Starring Dilip Kumar, Waheeda Rehman, Manoj Kumar, Simi Grewal, and Pran

An earlier feature from my columns in Memory of the Great Thespian of Indian Cinema: Dilip Kumar

A still from the film. by:

Love triangles have dominated human lives since time immemorial, and obviously, Hindi films have been no exception.

But “Aadmi” (1968) is perhaps one of the few films which dig deep into the psychic conflict of right and wrong, guilt and obsession, and yet portray a simple story. And so, while a lay viewer apparently enjoys it as an engrossing family drama to a serious observer, it depicts a subtle interplay of human emotions amidst conflicting situations.

Despite its long length, the film binds you with its twists and turns, providing an enjoyable cinematic experience. Produced by P.S. Veerappa and directed by A. Bhimsingh, “Aadmi” shines because its life-like characters portrayed by Dilip Kumar, Waheeda Rehman, Manoj Kumar, Simi Grewal, and Pran not only share the screen honours but also provide the film with several moments of compelling brilliance.

Based upon how innocent lives are distorted by bizarre interventions of fate leading to inexplicable periods of suffering, “Aadmi” revolves around an insecure, inscrutable, yet wealthy Rajesh (Dilip Kumar) who was orphaned at a young age.

His personal suffering is enhanced when his childhood sweetheart Meena dies suddenly, and the family substitutes her presence with a doll, implying Meena had turned into a doll after death.

Obsessed with the doll, young Rajesh guards her with unswerving loyalty, but one day, when a young neighbourhood boy mishandles the doll, he kills him in a fit of rage. Years later, the grown-up Rajesh falls in love with a woman named Meena (Waheeda Rehman) though he still retains the doll in a closet.

He gets engaged to Meena with the approval of his best friend Dr. Shekhar (Manoj Kumar), who, on account of his indebtedness to Rajesh for his monetary support, hides the fact that he is Meena’s lover.

Shortly thereafter, Rajesh is crippled in an automobile accident and when he learns about the love affair of Shekhar and Meena; his violent passions are aroused again though he is still tormented by his past guilt of a murderer. The subsequent conflict within his heart and home combine together for a gripping story that is studded with some outstanding acting performances.

While Waheeda Rehman does justice to her role of a young, carefree girl who turns into an anguished housewife, Pran is the consummate evil practitioner with his gestures, and even Manoj Kumar is able to project a sulking lover despite his limited arc of expressions.

But the man who dwarfs everyone in comparison is the legendary Dilip Kumar, as he bares Rajesh’s innumerable sufferings, guilt, and obsessions with his masterly skill.

The Dostoyevskian complexity of facial expressions, along with changing tonal inflections of sarcasm, pain, guilt, and rage, are priceless jewels of the silver screen. The several exchanges between him and his friends, as well as his tormented soul reveal the overwhelming range of Dilip’s histrionic abilities. Many say “Aadmi” has one of the most memorable scenes of Indian cinema wherein confined to a wheelchair, Dilip Kumar recounts the death of his childhood sweetheart and the murder of the boy to his wife. While it is true that it was the director’s imagination that created the scene, there is no denying that it is Dilip’s mesmerizing dialogue delivery that builds the scene into a hauntingly captivating, emotional drama.

Credit must be given to the dialogue team, including the renowned Akhtar ul Iman, for lifting an ordinary love triangle to resounding heights with the aid of brilliant trick work cinematography by Faredoon A. Irani and adroit editing by A. Paul Durai Singham.

Unfortunately, music by Naushad was a major letdown despite two immortal melodies like Rafi’s soulful cry “Aaj Puranee Rahon Se” and a duet “Kaisee Haseen Aaj Baharon ki Raat Hai” by Rafi and Talat (replaced by Mahendra Kapoor in the film on Manoj Kumar’s insistence and an act for which Talat never forgave Naushad till his death). All in all, despite its serious tone, “Aadmi” was a compact entertainer for all ages.

