Dastak 1970 Review

It is not surprising how Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Dastak was based on a radio play. Sound is such a big part of this horrifying domestic drama. Sound – more or less – is the villain in the premise. Be it the knocks on their door, or the melodious numbers, every time there is any form of sound generated other than the lead protagonists’ speech, we worry. This makes Dastak an unusual feature film.

Dastak chronicles the life of Hamid (Sanjeev Kumar) and Salma (Rehana Sultan) who’ve just moved into an apartment in a dubious neighbourhood. The house, previously occupied by a courtesan, is one where all curious eyeballs fall. There are relentless knocks. So much so that Hamid himself needs ‘code words’ to have the door opened. Salma loves to sing with her ‘tanpura’ for company but the locality makes it impossible for her to pursue her interest. Completing the sonorous arc here is the family’s pet bird, a #mynah. A metaphor to Salma, the bird doesn’t get to sing its own song. Perhaps used to its state of being caged, it takes up to mimicking its masters.

There is much more sound play that comes into play in this detailed film rich in symbolism. Be it the distant sound of the ‘ghungroo’, the knocks at odd hours or the hypnotic soundtrack – each of these elements render anything musical or sound-centric close to look sinful. Madan Mohan’s musical numbers are easily his career-best with ‘Maeri Main Kaase Kahoon’ and ‘Hum Hain Mata-e-koocha-o-bazaar’ finding Lata Mangeshkar in her elements (and possibly her finest effort). The finale is a marvelous showcase of how the sound of music turns out distressing for the couple. The vision of Salma belting out a melancholic ballad, an altercation and the subsequent breaking of the ‘tanpura’ establishes society’s everyday nonchalance. One of the finest instances in the film was to see the couple freeing their mynah. Would it be singing with great glee? Would it have been eaten up by hunters? We do not know. At least, it is free. To float in the air. To sing every song that it wants. Salma, until the very last frame, is deprived of that privilege.

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