Kitaab | 1977 | Movie Review


Year of release—1977

Director— Gulzar

Writer— Gulzar, Bhushan Banmali, Debabrata Sengupta

Producer— Gulzar, Pranlal Mehta

Lead Actors— Master Raju, Master Tito, Uttam Kumar, Vidya Sinha, Dina Pathak

How do you make a Bollywood film without casteist slurs and offensive exchanges on female organs? You can’t. Even if it is a children’s movie.

Before we start, here is something interesting. Kitaab (1977) was written by Gulzar, who worked closely with the Progressive Writers Movement (PWA) and thrived because of the influence the communist organisation wielded in the industry. Such writers claimed they were progressive, pro-feminism and against religious sectarianism, but their calls for religious renaissance were limited to attacking Sanatan Dharma.

Let’s return to the movie now. The story shares the point-of-view of a 12-year-old boy Babla who lives with his elder sister and her husband. He is supposed to be a mischievous-yet-sensitive kid who pens his thoughts in a journal. So sensitive that he leaves a heart-warming message for his teacher on the class blackboard when the latter gets married. “Pandit ji, how was your suhaag raat (first night)”.

In Gulzar’s imagination, this scene reflects how small children ‘innocently’ make fun of their teachers in India. Even if they didn’t, how does it matter? Because in Bollywood, cracking inappropriate jokes at the expense of a tilak-dhaari pandit ji is always a winning idea. We wonder if Maulana ji would have ever faced such questions.

Let’s see how progressive writers discuss women’s place in society. Babla’s sister has appeared in a print ad that shows her face. But her husband and brother are uncomfortable with other people looking at a woman in their family. This embarrassment upsets Babla so much that he runs away from home. His brother-in-law says it happened because his wife didn’t choose a domestic life.

Message: A woman’s place is inside the house. She shouldn’t go out to work or follow her dreams. Outsiders shouldn’t even see her face.

Before you ask, no, the story wasn’t set in Kandahar when the Taliban ruled it in the 90s. This is the story of the Gupta family in Mumbai. Why pick on the Guptas, you ask? It could have been the family of Khan or D’Souza, but why spare a chance to negatively portray the Baniya community when possible?

And there is more. Why such ‘progressive’ writers are so perversely obsessed with the female body will remain a mystery. A conversation between Babla and his friend about drinking breast milk is disgusting and adds no value to the plot. Babla says Kusum briefly fed him, but her boobs never produced milk. Kusum cares for him like her son, but ‘sensitive journal writer’ Babla can only talk about her boobs.

This normalisation of incestuous behaviour among 12-year-olds (masked as innocence) is acceptable in Bollywood but not in our daily lives. Such kids need professional help and not a friendly rub on the head.

This ‘Kitaab’ is not worthy of your library. It is best suited for a wasteland far away.

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