Today is the 100th birth anniversary of one of my favourite Hindi film actors, the extremely talented, very versatile Balraj Sahni. Born on May 1, 1913 (an interesting coincidence, considering he went on to become the first president of the leftist All India Youth Federation), Balraj Sahni became a prominent writer—first in English, later in Punjabi—and, of course, a brilliant, much-respected actor, with a dignity and screen presence that made him stand apart in films as different as Do Bigha Zameen, Waqt, Kabuliwaala, Haqeeqat, Anuradha, and Sone ki Chidiya.
I ended up re-watching this film in a roundabout sort of way, which is a story in itself. A few months back, my sister (a historian, whose PhD was on 19th century Delhi) remarked, “I’d like to watch Lal Qila. I’ve never been able to find it in stores.” So, good little sister that I am (and a shameless opportunist), I figured out at least one of the things I’d gift my sister for Christmas.
Before gift-wrapping the VCD, I decided to watch Lal Qila, and write up a review right after. The latter didn’t happen – because Lal Qila is so badly written, so badly directed, and such a crashing bore, I couldn’t make head or tail of it most of the time. Only Rafi’s superb renditions of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s poetry – especially Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon – are a saving grace.
I was so peeved and disappointed after Lal Qila, that I needed this to buoy myself up. In any case, I told myself: logically, the two films are related (other than the fact that both feature Helen): the Lal Qila and the Taj Mahal were both built by Shahjahan.
Here we go, then. One of Hindi cinema’s better historicals, with a stellar cast and very good music.
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.
Did the producer and director Devendra Goel specialise in film names that incorporated numbers? Have a look at this (admittedly select) filmography: Ek Saal, Ek Phool Do Maali, Ek Mahal ho Sapnon ka, Do Musafir, Dus Lakh… Was he, perhaps, doing a countdown to what he hoped would be some blockbuster magnum opus that would put Mughal-e-Azam or Mother India firmly and permanently in the shade?
I don’t know, but this I can say: of all the Devendra Goel films I’ve seen (six), this is by far the best. It’s coherent, interesting, romantic – and it stars a wonderful lead couple: Ashok Kumar and Madhubala.
Hindi cinema’s fascination for the Mughals is – well, fascinating. Even before independence, we were busy churning out semi-historicals such as Humayun (1945) and Shahjehan (1946); then, in the 50s and 60s, there followed a spate of rather more big-budget extravaganzas, complete with big names, vast armies, glittering palaces and superb music: Mughal-e-Azam, Taj Mahal and Anarkali (Note: As a character, Anarkali seemed to be especially popular. Besides the Bina Rai-Pradeep Kumar version, there were Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam versions of her story; even a Pakistani version starring Noor Jehan. And that list neither includes the two versions made in 1928, nor a 1935 film starring Ruby Myers. Note that Mughal-e-Azam is also about Anarkali).
Akeli Mat Jaiyo (‘Don’t Go Alone’—specifically addressed to a female) is, if nothing else, very aptly titled. Because if you gallivant where you’re not supposed to, you run the risk of being pursued by a moron whose best friend is a ventriloquist’s dummy. You may end up betrothed to somebody whose family includes a father with a loony sense of humour. Worst of all, you may have to stake your all on saving the ‘life’ of that ventriloquist’s dummy. So yes, akeli mat jaiyo. No way.