Neecha Nagar (1946)

I am a bit of an iconoclast. Maxim Gorky’s play The Lower Depths, while considered one of the great classics of Russian literature, left me cold when I read it. To me, it seemed too cluttered with characters, too devoid of plot, and just—well, without anything that would make me want to go back to it all over again.
So I approached Neecha Nagar—Chetan Anand’s debut film as a director—with a good deal of trepidation. Because Neecha Nagar was inspired by The Lower Depths, and I expected something horrendously morbid and impossible to understand without the benefit of footnotes.

I am pleased to announce that I was pleasantly surprised. Neecha Nagar is not without its shortcomings, but it is, on the whole, a true classic. Not stereotypically ‘Hindi film’-ish, and with a universal quality to it that makes it far more memorable than a lot of other pre-Independence films. I’m not surprised, really, that this film didn’t just make it to the first Cannes Film Festival (in 1946), but also won the Grand Prix at the festival.

The eponymous Neecha Nagar (literally ‘low town’) is a settlement in a valley. The people of Neecha Nagar are mostly quite poor. Even when they aren’t leading a hand-to-mouth existence, they’re hardly rolling in luxury. Among the people we get to know in the first few minutes of the film (during which we see a cheerful song-and-dance celebrating the coming of spring) are Rupa (Kamini Kaushal) and her beloved, Sagar (SP Bhatia).

Rupa’s brother is Balraj (Rafiq Anwar), an earnest young man, who is well-respected in Neecha Nagar.

They also have another elder brother of whom we see and hear fairly little.  This man’s wife, Rupa’s and Balraj’s bhabhi, however, is a familiar face: Zohra Saigal, who also did the choreography for the film (trivia: when screened at Cannes, the dances were edited out of the film, as was one of the songs).

High (both literally and metaphorically) above Neecha Nagar lives Sarkar (Rafi Peer). His mansion is luxurious, home to plush velvet upholstery, marble floors, and Sarkar’s daughter Maya (Uma Anand, in her sole appearance as an actress). Maya had studied in college with Balraj, and the two of them are in love with each other, though Balraj, realising their difference in status, has cut himself off from Maya.

Sarkar isn’t just a very wealthy man; he’s also a man who won’t stop at anything to add to his wealth. Currently, the one thing standing in the way of his making even more money is Neecha Nagar.
The problem is that Neecha Nagar sits on prime land—land on which Sarkar can launch a profitable building project.

Furthermore, in the vicinity is a swamp, which if it were drained and allowed to dry out, can also be a good bit of land for a real estate developer.

Sarkar, therefore, comes up with what he feels is the perfect solution: divert a drain that runs through the area, in such a way that it drains away the swamp. And where should the drain be diverted? Towards Neecha Nagar. That will have the added benefit of driving away the residents of Neecha Nagar, leaving Sarkar free to take over their land and construct buildings on it.

This, then, is where the film begins. Balraj, Rupa, and their elderly friend (their so-called chaacha, or uncle) Hakim Yaqub Khan (Hamid Butt), are among the first to learn of the proposed diversion of the drain. They know, of course, what will be the consequences for Neecha Nagar, so a delegation of Neecha Nagar’s foremost citizens—including Yaqub chaacha, Balraj, and Sagar—go to meet Sarkar, to try and reason with him.

Sarkar refuses, and puts forward his own logic: this ‘drain’ isn’t a drain, but a canal. It will only bring prosperity to Neecha Nagar, providing water for irrigation, and for the Neecha Nagar cattle to be watered.
Nobody is taken in by this. But Sarkar isn’t listening, especially as he knows that he controls nearly everybody on the local municipality board. The municipality will do what Sarkar wants it to do.

One person from Neecha Nagar goes away from the meeting excited rather than despondent. This is Rupa’s ambitious sweetheart, Sagar. Sagar thinks of himself as a debonair, forward-thinking and Westernised man. A misfit in Neecha Nagar, perhaps, where everybody is too down-to-earth (stick-in-the-mud?) for Sagar’s tastes. [An insight into Sagar’s way of thinking is offered when he first goes to Sarkar’s as part of the delegation: just before they go in to meet Sarkar, he bends down to dust his highly polished shoes, and to sharpen the creases in his trousers].

Sarkar is quick to realise Sagar’s potential too. Soon after, a message arrives at Sagar’s house, inviting Sagar to meet Sarkar at his mansion, privately.
Sarkar offers a simple proposition: Sagar will be his employee, for the monthly sum of Rs 300, and will be responsible for ensuring that any filth the ‘canal’ carries with it is cleared away. Nothing is said beyond that, but the implications are clear: Sagar is to be Sarkar’s man in Neecha Nagar.

