Lately, I had seen a film called Salim Langde pe mat ro. I wrote a review of that film in a previous blog post. I had really liked that film, so I tried to watch another film by the same director Saeed Mirza called Albert Pinto ko gussa kyon aata hai. The title in English would translate as “Why does Albert Pinto get angry?”.
In this post, I will give a spoiler free review of the film and my thoughts about it. The entire film too, like the last one, is on Youtube. So you can watch it right away.
What is it about?
The film is the story of Albert, a mechanic living in Mumbai. This person makes a livelihood out of repairing cars of the rich and takes pride in knowing them and being in their cars. He tries to find success in trying to live their lives, but then starts to see that there is a societal order behind his struggle against poverty. The film covers the journey of Albert as he realizes what the real frustrations of life are and where he should be really targeting his anger.
My mother knew of this film, so this film is certainly not as unheard of as Salim Langde pe mat ro. Maybe that’s a reason enough to watch it? It has a stellar cast and a very mature screenplay. Cast includes Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi in the lead roles and Smita Patil, Sulabha and Arvind Deshpande in minor roles. Rohini Hattangadi and Om Puri in minor roles. The film has won the Filmfare Critics Choice Award 1981.
Set in pre-globalization Mumbai, the film is replete with communist and Marxist themes. Quite openly, in fact, with the red flags and the hammer and sickle logo. So dear anti-communists, please don’t be offended!
Honestly, I don’t think that the movie is an out-and-out propaganda. It is completely possible that some person watches the entire film and concludes that the film is just lampooning how childish the communist ideology is. If you are such a person, please contact me!
In Marxist theory, religion is the opium of the people. The characters shown in this film are always religious and are seen visiting the church often and consulting the priest. There is a scene where Albert debates with the priest about what religion could do to help his father who is a mill-worker. The film does not clearly take any sides, but in my opinion this quandary over what religion could do to help the cause of the working class is present to underline the Marxist themes of the movie.
There’s a wonderful anti-capitalist song in the film called Paanch laakh ki gaadi, pictured around car mechanics making fun of a luxury car. This song is pure joy! Here is a link if you just want to watch the song without going through the film.
The story is of Albert, who is played by Naseeruddin Shah. His lead is a crucial component in bringing out the magic in the film. Just like in Salim Langde pe mat ro, the film speaks the most in the quiet moments where Naseeruddin Shah experiences growth and wisdom. His character starts from being a childish arrogant and argumentative man but eventually transforms into a stable human much more in control of his emotions around the people he loves.
As the movie transforms, Albert very loudly breaks away from his character in his behaviour and actions. The film brilliantly manages to convey the inner turmoils of the character and how much he is learning from his life, without a moment of explicitly saying what’s going on!
A good movie always doesn’t have to end with the lead characters winning or gaining something, but what is important is that the lead protagonist becomes a wiser character. The good story is about the story of change and transformation, where we reflect into the behaviour of what the people in the story do and read our own mind. Albert’s journey gave me a lot of thoughts about myself. There was barely a moment where I was not imagining myself in his shoes and connecting the story to my own life. I found the performance of Nasseruddin truly captivating.
Shabana Azmi plays the role of Stella, who is Albert’s girlfriend in the film. She has a subplot of her own struggles in dealing with Albert and her own rich capitalist boss. Although I was disappointed to see that she was putting up against Albert’s tormenting behaviour, she does take steps to show the men around her their place. Just like Albert, her reflections and thoughts are for the viewer to read. But she is definitely a strong female character (especially for a film of 1980) in the film and her presence adds a lot of depth and dimension to the film.
I don’t think the movie passed the Bechdel test though.
Many minor characters in the film have their own struggles and they’re worthy of their own entire films. There is Albert’s brother Dominic, Albert’s father (unnamed?) and his sister Joan (who has an extremely amazing introduction scene!). Their struggles related to various aspects of society like being a woman, or trying to find quick success and individuality through crime. Such an interesting myriad of characters make a very interesting screenplay.
Final thoughts and comparisons
The film deals with a lot of issues. Living in Mumbai, being a minority, religion and most importantly class struggle. It doesn’t appear to be taking sides, but it does portray these problems through the eyes of sufferers and what they learn.
I love it when a movie or a story starts to subtly speak outside the screen to the viewer, although not explicitly breaking the fourth wall. One such scene happens in the film at around 38 minutes in the movie, when Albert and Stella discuss films and society. Stella complains that Christian representation in mainstream Hindi films is typically unrealistic. Interestingly, both these characters are played by Muslims, which in my opinion is a far worse treated minority in India.
The film resembles Salim Langde pe mat ro in a lot of ways. It talks about minorities living in Mumbai and is just as complex in narration. However, personally I feel that this film tries to say too many things at the same time, whereas Salim Langde pe mat ro dealt with communal harmony and showed that well. The overall impact of that film was more, I feel.
The themes of crime and struggles of mill-workers also remind of the film Deewar. Of course, Amitabh Bacchan was the original “angry young man” and he has a complete line-up of films where he rages against the proletariat by becoming a criminal. Films like Laawaris, Kaalia and Zanjeer (not a criminal here!) are some of these films. Obviously, these films are mainstream commercial films and they come with a lot of masala, so it’s not exactly a fair comparison to bring them up here.
Another major similarity of this film is with the ending bits of Garam Hawa. Having seen two films of Saeed Mirza that are similar to Garam Hawa, and the fact that Garam Hawa was written by Kaifi Azmi, the father of Shabana Azmi, I feel quite confident that the director must have seen and greatly admired Garam Hawa.