Published in TheHindu
Dated: 18-Mar-2010 (View)

Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s “Anand” continues to inspire because of its deeply spiritual message of humanism

ESPOUSING GOODNESS A scene from “Anand” | Photo Credit: HINDU ARCHIVES

Inspiration is the greatest influence on any life. While one loves many great films, it is Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s effervescent “Anand” which inspired me with its profound truths of life. Though “Anand” had a great story, screenplay, lyrics, and music, it is the film’s deeply spiritual message of humanism that resides within me since I first saw it at Mayur cinema in Jaipur on 14th March 1971. I must admit that the peculiar circumstances of that moment too helped me adopt “live-love-laugh” as my life mantras forever.

It so happened that in a freak accident in July 1970, I lost the eyesight in both my eyes. For nearly six months, besides suffering the horrifying blackout as well as hundreds of painful injections in the eyes, I was engulfed by an abyss of silent misery behind the bandaged eyes. Subsequently, the prayers of my family led to a miraculous restoration of eyesight. So, when doctors announced a complete recovery, I merrily proceeded to witness “Anand” with my newly gained “insights”.

Reliving the joy of witnessing a film, “Anand” also made me aware of how lucky I was to be alive and thriving. The story of the do-gooder, happiness-spreading cancer patient made me realise life was a transient bubble that could go bust any moment. So for me, Rajesh Khanna spread not just cheer and smile on screen but also lit an everlasting flame of joy within my soul; his screen persona taught me “life should be big and not long” and that spreading of joy is greater than owning riches of the world. Think of it, how many screen characters seriously inspire us to realise our potential or change our perspective of life? Of course, numerous wonderful male and female characters move us to tears and laughter with their enactments but only a minuscule few drive us to a gigantic vision.

Endearing character

Hrishikesh Mukherjee

“Anand” was a defining character who exhorted and motivated viewers “to do unto others what they wanted others to do to them.” Under Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s no-nonsensical baton, Rajesh Khanna became an endearing fountain of love, teaching service and devotion were synonyms of love to bring forth hope and smile to all. Not allowing any of his three personas as writer-editor-director to overshadow the other, Hrishikesh Mukherjee delivered a film of everlasting appeal for cinegoers of all ages and all times.

The hallmark of a great film is a story well etched out on screen so as to grab the attention as well as the emotion of the audience while leaving a sublime imprint on our conscience. If the end product is also finely strung with some excellent acting, music, and stagecraft, it leaves not just a lasting impact but also an impetus for other image makers to learn and do better. What astounds is how Hrishikesh Mukherjee makes the viewers aware of their personal shortcomings, goads them to change yet never offends or arouses their ire. And he does that with ease with his incredible screenplay whereby his characters become part of us and yet not one of us; we aspire to be like them without a trace of envy or hostility that we are unequal to them in their greatness! Carving an eternal nest in our memories, the taut screenplay (written by Mukherjee along with Gulzar, D. N. Mukherjee, and Bimal Dutt) inculcates the importance of human actions better than what is prescribed by the best of religious texts. If Rajesh Khanna is the cynosure of action, Amitabh Bachchan as Dr. Bhaskar is an apt foil as a man given to worldly fears, attachments, and heartaches. The interaction between the two is akin to Krishna’s lesson to Arjun through the epic of Gita. Like Arjun, Bhaskar is vulnerable and unsure on the battlefield of life but learns a lesson in living and giving through the noble actions of “Anand” who like Lord Krishna stands as the ultimate symbol of pure, untainted eternal joy. The crux of the engrossing drama is Bhaskar’s gradual development of affection as well as the frustration of being a mute witness to the oncoming death of his patient who later lives on despite dying!

