To celebrate India’s Republic day on the 26th of January, I decided to watch a film by Bollywood’s own symbol of patriotism, Manoj Kumar. Browsing through his works, I picked Purab aur Pachhim with vague memories of some likeable songs. ‘The East and The West’ says the title, and I knew I was in for some Indo-centric worldview which will appal me in its exaggeration, bias and fabrication. Is this the definition of Patriotism? Not to me. Preparing myself mentally, I readied myself for the film.
The film bravely starts with Ram Prasad ‘Bismil’’s soul-stirring words
सरफरोशी की तमन्ना अब हमारे दिल में है।
देखना है जोर कितना बाजु-कातिल में है?”
sarfarOshI kI tamannA ab hamArE dil mE.n hai
dekhnA hai zOr kitnA bAzu-E-qqAtil mE.n hai
The wish to sacrifice is now in our hearts
It is to be seen what strength there is in the arms of our executioners
The tale starts in 1942, in Allahabad. A freedom-fighter falls, betrayed by his a neighbour Harnam (Pran). As he breathes his last, his wife Ganga (Kamini Kaushal) goes into labour and gives birth to a boy, Bharat, who will grow up to be the hero (Manoj Kumar) of our story. Harnam and his wife Kaushalya (Nirupa Roy) break-up over his betrayal and he steals away in the night with their young son Omkar (adult role by Prem Chopra). Kaushalya soon gives birth to a girl, Gopi. The two ladies and the children live with their Harnam’s father (Ashok Kumar).
A grown-up Bharat goes to UK to complete his studies and is invited by his father’s friend Sharma (Madan Puri) to live with his family. His family (wife Rita (Shammi), daughter Preeti (Saira Banu) and son Shankar (Rajendranath)) are not Indian in their outlook, though they are decent folk. Bharat’s coming affects them all in different ways. Sharma remembers again his connection with India and wallows in nostalgia. Shankar is attracted to Indian spirituality and starts exploring it. Preeti is bewildered at first but then starts admiring and later loving Bharat. Rita rests bewildered.
Coincidentally (well, this IS Bollywood!) the Sharma family is acquainted with Harnam and Omkar. Omkar is obsessed with Preeti and wants her at any cost. Preeti is more interested in Bharat and by the time he finishes his studies, they have an understanding that they will marry. But she wants him to stay back abroad while he wants to go back to India. Bharat agrees that if she dislikes India even after an extended stay, he will return to UK with her.
In India, the Sharma family (sans mum) are drawn to the way of life. Drama arrives when Harnam returns and then later Omkar, with evil intentions. After a complicated climax, everything comes to a happy conclusion.
In general, this is a decent enough plot. An Indian family is alienated from its roots; the presence of a patriotic and good Indian man makes them question their values and find a new way of life which they like better. No harm in that at all. Yet there are these not-so subtle messages which are piously put forth in the name of patriotism, but are galling to any intelligent person, especially to an Indian woman like myself who lives outside India. See what Manoj Kumar says
An unfaithful and violent husband who abandons a woman is still to be considered God and begged to fulfil his wife’s life !
Non-resident Indian women are chain-smoking, alcohol-swigging ladies with no value systems. By the way, this view has not changed much over the years; I recently saw Cocktail in which Deepika Padukone plays a NRI woman who is shown as a party-girl and Diana Penty is, in contrast, the ‘good’ Indian girl!
Non-Indian women are all easy!
Indians have a monopoly on culture, wisdom, sobriety etc.
‘Love India’ is a message I can live with but ‘Disrespect all other cultures’ is the subtle-undertone of this message, and that I cannot live with. It is to be noted that while spouting Indian values, the writer-director-producer of the film does not hesitate to use nubile sparsely-clothed young ladies to titillate and sell the film at the box-office. Such hypocrisy!
Leaving my (serious) objections aside, the film is well made and watchable. Manoj Kumar’s acting is very low-key which I quite like. Saira Banu is ideally cast for this role and though she does not handle her one emotional scene well, she does a decent enough job for the rest. Supporting cast are all better than the lead actors, especially Pran. Vinod Khanna is totally wasted.
The music by Kalyanji-Anandji is melodious, with Mahendra Kapoor as the star performer – and he does very well indeed! I found that his voice suits Manoj Kumar very well. The lyrics are mainly by Indeevar with a song contribution each by Santosh Anand and Prem Dhawan.
- Dulhan Chali – Mahendra Kapoor. Lyrics: Indeevar. Despite the 42 years which have passed by, I reckon this song is still well-recognized in India thanks to its suitability for both baratis and for telly-time on patriotic occasions! A rousing song, well sung.
Hai Preet Jahan Ki Reet -Mahendra Kapoor. Lyrics: Indeevar. Though I am not much for over-preachy songs, I was struck by the words. Well done Indeevar! Another patriotic song, with a catchy refrain भारत का रहने वाला हूँ भारत की बात सुनाता हूँ . Shot in a revolving floor of a restaurant, I remember watching the clip as a kid and being quite amazed!
Raghupati Raghav – Mahendra Kapoor & Manhar. This traditional and well-loved chant is used in multiple places in the film. Too much drama in some renditions, but Mahendra Kapoor is in good voice.
Koi Jab Tumhara-Mukesh. Lyrics: Indeevar. Sad songs somehow sounds sadder in Mukesh’s voice! Well written, well sung song.
Purva Suhani Aayi Re – Mahendra Kapoor, Lata Mangeshkar, Manhar. Lyrics: Santosh Anand. The rather sad melody doesn’t match the cheerfulness of the words. Shot like an ad for tourism, it is an entertaining watch.
Om Jai Jagdish -Mahendra Kapoor, Shyama Chittar, Brij Bushan. This traditional aarti song always sounds good to me.
Twinkle Twinkle – Mahendra Kapoor, Asha Bhonsle. Lyrics: Prem Dhawan. Naaaaah…doesnt work for me, this strange mix of nursery rhymes and bhangra music.
To listen to the whole album, click here.
For today, I have selected Dulhan Chali as my featur song simply because you can enjoy a glimpse of the Republic Day parade in its picturisation. Enjoy!