An Open Letter to Maya From Gulzar's 'Ijaazat': You Were So Brave
Celebrating the life of a woman whose choices were as relevant and pathbreaking in 1987, as they are in 2021.
Bollywood has presented us with several love triangles over the years, but this one is not quite what we have come to expect out of it.
Ijaazat (Permission), written and directed by Gulzar, released in 1987, and was an immediate standout gem in the era of rambunctious cinema. Based on a Bengali story, Jatugriha, Ijaazat tells the story of three characters who are tied by fate, compulsion, different values and, most importantly, love.
At its core, it's the story of two women who are unlike each other, Sudha (Rekha) and Maya (Anuradha Patel), but are bound to Mahender (Naseeruddin Shah) at different points in their lives.
What unfolds is a drama that captures the three characters right in its grip. Maya, the free-spirited flower child, and the rather timid, indecisive Mahender, are in love with each other despite him being engaged to the steadfast and sturdy Sudha for five years.
The ingenuity lies here in the maturity displayed by the three, especially Sudha, who tries to help Mahender in this situation by telling him to do what is right and what is true. He has never kept her in the dark and his sincerity is what makes Sudha marry him later after he fails to trace Maya and bring her back to meet his grandfather (Shammi Kapoor), who had set an ultimatum before Mahender.
Maya, who is generously and lovingly looked after by her friend and housemate Mona, is known to take off without warning and it is this trait that ultimately costs her her love and ties the three together. It is also a trait that everyone has come to accept unquestioningly of her. The way each character then responds uniquely to this storyline is what makes up the rest of the film.
And it is this trait that made me ponder over and explore Maya and write this letter to her.
The year is 1987 and you are a free bird. You are young, restless, curious and in love. Not an easy combination to be.
Dear Maya, life wasn’t good to you, I might even call it cruel. In Sudha’s own words, you are different than this world. And she was right. You didn’t walk the beaten path and chose a life that made sense to you.
To live a life on your terms takes guts. To make your own rules needs gumption which you had in truckloads. You were a venerable and a vulnerable person, an enigma that entranced everyone. Maybe that’s why everyone treated you like a glass doll. But I don’t think that you were that delicate.
See, to be so driven by your emotions is a bane and a boon. People often mistake the goodness of a heart and kindness as weakness. But to be able to see the good in a world full of ugly requires a special kind of strength which very few possess. You were one of those and your love flowed fluently through the ink of your letters, so it’s only fitting that I write you this tribute as one.
Your ability to be able to romanticise even the most banal of things is what strikes me the most. You are not the easiest of persons at times, an innocent child trapped in the disgusting garb of adulthood, musing the little things that we often overlook now. To be able to create a character that can find the extra in the ordinary, and present it so poetically, can happen only through Gulzar saab’s pen and under his careful direction.
We all treated you like a delicate flower, rather, more like the fresh morning dew drop that is about to slip from the petal that it landed on. I know that your start at life was bitter which led you to look for a life that was steadier and calmer.
However, in hindsight, I can see how brave you were to recognise and leave the triggers behind and create your safe space governed by your happiness and passions. Yes, there is comfort in familiarity but only some can charter a healthier course for themselves.
Maybe you didn’t need Mahender, Sudha and Mona to coddle you. After all, you did enrich their life with your antics, words and imagery. I mean, how can we not celebrate the person who so heavily and headily occupies the room even with their absence?
No wonder you were such an escape artist then. To be able to feel so deeply and perceive more than others takes a toll and is so cumbersome that shutting down is the only way ahead sometimes. And you really felt things, all of it, to an extent that most humans are still not evolved to gauge. It must have been lonely at times, and unfair, to not have anyone understand the depths of your psyche and to only be dismissed as flighty or ‘pagli’.
Some may argue that only you can be held accountable for your downfall. Ironically, in the tempestuous waters of others that you so often got caught up in since childhood, a friend like Sudha would have made an ideal companion for you, someone to safely anchor you to the shore. Despite the odd circumstances that you two came to know each other in, she rooted for you and acknowledged your pain, even gently chiding Mahender when he became slightly indifferent towards you.
You were wronged by so many, pushing their agendas and views on you, that it makes me protective of you. But then again, it takes people cut from a different cloth altogether to really spare the time and understand the real you. Unfortunately, things remain the same today. People want quick fixes. But more and more women are choosing to write their own stories and maybe that’s why, revisiting you today helped me affirm my choices in that direction a little bit.
The world will try hard to make you bow to their sensibilities. You didn’t let them bully you then, and I won’t let them bully me now. We can wear our hearts on our sleeves and still win the battles. We can love fiercely and protect our turfs fiercer still. We won’t back down and I, for one, will keep your childlike enthusiasm and spirit for life alive with mine.
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