt’s brave experiment, but moviegoers were less enthusiastic. “We found out that the film would be removed in a week,” Grover told Desai. The panic-stricken team decided to invite dignitaries from Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka to watch the movie and talk it up in the media.

Yaadein was selected by the Berlin International Film Festival for a screening. The hype helped the film run in theatres for five weeks. Yaadein later won the Grand Prix at the Frankfurt Film Festival in 1967, and was mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records in the category of fewest actors in a narrative film – a record that Trapped comes close to but still cannot beat.

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Yaadein (1964).
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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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For more information on special offers on flights to London and other destinations in the UK, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.