Gulzar’s Koshish (1972), about the struggles of a deaf and mute couple, is one of the most illustrious films in the career of the poet, writer, lyricist and director. The film depicts the efforts of Haricharan (Sanjeev Kumar) and Aarti (Jaya Bhaduri) to be accepted in an unforgiving society. The movie earned Sanjeev Kumar his second National Film Award for Best Actor after Dastak (1971).
The movie was both inspired by as well as a response to the Japanese-language Happiness of Us Alone (1961), which Gulzar had watched at the International Film Festival of India in 1952. In an interview to The Hindu in 2004, Gulzar said, “The film revolved round the theme of creating a special and separate world for the disabled, an idea which appeared to me to be very reactionary. From that time onward, I wanted to prove that the disabled are part and parcel of society.”
Directed by Zenzo Matsumaya, Happiness of Us Alone stars legendary Japanese actress Hideko Takamine and Keiju Kobayashi as a deaf and mute couple in post-World War II Japan who struggle to survive amidst unending chaos. The couple’s journey becomes an allegory for Japanese society after the devastating war.
There are differences and similarities between the two films. Both movies sincerely avoid sugarcoating their protagonists and unnecessary sentimentalism. Unlike Koshish’s Haricharan and Aarti, Akiko is shown to be deaf while Michio is both deaf and mute.
Aarti’s brother Kanu (Asrani) is a rogue and a bully like the character in the original movie. But unlike Akiko’s brother, Kanu suffers heavily for his deeds.
Om Shivpuri’s character Narayan is an addition tot the Indian version. He is an extension of Akiko’s mother, who plays a conscience keeper as well as a guide in the original Japanese movie. Like Akiko’s mother, Narayan becomes the godfather to the couple’s young son.
Another character who is missing from Koshish is Akiko’s sister, depicted as an archetypal fallen woman who is desperate to escape the devastation of post-war Japan and wants nothing to do with her family.
Both films depict the death of the young son, and both have a second-born who fails to understand the condition of his parents. In Happiness of Us Alone, the conflict eventually teaches Akiko’s son about the sacrifices made by his parents. In a thoughtful scene, Akiko’s son stands up to a tailor who is cheating his mother.
The movie ends with the couple’s son writing about his parents in an essay in school, which heralds a new beginning for Japan itself, suggesting that although the path to reconstruction will be fraught with difficulties, one must not lose hope.
Gulzar charts a different journey for Haricharan and Aarti. Haricharan, who works at a printing press (again borrowed from the original) has been promoted and his boss is keen to have his deaf and mute daughter marry Haricharan’s son. Would the boss have suggested this union if his daughter did not have a disability? Gulzar raises this point, or at least makes us wonder about it.
There have been several movies since about differently abled persons, including Guzaarish (2010), Margarita with a Straw (2014). Koshish itself was remade as Uyarndhavargal in 1977 with Kamal Haasan and Sujatha. The 2014 Tamil film Cuckoo (2014) too explores a similar theme. Gulzar’s version remains a classic, one that is a compliment to the original Japanese movie rather than an unthinking remake.