So while these two actors radiate extreme fulcrums of sombre and sublime, method and spontaneity as well as logic and intuition, other characters too add to the colour and interest of the narrative. Apart from several worthwhile supporting characters, Mukherjee also deftly juxtaposed the secular fabric with some interesting characters in the form of the Muslim stage actor Johnny Walker, the Punjabi wrestler Dara Singh and the Christian nurse Lalita Pawar thus lending grace and charm to the proceedings on screen. Along with the camerawork by Jaywant Pathare, what also helps endure the alluring magic of the film are its wonderful songs that were delightfully woven by Salil Chowdhary. While “Kahin Door Jab din Dhal Jaaye” and “Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli” by Yogesh in Mukesh and Manna Dey’s voices are perennial favorites of moviegoers till date, “Maine Tere Liye” by Gulzar also creates magic for ears!

Frankly, “Anand” reminds us to do good as that is the intrinsic design of nature for all of us. The more we give of ourselves, the more we receive and as our lives are intertwined, we do need to nurture happiness for the sake of our souls as well as our future generations.

In times of turmoil, one can find solace in songs of Sahir Ludhianvi

Stirring verses Sahir Ludhianvi The Hindu Archives

Daring to express the most complex human emotions, poets are God’s special creatures. Go down the lanes of history, words of rulers have died with them, but verses of poets remain alive as they communicate everlasting truths that most are unable to hear and imbibe. Every age gives rise to a few great poets who make us discern the imponderable mysteries of the universe through a spontaneous overflow of emotions. And without a doubt, in the post-Partition era, such a profound voice was Sahir Ludhianvi.

His unique ability to serve unvarnished truths set Sahir apart as a people’s poet who inspired the finest ideals of mankind and many of his verses such as “Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalman Banega, Insaan Ki Aulaad Hai Insaan Banega” ( Dhool Ka Phool ) have acquired iconic status because of their lucid distillation of eternal wisdom. His stirring verses like “Ye Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye To Kya Hai” and “Jinhein Naaz Hai Hind Par Wo Kahan Hain” (both from Pyaasa ), “Aurat Ne Janam Diya Mardon Ko, Mardon Ne Usey Bazaar Diya” ( Sadhana ) or “Wo Subah Kabhi To Aayegi” and “Chino-Arab Hamara, Hindustan Hamara” (both from Phir Subah Hogi ) are part of folklore since they knocked hard at social inadequacies as well as political and affluent classes.

Not that he spared the common citizens for their culture of hypocrisy, dogma, and hate. Several songs like “Bane Ho Ek Khaaq Se” ( Aarti ), “Khuda-e-Bartar Teri Zameen Pe Ye Jung Kyun Hai” ( Taj Mahal ), “Insaanon Ne Paise Ke Liye” ( Paisa ya Pyar ) and “Bataa Ae Aasman Wale” ( Marine Drive ) are critical of their follies! But the masses still adored him because he held a mirror to their anguish as well as shortcomings in a transparently, honest manner.

If a poet is to influence, enlighten and motivate, Sahir did it with remarkable distinction. Even in the throes of passion, this finest of romantic poets did not forget his duties and responsibilities. Ponder over just one sample: his unusual rejoinder “Par Thehar Wo Jo Wahan… Phir Teri Maang Siataron Se Bhari Jayegi” to his beloved when she beckons with “Aaj Ki Raat Badi Shokh Badi Natkhat Hai” ( Nayi Umar Ki Nayi Fasal ). His bosom is not short of love but devotion to a cause makes him plead with her to “wait till he had built houses for those sleeping on the footpath as well as helped the poor that are denied even shrouds for their corpses”.

Expression of pain

A rarer expression of solace is difficult to find except in Sahir’s “Tum Mujhe Bhool Bhi Jao” ( Didi ) wherein he reminds the beloved that in a world afflicted with hunger and thirst, love is not the ultimate necessity!

