Aakhir Kyon (1985) Meaning ‘But Why?’ Questions The Idea Of An ‘Ideal Indian Woman’!

Set in the industrial 80s, Aakhir Kyon starring the legendary Smita Patil sheds light on how women can have an identity other than being known as someone’s trophy wife and a child’s mother.

Aakhir Kyon (1985) which translates to “But Why?” is a classic film starring the legendary Smita Patil and Rajesh Khanna followed by Rakesh Roshan and Tina Munim (Ambani) directed by J. Om Prakash. This type of film is referred to as Parallel or New Indian Cinema which is inclined toward informing the audience about the reality of life and is a strong proponent of women empowerment.

Set in the industrial 80s, Aakhir Kyon sheds light on women empowerment and how women can have an identity other than being known as someone’s trophy wife and a child’s mother. In other words, it sheds light on the metamorphosis of women throughout the passage of time and multiple life experiences.

A true Smita Patil film

Aakhir Kyon is indeed a Smita Patil film in the sense that you simply cannot take your eyes off of her. She was a woman of substance, a true fighter, and a complete inspiration to all women. A game-changer back in that era where very few women actually displayed the invincible courage to stand up towards injustice and question gender equality. An exceptional artist who was a strong proponent of women empowerment and an active feminist in her personal life which organically translated on-screen.

Aakhir Kyon begins by introducing a successful and renowned novelist Asha Shri (Patil) at the launch of her 50th best-selling novel titled “Parikrama” (Predicament). As she is honoured on stage, she invites Alok (Rajesh Khanna) to accept her book presented to her by the publishers as he has been the guiding force behind encouraging her to embark upon a career in writing.

Ironically, her 50th novel revolves around her life story, hence acts as the prelude to the film seen in flashback.

A story oft repeated in Indian society

Here we find out that Asha Shri is the pen-name for Nisha Sharma (Patil). Nisha Sharma was pampered by her parents in a village and lived a joyful life. Unfortunately, a natural disaster swept away everyone in her village due to which her parents passed away. She survived and her maternal uncle (Mama) took her home with him much to the dismay of her maternal aunty (Mami) and younger cousin Indu (Tina Munim).

Nisha and Indu are two women who are diametrically opposite from each other. For instance, Nisha is someone who is homely, likes to help out in the kitchen, passively polite, and very mature. She is well-educated since she has recently earned an M.A. degree. Whereas, Indu is lively, increasingly ambitious, flirtatious, and a bit immature with only a bachelor’s degree. The main friction between the two cousins takes place when Indu falls in love with the groom’s wealthy best friend Kabir Suri (Rakesh Roshan) at Nisha’s dear friend Abha’s wedding. However, Kabir ends up asking for Nisha’s hand for marriage since he has this stereotypical mindset of what an ideal wife should be and Nisha embodies that image perfectly.

According to Kabir, an ideal wife should be conservative, homely, non-outgoing, and not have an alternative identity as a woman. This type of mindset is unacceptable and is terribly illogical. In other words, he does not feel that an outgoing career-oriented woman like Indu would be ideal as a wife to keep him happy inside the house and to be showcased as a trophy wife outside the house.

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This ends up irking Indu and her mother since they had never thought Kabir would want to marry Nisha and not her. For instance, Indu says, “Joh hona tha woh to ho gaya. Lekin joh hua hai main bardasht nahi kar sakungi. Didi ke waje se meri joh behzaadi hui hai usse mein marte dum tak nahi bhul sakti.” (Whatever had to happen happened. But I cannot tolerate what has happened. I will never forget my insult that happened because of Nisha until my death!)

A typical Indian marriage…

Hence, Nisha gets married to Kabir and all seems to be going happily for them. Kabir even gifts her a lot of saris and jewelry, including a very special shawl further manifesting his love for Nisha which seems too good to be true! Nisha gets smitten by his sweet gesture and they share a passionate embrace.

Their marriage starts to steadily hit the rocks when Kabir constantly says while showing Nisha his lavish palatial mansion, “Hamari shaan aur shaukat dekhar aaj aap ko pata chal jayega ke aab aap Nisha Sharma jaise koi choti moti cheez nahi hai. Mrs. Kabir Suri jaise bahut bari hasti hai.” (Today you will realize how big Mrs. Kabir Suri is by seeing my fame and glory. You are no longer a small existence person named Nisha Sharma. Now you are a larger than life existence named Mrs. Kabir Suri).

