In 2022, we have somehow accepted actors like Ayushmann Khurrana and Kartik Aaryan in the category of ‘relatable, boy-next-door’. The characters they play usually have a strong moral compass, and even when they indulge in something that might not come across as ‘woke’, their characters are passed off as relatable. But like the rest of the heroes, they too emerge victorious in the end which is often not the case with real-life ‘boys next door’. Back in the 1970s, when the larger-than-life heroes like Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and the likes were punching ten guys at once, Amol Palekar proudly carried the ‘boy next door’ tag but unlike the relatable boys of 2022, he didn’t always come off as heroic. The 1977 film Gharaonda had Amol Palekar play a character who can’t even be called a hero, which is probably why it was his most relatable performance in the era where he gave many other remarkable performances like Rajnigandha, Chhoti Si Baat.
Directed by Bhimsain, Gharaonda (the nest) is the story of Sudip who has an office romance with his colleague Chhaya, played by an excellent Zarina Wahab. Their dates are all about having chaat at the beach and walking on the streets, and for a middle-class couple that’s new in the workforce, there could be nothing more relatable. The songs they sing are also all about finding a house together, so they can finally marry each other. Their dreams are achievable, and quite simply put, very middle-class in nature.
While Sudip and Chhaya are middle class, the film reminds you that it exists in a world where the class divide is massive and money can solve almost all your superficial but extremely real problems. Chhaya is routinely harassed by her aged boss named Modi, played by Shreeram Lagoo. He proposes to Chhaya without any hesitation because she apparently reminds him of his dead wife. Chhaya is offended but is well-aware that walking away from this proposal also means walking away from all the money that he can provide for her family.
The film takes a significant turn when Sudip hits rock bottom after losing his friend to suicide. Much like the real-world, Sudip and his friend lose their money to a fraudster while trying to buying a house. When the friend dies, Sudip is broken and in a moment of irrationality, tells Chhaya that she should marry Modi because after he dies, they could take all his wealth. He, of course, does not mean it but Chhaya does just that. From this point on, Sudip starts drowning as the film blatantly tells you that Modi can get whatever he wants because he has money on his side. From singing an upbeat song about finding a love nest, Sudip has now been reduced to man who can’t function and is looking for someplace he could call home, all alone.
As the film moves on, you keep hoping for a miracle that could save Sudip – financially, romantically. We are used to seeing films as tales of morality where good people are eventually rewarded and those with bad intentions are punished in some way. Sudip hasn’t been the ideal picture of a man, but he hasn’t done anything unforgivable so his punishment feels unjust, much like real life. Money lenders follow him day and night, he loses his job and his path in life. When he ultimately asks Chhaya why she left him, she tells him that he was a broken man and in this moment you can see Sudip’s world crumble around him. When he needed her the most, she abandoned him and now he is the only one left to pick up the pieces.
Gharaonda closely examines the endurance of a romantic relationship in the face of the biggest real-world problem – money. The film does not sugarcoat the fact that financial insecurity can make one ‘fall in love’ with their creepy old boss and normalise what would be called harassment. Sudip does not get a traditional happy ending in the film and that seems quite fitting for a man who has lost everything in love. The reward he gets for enduring all of this is the courage to endure even more, which is truly relatable.