Seeing or reacting in a manner different from the ordinary came naturally to Sahir. Abhorrence to constrictions of social customs, luxury, opulence, and decadence made him a rebel of sorts and a saviour of the downtrodden. That is why for him Taj Mahal was not a monument of love but a grotesque advertisement of a king: “Ek Shahenshah Ne Daulat Ka Sahara Leke, Hum Gareebon Ki Mohabbat Ka Udaaya Hai Mazaak” ( Ghazal ). Time and time again, through various pertinent metaphors, he made us realise our fates were intertwined with each other and “Ye Ishq Ishq Hai” ( Barsaat Ki Raat ) is the perfect example of how this visionary could articulate similarities and synthesis of cultures and how love alone made us worship stones as incarnations of Gods.

As one re-engages with thousands of Sahir’s verses in his centenary year, it becomes evident that the poet sought equality, justice, peace and prosperity for all. Every genre came easy to him and be it bhajans, sufi songs, ghazals, nazms, love ballads or qawwalis, Sahir embellished each with a thought that was not just vividly different from the rest of his milieu but also immensely lyrical and awe-inspiring.

Though he did write quite a few patriotic songs, he remained a steadfast pacifist who always advocated love and understanding rather than war: “Khoon Apna Ho Ya Paraya Ho, Nasle Aadam Ka Khoon Hai Akhir, Jung Mashirk Mein Ho Ke Magrib Mein, Amne Alam Ka Khoon Hai Aakhir” (Shed the blood of our own or a stranger, It is ultimately the blood of mankind, Be it a war in the east or west, It is ultimately the murder of peace and tranquility).

As fear and prejudice haunt the lanes of Delhi once again, it would be wise to remember the sane advice of Sahir that war (killing) is itself a problem and can never resolve our problems.

As fear and prejudice haunt the lanes of Delhi once again, it would be wise to remember the sane advice of Sahir that war (killing) is itself a problem and can never resolve our problems.

From playback singing to giving voice to non-film compositions, Mohammed Rafi did supreme justice to every genre

The legend lives on...
Incredible rangeMohammed Rafi By

To speak in the past tense about Rafi is not justified since, even 38 years after his demise, the legendary singer rules our hearts with his timeless gems. That the euphoria has not dimmed across the world for this magnificent artiste is evident by the constant outpourings of love and respect that flood every social media platform.

Millions of souls have been enraptured by the magic of Rafi’s playback singing, but it is true that he made an equally gratifying impact with his non-film creations. If film music soared with his awe-inspiring dexterity, Rafi’s melodious sheen provided dignity and stature to non-film compositions also. It is an unvarnished truth that, despite several famous film singers on their contracted rosters, Indian music recording companies started respecting non-film artistes only after earning dazzling revenues generated by Rafi’s geets-ghazals and bhajans. Rafi’s phenomenal non-film creations with composers like Iqbal Qureshi, Shyam Sagar, Khayyam, Babul, Jaidev and Taj Ahmed Khan were goldmines for music companies that allowed likes of Chandan Das, Jagjit Singh, Pankaj Udhaas and Nazia Hussain to prosper later on. Like films, Rafi swept aside all opposition and till date, no film or non-film singer has given as many non-film chartbusters as Rafi did for decades.

Even after fifty years, the enchantment of Rafi’s non-film songs such as ‘ Mere Geeton Ka Singaar Ho Tum’, ‘ Paagal Chanda ,’ ‘ Do Ghadi Baitho Tumhara Roop Aankhon Mein Basa Loon ’ and ‘ Tum Saamne Baithee Raho, Main Geet Gaaon Pyaar Ke ’ have not dimmed. Remember these songs were not backed by large scale orchestral arrangements or big budgets, yet their allure is magnetic in terms of melody and charm. Though many well-known playback singers joined the non-film bandwagon after Rafi, none could cross the popularity charts or the benchmarks of excellence set at dizzying heights by Rafi. Some stellar singers did manage a few hits in a specific genre but their overall non-film repertoire is pathetically meagre in substance and quality.

In contrast, people thronged record shops for Rafi’s non-film ventures because, as per music director Khayyam, “Rafi was a devout student of music who contributed excellence to every creation”. Khayyam is a teacher of rare distinction and with a student as gifted and sparkling as Rafi Sahab; he wove mesmerising bhajans and ghazals that are still heard with delight and awe. Khayyam’s This is Mohammed Rafi remained the best selling disk for decades on account of Rafi’s soft and tender vocals.

