It is very rare to find a film in Indian cinema where the character of the father isn’t conveyed as the tyrannical millionaire or the poverty hit breadwinner, folding his hands in humility. He seldom plays the main protagonist of a film – it’s mainly the macho and romantic hero who ends up taking centre stage. An exception to this has been the character of Bauji in the 2014 release Ankhon Dekhi directed by Rajat Kapoor. He has to be one of the most unique characters I’ve seen on screen in recent times. It’s a nuanced performance from the exceptional but underrated actor Sanjay Misra, who through his craft, brings to life the character of Bauji. In the film, his relationships and encounters with others are affected as an epiphany changes his perceptions about life.
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From the first scene, Bauji stands out as his wife and younger brother Rishi scold their daughter Rita for getting into a relationship with a man of a supposed questionable character. One would expect that in a typical middle class Indian family, the father would be tensed and irritated at such a development in the house regarding the ‘honour’ of the family. However, it’s striking that Bauji is shown to be quietly sitting on his bed whilst the family squabble and the daughter is told off. He raises his voice at one point when he shouts ‘Rita’ as she argues with her mother. Other than that, he is very much the silent figure in the scene. It soon becomes apparent from visiting the young man accompanied by police constables, that actually, all those stories cooked up about him are false. It’s clear once he starts crying that he is pretty harmless and actually a decent man.
Once this is established does the story of Bauji’s introspection of life begin when he has an epiphany. He decides the next morning that without seeing something, he will not believe it. He begins lecturing his family on how everyone is fed lies that they believe is the truth. From henceforth, he’ll question everything before believing it. In this morning scene, his wife tells him she’s warmed up the water for him to bathe with and he swirls his fingers just to double check. He even ends up annoying the Pandit (Hindu priest) on a number of occasions. At the barbers, the Pandit asks Bauji why he no longer sees him at the temple anymore and questions whether he has lost his faith. He further asks sarcastically whether he would now like God to come and visit him to which Bauji in a comical tone replies, ‘yes if that experience happens then I would be blessed to witness it.’ Bauji brings a naivety that is so adorable, that it’s impossible not to smile. Misra really gets into the skin of the character and uses his acting talent to make you chuckle throughout.
Somehow it seems poignant that such a principle materialises following an incident with his daughter. As the film progresses, one realises from the father-daughter interactions that both share a very loving and warm relationship. He looks out for her and this is shown in a number of ways. He lends her extra money when her head strong mother refuses and he pacifies and feeds her when she is upset over troubles with the family accepting her boyfriend. Whilst listening to a classical song on the radio, he becomes emotional and conveys to his daughter that he is happy for her to get married should she want, showing how much he cares for her. When designing wedding cards, he keeps the colour white and the layout simple – almost like it’s a matter of sadness that she is to leave. One wonders whether the love for his daughter triggers that deep journey within. If he had hurt his daughter and disregarded her love for her boyfriend, he would have ruined her life. Perhaps we as people should stop making judgements and believing hearsay – food for thought for the audience.
Sanjay Misra as Bauji and Maya Saro as daughter Rita in a still from ‘Ankhon Dekhi’ (Photo credit: mid-day.com)
As close friends and family become aware of Bauji’s philosophical views, he gains a following as he goes about life in Delhi. His talks and thoughts attract his disciples ranging from the priest’s son to the school teacher. At first they have a laugh about it, but gradually it becomes a ritual to listen to intently. Joining in with certain acts (visiting a zoo to see whether a lion actually roars), Bauji unintentionally becomes a person who people begin to look up to. His little group pick up his favourite word ‘hoga’ and question the doctor who arrives to treat him one day, refusing to believe he is medically qualified, aping Bauji at a time of slight concern. However, Bauji eventually tires of their constant sheep like behaviour and asks them to leave. He lectures them on learning things from their own experience – a lesson for the audience who have perhaps ended up losing their path by being sheep who are blindly following others.
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Importantly, it is his relationship with his brother Rishi that turns things a little serious. So wrapped up does he become with his epiphany that he doesn’t realise the effects it could have on his family. His brother’s decision to move out and live separately with his wife, leaves Bauji hurt and despondent. It is hinted by Rishi that Bauji’s recent inability to have a sane conversation is partly to blame for him moving out. Bauji seems to take this to heart as the very next day, he declares that he will no longer be speaking. His health takes a hit with high blood pressure and his epiphany causes him to go public by standing in the middle of a roundabout with a plaque reading ‘everything is here, open your eyes.’ Despite the anger he feels about the lost contact with his brother, he goes to his house to invite him for his daughter’s wedding. It’s here you realise how both brothers are being stubborn, but no love is lost, as Rishi tells his wife off for forgetting to bring tea for Bauji in a steel glass rather than a cup. Once the wedding has been completed and everyone is left to clear up, Rishi breaks down and hugs Bauji, apologising for being cold and distant. It is a touching moment where the volcano finally bursts. Perhaps Bauji’s epiphany didn’t cause a rift after all and made their bond stronger.
Rajat Kapoor as Rishi and Sanjay Misra as Bauji in a still from ‘Ankhon Dekhi.’ (Photo credit: movies.ndtv.com).
Bauji’s epiphany doesn’t end here. The scene shifts to Bauji and his wife on a vacation. It’s only when you find him getting up from his bed and heading to the resort balcony, leaving his wife behind that a sense of dread lingers – something isn’t quite right. The audience wonders whether he is going for a look of the view or is about to take a jump. He is instead found at the very edge of a mountain cliff. It clicks that the dream Bauji narrates of flying and the feeling of happiness at the start of the film might just turn into reality. The effects of the epiphany never left him. This dream he talks of has never left him. He takes the plunge and rather than shouting in fear, Bauji appears at peace. It’s saddening to see why this man fulfilled this puerile dream of his. He clearly pre-planned this trip with his wife carefully, taking to the mountains to achieve this freedom at the cost of his life. He seems like a perfectly sane man. Maybe the lesson is to do something you’ve always wanted to, before you take your last breath, even if it means hurting the people you love in the process. Or maybe it hints at how an old soul when satisfied and done with the zest for life finds a final way of bidding goodbye, no matter how selfish they appear. It’s through Bauji’s eyes that cinema lovers walk away with more than just a day out with an old man who finds wings as he takes a dive from the mountains. That is why Bauji is truly a special character.