My Journey through Films and Film Songs 20

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In 1953, I was in the final year of M Sc, with the responsibility of paying attention to my studies. My friend Mahesh remained busy with his tuitions from early morning to late in the evening, apart from teaching in a school during the day. Likewise, I would teach students after my college hours. We would watch films together in the late shows. As the examinations drew near, we gave up watching films but made an exception for The Sound Barrier, released a couple of weeks before the exams. At the end of the examinations, I went to stay with my parents in Manendragarh, Chhattisgarh, where my father worked as station master.

The results came in May 1954. I topped in the university in my subject, with a first division. I returned to Nagpur to look for a job and in August moved to Jabalpur to join a government college as a lecturer in chemistry. I would go to Shahdol during the Diwali and Christmas holidays. There were few cinema halls in these small towns and they showed old films that I had already seen. In Jabalpur, there were three theatres within walking distance of where I lived. They showed only Hindi films. The two theatres that exhibited English films were in the cantonment area several kilometres away. While I continued to watch films, the pace at which I saw them waned, particularly for English films.

My classmate VN Chandorkar introduced me to Urdu poetry. The first lines I learned and enjoyed were composed by Mirza Ghalib and Iqbal. I fell in love with them and began to read more. When Sohrab Modi's' Mirza Ghalib was released we saw the film on the first three nights in a row.

With Mirza Ghalib, Sohrab Modi retrieved the position he had lost with the disastrous failure of his magnum opus Jhansi ki Rani in the previous year. It was the fourth highest grossing film in 1954. In the National Film Awards for 1954, Mirza Ghalib won the President's Gold Medal for the best All India feature film and the President's Silver Medal for best feature film in Hindi. Suraiya gave her best performance and beautifully rendered Ghalib’s ghazals nuktachin hai ghame dil, aah ko chahiye, ye na thi hamari kismat and rahiye ab aisee jagah. Ghulam Mohammed’s tunes and Talat Mehmood, and Suraiya’s voices brought alive the poetry of Ghalib effectively in dil-e-nadan tujhe huwa kya hai, phir mujhe deeda-e-tar, ishk mujhko nahin wahshat hi sahi. Mohammed Rafi’s lone song in the film hai bas ke har ek unke became extremely popular. Character actor Iftekhar moved the audiences with his portrayal of the last Mogul Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.

In 1954, Sohrab Modi had another moderately successful film, Waris directed by Nitin Bose, starring Suraiya, Nadira and Talat Mahmood. Anil Biswas composed some beautiful tunes for the film including rahi matwale, a duet by Talat and Suraiya, adapted from Rabindranath Tagore’s O re grihabashi, and Talat Mehmood’s solo kabhi hai gham kabhi khushiyan. Talat Mehmood looked more confident than in his debut film Dil-e-Nadan.

The teenaged debutant heroine of AVM Productions Bahar was hailed as the “Southern Sensation”. She was an accomplished dancer unlike her counterparts in Hindi films. Durga Khote, leading star of Hindi films in the 1940s, mentioned in an interview that the heroines of the time could neither sing nor dance. They would mechanically perform the steps rehearsed by the dance director, shaking their legs and wriggling their hips. By the 1950s, trained dancers like Cuckoo performed in Hindi films only as side characters. Producers of Hindi films lined up to sign Vyjayantimala, the new heroine from the south. Sashadhar Mukherjee of Filmistan sent Nandlal Jaswantlal, who was to direct Nagin, to Madras to sign her up.

Nandlal Jaswantlal thought that she was plump with baby fat and that her round face filled the whole screen. He called her idli, which she resented.

A few days before signing for the film, Vyjayantimala’s parents had taken her to see an astrologer, who, apart from predicting that she would scale artistic heights, foretold an association with snakes. Soon afterwards, she came face to face with one and in Nagin, several sequences required her to handle live snakes, and enact a scene in which she is bitten by a snake. She went through these scenes stoically.

