The main reason I rented this film was that the credits were so absolutely mouthwatering. A cast that included Sunil Dutt, Madhubala, Minoo Mumtaz, Madan Puri and Nishi Kohli. Music by S D Burman. Shakti Samanta as director. A winner, I’d have thought.
Alas, no. While it’s not a dud, Insaan Jaag Utha isn’t more than the sum of its otherwise stellar parts. The story is a mishmash of tropes. It doesn’t seem to know where it’s going, the plot has a lot of holes, and it’s not really too interesting.
The start is promising, with a truck driver being stopped by the police at a state border check post. A thief with a briefcase full of smuggled gold has escaped from Bombay, and the police suspect he’ll try to get over the border and into Andhra Pradesh.
While the truck driver’s getting out and asking the police questions, a stowaway escapes from the back of the truck. This is Ranjit (Sunil Dutt), and he’s got the briefcase. The police give chase, but Ranjit manages to outstrip them long enough to head into the forest and conceal the briefcase in the bole of a tree.
…after which, he gets caught by the cops and sentenced to five years in prison. [Considering they haven’t been able to find the goods on him – and they don’t know where he’s hidden them – this seems a bit odd. Even odder, as it later turns out, since nobody except some even more criminally-minded goons saw him escape].
Anyway, Ranjit lands up behind bars.
Five years later, when he gets out, the first thing he does is to board a bus for the state border. He arrives – and discovers that in the five years that have passed since his last eventful trip here, this area has become the construction site of the massive Nagarjuna Sagar Dam! [Ranjit must be one of the unluckiest criminals in Hindi films. To spend five years in jail only to find that all that wealth you’d been dreaming of is under tons of stone and concrete, and there are literally thousands of people milling about…]
But all is not lost. Thankfully for Ranjit, a little looking around reveals that the fateful tree still exists – it’s in the courtyard of a small family that lives near the construction site, one of the many thousands of households there.
This household is headed by the crippled father, Laxmandas (Nasir Hussain, limping, whining and preaching for all he’s worth). Laxmandas was once a freedom fighter and spent 12 years imprisoned by the British. Now he runs a crèche for the children of the women working at the dam.
Laxmandas has a little son called Gulab (?) and a daughter named Gauri (Madhubala), who works at the dam. When Ranjit discovers that the tree is now part of Laxmandas’s household, it is the firebrand Gauri whom he first runs into. There’s a little bit of mutual attraction here, but Gauri shoos Ranjit off.
Ranjit doesn’t realise that he’s been followed all the way from jail to the dam site. Mohan (Madan Puri) is the contractor for a section of the dam, and has put one of his men on his Ranjit’s trail. It isn’t clear why, but the goon reports back to Mohan and lets him know that Ranjit has arrived at the dam. Mohan gives his man instructions to tell two other goons, Chandar (Shyam Kumar) and Bahadur (Kundan) to keep an eye on Ranjit.
Soon enough, things start hotting up. Chandar and Bahadur catch up with Ranjit at the local tavern-cum-café-cum-hotel run by a matronly woman (Praveen Paul, who is really wasting her time in this film). The two men introduce themselves to Ranjit as Robert’s partners. Ranjit springs a surprise by asking them if they were Robert’s partners, or Robert’s killers. [Robert? Huh? Who?].
Chandar and Bahadur – Ranjit calls them bandar (monkey) and buzdil (coward) respectively, irritating them no end – admit to having killed Robert. They also try and bully Ranjit into sharing the long-buried gold with them, but Ranjit refuses.
By now, Ranjit’s decided that his best bet is to apply for a job at the dam site, and stick around until he can get an opportunity to dig the briefcase out from under the tree in Laxmandas’s house.
He applies for a job as a crane operator at the site, but is refused: they don’t need any more men there. Eventually, Ranjit is reduced to accepting any job they’ll give him – so ends up breaking stone for building material.
Ranjit meets other people at the construction site: the comic (well, more a caricature, actually, and one that got on my nerves) overseer Bholanath:
There’s Chandar and Bahadur’s boss Mohan, who doesn’t let on that those two goons are his men… [One thing that I haven’t been able to figure out: how did this bunch of hoodlums figure the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam site was where they should wait for Ranjit to come when he’s released from jail?]
And the engineer, Mr Mathur (Gautam Mukherjee), who seems to be one of the few normal, sane people at this site. One day, Ranjit saves Mr Mathur’s life after a freak accident sends the engineer tumbling down a slope. Mr Mathur is very grateful and when he discovers that Ranjit, who’s obviously educated, has been breaking stones all this while, promptly agrees to let him operate one of the cranes. [Don’t ask why Ranjit seems to have this obsession with operating a crane. Okay, it may be what he’s had experience with, but I have a feeling this entire thing is all a set-up to allow this song to take place].
Ranjit has also been getting friendlier with Gauri, whose initial reaction to Ranjit’s proximity was to get into arguments with him. Since he’s always grinning and flirting, she finds it increasingly difficult to remain angry with the man.
Helping Ranjit in his efforts to woo Gauri are Gauri’s friend Munia (Minoo Mumtaz) and Munia’s suitor Sukham (Sundar). Both Munia and Sukham seem to spend all their time having mock squabbles of their own (Sukham tries to butter up Munia, she pretends she doesn’t want any of it). When they aren’t doing that, they’re conniving with Ranjit to get Gauri to agree to be his love forever and ever.
