The March 17 release Trapped, about a man stuck in an apartment, and Sunil Dutt’s Yaadein (1964), a solo-act drama about a man returning to an empty house, couldn’t be more dissimilar. The characters are in a house arrest situation, but their efforts to break free aren’t alike.
Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped is the story of Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao), who finds himself locked in an apartment he cannot break out of. In Yaadein, Anil (Sunil Dutt) returns to his apartment after work and is shocked to find out that his wife Priya (Nargis Dutt) and child have left him.
While Shaurya panics and tries to escape the apartment because he has a date to keep with his girlfriend Noorie (Geetanjali Thapa), Anil loiters inside his spacious apartment and doesn’t step out to look for his family even though he is free to move.
Unlike in Trapped, where the camera follows Shaurya around the apartment, we stay with Anil for the duration of the 113-minute Yaadein. The narrative has experimental layers and jumps between genres. The movie becomes one long show reel for Sunil Dutt’s capabilities as an actor, producer and director.
After appearing in BR Chopra’s multi-starrer films such as Gumrah (1963), Waqt (1965) and Humraaz (1967), Dutt’s career had flourished enough to encourage him to branch out as a producer. His first production, Yeh Raastey Hain Pyar Ke (1963), was inspired by the sensational Nanavati adultery and murder case.
In his next production, Moni Bhattacharjee’s Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), Dutt played a hot-headed dacoit. Emboldened by the movie’s success, Dutt embarked on Yaadein the following year.
The opening credits of Yaadein proudly champion it as the “World’s First One-Actor Movie”. Dutt took a big gamble with Yaadein. The movie’s mix of arthouse and commercial elements divided critics and moviegoers.
Som Dutt, the actor’s brother and production manager, was apprehensive about the project. In Kishwar Desai’s book Darlingji, a biography of Sunil and his wife Nargis, Som Dutt told the author that he had advised his brother against Yaadein. An undeterred Sunil Dutt said, “You don’t know, it will definitely run.”
In the opening scene, Anil returns to an empty house and begins to fret and fume. He then sobs and prays for Priya to return home. He launches into several lengthy monologues, revealing in one about an altercation he had with Priya the night before. Cartoonist Mario Miranda’s murals appear in flashback scenes along with balloons standing in for real actors.
Yaadein is devoid of formulaic elements, but is a Hindi film ever complete without a song? Lata Mangeshkar croons Dekha Hai Sapna Koi, giving Yaadein its dreamy ending.
The film was inspired by incidents from Dutt’s life. Nargis was attending the Karlovy Vary Film Festival as a judge, and had taken their children Sanjay and Namrata with her. Dutt was consumed by the silence in the house. The experience encouraged him to explore the idea of whether loneliness and grief affect men the same way they do women – and whether these emotional states have been depicted in a solo performance in cinema.
Raaj Grover, who worked on the film’s production, told Kishwar Desai that the unit shot for 47 days in Kardar studio in Mumbai. Everyone, including Nargis, wondered what Dutt was up to, but the stubborn actor was confident. “I will achieve wonders with this film,” he predicted.
Dutt shot the film in black and white at a time when colour film was popular. With an unconventional plot, little room for multiple songs, and no co-stars, the film was a box office risk. The reviews didn’t help – the influential Filmfare magazine called it a “worthy experiment”.
A Hindi newspaper wrote a ditty about the film:
“Suni Dutt! Sunil Dutt!! Sunil Dutt !!!
Duniya uski soojh par, jabki de rahi hai daad,
Kalakaar chotey karen ro ro kar fariyaad!
Ro ro kar fariyaad, haath kya unke aaya?
Saheb ney apney matlab ka chitra banaya!”
“(While the world is paying tributes to his intelligence
All the junior artistes are crying and pleading before him!
For what have they got out of his film?
He has made a movie meant only for himself!)”
Friends and colleagues appreciated Dutt’s brave experiment, but moviegoers were less enthusiastic. “We found out that the film would be removed in a week,” Grover told Desai. The panic-stricken team decided to invite dignitaries from Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka to watch the movie and talk it up in the media.
Yaadein was selected by the Berlin International Film Festival for a screening. The hype helped the film run in theatres for five weeks. Yaadein later won the Grand Prix at the Frankfurt Film Festival in 1967, and was mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records in the category of fewest actors in a narrative film – a record that Trapped comes close to but still cannot beat.