There is something almost hilariously over the top about the set up for Yaadein, as the title credits declare this a “one actor only film”. But it is Sunil Dutt at the helm and in front of the camera, and he made some very interesting films and film choices over the years. Yaadein is neither as bombastic nor simple as it seems at first glance, and doesn’t come across as a vanity project.
The camera tracks through an empty house with a lovely romantic melody accompanying the fluttering draperies and stylish interiors. A man comes home on this dark stormy night and finds the house empty, his wife and children gone. Being a Hindi film hero, Anil (Sunil Dutt) assumes the worst.
He wanders around calling for his wife Priya but the place is deserted. He looked quite terrified when he wandered into the kitchen and there was no dinner left for him. What on earth!
He gets a phone call and spends a few minutes chatting with someone and seems to be cheered up after the call. But his game of manic hide and seek around the house soon turns to melancholy as he flirts and declares his love for…a statue. And then through phone calls, a note, and a lot of talking to himself we learn that he and Priya had a huge row recently, that she is good as gold and he is not so much and there seems to be another woman in his life.
Dutt uses lots of tricky camera angles, shifting perspectives, lots of sound effects, and uses objects to trigger more of Anil’s introspection and reactions. It’s appropriately noir-ish when Anil’s thoughts turn dark. Akhtar ul-Iman wrote the script and I wish that I’d had subtitles as I missed a lot of detail, but think I got the gist of it. Anil is demanding, pleading, bargaining and eventually depressed as he works through something akin to the Kübler-Ross model.
He is full of bravado when he yells at the empty house that he can cook with his own hands and straps on an apron. Then he moves on to trying to boil a kettle. Well. He is going to need building maintenance to sort out the flood in the kitchen. He is useless, especially when distracted by memories of Priya.
He relives their early relationship when he was first bowled over by Priya, wandering around extolling her virtues and mumbling “Kya Ladki Hai!”. Anil is a sensual man who appreciates the heady days of new love and physical passion. He was overjoyed at the birth of his son but hadn’t stopped to think about actually raising a child and what that might mean to his lifestyle. Especially the no late nights rule, which he breaks almost immediately, and the separate beds. At one stage Anil does a very cheesy striptease, and although there is no Priya in the scene I could feel her total lack of interest.
Despite this being a One Actor Film, there are other actors involved. There are phone calls, party guests and other characters heard but not seen in flashbacks. I couldn’t recognise all the voices and caricatures though. We see Shyama, the probable other woman as one of many airy gas filled guests at a party. I love the stylised caricatures and balloon people that stand in for other characters. A party scene is filmed in front of a very 60s cartoon panel depicting a jazzy party. Vasant Desai’s music is lush and melancholy, a perfect match. And Sunil Dutt really doesn’t miss a beat no matter what he is acting at.
His longing for Priya is palpable but when she refuses to have sex he pokes her with a hairpin and has a childish tantrum. He was a spoilt manchild himself and while he loved his kids he resented the way they forced new priorities and demands that aren’t all about him into his blissful life.
The emotional waves seem to flood in a bit suddenly. I mean, he could have just called her parents and asked if they knew where she was, or gone out to have a look. He seems so utterly sure they are gone forever despite all the things she has left in the house – her hairbrush, clothes, jewellery, her lipstick that he tastes as though he is kissing her again. But the emotions do ring true even if I think the person having them might be overdoing it. He does go a bit over the top but we are not seeing Anil’s physical reality, more his remembered events and emotions with all the distortions of time and memory, and with himself firmly at the centre.
He passes out after a particularly energetic flashback to his kids tormenting him. Finally he is attacked by toys. The snarling mechanical lion is not all that terrifying but Dutt emotes fiercely enough for both of them. His disturbance turns into a full blown breakdown, and he becomes suicidal partly because he has been abandoned and partly because he knows he doesn’t deserve another chance.
Sidenote: There is a very silly game based on the actor William Shatner. The rules are simple. If someone shouts “SHATNER” at you, you have to overact whatever you are doing at that moment. And at times I wondered if there was a prototype of that game called “DUTT”.
Despite her absence, it is the woman who shapes the movie. The gap she leaves in Anil’s life, the way he has taken her for granted, the infidelities and inconsiderate behaviour he regrets. He realises he was incredibly lucky to have her and it is devastating to him, who has always been so suave and devil may care, that losing her may be all his own doing. Everything that is good and real in his life is represented by his unseen but ever present wife. But will she return? And what will she do if she sees the mess he has made of their home? I’d have turned around and walked back out if it was me!
Despite the heavy subject and the intense focus on Anil, Yaadein is not a chore to watch and it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. There is suspense, humour, some facepalm moments, and some beautifully sensual and romantic scenes. I’m not sure I’d watch it over and over, but I certainly recommend it as an engaging artistic project made by an interesting director who had a clear and individual vision. 4 stars! (a little upgrade from my original thought of 3 ½ for the sheer vision and commitment)