Matching steps on the path of life

I express my heartfelt gratitude for esteemed reviewer and blogger – Deepa  Swaminathan for inspiring me to first watch this movie and  thereafter write its review. Had it not been for her instigation, I  would have deprived myself from watching this gem of a movie from the  Rajshri banner, the flagbearer of simplicity in Hindi cinema during the sixties, the seventies and the eighties. Though most of the movies made by them during that period spanning around a quarter of a century (1962-1986) contained touching story, simple milieu and lovable characters,  Humkadam (1980) is different in this respect that it is highly realistic and the middle class working people can relate to its characters and see the reflection of their own lives in the story told on the screen.

I remember being out of job for around 4 months in 1998. Because of recession, there were almost no openings in the Indian companies and more importantly, it’s extremely difficult to get a job when you are not having a job already in your hand. That painful period still haunts me because during that time, I had to face a lot of humiliation too at various places. Irrespective of my qualification (C.A.) and enviable academic record, I was treated very shabbily at the places of certain prospective employers. Above all, my confidence level had touched an all time low because of the circumstances prevailing.

My wife was a working woman and she served as a teacher in Govt. schools for more than 17 years. Her working life has been the premise of many troubles in our family life. However it only supported the family when I was not earning. And a working woman has to do double duty because household is taken care of by herself only. Males (Indian males in particular) are always finding it difficult to manage the household. While watching this movie, I could relate to the story and the characters in several ways.Humkadam (one who matches steps with you on a path) is the story of an ordinary salaried person, Shekhar (Parikshit Saahni) living in Mumbai with his very very traditional and confined to the household wife, Indu (Raakhee) and their kid. Highly domesticated Indu has neither served anywhere nor interacted with the outside world in her life. However when Shekhar’s parents (A.K. Hangal and Deena Pathak) alongwith his younger sister shift to Mumbai and start living with them, Shekhar feels that his income is not sufficient to manage the extended family. He instigates Indu to work outside. Reluctant Indu gets the job of a salesgirl in a company headed by Mr. Dutt (Biswajeet). She gradually becomes confident to handle her job as well as dealing with the outside world. However her working is not looked upon with respect in her own family and despite supporting the family with her income she gets taunts only in return. Her father-in-law always feels that his daughter-in-law is going astray. The real testing time comes for Indu when the attitude of her father-in-law spreads to her husband too and cracks of misunderstanding prop in the ground of her marital life.

One fine morning, Shekhar pressurizes Indu to resign from her job but the same day, he finds that his employer company is closed and he is out of job. Shocked, Shekhar stops Indu from resigning and thereafter Indu’s earning becomes the only source of income for the family. Unemployed Shekhar’s personality and psyche gets deteriorated more and more and he starts suspecting the character of Indu which brings their home to the point of breakage because Indu is also brimmed up with frustration and anguish now. However due to a painful incident, Shekhar’s father realizes his mistake of misunderstanding his daughter-in-law and finally, Shekhar also realizes the worth of his HUMKADAM, i.e., his wife who has always stood by him, moving step-by-step with him on the thorny path of life.

I had seen the life of the middle class people in Mumbai with both males and females working in different offices or fields around 17-18 years back. Life started from early morning and lasted till dark when working males and females were back to their homes through buses of Best or local trains. I don’t think there has come any substantial change in the scenario now. That’s the real India and people find solace from their day-to-day problems in mutual discussions and sharing laughs with the colleagues. Aged people try to find comfort in the company of similar age-group people. This is a film which is not filmy from any angle.Humkadam shows the growing confidence of a woman who comes out of her domesticated life and sees the world through her own eyes and not through hearsay. Since it is a more than three decades old movie, it shows the psychological barrier in the minds of the elders regarding the working of the family’s women. Things have changed only partially and it exists even today in a sizable part of the old-fashioned Indian society. And finally, it is the typical Indian male chauvinism which is the biggest problem. Males maintain double standards in their behaviour. They are happy to have the earnings of their wives but at the same time, they are willing to impose all kinds of restrictions on them and keep a suspicious eye on them which is highly unjustified. This undue punishment for a loving woman is the biggest curse of the patriarchal Indian society. The family members want her to earn but not ready to trust her, leave aside respecting her efforts and toil for the cause of the family only.