The people of Neecha Nagar, having registered their complaint with Sarkar, watch on as the drain is diverted, its foul, sewage-filled water swirling into their settlement. (This is a hard-hitting, very telling scene: muck flows on the muddy waters; a dog’s corpse floats along, bubbles rise from the filth, and vultures roost in an ominous row, waiting…). The vile water comes right up to the doorsteps of the houses in Neecha Nagar.

On its heels comes disease. The people of Neecha Nagar start falling ill. Another delegation—more desperate than the last—goes again to Sarkar to plead, and again finds its pleas falling on deaf ears.
As if this wasn’t enough, Sarkar now plays his trump card, his next attempt to oust the people of Neecha Nagar: he orders the water supply to the settlement to be cut off.

He does, however, extend an olive branch towards Neecha Nagar: he will ensure that a hospital is opened as soon as possible. Neecha Nagar’s ill can be brought to the hospital to be treated for free.

Balraj, Yaqub chaacha and Rupa now come to the fore, trying their best to counter Sarkar’s underhanded ways of getting a hold on Neecha Nagar. They open a seva ghar (literally, a ‘service home’, or a ‘care home’), where they encourage their neighbours and other residents of Neecha Nagar to bring the sick. Yaqub chaacha treats them as best as he can, and Rupa, Balraj, and a couple of other friends pitch in to look after the invalids. “Don’t take your children to Sarkar’s hospital,” Balraj and Yaqub chaacha plead. “You’ll just be playing into his hands. We have to stand firm.”

Easier said than done. When Balraj and Rupa’s little niece falls ill, her mother—their bhabhi—insists that the girl be taken to the hospital.

Meanwhile, water has been cut off in Neecha Nagar. With not a sip to drink, what will happen to the people of this pathetic little township? Is there any hope for them? Will the municipality (or Sarkar) reconsider? Will Balraj and Yaqub chaacha finally realise that perhaps this passive, non-violent resistance isn’t the way to tackle a brute like Sarkar? What will happen to Neecha Nagar?

The beauty of Neecha Nagar is in that its story is very simple: a poor township tyrannised (though sugarcoated with supposed philanthropy) by a wealthy, greedy man. There are no complications, no subplots and comic side plots: just a simple, straightforward tale of wealth and power versus poverty and helplessness.

This being, after all, a Hindi film, there are songs, even two dances. But they’re short songs, and two of the most memorable ones are about rising and facing up to oppression. The dances, too, are strategically positioned at the start of the film, when Neecha Nagar is oblivious to the dangers that lurk in the near future.

There are also two romances. Or, (since Rupa’s love story comes to a sad end when Sagar turns his coat), one romance: that of Balraj and Maya. But, unlike the average Hindi film, this romance is very secondary to the main story. Balraj and Maya do not frolic in parks and sing songs; they don’t even spend much time saying loving things to each other.

Their love, instead, becomes part of the problem. Maya, while not approving of her father’s stance on Neecha Nagar, lacks the spine to actually do more than plead with him. [The fact that he tells her how much he’s invested in this project—and how he’ll be bankrupted if he retracts—is perhaps partly responsible].
If Maya finds herself torn between Balraj and her father, so too does Balraj find himself pulled in two directions.

Ultimately, this is a film where the central theme is just one. And there’s very little other than that: the drain that is going to drain life away from Neecha Nagar, giving Sarkar his victory.

Chetan Anand’s first venture resonates with the socialist influence of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). Neecha Nagar (along with Dharti ke Lal, made in 1949, about the Bengal famine of 1943) was one of the earliest socialistic Hindi films to be made. It’s a good film, which deserves to be better known than it currently is.

What I liked about this film:

Chetan Anand’s direction. While watching Neecha Nagar, I was reminded repeatedly of Metropolis. There is, of course, a slight resemblance in storyline: rich/high versus poor/low (literally, since even in Metropolis, it is the downtrodden who live in the depths, while the wealthy and powerful inhabit the heights). As in Metropolis, in Neecha Nagar too there is the love story between individuals on the two opposite sides of the line that separates them.

