Safar continues to be one of Rajesh Khanna’s – and Sharmila Tagore’s – most memorable films. Their respective characters, Avinash and Neela, go to medical school together, and forge a lasting friendship, with just subtle shades of romance.
But before anything can be done about this, Avinash, who also happens to be a painter, is diagnosed with blood cancer (one of Bollywood’s oft-used ailments at the time), and he convinces Neela to marry Shekhar (played by Feroz Khan), whose younger brother Neela tutors.
|Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore in a scene from 'Safar'.|
Unfortunately, the marriage is not too successful given Shekhar’s flailing business coupled with his suspicions regarding the relationship between his wife and Avinash.
Even though it was made in 1970, Safar still managed to hold my attention, mainly because its leading pair deliver power-packed performances; their roles, for the most part, are remarkably understated.
For example, in the scene when Avinash tells Neela that he has cancer, and that she should marry Shekhar is extremely powerful; the two admit their love for each other, without saying the words (had it been a film of our times, they would have been in bed by now), but the love between the two is palpable.
This ensures that the jerky camerawork and some odd sequences such as the one in which Neela and her husband sleep in separate beds after they are married, don’t jar too much.
Rajesh Khanna’s role in Anand, in which he also played a man suffering from terminal disease is often compared to Avinash in Safar, and people tend to lump them in the same category. However, while in Anand Rajesh played his role with joie de vivre, in Safar he plays it with an understated melancholy; the helplessness he feels is conveyed with a mere glance, instead of resorting to engaging in dramatic monologues.
|Sharmila Tagore in a scene from 'Safar'.|
Given that the film was released at the height of Rajesh’s superstardom (he drove an entire nation into a frenzy during this time), it is even more remarkable that he didn’t fall prey to his trademark mannerisms (the head tilt and the crinkling of his eyes) which are at an all time low in Safar.
Similarly, Sharmila, although a tad shrill at times, handles her role with equal expertise, ensuring that the film doesn’t just belong to Rajesh but also to her in equal measure.
What adds significant cachet to the film is its mesmerising soundtrack, with memorable songs such as 'Zindagi Ka Safar', 'Hai Ye Kaisa Safar', rendered by Kishore Kumar, who reaches new soulful heights with this song, and 'Hum The Jinke Sahare' by Lata Mangeshkar which is probably one of the most underrated songs of the film.
What makes the songs even more memorable is the fact that they take place just at the right time, and therefore accentuate the narrative rather than interrupting it.
Ultimately, with its powerhouse performances, adept direction and scintillating soundtrack, Safar is a gem of bygone Bollywood.
"Ye manjhi, ye kashti; in lehron me lehrata hua, naachta hua ye geet... main jab bhi isko sun ta hoon mujhe aisa lagta hai ke jaise is kay dharay kay saat mujhe kaheen door jana hai"
"Main ek painter hoon. Painter ke liye sab rang ek se hotay hain, sab mausam ek sa... vo lehratay huey baaghon ki tasveer us tarha banata hai jis tarha jalte huay, taptay huay raiistaan ki..."
"Kiya mohabbat ke waaday, Kiya wafa ke iraaday... Rait ki hain deewaare… Jo bhi chaahay giraa de"
"Main marne se pehle marna nahi chahta"
"Wah... Kal aur aaj main kitna farkh hai"
“Zindagi ko bahut pyaar humne diya – maut se bhi mohabat nibhaaenge hum...”
Mamun Adil is a Bollywood junkie. He tweets @mamunadil and blogs here.