Another grand entrance now occurs: that of the lovely Hansa (Nishi Kohli), who is the dancer at the local ‘hotel’ owned by the Praveen Paul character.
At the end of one of her dances, Hansa is accosted by the gruesome twosome, Chandar and Bahadur. Ranjit comes to her rescue, thereby earning himself brownie points both with the owner of the hotel (who, discovering he has no place to stay, offers him a room in the hotel) and with Hansa, who gives him many come-hither looks.
Hansa is given the duty of showing Ranjit to his room. En route, she takes him to her own room, because she wants to remove all the heavy jewellery she’s been wearing for her dance. While she’s doing that behind a screen, Ranjit begins idly going through her things. [How ill-mannered is that?!]
Just as well, though, because among Hansa’s things, he comes across two photos of a man (Keshav Rana).
…so that, when Hansa, minus all that jewellery, emerges from behind the screen, Ranjit is able to ask her if she’s Rinee, and not Hansa. Hansa looks surprised, but admits it. Yes, she’s Rinee. And yes (when Ranjit asks her) she used to be Robert’s girlfriend. [Now I’m getting curious about who this Robert was].
Fortunately, we don’t have long to wait to discover the answer to that.
By now, Ranjit is well and truly in love with Gauri, and vice-versa. One day, he ends up telling her all: his having been in jail for five years, and the fact that there’s a very valuable briefcase hidden away under the tree in the courtyard.
Then comes the back story.
Ranjit says that five years ago, he used to work as a crane operator at the Bombay docks. He was in love with a wealthy girl named Sudha, who one day told Ranjit that her parents were forcing her to get married to a groom they’d chosen for her – and the wedding was to take place two days down the line. Ranjit and Sudha decided that the only solution was to elope. But, Ranjit realised, as a dockworker, his savings were abysmal; he wouldn’t be able to give Sudha a comfortable home.
Ranjit had a rich friend named Robert [at last!]. Ranjit didn’t know what Robert did for a living – all he knew was that Robert was constantly in and out of the port, and had plenty of money. So Ranjit went to ask Robert for a loan, and Robert instantly agreed – but on one condition: would Ranjit do him a favour? Robert then told Ranjit that his (Robert’s) girlfriend Rinee had been visiting, and had inadvertently left a briefcase behind at Robert’s. Would Ranjit deliver the briefcase to Rinee? Here’s the address – and here’s the briefcase…
Ranjit had no option, and couldn’t see anything wrong with it, anyway. So he took the briefcase and left Robert’s cabin on the boat where Robert was then staying. Just past the cabin, he heard the sounds of a scuffle, followed by low-voiced threats and whispers. Ranjit then discovered the truth: Robert was a smuggler of gold, and had been trying to get a briefcase full of gold to his girlfriend, Rinee.
Ranjit wisely [though perhaps not in exemplary 'anything-for-a-friend' Hindi film hero fashion] stayed out of the fight. Robert was killed and his killers – whom Ranjit now knows as Chandar and Bahadur – chased Ranjit, but he managed to escape with the briefcase full of gold.
…which now resides under the tree in Gauri’s family courtyard. But now what?
What I liked about this film:
Madhubala and Sunil Dutt, both of whom are among my favourite Hindi film actors. Madhubala is in a beautifully deglamourised avatar here, and looks lovely.
S D Burman’s music. Unlike, say, Kaagaz ke Phool, Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Nau Do Gyarah or Guide, Insaan Jaag Utha didn’t have one smash hit of a song after another – but it had some very pleasant songs, including the lovely Jaanoon jaanoon ri kaahe khanke hai tora kangna and the gently romantic Chaand sa mukhda kyon sharmaaya. The two dances picturised on Nishi Kohli – Aankhe chaar hote-hote and Bahaaron se nazaaron ke yeh dekho – are wonderful, and there’s also the title song, Mehnatkash insaan jaag utha. Plus there’s the well-known (though not one of my favourites), Yeh chanda Rus ka na yeh Jaapaan ka.
What I didn’t like:
The hotchpotch that this story was. It tried to bring in a little bit of everything – romance, intrigue, nationalism, socialism, comedy. And it didn’t focus on any one aspect.
There was potential here. We had the not-quite-upright hero (à la Bombai ka Babu and a crop of other Dev Anand films): maybe the film could’ve concentrated on his struggle to turn over a new leaf. We had the villagers fighting to build a better life for themselves (as in Naya Daur): but they just fill in the space between the camera and the backdrop, the dam. Or, this could’ve even been an out-and-out suspense thriller, but it falls flat on that front too.
Watch the songs on Youtube, and you’ll get the best of the film. The rest of it is pretty missable.
Even if you watch the film, do yourself a favour and lower the volume in the last five minutes, where Madhubala shrieks – very loud and shrill – at five-second intervals. I’ve never wanted to shut Madhubala up before this.
Little bit of trivia:
The building site of the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam (the world’s largest masonry dam, constructed between 1955 and 1967) was actually used as a location for the shooting of the film. That little bit of history – actually seeing this dam in the initial stages of its construction – is one of the highlights of the film. There’s even a small bit where Gauri takes Ranjit to a place where there’s a small working model of the dam as it eventually will be. Gauri requests the man in charge to show how it functions, which he does by raising the sluices and letting water out from the tiny reservoir they’ve built.