But what really reminded me of Metropolis was Chetan Anand’s treatment of the film. The cinematography, and the way things are depicted (often metaphorically), is very effective. Sarkar, for instance.
Sarkar, when he is all-powerful, is always shown with the camera ‘looking up’ at him; as if he holds not just the municipality and the fate of Neecha Nagar in his hands, but everything else too: the all-powerful Sarkar (I’m assuming that name—‘sarkar’ literally means ‘government’ –was deliberate. Was it also indicative of the British that ruled India at the time?)

Then, there are the somewhat disgusting, yet proportionately impactful, scenes that show the plight of Neecha Nagar. A dead dog floating in the water. A boy, thirsty because the water supply has been stopped, bending towards a muddy puddle, pausing briefly—and then drinking from it.

And the climactic scene at the municipality’s meeting, when Maya arrives, is brilliant.

Lastly, another resemblance to Metropolis: the extreme close-ups.

Anand’s direction cannot be mentioned without also praising Khwaja Ahmed Abbas’s script, based on the Hindi story Neecha Nagar by Hayatullah Ansari. The screenplay is crisp and succinct, not given to wandering off on tangents and introducing a lot of secondary plots and characters. Very forceful, without being terribly melodramatic.

Incidentally, Neecha Nagar also marked the debut, as music director, of Pandit Ravi Shankar. The film has about half a dozen songs, of which I especially liked three, not so much for just their music, but also for the lyrics and the contexts. One is a sad lullaby that Rupa sings to the sick children in the seva ghar—“Sona, o nanhi sona, ab na rona”; the other two—“Utho, ke humein waqt ki gardish ne pukaara,” and “Hum jhukenge, ji nahin,”—are revolutionary anthems.

And Rafi Peer’s portrayal of Sarkar is excellent.

What I didn’t like:

The slightly sloppy editing in a couple of places, where the narrative seems to jump from one frame to another. One particular instance is the scene where Maya goes to a restaurant and finds herself the butt of the passive hostility of the Neecha Nagar dwellers. This scene is interspersed with other goings-on elsewhere in the township, and the transitions between the restaurant and outside are abrupt.

Uma Anand’s diction. I didn’t have a problem with her acting, but her voice sounds a little too flat and toneless through most of the film. Rafiq Anwar isn’t much of an actor, either.

Those, however, are relatively minor when it comes to the overall effect of this film. Neecha Nagar is not flawless, but its strengths far outweigh what it may lack. A definite must-watch.

Note: At least two versions of the film are available on Youtube. I watched the version on the Rajshri channel; the video here turned out to be scratchy in places, and in a couple of scenes, the audio was pretty bad. Shemaroo Vintage too have it on their Youtube channel, and this version (going by its censor certificate) is a later, hopefully cleaned up, version.

Little bit of trivia: Rafiq Anwar (who played Balraj) was the father of Indian-born British film editor Tariq Anwar, who was nominated for an Oscar for The King’s Speech last year.

73 thoughts on “Neecha Nagar (1946)

  1. Madhu, I saw this a long, long time ago – in ’91 to be exact. I remember being *very* impressed with it then. I would love to revisit it – but oh, WDIGTT?

    As for Chetan’s direction, I always liked his direction. Like younger brother Dev, he too depended heavily on literature for his movies, and perhaps because of his leftist sympathies, he depended a lot on Russian literature. He was a fantastic director. Navketan’s best films were those directed by Chetan, or by Goldie. Poor Dev should have stuck to being in front of the camera. :)


    • “Poor Dev should have stuck to being in front of the camera. :)” (whispers to self) How could I not reply to this comment…

      Uh. Um. Um. -falls into a thousand pieces- Uhhh. Yesterday at this Indian shop, I spotted some DVDs. And I completely melted in front of the rack. Fine, they weren’t all old movies, but I started to pick out Dev’s movies automatically. Two of them – Prem Pujari and Des Pardes. I was about to faint – WHAT, NO OLD MOVIES OF DEV’S? Then I was being tempted to get it, but I reminded myself about Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Argh. Then I saw Mother India. (I hate to admit it, but I haven’t seen the movie. -cries and hides under Anu-proof table-) And Upkar too. So I couldn’t decide. To solve the problem I had a fit and finally took the Mother India DVD.

      Guess what? It was $2. Seriously – a DVD for $2! AND WITH SUBTITLES! :O So I promptly went back and got Neel Kamal and Sangam (That was for Rajendra Kumar, really. :P). Happy happy day. Sorry for sharing this incredibly pointless and long comment. :D

      OH. And about Dev’s movies that he directed, uh, hm. I’ll just say that Goldie and Chetan were best with the directing. Dev can produce and act, sure, but directing.. uh, no.