He says this very casually without even thinking about the repercussions and whether Nisha even likes hearing these statements from him. Her facial expressions always display her dislike for such comments regarding a woman’s identity and during the course of the film, she will definitely prove him and the entire world wrong. In other words, Kabir is proudly displaying male chauvinism by boasting of his wealth and influential name.

But Nisha is not what her husband wants her to be

These remarks were said by Kabir prior to Nisha heading out as Mrs. Kabir Suri to attend the Inauguration of Women’s Welfare Society called “Aadhar.” There, she makes a rousing speech that echoes the vibration of women empowerment. For instance, she proclaims,

“Behnon yaha aakhar aap khud ko chota naa samjhiye. Yeh maat samjhiye ke aap gunehgaar hai. Aur aap ko zindagi bhar saza bhugatni hai. Bilkul nahi. Joh kuch bhi hua usse bhul jaiye. Aur lagan aur bharose ke saath ek nayi shuruaat kijiye. Mujshe vishwaas hai ki sapaltha aapke paon chumegi. Mandiron aur gharon mein rakhein devi ki murti hee shakti nahi hai. Aap khudbi ek shakti hai jisme kaam karni ki aur sehne ki apar taaqat hai. Yeh apni taaqat aap khud pehchaniye aur Aadhar ko sirf apni manzil na samajkar uss manzil tak pahuchaane wali rail gari hee samjhiye.”

To translate: Sisters, please do not consider yourself small upon coming here. Do not consider yourself as a criminal. And you have to face a life sentence. Absolutely not! Whatever has happened, please forget it. Please start your new life with dedication and trust. I believe that success will touch your feet. Goddesses worshiped in temples and houses are not the only sources of strength. You are a strength yourself who has the power to work and endure obstacles. Please recognize your own strength and consider “Aadhar” as not only a destination, but rather a train or car that will drive you towards your destination.

He wanted a trophy wife to hide his real ways

Within 30 mins of the film, we find out that Kabir is actually a womanizer who engages in multiple sexual relationships with other women. He ends up lying to Nisha saying that he is out on the pretext of work and meetings. Holi arrives and Kabir gives Nisha the responsibility of arranging a Holi party while encouraging Indu to be invited. Now this seems like the inevitable invitation for disaster and marital discord in Nisha’s life.

A peppy and festive Holi song titled “Saat Rang Mein Khel Rahi Hai Dilwalon Ki Holi ” showcasing the flirtatious romance between Kabir and Indu. Nisha watches and smiles but does not take it to heart.

Then Nisha gets pregnant but it turns out that her pregnancy has some complications. This leads to Indu volunteering to move in with them in the pretext of taking care of Nisha in her vulnerable state. Kabir is more than happy to have Indu move in with them, but nobody bothered to ask Nisha what she really wants and if she is actually happy with the idea of Indu moving in. However, Indu has an ulterior motive which unravels later on in the plot.

She ends up sleeping together with Kabir unbeknownst to Nisha who is confined to the ground floor as her OB/GYN advised her to not climb the stairs. In one of the scenes, we can see her cozying up to Kabir by stitching the broken buttons of his shirt and Kabir does get enamored by her tactics.

During her pregnancy, Nisha eventually does get an idea of what is going on around the house leaving her morally shaken. Both Kabir and Indu shrewdly take advantage of her vulnerable condition and end up forming an intimate relationship which is demoralizing to witness.

Eventually, Nisha gives birth to a baby girl and Kabir simply leaves with Indu and her mom without even seeing Nisha and their newborn baby. This shatters Nisha even more when she regains consciousness and asks to see Kabir alongside their newborn baby. During one of the scenes where Kabir and Indu are shown sleeping together, the painting of a ship drowning amidst a tumultuous storm symbolizes the subsequent culmination of Nisha and Kabir’s marriage.

The turning point occurs when she realizes Indu wore the special shawl that she cherishes closely to her heart at an event and her husband revealing their extramarital affair further breaks her apart, leaving her heartbroken. She utters these lines while shedding tears of anguish,

“Tumne yeh shawl pehna! Tumhari himmat kaise hui. Saab jaante hai, tum bhi jaante ho iss shawl mein meri pran basse hui hai. Phir bhi tumhi isse haat kaise lagaya. Tum chali jao yehase. Chali jao!” To translate: You wore this shawl! How dare you. Everyone knows, even you know that my soul resides in this specific shawl. How did you even touch it! Go away from here. Go away!

