47 Years of Koshish: What the Gulzar Film Reminds Us About an Indifferent Society


47 Years of Koshish: What the Gulzar Film Reminds Us About an Indifferent Society

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The year 1975 was a thrilling and heavy-duty one for Bollywood: On one hand, there were films like Sholay, Deewar and Dharmatma that gave the audience a dose of hardcore action. On the other hand, Mili, Chupke Chupke and Julie satiated the need for family-oriented films. Koshish came somewhere in between, emerging as perhaps that year’s sweetest and most heartfelt film.A romantic drama spanning two decades, Koshish tells the story of a couple with hearing and speech impairment. One day, the mute Aarti (Jaya Bachchan) runs into the deaf Hari Charan Mathur (Sanjeev Kumar) while trying to outrun eve teasers and her life takes an unexpectedly pleasant turn. Hari, in contrast to the naive Aarti, is employed and worldly wise. He encourages her to join a special school where Aarti learns sign language and the skills required to lead a normal life. In time, Hari and Aarti marry and have a family. Together, they raise a son and lead a dignified life. In their pursuit to live as two able and complete individuals, Aarti and Hari are aided by Narayan (Om Shivpuri), a visually impaired ex-police officer.


In Koshish, neither Aarti nor Hari ever experience a moment’s frustration due to being unable to see or hear.

Often called the most illustrious film of Gulzar’s career, Koshish earned Sanjeev Kumar his second National Film Award and became a reference point for many future films that dealt with physical disabilities as their core issue. Even then, no other film has managed to interpret physical disabilities the way Koshish managed to. Take for instance, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Khamoshi: The Musical (1996) and Black (2005). Although in these films, the lead characters show impressive will power, there are moments when they get evidently frustrated with not being able to “function” as regular people and rely on others in one way or another.

In Koshish, neither Aarti nor Hari ever experience a moment’s frustration due to being unable to see or hear. Instead, their frustration is derived from the regular cruelties of life, like not being able to make ends meet, losing jobs, or experiencing the loss of a loved one. There are things that might frustrate just about anymore. It’s such details that guarantee that Koshish doesn’t see its lead as different. The idea isn’t to make them stand out, but to allow them to blend in. Like any regular couple, Hari and Aarti argue as well. But without being acquainted with sign language, one can never know what is going on, except the two people involved. In a way, isn’t this true of all couples? Koshish gets that words or no words, no one can ever be sure what two people are arguing about.

The idea of Koshish isn’t to make its characters stand out, but to allow them to blend in.

The film was supposedly inspired by Gulzar’s viewing of the 1961 Japanese-language film Happiness of Us Alone, directed by Zenzo Matsumaya. Once, in an interview, Gulzar mentioned that although the film was well-made, it seemed to revolve around the theme of giving the disabled a “special and separate world,” that confined them to themselves, an idea that he didn’t necessarily agree with. In his own way, Gulzar wanted to prove that the disabled are a part and parcel of the society, and thus Koshish was born. In fact, the film takes things a little further and seems to make the point that physical disabilities are not really disabilities at all but mere inconveniences, sometimes even temporary.

>It seems to point to the idea that a total disregard of those who are different, and the society’s general indifference are the real disabilities, not physical impairments. For instance, the first time when Aarti meets Narayan, he is looking to cross a busy road but no one comes to help him. People just continue to walk past him, completely oblivious. Aarti is the one who understands his struggle and helps him, perhaps because she knows what it is like to be in that place. In a way, it’s the society that Gulzar seems to hold accountable. It is their inability to understand the desires of physically disabled, that leads to the world either pitying or ignoring them. Yet, all we need to do is not make them feel any different. Koshish is a reminder that it’s high time the society makes at least an effort to do that.