      • Ah, well. I did say I’m an iconoclast, so I’ll go on and be more of one. I don’t like Mother India much. Yes, it’s a good film and all that, but not the type I’d watch again and again, not even to admire the craft that’s gone into it. I tend to think of it as one of those films for which the hype (because of that Oscar nomination?) outstrips the film itself. Too depressing for my taste.

        Do tell what you thought about it. And Neel Kamal – oh, lord, one of the most frightful films I’ve ever seen. Thank goodness I watched it on TV rather than wasted my money buying it! ;-)


        • Dustedoff, join the gang. (And why am I not surprised?) I didn’t like Mother India at all! Not one bit. Everyone insisted I watch the film, and raved about how great it was, and I felt like I was the child in The Emperor’s New Clothes. :(

          Bombaynoir, so at least for *that* film, you will not have to hide under Anu-proof table. :) Besides, you are in Florida, kid, and I live on the Eastern Coast myself. Maybe you could take a trip and we could have a Devathon. I could invite bollyviewer and Lalitha too. :) Think about it – the summer months stretch ahead of you before term begins.

          (ps: I can assure you I’m eminently respectable (fingers crossed behind my back) with two kids, dog and house in the suburbs – ah, the American nightmare. :)


          • Okay then. But I still kept Dev’s gun with me in case. Don’t jump on me. :D And… THAT IS AN AWESOME IDEA. -SCREAMSM MSMSMSMSMS- :DDDD -spasm- Sorrry. We have to watch, er, um, Nau Do Gyarah, Tere Ghar Ke Samne, and all of his old films even though I’ve seen them all! Just a heads-up, maybe get some earplugs because I scream a lot. Okay? :D

            Where do you live? I live in Jacksonville now. And oh my God, it is so cold! I freeze to death every day here! And everytthing’s in this damned Farenheit and it’s so frustrating. GIMME CELCIUS, DARN IT. I’m not good with the time change – I still fall asleep in the afternoon and wake up at 3am.


          • Whew. I am glad to have company! Mother India just strikes me as so much unrelenting unhappiness – it may be realistic, but I personally think it makes for pretty tedious cinema.


        • Aww, why? I haven’t seen it, but I decided, hey, since Mother India is such a, uh, you know, famous film, I had to see it at least once. And it was $2, so? :D -dance- And, look, I have to admit it, I decided on Mother India instead of Upkar because of Rajendra. :P

          Why’s Neel Kamal frightful? :O WHY? -deflates-


    • Anu, yes. I agree whole-heartedly. Dev should have stuck to acting (at least he looked good in front of the camera, even if in later years his acting tended to get swamped by his urge to be Dev Anand rather than the character he was playing). Chetan and Vijay Anand were certainly far better directors.


      • While I agree with the general premise that Dev was no director, he did show flashes of unconventional brilliance in “Hare Rama Hare Krishna”. Whether this movie was the exception that proves the rule, or was yet another Dev directed turkey, I leave to others.


        • I saw Hare Rama Hare Krishna too far back to comment, but films like Heera Panna or Prem Pujari, while they had great music, weren’t my idea of a well-directed film… so maybe Hare Rama Hare Krishna was a flash in the pan.


        • Samir, I agree with you. I think Hare Rama Hare Krishna was truly the only film which he could claim to have ‘directed’. But I would say it was a flash in the pan, except for certain scenes in other films. Never the films as a whole.


        • Really? I thought it was terrible, horrible! Well, I was watching Solva Saal at the same time, but that’s no excuse! At the end when the hippies are going to bash him up (I mean, SERIOUSLY, DEV, GET OUT OF THERE.) he starts preaching, and you know what I did? I banged my head on the wall, cried, screamed, and a lot of other things. And, uh, you know the song after “Dum Maro Dum”? I had to get up and walk away from the laptop because I couldn’t stand seeing Dev making a fool outta himself. No, too painful.

          Though I think the fight was damn funny. -giggle- But… no, I don’t want to see it again. I left the DVD back in Singapore for a very good reason. -flinches- And no, I’m not going to try out Heera Panna (COME ON. What was with Dev and that… that.. MAGAZINE?! I saw the title song and… nearly fainted.) or Prem Pujari. Once bitten, twice shy. :P


    • I’ve seen some Chetan Anand films that I liked a lot (Haqeeqat comes first to mind), and some I didn’t – like Hindustan ki Kasam. Hanste Zakhm was good to a point, but then seemed to fall prey to the usual ‘norms’ Hindi cinema seemed to follow back then.