Nagin was a Romeo and Juliet type love story, transplanted into rival clans of professional snake charmers. It was crammed with the masala elements which producers considered essential to ensure success; song and dance sequences, melodrama and a dream sequence in Technicolor. However, when the film was released, it ran to empty houses and the producers thought the film had bombed. Much like Anarkali, the film picked up when the songs caught the ears of the public. It was not only a hit but became the highest earner of 1954. Hemant Kumar won the Filmfare Award for his music in the film. All the songs became hits with man dole mera tan dole taking second place in the list of songs in the annual programme of Binaca Geetmala, followed by jadugar sainya at fourteenth position. Kalyanji Virji Shah, destined to be a successful music director in later years, played the clavioline to reproduce the sound of the snake charmer’s Been for this song. In jadugar sainya, Censors felt the following lines were too suggestive and deleted them.

pheeka pheeka kajra, toota huwa gajra
kah dega saari baath ab ghar jaane do,

Nagin established Vyjayantimala as a major star in Hindi films, as crowds thronged to see her snaky gyrations to Lata Mangeshkar hits. Everybody in Bollywood wanted to sign her at the same time. She was the first South Indian actress to make the transition to Hindi films successfully. Vyjayantimala had several positive qualities that helped her to reach the pinnacle of success. Apart from being a trained dancer, Vyjayantimala was adept at learning languages. She had taken lessons at the Hindi Prachar Sabha in Madras. She was the only artiste from the south, who did not dub her dialogues. When her first Tamil film Vazhkai was remade in Telugu she could deliver all the dialogues in Telugu with the right modulation. In New Delhi, she delivered a Punjabi dialogue in faultless Punjabi. Later, she picked up Bengali on the sets of Bimal Roy’s Devdas, where everyone spoke Bengali.

The Hindi film fraternity did not accept her easily, however. Following the success of Bahar, she was invited to attend a film pageant organised by Filmfare, along with the top stars of Bollywood. She was humiliated by Nargis and Raj Kapoor stopped her from signing autographs. She consolidated her position with Nagin, and the trail blazed by her served as a beacon for later South Indian actresses like Waheeda Rehman, Hemamalini, Sridevi, and Divya Bharati. She got her own back on Nargis by not only taking her place as RK Films heroine in the megahit Sangam but also in Raj Kapoor’s heart. Continuing to dance at the ripe old age of 90 years, her career was crowned by the award of Padma Bhushan in 2024.

Apart from Nagin, Filmistan had three other films among the top earners of 1954, with Nastik in second place followed by Jagriti and Shart, placed sixth and seventh. IS Johar’s Nastik is the story of a man whose faith in God is shaken by the anguish of partition. Johar drives the point home with actual footage of refugees from newsreels of Films Division. Kavi Pradeep’s emotional composition kitna badal gaya insaan, tuned by C Ramchandra remains unforgettable. Two other songs from the film, kanha bajaye bansuri and gagan jhan jhana raha became very popular.

Jagriti tells the story of a spoiled child and his transformation in tragic circumstances. It marked the entry of another talented Bengali director, Satyen Bose into Hindi films. The film won the Filmfare Award for best film at the Filmfare Awards in 1956, with Abhi Bhattacharya receiving the Award for best supporting actor. Hemant Kumar composed some memorable tunes for Jagriti with patriotic lyrics by Pradeep for sabarmati ke sant tune, aao bachchon tumhe dikhayen, and hum laye hain toofan se. Asha Bhosle touches the heart strings of listeners with chalo chale maa, a song of hope by a disabled child showcasing his love for his poor mother. After the success of kitna badal gaya insaan and aao bachchon, Pradeep became a regular singer of his own songs.

Jagriti was a remake of Satyen Bose’s Bengali film Paribartan (1949). Syed Nazir Ali, who played the disabled boy Shakti in Jagriti under his screen name of Rattan Kumar, migrated to Pakistan and played the same role in a plagiarized version of the film titled Bedari. The film bombed with the Pakistani viewers preferring the original and the Pakistan Censor Board banned the exhibition of the film.

Shart was the second film directed by IS Johar to be in the top ten grossers of 1954. Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, Johar wrote a crime drama with himself playing the villain. With an expressionless newcomer in the lead, the film was disappointing. However, Hemant Kumar's music drew crowds and made the film successful. na ye chand hoga separately sung by Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar is an everlasting hit that ranked tenth in the annual programme of Binaca Geetmala for 1954. dekho woh chand chhupke and mere taqdeer ke malik were also popular.

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More by :  Ramarao Annavarapu

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