I had heard about this movie long time back but got to see it only now. Thanks to my bestie for planting the thought in my head. Usually I am not patient with slow movies but the stillness of this movie (what an irony,eh?) held my attention. The movie focuses on a normal garage mechanic, Naseeruddin Shah (Albert), who is very proud of his job. He takes pride in saying that his customers are actually his friends; he never calls them by salutations like ‘Sahib’. His other job in life is to fight with his, very patient I must say, girl friend, played by Shabana Azmi (Stella). She is a very sharp and smart girl and you will observe she is nothing less than a girl from today’s generation. I was surprised to see that a movie that was made in 1981 could portray a character that can fit in our daily life today.
Albert finds himself in the midst of a situation where his father is participating in the strike of ‘Greater Bombay Textile Strike’ and has a brother who goes to jail as he was held for robbing some warehouse. This is where it got very interesting for me. As a kid, growing up in a mill area in Lower Parel, I have heard so many stories of mills shutting down. One of the reasons why we moved out of there was because the crime rates were all time high due to unemployment. My father was scared for our lives. Of course, you see a very different picture of that place now. Back then, it was very unsustainable. As a five year old kid, I have a very vague memory of these stories but this movie brought it all alive. I could imagine the anger, frustration and irritability of the people gone on strike for bonus and better wage.
Did you guys know? The name Girgoan literally means ‘mill village’. Girni is mill. Once upon a time, this place employed a sizable number of people in the cotton mills. This place has seen strikes that lasted for one or two years. Today, corporate offices have popped up on this land. Billions of rupees have been invested and the place is buzzing and booming. Couple of years back I returned to this place as I landed a job there and I couldn’t recognise the place anymore. So many people get down at currey rd and chichpokli stations to reach their offices, located in Lower Parel, Worli and Girgoan. It is hard to believe that a couple of decades back 100,000 people might have faced unemployment on this very land.
The beauty of the movie is that it is very grounded. Good example of low budget, parallel cinema where the importance is more on putting the message across. This movie, the style of direction also reminds me of old serials like Wagle ki duniya, Nukkad. I sometimes get goosebumps when I think of those times. Why was the focus on Albert? Yes, he was angry all the time. With everyone. But he was always right. He made sense. He had his fears, he had his insecurities but he used to say the right thing. His inability to decide what to do with life other than repairing cars would also add to his frustration. He believed nothing good is possible in India but did not know what else to do. Kind of like most youngsters even today, right? His love for his hairstyle and dressing style helped him keep his sanity. Nothing else would make him happy. Everything, everybody made him angry. I must admit he is also the funniest character in this rather serious movie.
Having faced all this, his anger finds an appropriate target. He challenges the company management who have been trying to stop the strike with help of gundas. Only, in his capacity, all he could do was shout at the cinema screen where this particular message by the company manager was played. He attracted unpleasant reactions by other people in the cinema hall but he stayed true to what he believed and refused to keep quiet. This movie sympathised with people like Albert whose father was insulted in the strike. Thousands of young people might have gone through what Albert went through. It also sympathises with the mill workers, which I think is a very strong stand to take. The angst, the anger was justified. Isiliye Albert Pinto ko gussa aata hai!
Note: The role of Smita Patil (Joan) who played Albert’s sister and Sulbha Deshpande (Albert’s Mother) was rather peripheral but well done.