      Neecha Nagar is one I’d certainly put into the first bracket – one of his very good films.


  2. Madhu ji,
    What a balanced and objective review of the film.
    Actually,I had my preconcieved negative feelings about this film,since it advocated a brand of Socialism,what with IPTA members in it and K.A.Abbas to boot !
    After reading your review I tend to change my view of the film and realise the better things of the film now.
    This film was the precursor of many such films later in that era,with Abbas being active at it and there was a certain set of audience looking forward to and enjoying such movies.
    All in all,a very satisfying discussion of the film. Thanks.


    • Thank you, Arunji.

      My only reservations about this film before I watched it was the time period in which it was made (I have leftist leanings myself, so the socialist theme was perfectly all right with me). The bulk of the 40s films I’ve seen tend to be somewhat theatrical and dated. This one was a fine example of a film that seems almost as if it hasn’t aged since when it was made. A very good film, and one I’d recommend.

      (Just as a matter of curiosity: what is it that you don’t like about KA Abbas as a writer?)


      • A very good question,but stii difficult to answer satisfatorily.
        I have seen most of the films written,directed by him or where he is connected in some way or the other.They seem to have great similarity of content and treatment.ofcourse this may be a style.
        I feel taking the help of extremism(here I mean going to extremes in depicting poverty,difficulties or obstacles) to generate sympathy or expecting support to the cause may not be the proper thing for canvassing ideologies.
        I have nothing against any ideology.To each his own,but films have also to entertain,otherwise they become propoganda tools and hence boring.
        There are dozens of entertaining films ,with a socialist theme,but in case of Abbas films,I personally did not find this sort of combination.The stress was always on socialism and other things were of no importance.
        His devotion to his philosophy and his efforts towards it are highly noteworthy.
        personal choices and likings are always subjective.


        • Thank you for that detailed reply, and I can understand why it might have been a difficult question to answer. I tend to think all beauty tends to lie in the eye of the beholder – which is why I agree that appreciation of a movie can be very subjective. There are plenty of movies that the world seems to think are fantastic, and which I find impossible to sit through! (Mother India is a case in point).

          I don’t really think that KA Abbas’s films lay too much stress on socialism to the exclusion of all else – from his filmography, the other films I’ve seen include Gyaarah Hazaar Ladkiyaan (not bad), Char Dil Char Raahein (again, not bad – and some good songs), Anhonee (not a socialist theme at all), Saat Hindustani (terrible!), and this one – so maybe not all are bad. I do admit that some of the films he wrote for RK irritate me – like Awara. Shree 420, on the other hand, is a bit better – but then the songs of that film always will redeem it for me!


  3. “debonair, forward-thinking and Westernised man”

    -spits out a mouthful of food-

    o_o” Sorry. All my lunch just landed on my computer screen. Again. I just couldn’t help it when I saw debonair. Well I learned the word debonair because of Dev! Don’t look at me like that!

    ANYYYWAYY. The movie sounds really good, and of course it must be – because Chetan directed it! Chetan really was a good director, though I haven’t checked out any of his movies yet (And no! You can’t shoot me!) except for Funtoosh (And that was because of Dev, really), and it… I dunno. I only remember Dev had a lot of nice hats. Don’t ask me why my memory is bad. Be grateful I didn’t lose it like filmi characters.

    I will check it out sometime or the other – I haven’t seen any other pre-independence films except for Kismet (Which was awesome!). And I don’t know the actors, I don’t know the music directors… -rattles on and on-

    On a side note, I just watched Jhuk Gaya Aasman and loved loved loved it! :D You can tell by my latest post! And I absolutely loved Rajendra Kumar in it. HE IS CUTE. I don’t care, he is cute. (I haven’t forgotten Dev either. >___>) So (this is another one of my pointless rants so read on if you want to) I was trying to make a new character for a role-play and I wanted to make a duplicate of Rajendra Kumar. >_> I do that a lot with Dev. A lot, lot. First I had to come up with the name. Went to Wikipedia, looked at Rajendra’s filmography, got sidetracked with a movie name.