Humkadam depicts the gradual transformation in the times and stresses the need to transform the mentality of the people towards women’s working in public life. It also demonstrates the transformation  of personality when a woman comes out of her house and starts doing something different. It also underscores the ages-old fact that empty mind is devil’s workshop through the negative changes propping up in Shekhar’s personality when he loses his job.

Humkadam underscores the importance of trust between a husband and a wife. If you cannot trust your life-partner, you do not deserve to be considered a life-partner yourself. The relation of a husband and a wife is perhaps the most significant one who have to move ahead on the path of life together, matching step-by-step. If they are truly each other’s Humkadam, even the thorny path will make a pleasant journey, else the journey of (marital and family) life will turn into a torture, a burden.

Humkadam also tells something which I always reiterate in my spoken and written words. It is always easy to misunderstand someone but very difficult to understand him / her by seeing the things from his / her angle and knowing all the facts (not just a part of them). The way Shekhar’s father misunderstands first his daughter-in-law, Indu and thereafter his morning-walk companion, Harihar Prasaad (Madan Puri) who is a retired businessman, only to realize his mistake later, is a great lesson in life. The poor assessment of Shekhar for Suzie (Helen) who is working whereas her handicapped husband stays at home is another example. Indu realizes the greatness of Suzie when she visits her home and meets her husband.The complete milieu of the movie is utterly realistic and the characters are real flesh and blood human-beings who can be seen throughout our country struggling with their everyday problems and managing tense relations in personal lives alongwith them. Still if they are able to preserve love and mutual trust, they can successfully manage all of their problems. It’s a movie which most of the middle class Indians can easily relate to the way I am able to relate to.

Proficient director, Anil Ganguly has told the story in an interesting manner and there is no boredom. The script is studded with several touching scenes. Humkadam is, in fact, a lesson for the script-writers. This small movie has nothing superfluous and all the characters and incidents are perfectly in place. Even the smallest character of the movie is able to maintain his / her identity in the story and that’s what I call a truly good story.

Art director has done an outstanding job and the complete set-up of the movie is as realistic as the story and the characters are. The house of the principal characters, the beach, the shops, the offices, the tea-stall, everything appears to be real and reliable. The cinematographer has done an equally outstanding job in capturing the working life of Mumbai. Technically, the movie is flawless. The duration is hardly two hours and there is not even the smallest of dragging of the story. Low production value is in line with the simplicity required in the story.

Anil Ganguly has always been able to extract the best from Raakhee Gulzaar and Humkadam is no exception. Raakhee has marvelled in the author-backed role and I am the first one (perhaps) to record the fact that her best on-screen chemistry was with Parikshit Saahni only. The son of the legendary artist, (Late) Balraaj Saahni – Parikshit is, in my view, one of the most underrated actors of Bollywood. Nobody could do the role of Shekhar, the middle class salaried person; responsible son, brother, husband and father and finally, the typical Indian male with a traditional style of thinking; better than him. The complete supporting cast has done pretty well including the child-artist. The surprise packet of the film is – Biswajeet as the kind-hearted and understanding Mr. Dutt, Indu’s employer. This popular romantic hero of the sixties has delivered a highly mature performance, rendering reliability to the character of Mr. Dutt (though I have seen very few such understanding and generous employers in my life).

Bappi Lahiri’s music contains only two songs out of which the title song – Aye Mere Humkadam is not only melodious but also meaningful whose beautiful lyric has been penned by the writer of this movie – M.G. Hashmat.

Humkadam was not a box office success and it is a long-forgotten movie. However, after watching, I consider it as the most underrated movie of the Rajshri banner, the flag-bearer of simple, lovable and down-to-earth movies. This movie is not for those who like the filthy-rich or larger than life characters as shown in several contemporary movies. Watch this outstanding movie if you want to watch the real Indian middle class in the metro cities and able to relate to their lives. Despite its being an entertaining movie, I recommend it more for its inspirational quotient. The audience liking sentimental movies based on husband-wife relationship should not miss it.

And thank you Deepa.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
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