Namkeen: The tears are salty







Gulzar’s then 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 labor by the vagaries of her husband, a sarangi player who is insatiably addicted to alcohol and the rural theatre of nautanki and though not explicitly stated, to the debauched life that such artistes were generally understood to be attracted to. 

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 that is jarring. . 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 grates for it is really a matter of how those three women who otherwise come through as extremely capable and competent have been socialized by their own mother. In her prime, Waheeda herself used to perform in Nautankis with the quick silver name of Jugnu.  Undoubtedly, a burnt and singed Waheeda kept the girls in a quasi purdah and away from the beckoning arms of the nautanki arc lights but did she really succeed? Of course not.

All three daughters are maimed by this mania- 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 woman are, 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 behavioral 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.