    Then I landed up on IMDB. Then Dev’s IMDB page. Then some German website reading reviews of Dev’s films. And then fighting with Google Translate. After that I realized my point and went back to Google. Ended up listening to songs. When I finally got a name (I was at my wits’ end and just used a random name generator), I needed to describeee him. Oh great. Went back to the songs. Got sidetracked again. Went on Wikipedia. And now it’s been four hours and still no description or personality traits! ARGH. I could do that with Dev very easily, because I’ve seen a lot of his movies. But Rajendra? :P

    So. Should I make the character or just convieniently use another duplicate of Dev? :D


    • Funtoosh happens to be one of the Chetan Anand films I haven’t seen (or at least not completely; my DVD packed up halfway through). You should check out Haqeeqat, though – that’s one film of his that I liked a lot; in my opinion, it’s the best war film Hindi cinema has ever come up with.

      Glad you liked Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan. :-) I think it was a lot of fun too. if you like Rajendra Kumar, you might want to have a look at Mere Mehboob and Kanoon as well; they’re good, too.

      You lost me on all that rigmarole about the role play. Huh?


      • Wha-? BAD DVD. Damn Shemaroo. I think the direction was pretty good, hehe. Though I was staring at Dev all along so I don’t know for sure. And yes, I have to see Haqeeqat because, because, because… BECAUSE GOLDIE IS THERE. And he comes in singing a song!!!! :D Never seen him act except for that bit in Kala Bazaar.

        Yeah! Love the first hour. But how the hell does he last that long in a cupboard? I used to climb into my father’s cupboard when I was 3 or 4, but I can’t last that long! He is loveable though. :D I might have a look at those movies (Kanoon is scaring me off a bit – I heard there were no songs? NO SONGS? -cry- Now if there’s no romance I’ll probably drop dead on the floor.

        Ack, sorry! I.. uh… umm… sorry. No one ever gets what I’m talking about except for myself. Sorry. o_o -blushing-


  4. Thank you so much for giving the two links. I will definitely watch it this weekend.
    The trivia bit is extremely interesting. Imagine winning at the very first Canne Film Festival. And also about the father of the Oscar nominee.

    From your review I feel this film needs to be revived, cleaned up and made known.

    Thank you for the review. I enjoyed reading it. :-)


    • You’re welcome, pacifist! I’d suggest watching the Shemaroo Vintage link – I saw a few frames from it, and the picture quality certainly looks far better than the Rajshri one. I hope you enjoy it! :-)


  5. Thanks for a wonderful review, and the links, I did end up watching parts of this film. It is indeed well-made, and I can see as to why it received an award. Your remembering “Metropolis” is also apt.


    • Thank you, Samir! Yes, the resemblance to Metropolis – especially as far as treatment was concerned – was fairly pronounced. I also found it interesting that the ‘hero’ was named balraj (‘king of strength’). Somewhat ironic, that, considering he was more passive than anything else. Or was it meant to indicate the latent power the masses contain within themselves?


  6. I had heard so much of this film. Now I know more about it. I got myself a a collection of short stories from K. A. Abbar last summer and in the interview with him, he often mentions this film. And everytime I heard Neecha Nagar, I was thinking of Metropolis, because of the underground-town in the latter film.
    Reading through your review, I was thinking, things just haven’t changed have they?
    If the economy demands it, forests are cleared, people are ‘resettled’, just so that a few rich people can become more richer and to hell with the environment and poor people.
    If few banks threaten to crash, suddenly there is a huge amount of money to save them. People die of starvation? Oh, what a pity, they will have to learn to fend for themselves.


    • Harvey, I was watching a Nigella Lawson show last night which was all about cooking for a Christmas drinks-and-snacks party. After she’d finished doing the prep for the party, she did some decorations for the tables. She tied baby baguettes into little bundles with red ribbon. Then she took a large round loaf of brown bread, scooped out the inside, and threw away everything but the crust, so that she could use the crust as a ‘basket’ for sausages. And she scooped out the cores of red apples and bits of cucumber, and fitted tea lights into them, to make candle holders… and all the time, I was thinking, “Do you know how many people would kill to eat that bread/apple/cucumber you’re throwing away?”

      Yes, I know a cookery show is probably the wrong place to think of waste, but still… the world is a very skewed place when it comes to the gap betweeen those who have and those who don’t.


      • Each year UK throws away
        484 million unopened yoghurt pots
        1.6 billion untouched apples
        2.6 billion slices of bread

        In Vienna everyday so much good bread is thrown away that you could feed 2.5 lakhs of people

        Alone the amount of good food, which is thrown away could nourish the 1 billion starving people three times over!


        • Sheeesh. My goodness, that video’s quite an eye-opener. Yes, I mean we know about all of this – but throwing away an entire lot of bottles just because one of them broke?

