During the 1980s, while films such as Mr India, Sharaabi and Khoon Bhari Maang were ruling the box office, there were some filmmakers who were experimenting and changing audience perception. Shyam Benegal, Kundan Shah, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Govind Nihalani and Basu Chatterjee were amongst these, creating Bollywood history with films such as Mandi, Ardh Satya, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Ek Ruka Hua Faisla and Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai.
These were films that didn’t show life through rose-tinted glasses but presented the angst and anger of the burgeoning urban middle class and the youth of the country. And one film that captured it best was Mirza’s Albert Pinto Based on his own story, Mirza captured the anger through a young car mechanic in Mumbai, played by Naseeruddin Shah, who was deluded that if he worked really hard he would one day be rich. Albert is always angry because he thinks other workers have the “wrong attitude” towards life. But when his father, a mill worker, is hurt by goons hired by the mill owners, his anger is finally diverted to where it should be – at the capitalists.
Taking conceptual inspiration from Mirza, filmmaker Soumitra Ranade (who directed Jajantram Mamantram) has created a contemporary Albert Pinto, who is fighting against the cultural, political and ethical breakdown of the society in Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai, releasing today.
“This may be 2019 but as a society we haven’t changed much,” Manav Kaul who plays Albert Pinto, told Mail Today. “The screenplay moves in many layers – Albert’s future, his past, into his mind – which makes it an edgy thriller. At the same time the core of the film is the anger that erupts in Albert, which is a feeling the middle class is going through, the helplessness the youth is feeling. It all spins around him and he doesn’t know what to do about it.”
Even though it’s being called a “remake” Ranade’s idea was to only keep the spirit of the film and names of the characters same, and make the angle and story different, added Kaul.
“What is not relevant is the plot of the earlier film. But the idea is; the soul of the film is. So I took that and weaved a new plot around it,” said Ranade, who is both the director and the writer of the film.
Ranade’s Albert is angry at hypocrisy, corruption, fraudulent practices of the ruling class. But above all he is angry with himself, for being a powerless spectator.
“Today, the pressure on the youth is due to unemployment, consumerism and the fact that you aren’t affluent enough,” added Nandita Das, who is essaying the role of Stella D’Costa, Albert’s love interest. “A young, sensitive person will surely be troubled with everything around. Albert, who is a sensitive man, is of course affected and it’s that angst Soumitra wanted to show.”
And Ranade found the perfect Albert in his good friend Kaul, who he feels “understood” what he was trying do in this film and because he finds Kaul “very interesting” as an actor.
“If I was to tell you he’s a very emotional person or he has some strong negative traits or he’s a very romantic, poetic kind of person – believe me, all these are his traits. He is not the conventionally good looking hero, but he has an edginess in his face which makes him exciting to me as a filmmaker,” said Ranade.
When Kaul read the script, he said, Ranade had written Albert Pinto much like he had himself envisioned him. “I felt it was the most honest thing he’d written. Also because we are so close I understand his thought process so it was a little easy for me to approach the character,” Kaul added. As for Das, Ranade said, he feels she has this “transparent, honest face” which is what he wanted in Stella. But, ‘Stella’ isn’t one person.
“The way Soumitra has interpreted Stella is fundamentally different from the earlier one because here Albert sees Stella in every woman he encounters,” explained Das. “It’s great to be playing multiple characters because as an actor you want to do them as differently as possible. But Soumitra didn’t want me to do that. He wanted to show that in every woman there is a Stella and Albert can see her. So it was a fine balance that I had to maintain to make the characters believable in their different ways and yet have a memory of Stella.”
The 1980 film attained cult status not just because of the brilliant script but the acting from stalwarts such as Shah, Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil. Moreover it was appreciated not just by critics but resonated deeply with a certain section of the audience. Today, when we see a shift in the storytelling once again, would the spirit of Mirza’s film still hold the same kind of attention as then, is the question.
“I think so. Then we were blown away of course, but other films at the time, like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron or Ardh Satya, were dramatic films and the original Albert Pinto was experimental in its approach. There wasn’t much audience who could understand such cinema at the time. But now we have so many films – Newton, for example – in the last few years. So yes I believe the audience is now more receptive to such films,” said Ranade.
Das agrees. “It’s like when I did Manto, more people started reading Saadat Hassan Manto’s works – all the publishers said the sales have gone up. So there’s a certain curiosity created. Similarly I think this film will pique the interest of the audience to watch the older one as well.”
“I think we are done with lighthearted and romantic films. We need some hard-hitting, edgy films, such as AndhaDhun,” feels Kaul. “This film too will create a space for itself because it’s similar in that sense.”