Sparsh ("touch") is part tender love story, part psychoanalytic character study, and part message-driven social drama. The parts don't always gear together smoothly, but the film's sweetness outweighs whatever flaws it has, and the result is enjoyable and touching.
Kavita (Shabana Azmi) is a depressed widow; though her close friend Manju (Sudha Chopra) urges her to step back into life and society, Kavita spends her days at home, tending to a meticulous bonsai garden (a metaphor for her stultifying confinement) and singing sad songs to an audience of herself alone. When she accidentally meets Anirudh (Naseeruddin Shah), a bristly but charismatic blind man who runs a nearby school for blind children, Kavita is moved to offer her time to the school, and begins reading to the boys and teaching them music and crafts. Kavita is touched by the children, and begins to welcome warmth and happiness back into her life. She is also touched by Anirudh; a tender romance blossoms between them, and they become engaged to marry. The romance sours, though, when Anirudh begins to fear that Kavita is marrying him not for love, but only in search of a way to martyr herself, sacrificing her youth and independence to the care of a hapless handicapped man.
Films about relationships between blind people and sighted people - or indeed between any "handicapped" people and "normal" people - always run the risk of waxing trite and preachy, and Sparsh does not fully avoid this hazard. Some of its uncomfortable moments feel canned and facile, as when Kavita, at one of her early meetings with Anirudh, refers to his students as "those poor children;" Anirudh bristles, telling Kavita to remove the word "poor" from her vocabulary, as his children do not need her pity.
Accordingly, Sparsh is at its best when it focuses tightly on Kavita and Anirudh as individuals, rather than as iconic representatives of "The Blind" and "The Sighted". Kavita and Anirudh are fragile people. Anirudh is proud, and that pride makes it hard for him to let Kavita care for him. Kavita, for her part, is eager for a way out of her loneliness but not quite ready to move beyond her husband's death. They are both navigating strong emotions, but they are also both uncertain and very reserved by nature; that, together with Shabana and Naseeruddin's understated performance styles, yield a very muted tone, with few outbursts of emotion. Indeed, Kavita in particular is so out of touch with her feelings that it takes Manju's psychoanalytic interference to resolve the major conflict of the film. The resolution is unsatisfying, with a kind of a deus ex machina feel as Manju swoops in to explain to Anirudh everything that is going on in Kavita's head.
Despite these minor weaknesses Sparsh is nevertheless quietly sweet and engaging; the characters are warm, sympathetic, likeable. Kavita is a wounded bird; even her smiles are a little sad. This may be what makes the young Shabana and Naseeruddin work so well as a screen couple, they both carry in their faces a kind of droopy, puppy-dog sadness. Their romance is delicious, sweet and even passionate at moments. And there are some truly beautiful scenes. In one, Kavita shops for a new sari, closing her eyes and using her fingertips to choose one that Anirudh will like. In another, Anirudh makes Kavita blush, describing for her why he finds her beautiful - her fragrance, the sound of her voice, the softness of her touch.