          (Incidentally, I did hear about some entrepreneur in India who began an NGO which ties up with hotels to take away leftovers from banquets etc – perfectly good food – to feed poor people).


  7. This review has piqued my interest in the film. I had heard and read about Neecha Nagar but wasn’t interested for I am not much of a Chetan Anand fan, I know Madhu, you did say somewhere that you did not like Guide but personally I am a Vijay Anand fan and Guide happens to be my all time favourite film. However, thanks to your review I would now like to see this film, time permitting of course and hopefully that blog I have been planning about dad in which I would also like to discuss films, I would like to discuss why I like Guide. Don’t you think there are too many ‘hopefullys’ and ‘I would like tos’ in my life?


    • Shilpi, hi! I think we’re alike. I like Goldie too. He’s awesome. Awesomely awesome. :D My name is Sasha, by the way. And I like Guide because Dev is in it! Gahahaha, sorry! I just love Dev. :D


    • Oh, I’m a Vijay Anand fan too, Shilpi – but I’d put Nau Do Gyarah or Teesri Manzil ahead of Guide! Anyway, to each his/her own. I’m looking forward to your blog about your father!


      “Don’t you think there are too many ‘hopefullys’ and ‘I would like tos’ in my life?

      Don’t you think life would be a lot more difficult to live if we didn’t have these in our lives? I think hope, and a dream – no matter how mundane it may seem to others – plays a major part in keeping us going. :-)


      • I’d also place Nau Do Gyarah and Teesri Manzil above Guide. The direction in both these movies was crisp, as compared to Guide. In particular, I found that Guide stretched on a bit too much in the last 30 min or so. It was as if Goldie knew this was going to be heralded as his masterpiece and he did not want to end it at all. :-)

        For that matter, Jewel Thief also has an unnecessary 20-30 min of footage towards the end IMO. All that chasing/fighting in the villain’s den! Made it look like any other movie of the 60s, whereas till then it had the Goldie stamp on it.


        • Yes, Jewel Thief is just too protracted after a while. And that parade of pretty women, all fawning over Dev Anand’s character – was that supposed to be reminiscent of Bond? That’s one film which, despite its fantastic music and otherwise mostly intriguing plot, I’ve never really been able to warm to. Part of the reason is that the ‘suspense angle’, which kept me hooked the first time, loses half its steam after you know what’s coming. Odd, I know (considering I know what’s coming in Teesri Manzil, Woh Kaun Thi?, Mera Saaya, etc), but still.


  8. Am ashamed to say I’ve never heard of this movie. But I’m definitely going to watch this – I love watching movies of the 1930s and 40s.

    I think I may have some leftist leanings too (no surprises there ;-)), so I think I will like this movie. I do like Chetan Anand (absolutely loved Haqeeqat), it would be good to see how he started in his career.

    Excellent review, Madhu. I love reading your blog because, besides being very informative, it also always seems to trigger interesting discussions in the comments section. :-)


    • Raja, I always look forward to the interesting discussions that crop up in the comments section! It’s good when people care enough to dissent, or feel free to go off on a tangent and be thoroughly loony. :-)

      I don’t recall having heard about Neecha Nagar either. before I’d read Sidharth Bhatia’s book Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story. I wasn’t especially taken up with it at the time, but I filed away its historic importance somewhere in my mind. When I came across it on Youtube the other day, I decided I had to see it, if only for the fact that it was so historic.

      Do see – this was a very impressive debut for Chetan Anand.


    • How right Raja, now just see how my little comment about Guide led to all those responses from you, Sasha and of course Madhu and that is wonderful, in fact that is one of the reasons I would like to start that film blog, love these discussions.


  9. Dustedoff, and everyone else, you know what just happened? My Aunty has this nice Jaguar and she took me out to ice-cream. And the ice-cream is so far away. ._. But that’s beside the point. On the way home, she told me to set up that direction thingy (For fun, the voice is very funny!), but we soon gave up because it doesn’t let you type while driving. Then I was looking out the window and she put in a CD. WHAT THE HELL. BAHAARON PHOOL BARSAO.

    I couldn’t stop screaming and hyperventilating. I mean, SERIOUSLY O___O It is shocking!!! -COLLAPSES- And then “Banda Paarvar Jigar Tham Lo”! SERIOUSLY. Mere Sapnon Ki Rani next. Yeh Mera Prem Patra Padh Kar. Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamana Hai. I outsung her on all that because she only knew the chorus and her American accent was terrible.