Kabir gets surprised when Nisha leaves a social gathering upon seeing Indu with him and everyone mistaking Indu as his wife. He did not expect Nisha to be outspoken and stand against injustice. Their exchange of words goes as follows:

Nisha: “Sharam bhi aata hai jab koi mujshe Mrs. Kabir yeah Bhabhiji kehta hai.” (I feel embarrassed when someone refers to me as Mrs. Kabir or Bhabhiji).

To which Kabir replies, “Oh, toh tumhe bolna bhi aata hai.” (Oh, so you know how to speak!).

Nisha: “Itne dinon se khamoshi toh hoo Kabir. Yeh khamoshi mujhe andar hee andar kahte ja rehi hai. Aab mujhe aur nahi shaha jaata. Apni aankhon ke saamne apni suhaag cheenta mujhe nahi bardaast hota Kabir.” (I have been silent all these days Kabir. This silence is killing me from the inside. Now I cannot tolerate this anymore. I cannot bear to witness my husband being snatched from me!).

Nisha finally realizes that her self-worth and identity are on the verge of destruction. The type of woman she is, she decides to leave Kabir’s house with her newborn daughter. Unfortunately, Kabir interferes and prevents her from taking their daughter, further leaving her shattered and helpless.

Hence, Nisha leaves without her daughter in the new journey of life which will highlight a married woman’s thirst for independence and newfound identity. Not knowing which direction her life will take her, she resorts to asking for refuge at the same Women’s Welfare Society called “Aadhar” which she once inaugurated as Mrs. Kabir Suri.

Reclaiming her identity

As an avid observer of how films and particular scenes are constructed, I have to point out the intricate symbolism of one of Smita Patil’s scenes. The scene where she painfully cries her heart out when her husband forbids her from taking her daughter. This is symbolized by the breaking of her child’s glass milk bottle. She ends up holding her close to her heart before bidding the heart-wrenching goodbye to her daughter. This painful goodbye to her daughter is further showcased via her stepping on the broken pieces of glass leaving behind her bloody footprints. This brings back to mind the parallels between her walking into her husband’s house all cheerful and optimistic as a newly wedded bride to now leaving as a deserted woman with an enormous amount of heartbreak.

After leaving Kabir’s house, she delivers a soliloquy internally by revealing her inner thoughts:

“Nahin mein Mrs. Kabir Suri nahi! Nisha hoon. Nisha Sharma. Mujhe abhi zindagi se larne ki taaqat baki hai. Mein larungi. Mein chalungi. Bina kisi baishake mein chalungi. Kam se kam koshish zaroor karungi.” To translate: No, I’m not Mrs. Kabir Suri! I’m Nisha. Nisha Sharma. I still have the tenacity to fight life within me. I will fight! I will walk. I will walk without any crutches. At least I will definitely try!

As a woman, I can relate to Nisha Sharma because it is not always easy to survive in a male-dominated world. This was more the scenario back in the 1980s. As a woman, it is crucial to have a mindset that advocates for strength, courage, and a “never give up” attitude. She set out to prove to the world that a woman is not a public property who is meant to be taken for granted. Rather, she is someone who has a distinct identity.

Moving on in the storyline, Nisha starts working at “Aadhar” and plans a charity program. The program is dedicated to celebrating “World Women’s Decade Concluding Year”. Here, Alok portrayed by the original Superstar (Rajesh Khanna) enters as the exuberant ray of hope and light into Nisha’s life. He is a videographer assigned to cover Nisha’s charity program. He instantly gets smitten by Nisha’s endearing performance on this song titled “Komal Hai Kamzor Nahi Hai Tu Shakti Ka Naam Hee Nari Hai” (You are soft but not weak, Strength is synonymous with women) with her group of girls.

Within a few days, she gets offered a prominent position at India’s first TV channel founded by the Government of India: Doordarshan as a cultural show anchor. Ironically, this is where Smita Patil started her career before becoming an actress. Her versatility in the myriad author-backed roles she portrayed on-screen illustrates the remarkable talent she was known for in the Indian film Industry. This is the result of Alok’s observation of her talent and script for her Charity Show. Her voice and vivacious personality are elegantly captured during the Doordarshan scenes in the film.

During one of the shows, some men taunt and insult Nisha about her views on love by proclaiming that her husband left her and she couldn’t do anything to save her marriage. Angered by these horrible men, Alok jumps in and engages in a physical fight since he could not tolerate anyone pointing fingers at Nisha. This subtly reveals Alok’s subdued romantic feelings for Nisha from the moment he saw her and her talent.

