As a new Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai releases this week, it is a good time to look back thirty-nine years to the original Albert Pinto, played by Naseeruddin Shah, in Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s film, set, as all his films were, amidst working class Mumbai.
It was the age of the Angry Young Man, the title given to Amitabh Bachchan by the media. Mirza made a film called Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai (1980), as if to say, what does a hero in commercial films have to be angry about? A man from the working class, who has to struggle for money and dignity of labour has the right to be really angry. At the height of the parallel cinema movement, it was possible to make realistic and socially relevant films (many funded by the Film Finance Corporation that later became the National Film Development Corporation), and there was even a parallel star system—most of whom appeared in this film—Naseeruddin Shah in the title role, with Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Om Puri, Sulabha and Arvind Deshpande, Satish Shah, Rohini Hattangady, Dilip Dhawan. Many of them graduates of the Film & Television Institute, Pune; all of them looking young and raring to go.
Albert Pinto—Shah all buffed up, with a macho swagger—is a car mechanic, who drives around his clients’ fancy cars, takes pride in the fact he is treated well by them, and calls them by their first names. His father, who works in a mill, talks of the low wages and exploitation, but Albert thinks it is wrong to go on strike. Albert’s brother Dominic (Dilip Dhawan) does not want to do a menial job and hangs around with other idlers like himself and ends up behind bars. His sister Joan (Smita Patil), works at a sari shop, and girlfriend Stella (Shabana Azmi), as a secretary fending off her boss’s advances. Mirza also captures life in Stella’s family, with her domineering father and a brother who dreams of going to Canada.
Mirroring the real life textile mill strike in Mumbai, that devastated the lives of workers and their families, the self-absorbed Albert, finally matures and understands that life is not just seen from his narrow prism--there is a larger political reality that impacts their lives. There is also the underlying fact of the minority status of Albert and Stella’s families, that is reflected in their lifestyle and choices—though, of course, they would not be speaking to each other in Hindi, but that is a small quibble in the story of the awakening of a man who realizes that he should be angrier at the injustice around.
Mirza could not have known it then, but Mumbai mill area, gradually underwent a transformation, with the factories and workers’ tenements giving way to flyovers, malls, gleaming office buildings and swanky eating joints. The rich won as always, and Albert Pinto’s anger served very little purpose. But who knows, without the rage of the underdog, things might have turned out much worse.