Masoom is a sweet, sad story about the repercussions of bad decisions made by basically good people.
Indu (Shabana Azmi) and DK (Naseeruddin Shah) have a happy marriage. They are partners and lovers, and their prosperous home is filled with the laughter of their two sunny, affectionate daughters. One day, this joyful peace is shattered when DK receives word that he has a son - early in his marriage to Indu, he had a brief affair with another woman, who had his child and never told him. Now the woman is dead, and the boy, Rahul (Jugal Hansraj), is in need of a father and a home. Over the objections of Indu, who is heartbroken and devastated to learn of her husband's unfaithfulness, the boy comes to stay with them for a time. Rahul bonds with Indu and DK's daughters - and with DK - but Indu can't bear to look at the boy, who is a physical, tangible reminder of DK's breach of her trust.
The film's title, Masoom, means "innocent," and there are a number of innocent victims of DK's transgression, not least the boy Rahul himself, who only wants to be loved, to be part of the family, and to find his father. In one particularly heartbreaking sequence, Rahul, puzzled by Indu's coldness to him, makes her a birthday gift; she struggles palpably with tenderness toward him on the one hand, and horror and anger at what he represents on the other. Indu herself is innocent as well, and the film puts her in a terrible position. It is heartbreaking to watch her take out her pain and anger on the boy and grapple to come to terms with what she knows she has to do for him.
I've expressed this particular fan-girl gushiness before, but Masoom inspires it afresh: one of the things I love best about Shabana Azmi is that she conveys so much in her silences. She never needs a lot of dialogue to make plain the contents of her character's heart and mind. Her performance in Masoom is no exception; she makes Indu's struggle palpable, as she alternates between tenderness and coldness toward the boy, or toward her husband. One of the most poignant such scenes occurs when DK and Rahul return from a few days away from the family. Indu's daughters leap with excitement at their father's return, and for a moment Indu is joyful as well - a broad smile crosses Indu's face, and she rises and begins to fix her hair in the mirror. Then she stops, suddenly, and her face changes, becoming cold and sad, her pain overtakes her momentary joy at DK's return. The film is loaded with small, aching moments like this, and Shabana makes each one real and heartrending.
Naseeruddin Shah, too, provides a nice, evocative performance as DK. Naseer is always good at portraying deeply sad characters; here, he wears his pain in his droopy face and frail, weary body.
I've been reminded by the comments below that I meant to remark on the outstanding work of the children in Masoom. They were real as children; neither too angelic, nor simply miniature adults, and all three child actors performed well, especially young Jugal Hansraj as Rahul. The elder daughter was played by Urmila Matondkar, who grew up to be an acclaimed actress as an adult.
Masoom also features a handful of pretty songs by R.D. Burman (including this lullaby picturized on Shabana); I understand that some of these are remembered as beloved evergreen hits, and while I admit that they did not make a strong impression on me on first viewing, they have grown on me in subsequent listenings. All in all, a delicate, sensitive film, thoughtfully crafted and movingly executed.