This leads to Alok resigning from his job and working elsewhere as a videographer. It is revealed that it has been 3 years since Nisha became independent and as destiny would call it, she comes face to face with her ex Mr. Kabir Suri and now Mrs. Indu Kabir Suri at an event that she helped organize with Alok.

In this event, Nisha renders the sublime rendition of the harmoniously impactful song “Dushman Na Kare Dost Ne Woh Kaam Kiya Hai Umra Bhar Ka Gham Hume Inaam Diya Hai” which highlights the agony inflicted to her by her ex-husband and cousin.

A new life going forward

Alok ends up encouraging Nisha to continue staying strong while bravely facing all the curveballs thrown in life by using her pen as her weapon. Thus, her writing career begins with her listening to Alok’s suggestion on changing her name from Nisha to Asha. To illustrate, he utters: “Aap ke lekhan mein zindagi se larne ka woh uthsaah hai, woh sahas hai, ke aap apne naam badalkar Nisha se Asha rakh lijiye.” (Your writing has the encouragement and courage to fight life that you should change your name from Nisha to Asha (Hope).

Another burst of sorrow enters Nisha’s life when she is forbidden to see her daughter at her school by Indu when she returns all her gifts she has given her. This heartbreak instigates Nisha to contemplate suicide but Alok arrives as the knight in shining armor to prevent her from doing so. Within a few minutes, he ends up singing this rhythmically stimulating melody titled “Ek Andhera Lakh Sitare” written by Nisha to further remind her of her radiant words of positivity.

Ek andhera lakh sitare (One darkness thousands of stars)
Ek nirasha lakh sahaare (One loss of hope thousands of supporters)
Saab se bari shogat hai jeevan (The most precious gift is of life)
Nadaan hai joh jeevan se haare (Naive are those who give up from life)
Duniya ki yeh bhagiya asi (The garden of the world is like)
Jitne kaate phool bhi uthne (As many thorns there are, so are there many flowers)
Daaman mein khud aa jayenge (They will come into your life)
Jinke taraaf tu haath basare (Towards whom you spread your hands)
Beete hue kal ki khatir tu (For the sake of the past)
Aane wala kal maat khona (Don’t lose the upcoming future)
Jaane kon kahan se aakar (Who knows from where someone will come)
Rahe teri phir se saware (To adorn your path)
Dukh se agar pehchaan na ho toh (If you are not acquainted with sorrow)
Kaisa sukh aur kaise khusiyaan (Then what kind of joy and happiness)
Toofanon se ladkar hee toh lagte hai sahil kitne pyaare (After fighting with the storm, the bank of the sea looks so beautiful)

It is indeed a miracle to have someone like Alok who gives you stamina while engaging in light-hearted humor. His supportive nature and valuable words of positivity ends up uplifting Nisha’s mood while unleashing a delightful laugh.

Near the end of Aakhir Kyon, the audience witnesses that Nisha’s ex-husband Mr. Kabir Suri has faced extensive financial losses in his publishing company leading to bankruptcy. Both Indu and Kabir are repenting for their sins and how wrongly they have treated Nisha. The proverb: “As you sow, so shall you reap” is exemplified intensely during these climactic scenes.

Without spoiling the end too much, the irony lies in the fact that Nisha’s ex-husband owns a publishing company and her novels published under the name Asha Shri are emerging as best-sellers. It is without a doubt that Nisha decides to sell the publishing rights of her latest novel to Kabir as the ultimate gift for her daughter’s wedding. The royalty she requests tearfully is that her daughter never finds out that Asha Shri is her real biological mother.

Kabir repents for his mistakes and his misconstrued idea of what an ideal wife should be like. Nisha did prove him wrong and this is the major slap in the face to him. He asks Nisha for forgiveness and invites her to their daughter’s wedding.

Now the burning questions that arise are does Nisha actually attend her daughter’s wedding? Does her daughter ever find out that Asha Shri is her mother? Is Indu able to ask for forgiveness like Kabir? Does Alok succeed in changing the season and welcoming blossoming spring into Nisha’s life?

As Alok previously told Nisha, “Mausam ek jaisa nahi rehta…Patjhar ke baat bahar ko aane hee parta hai. Mausam ka badalne ka intezaar mujhe bhi aata hai!” which translates to: The season never stays the same. After fall, spring has to come. Even I know how to wait for the season to change!

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Erikka Chowdhury

A scientist who has an immense appreciation for the arts and enjoys creating innovative content designed to engage the audience from all spectrums of life. read more...

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