Rendering bhajans

Put your hand on your heart and answer: have you heard anyone except Rafi Sahab rendering bhajans better than ‘ Paon Padun Tore Shyaam ‘, ‘ Tere Bharose Hai Nandlala ’, ‘ Main Gwalo Rakhwaalo Maiyya’ and ‘ More Shyaam, Pal Pal More Mukh Se Nikle Nis Din Tero Naam ’. Each word, each inflection is so pure, so soothing and dripping with devotion.

If poets like Madhukar Rajasthani, Saba Afghani or a Muzaffar Shahjahanpuri were brought to the limelight by Rafi, the intoxicating couplets of Daag, Mir, Ghalib and others were brought alive by Rafi’s golden inflections.

Listen to ghazals and nazms like ‘ Ghazab Kiya Tere Vaade Pe ’, ‘Ye Naa Thee Hamari Kismat’, ‘Shauq Har Rang Pe ’, ‘ Diya Ye Dil Agar Usko Bashar Hai Kya Kahiye ’, ‘ Falsafe Ishq Mein Pesh Aaye Sawalon Ki Tarah ’ and ‘ Kya Tumne Dil Liya Nahin Mera Jawaab Do’ that have all the ornamentation and intricacies rendered in a unique manner by the incomparable singer.

But then Rafi was a noble singer who always gave his best, irrespective of whether the composition was for film, radio or stage. Music director Ravi, who had early in his career recorded Rafi for All India Radio for a pittance, once recounted that Rafi’s effort and contribution would always be hundred percent irrespective of the amount of remuneration or the genre; a genuine reason why Rafi’s film and non-film creations are equally popular and alive till this day.

Old timers recollect how the 1949 Rafi-Hansraj Behl-Rajendra Krishan composition ‘Iss Dil Se Teri Yaad Bhulaayee Nahin Jaati ’ started the avalanche of non-film songs and how Rafi’s two non-film patriotic numbers ‘ Watan Ki Abroo Khatrey Mein Hain ’ and ‘ Awaaz Do Hum Ek Hain ’, penned by Sahir and Jaan Nisar Akhtar under Khayyam’s baton, stirred the nation’s conscience during the war in 1962.

Recorded and released within a week after China attack, these Rafi songs galvanised the Indian public to come forth in a manner that has never been seen before. Khayyam recounts the songs were hurriedly written, composed and recorded in a matter of two days but “Rafi Sahab was cooperation personified at every stage of the creation.”

Charging no money for his vocals, Rafi put such heart and soul into his voice that the songs still inspire a “noble and pious form of patriotism” within everyone’s breast.

No wonder, actor Sachin proclaims “Rafi Sahab’s songs are part of our lives since they become us”, a sentiment echoed by Dilip Kumar in his biography that Rafi was the favourite of Indian soldiers on the borders!

Published in TheHindu
Dated : 10-Aug-2018 (View)

Published in TheHindu
Dated : 10-Aug-2018 (View)

Wordsmiths mostly get a raw deal in Hindi cinema – both on and off screen

Blocks for the writer
Bridging the divideGuru Dutt and Waheeda Rahman in “Pyaasa”:

Writers are the stars who make celebrities out of nobodies! But despite their writings bringing laurels and riches to publishers, producers and actors, writers have largely been doomed to painful penury in every age. Denied royalties and credits for many of their works, the struggle for survival for film writers too, barring a minuscule few, has always been a sad saga of tears and wants. That is why it was indeed a welcome relief for the recent Indian Screenwriters Conference in Mumbai that a star like Aamir Khan agreed to champion their cause with the Producers’ Guild and other industrial forums for redressal of writers’ grievances in respect of emoluments, credits and royalties for their intellectual creations.

