If poetry is the essence of cinema, Muzaffar Ali’s Gaman (“The Departure”; 1978) takes this fact out of vague texts of film theory and makes it amply explicit on the screen. Along with Pather Panchali, it is perhaps the only film one can think of in film history that does so to this extent, illustrating the special relationship between the two art forms and possible pathways for the future of cinema. Not only its songs, each of which is a masterpiece, but its camerawork, story and characters, all form a coherent narrative that imbues poetry – a poetry whose heart is completely open to the suffering of the poor, and longs for a life that human beings were meant to live – a life of dignity.

When the film was released, this is what Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote about the film:

“Muzaffar Ali’s Gaman is a poem in visuals. Its tragic lyricism and muted eloquence is deeply perceptive. It is a sensitively conceived and truthfully captured slice of reality around us, the beauty and the heartbreak of the human situation makes it a sheer delight, a veritable tour de force.”


The film is woven around a simple story of a villager from Uttar Pradesh, Ghulam Hasan, who migrates to Bombay to earn a living by driving a taxi, leaving behind his young wife and ailing mother. In telling this story – almost using it as an instrument to convey a far deeper reality – Gaman quietly breaks one’s heart as it portrays the dehumanisation of the person in a city, the brutality of living without money, the ugliness of a life surrounded by machines and concrete structures, the loneliness of living amidst a crowd but not having a single friend.

dil hai to dhadakne ka bahaana koi dhunde
patthar ki tarha be-his o be-jaan sa kyun hai

seene mein jalan, aankhon mein toofaan sa kyun hai
is shehr mein har shakhs pareshaan sa kyun hai

kya koi nai baat nazar aati hai hum mein
aaina humein dekh ke hairaan sa kyun hai

As if the filmmaker began to envision this project with the above lines as his starting point, everything in the film slowly emerges out of the state of being they embody and is crafted to convey that state in visual, sound, and narrative. While the city is portrayed as such, there are also portraits of the village as a quaint, beautiful place, warm and familiar like the mother’s embrace, but ruined forever by the transformed economy.

Gaman is among the best in the several great works produced by the Indian New Wave. It is also among the very few films, such as Sagar Sarhadi’s Bazaar, which bring together the tremendous eloquence and finesse of Indo-Islamic culture, especially as found in its poetry, with the realism and austerity of art cinema.

At the same time, it embodies the transformation of that poetry towards its modern, existentialist form. becoming an expression of the meaninglessness of contemporary living. Apart from Shahryar’s unforgettable poem quoted above, another poem by him is used as a backdrop when Ghulam Hasan sees a friend having died, unknown and unnoticed, in this city of alienation.

ajeeb saniha mujh par guzar gaya yaaron
mai apne saaye sa kal raat dar gaya yaaron

wo kaun tha, kahaan ka tha, kya hua tha usse?
suna hai aaj koi shakhs mar gaya yaaron..

gaman 2

The two-hour film proceeds in rhythms of longing and sorrow, not a sorrow that revels in self pity but one that wakens us to true desires – our own and those of others. It leaves you in pain and tears, moved by a suffering that is of the majority of our countrymen and women, even today, and indeed of the majority of the world. That one reads of this fact every other day but fails to feel a pang for them is now a common experience, a testimonial to the deadness of our hearts in the modern world. That Gaman reminds us of this fact and makes us ache for it, making us feel the right of every single human being to not just comfort but love, beauty and passion, is its truly amazing achievement.

~ by tdcatss on June 19, 2015.

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