Election se pehle aap humara khayal rakhiye, election ke baad hum apka khayal rakhenge.
This is a politician talking to a newspaper owner very early into the film that became India’s most controversial for its protagonist’s supposedly uncanny resemblance to Indira Gandhi in her most infamous Emergency year, 1975. Gulzar’s Aandhi, which released in February, four months before Emergency was declared, was also banned for a while owing to that supposed resemblance.
Okay, Suchitra Sen is luminous as woman politician Aarti Devi in handloom saris and a tell-tale silver streak in her hair. She’s had an ambitious father who groomed her for politics and an estranged husband. Aarti does seem to be a watered-down version of Indira, which gave Sen, and Aandhi, its enduring glamour. But truth be told, the comparison doesn’t hold water. Indira’s the consummate politician, the world leader. Aarti’s a puppet in the hands of Gulzar, who can’t decide what to do with her, give her a politician’s cunning or a wife’s guilt.
Aandhi hits the highest notes in its songs — RD Burman makes enduring magic with Gulzar’s poems — and when it gets brave and cheeky. So, Aarti Devi first meets J.K., the charming assistant manager of a hotel (played with understated charm by the versatile Sanjeev Kumar), when she’s dead drunk, and he rescues her from the bathroom. The next morning she’s embarrassed he’s seen her stark naked but handles it with aplomb. Unlike Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’s Simran, 20 years later. They marry and have the inevitable ego clashes of a wife who wants to be somebody and a husband who’s happy being nobody. She leaves husband and daughter without a qualm.
In a high-decibel poll year, it is also interesting to go back to simpler times with politicians like Aarti and Chandrasen, stooges like Lallulalji and sundry Gandhi topis drinking rum. But, trading community and Muslim vote banks get more than a passing mention in this political drama, so do smear campaigns and paid media. Pretty primitive, but you can smell the rot.
Aandhi ends up being a storm in a teacup. Aarti wins an election and JK allows her to exit the home and embrace the world. She touches his feet, he helps her into the waiting chopper. The songs are more mature than the film.