The art of writing letters has obviously faded in our cinema, but over the decades it has symbolized our concern to speak rather than listen.
In a scene from Sangam (1964), Sundar who has just come back from the dead, says Radha (Vyjayanthimala)”Jaanti ho mujhe kisne bachaya? Tumhare khat ne”. Sundar played by Raj Kapoor is a man who returned to the triangular love story that started in childhood. The problem is that a lot has changed since he was wrongly pronounced dead in military action. Sangam is a post-independence epic, a film that awakened the country to the inner tribulations of love, as opposed to the cross-border stasis that had haunted it for a decade. A film punctuated by the feeling that only sacrifice lends itself to anything resembling the truth, Sangam is a heartbreaking film about the desire and price that true love demands. It is also a film that relies on the love letter as a narrative device not once, but several times. Hindi cinema is obsessed with the art of letter writing, but with declining readership and the telecommunications revolution, the love letter, its gravity, has disappeared from our cinema. However, it was not a total loss.
In Sangam, a letter intended for someone is mistakenly read by someone else. In another sequence, it is revealed that Sundar was getting love letters from his friend Gopal (Ragendra Kumar) who was acting on his wife’s behalf. The climax, itself, hinges on finding the letter Gopal wrote for Radha. It’s a smash conclusion, laid out not as a mystery but as the most obvious smash you can see coming from afar. Sangam is not about the unattested mingling of part-time lovers, but about wholesome submission to an emotion that consumes not one, but many lives. The love letter is just part of the film’s syntax, an eloquent, perhaps respectful way of conveying fidelity to an emotion compared to today’s rushed exposition. However, it also exists in a kind of vacuum. Most of these letters are one-sided statements, never to be returned or answered.
letters, or khatt, as it was repeatedly called in the early days of cinema, carried a certain prestige in itself. Of course, it could only be written and read by scholars and this required, at least in principle, a shrewd investment of both thought and effort. But the letters also acted as devices to create misunderstandings (Ram Teri Ganga Meli) or act as distressing revelations (Devdas). The act of writing letters was so popular at one time that fans would mail their favorite actors written in blood – another trope used variably by Hindi cinema. The khatt itself has gone down in the history of cinema poetized by song and lyrics. Of Phool tumhe bheja hai khatt mein at Likehe Jo Khatt Tujhethe letter came to symbolize love and romantic expression to the point that she was probably outraged too.
It’s strange how rarely pop culture emphasizes without reorienting. The letter existed largely as a format of communication, perhaps proof of recognition and attention. But because Hindi cinema has made it into a romantic trope, it has most likely also lost the old-fashioned elegance, the sanctity of its design. movies like Maine Pyaar Kiyaused the pasty-effect love letter, while the iconic Hum Apke Hain Kaun pivots, endearingly, after a note is delivered to the wrong person. In the first, a pigeon is part of the cohort, while in the second, the messenger is the dog. Already the postman is gone, the methods rushed and the delivery almost comically unrealistic. In Kuch Kuch Hota Haithe letter is a dead mother’s way of speaking to her daughter, and in Border this is the last message home before our men go to war. Radio silence since.
Letter writing became a habit in the mid-90s, but thanks to a revolution in telecommunications, it has become an art. The letter isn’t exactly dead, it’s just digital, harassed, and carries less of a cache compared to the age when entire stories were built around it. This is partly because it can also now be immediately answered with anger, rejection or denial. Evolution has also ensured that memory itself has become so unstable that it is rarely aware of the moments it wants to capture. Letters were physical, tangible evidence of an emotion once expressed, but today, as discussions and lost data records have siphoned off romance, they have introduced the ability to deny the love letter its glory. majestic and presumptuous.
We’ve all heard stories of people writing letters to their loved ones in blood, a crude but ultimately deadly way of self-expression that Hindi cinema has inspired. In a country with stunted literacy rates and maddening class divisions, letter writing, you could say, has also acted as a filtering technique. The move from word to voice, however, may have broken down the walls of access and education. Language today can be seen as a fluid medium, not limited to the textural brilliance of diction and poetry. It can rather be anything 0 sound, a song, an image or even better, a line of emojis. by Ritesh Batra The lunch box is almost a nostalgic revisit of the era of writing on paper as if in the heart of an idyllic landscape. The joys of this exercise were far greater in sending than in knowing if those letters had even been read. That’s why the reply button is perhaps the best thing that ever happened to our idea of love. For the simple fact that it can now instantly also be rejected.
Manik Sharma writes about art and culture, film, books and everything in between.