Millennials Review Classics: A Gut Wrenching Love Story in Junoon
(Deeksha is 25 years old and saw Junoon for the first time in 2017.)
Disclaimer: #JudgeMeNot, Junoon is the first Shashi Kapoor movie I have seen. Yes, I did not see the 'Mere paas MAA hain' movie and Junoon broke the Deewaar between the charming Shashi Kapoor and me. So here goes!
When I was taught about the Revolt of 1857 in school, an eleven-year-old kid could only understand that there was some issue over cow and pig fat being used in rifle cartridges. But Shashi Kapoor-starrer Junoon is an insight into how Hindus and Muslims united the society then and Shyam Benegal tells the story of the most turbulent times in Indian history SO SO... effortlessly.
What Is Junoon All About?
Junoon in English means obsession and it is subjective to the audiences what the real obsession is here. Is it the love for the country or the love for an English woman or both?
Simply put, it's the story of a fiery, principled Pathan (Javed Khan played by Shashi Kapoor) who falls in love with an English girl (Ruth Labadoor played by the ever so beautiful Nafisa Ali), who in turn is devastated after her father was butchered in a church by rebels led by a young sepoy (played by Naseeruddin Shah who looks like Aamir Khan from Mangal Pandey at times).
What next? Javed's wife (Fridauz played by the woman you won't be able to recognise but is really Shabana Azmi), who is always yearning for his attention, makes life hell for Ruth and Javed with her constant badgering.
Shyam Benegal's casting skills are something Bollywood in our age could learn from.
Jennifer Kendal, You Beauty!
And wait... there's someone who needs special mention. Shashi Kapoor's wife Jennifer Kendal (who was English 'for real') is an absolute delight in Junoon. Kendal plays the role of an unshakable widow who will not give her daughter to a Pathan crazily in love with her.
Is Junoon All Drama and No Fun?
Junoon is a complex, serious drama, but not devoid of those light pleasurable moments which helped me connect with its characters. A classic example being a woman who hates Britishers and drops a crass comment that most Indians would relate to, "Kya sab kuch karke haath bhi naa dhooun. Kaagaz se ponchte hain yeh behude phirangi."
I marveled at how Benegal aces at developing each and every character to add flavour to a grave story.
Kaun Hain Ye Log, Kahan Se Aate Hain?
Can you imagine a time when rebels are up in arms against the British and a man gives shelter to an English widow and her daughter? When he senses trouble, he asks another man, friends with a sepoy who killed the woman's husband, for help.
Nafisa Ali as Ruth, a Woman Hard to Find Today
Let's turn to Ruth now. Ruth speaks like just 10 times in the entire movie that ran for a total of 141 minutes, but every time the camera focuses on her eyes, they really say everything that needs to be said. Junoon was Nafisa Ali's debut film and yet again, spot on choice by Shyam Benegal!
We know that Javed Khan has lost his heart to the damsel in distress, but what about Ruth? In the end when Javed loses all hope and 'Dilli', he comes to the church for one last time to get a glimpse of his lady love. He keeps his word and does not compel Ruth to marry him, even when Ruth rushes out for the first time to acknowledge Javed. In the closing shot a voiceover tells us how Javed died and Ruth lived in London till the age of 55 but remained unmarried. Need I say more about the love?
Junoon swept me off for various reasons. I got to know the stellar Shyam Benegal and his work. Despite the off-putting costumes through the movie, the detailing in the scenes and story kept me hooked. Most importantly, because I know the Junoon kind of love does not exist anymore.