For a long time, Arth was a ghazal album for me in a combo-cassette with Saath Saath. The ghazals, be it ‘Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho’, ‘Jhuki jhuki si nazar’, ‘Koi yeh kaise bataaye’, ‘Tere khushboo mein base khat’, or ‘Tu nahi to zindagi mein’, each ghazal is a gem in itself, which changed the dynamics of not only Hindi film’s music, but also ghazals. Almost a decade later, I stumbled upon the film and it left an indelible mark on me.
Sathya Saran, author of Jagjit Singh’s biography, ‘Baat Niklegi to phir’, states, “The ghazals of Arth combine lyrics, tunes and rendition to bring alive the emotional state of the characters involved in the scene. The music is soft but captures the mood of the lyrics, adding the right touch of emotion, drawing the viewer into the scene.”
Based on the extra-marital relationship of Mahesh Bhatt and Parveen Babi, Arth, released in 1982, broke many a stereotype of Hindi films, lending a new perspective to the ‘other woman’ and an end which only someone like Mahesh Bhatt could possibly pull off.
“Once Arth released Parveen didn’t give a damn about what the world thought about her. She had stopped caring about people by then. The media unnecessarily made a big thing of it. Most people do not realise that her breakdown had happened much before Arth was conceived. In fact, her first mental breakdown was also chronicled in Arth. I have never felt that I exploited that memory.
The reality and the subsequent breakdown of this beautiful woman, right in front of my eyes, was so intense, that I had to exorcise it in some way, and film was the best mode. The turbulence and intensity of the time I spent with her is beautifully recorded in the film. Parveen and I parted ways when she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
In fact, I had started a film with her, Ab Meri Baari but after 11 reels, I had to shelve the film because couldn’t do it anymore. Once the heady days of wine and roses were over, the scene was scary – I was high on LSD and she went through a series of nervous breakdowns. I went through trauma and a hell of my own making for two and a half years and all this is reflected in Arth,” shares Mahesh Bhatt in one of his interviews.
As soon as the news was out that Shabana had bagged the Silver Lotus for Best Actress, Arth became the focus of media attention, Rajkumar Barjatya asked to see it and immediately after, bought the film for distribution. And that paved the way for Mahesh Bhatt to make Saraansh for Rajshri Productions.
Arth remains immortal for its closing scene (Will delve on it later) and the party scene where an inebriated Pooja (Shabana) reprimands her husband (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) and his mistress (Smita Patil) and tells them, “Pati ki seva mein aurat ho kabhi ma aur kabhi behan banna padta hai aur bistar mein kabhi r**di.”
Shabana Azmi won National Award for her stellar performance in Arth. This fanned the popular ‘Shabana-Smita cold war’ and also affected the equations of Mahesh Bhatt with Smita Patil. “For weeks, Smita didn’t speak to me, till we ran into each other on the staircase at Park Hotel where I’d gone to meet Vijay Tendulkar. Smita was ranting. I coaxed her to look into my eyes and assured her that I had no intentions of being dishonest with her. Maybe it was my lack of talent that had prevented me from doing justice to both characters. Suddenly her eyes overflowed with tears and hugging me fiercely she laughed, “I can’t even hate you!’ And we were friends again,” shares Mahesh Bhatt in an interview.
The dialogues of this closing scene, which I would refrain from divulging here, are sure to leave an everlasting impact on you as a viewer, wherein you witness Pooja finally understanding the ‘arth’ of her relationship, and in bargain, it gives you a whole new ‘arth’ of man-woman-other woman relationship. In hindsight, I feel that Arth is a film that can only be appreciated by the mature, who have seen life at close quarters and understand the fragility and strength of relationships.