A newly married couple, Hamid and Salma Ahmed, move into their new apartment in a busy Bombay neighbourhood. Deeply in love, they see this as the start to their life together. But they soon find signs of the previous inhabitant of the apartment, a tawaif. Their marital bliss is rudely interrupted by the tawaif’s former clients clamouring at their door. Meanwhile at work, Hamid is offered a bribe by a contractor to speed up the process of his tender. The idealist Hamid refuses the bribe.
When Hamid is at work, Salma is subjected to the voyeurism of the neighbourhood boys. She tries to while away these lonely hours by playing card games with herself. But their neighbours start spreading salacious rumours about her character and the nature of her relationship with her husband. Both Salma and Hamid are deeply disturbed by these developments. At the request of a distressed Salma, Hamid starts looking for an apartment elsewhere. But the astronomical prices of homes in Bombay deter him. He is even compelled to hide his Muslim identity on occasion to be shown a house.
The film delves deeper into Salma’s psychological state as she becomes increasingly disturbed by the moral policing she undergoes. The rumours even start affecting Hamid as he starts to suspect his wife’s fidelity. Only a man named Shahid speaks up against the rumour mongering of the neighbours. A mob gathers to evict them, but is stopped by the police. One of the shopkeepers in the neighbourhood plots with Shamshad Begum, the mistress of a nearby kotha, to turn Salma into a tawaif as well.
Hamid and Salma continue to be harassed in the city. Unable to bear it further, they decide to travel to Salma’s house in the countryside. Their relief is short-lived when they realise her father is deep in debt. Returning to the city, the spectre of the tawaif refuses to leave their life. In desperation Hamid agrees to take a bribe from the contractor to gather funds for a new apartment. Salma also agrees to sing for one of the tawaif’s clients to earn some money. Unable to bear the sight of this, Hamid advances on Salma with a knife, but is unable to carry through this act. The couple understand how they were driven to such extremes and ultimately reconcile.
Dastak is an incisive portrayal of social prejudice and anxieties regarding women’s sexuality. It won four National Awards, including acting honours for both Sanjeev Kumar and Rehana Sultan.