Despite oppressions by regimes and states, writers have always been brave enough to soldier on, though sadly, their own stories have few chroniclers. But what is extremely surprising is that till date no Hindi film script has ever fleshed out a comprehensive story on the life and struggles of a writer within or outside the tinsel world. Unlike the West, where some remarkable films like “Sunset Boulevard”, “Misery”, “Adaptation”, “The Lost Weekend”, “Capote”, “The Ghost Writer” and “Barton Fink” have been made about the various aspects of art, craft and dilemmas of the writer, it is a bit weird that Indian scriptwriters have not carved their own creative struggles to bring forth some harsh truths on celluloid.

Yes, the Hindi film screen has seen a few films about writers but barring the exemplary “Pyaasa” and the recent “Manto”, which is making waves in the festival circuit, most films have not explored the psychological and material struggles of a writer. What they do have in large supply is a conflict centred upon the romantic aspect of a poet’s life without any subtle exploration of the process of writing or the inner devils that haunt a serious writer. Glorifying the writer as a noble person, these films shed little or no light upon what inspires or affects the mind and muse of the writer or the effects of the social system in the evolution of the protagonist.

In a lean filmscape, “Pyaasa” was a sensitive and comprehensive look at a writers’ struggle to get published though it too gives an emphasis to the societal divide affecting his romantic relationship. However, what is remarkable about “Pyaasa” is the delicate unfurling of the Indian paradox whereby people may love to read and eulogise famous authors yet dish out disdain and vitriol to lesser knowns writers. What also sets “Pyaasa” apart as a unique film was its dissection of several social and cultural ills that obstruct rise of new and liberal voices in India; a chauvinistic infection that continues to breed and affect our social polity till this date.

Some of the other notable Hindi films about writers were “Mirza Ghalib”, “Mere Mehboob”, “Barsaat Ki Raat”, “Chhaya”, “Jahanara”, “Anupama’, “Ghazal”, “Ek Nazar” and “”Naya Zamana”. Though some of them were stupendous box-office hits of their time, yet they only romanticised the protagonist’s standing as a writer without any distinctive effort to dissect the impulses or inspirations that trigger the flow of ink on paper. The colourful and complex life of the all time great Urdu poet is so thinly etched in “Mirza Ghalib” that the poet, played by Bharat Bhushan, comes out as a man overwhelmed by debts and admiration of a courtesan! With his despondent looks, Bharat Bhushan also played similar lovelorn poet in “Barsaat Ki Raat” and costume drama “Jahanara”. Both movies had exemplary lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi and Rajendra Krishan to justify the poetical outpourings of the central character, yet they made no explorations as to why the poet wrote what he did. In a tame way, despite being well directed, engaging films, the two audio-visual creations became clichéd sob stories of social inequality coming in the way of a conjugal bliss! In “Mere Mehboob” and “Ghazal”, the primary characters are poets but except for singing exquisite love ballads, these two do precious nothing though they do embellish the nature of their jobs with their vocal inflections. Once again these are social dramas steeped in traditional motifs with little or no regard to the writers’ main craft. In films like “Chhaya” and “Anupama” like later on in “Kabhi Kabhie” too, though the protagonists are professional writers, yet they seemingly do nothing more than stretch their vocal chords to stress their poetical virtues. In fact, all these three characters could be juxtaposed with any other profession without damaging the credibility of the story’s outline. Why even in the Gulshan Nanda scripted “Naya Zamana”, though the protagonist is a writer cheated of his due remuneration and credit, he exults as a trade union leader rather than a word weaver!

That is why Nandita Das’s attempt to analyse the effects of a man’s written words upon his environment in “Manto” are praise worthy. The film attempts to portray legendary writer Manto’s grappling with his inner idioms and the suffocating realisation that his writings have been ineffective in resolving his ‘demons’. Das says she made “Manto” to find answers to her present day questions…. Hopefully, some more screenwriters will resolve our quest by putting forth writers’ lives on the silver screen. Probably that might also lead to better understanding of our times.