    She couldn’t pronounce “tamana” properly. AND BOOM DA BOOM. Dev’s song. AAAAAAACK. If the doors weren’t locked, I would’ve tumbled out of the car.


  10. Dustedoff, I always enjoy Chetan Anand’s films, he has such a distinctive style. I’d like to watch ‘Neecha Nagar’ even though I’m not a huge fan of ‘Lower Depths’ myself. I haven’t read the play, but remember watching it on stage in Delhi years and years ago. I found so much misery overwhelming.


    • I’ve never seen the play, Banno – but I read it just a week ago. Too unrelentingly depressing, and not in a very coherent way, either, I thought. But Abbas and Anand do a good job of translating it into a satisfying film.

      I also have a copy of Kurosawa’s The Lower Depths waiting to be seen, but I don’t know if I’m up to handling so much misery all over again. Perhaps I should dig out a screwball comedy or a good Hitchcock to review next.


  11. Oh, So I am not alone(!) in liking Rajendra Kumar and his films. I thought he is also branded ‘Shammi wannabe’ though Shammi never did a Muslim social or film like ‘Kanoon’ in the 60s. OR ‘an actor made famous by Rafi’s songs’ which I object to. He was known as “jubilee kumar” for a reason. I like his pairing with Sadhana (who made Manoj Kumar look good. IMO).


    • Even though I’m not extremely fond of Rajendra Kumar, I can’t agree with that ‘Shammi wannabe’ epithet. That’s a style I’d associate more with people like Joy Mukherji, Feroze Khan, and Biswajit. Rajendra Kumar had a different style, even if some of his films did have a Shammi-esque flavour to them.


    • YAY. -throws arms around- And sorry for barging in again. I haven’t seen most of his films (Hey, I’m just getting started. I watched Jhuk Gaya Aasman and it was a lot of fun. RAJENDRA IS AWESOME. :D), but I don’t agree with that ‘Shammi wannabe’ thing. Why, that’s as bad as saying… uh, as saying that… that Dev – Nutan was not a good pair (I’ll strangle anyone who says that!). And now maybe I have to see Kanoon. But I’ll have to line up at least 3 of Dev’s awesome romantic films to calm me down after a film without songs.

      Back to the topic, that’s not true at all! I mean, he never did stuff that Shammi did! He was different, darn it. And, even though Rafi sang AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING WOWI’MBLOWNAWAY songs for him, Rajendra did have some talent of his own, okay? I like his pairing with Sadhana too (AAAARGH. Now I’m having more trouble. Joy-Sadhana or Rajendra-Sadhana? -faints-), but what’s wrong with Manoj Kumar? Before his patriotic films.


  12. This film sounds good. After this Chetan directed Dev in a film called ‘Afsar’ (remade as Sahib Bahadur in 70s), The remake is a comedy (Dev in a comedy!) ,I wonder whether the original was different.

    Looking at this film,I have to recommend 2 vastly underrated films of Kishore Kumar of the 50s which are more than just ‘comedies’.
    New Delhi 1956
    Naukri 1954 ,directed by Bimal Roy (WHY is this obscure??)


    • Afsar was also based on a Russian play, incidentally – Gogol’s The Inspector General. I would’ve loved to watch Afsar, but from what I recall from Sidharth Bhatia’s book, no prints exist.

      I’ve heard of both New Delhi and Naukri (though I didn’t know it was a Bimal Roy!) – must get around to finding them and watching them soon. Thanks for the recommendations!


  13. The shemaroo link doesn’t work, at least for me :-(
    The clip/shemaroo logo, starts and then suddenly the homepage comes up telling me the link is broken.


    • Oh, even while I was writing the above comment the thought struck me that it could be Mozilla Firefox’s fault, so I tried googlechrome – AND IT WORKED!!! :-D

      Will watch it tonight.


      • Firefox was carrying out some updates today, pacifist. I had the same problem with any site I accessed, a couple of hours back. All fine now. :-)

        Tell me what you think of the film. I hope you like it.


  14. Okay, I just watched Mother India. Been quite a while since I pulled a 3-hour shift watching a movie, but never mind. :P

    Second thought: HEY. Sunil, hitting Rajendra over the head with an axe is a very mean thing to do. He’s your brother, dammit. And he never apologized for it!
    Third thought: I need to learn how to climb houses’ roofs like how they did and how to remove roof tiles. Cos what Rajendra did really seemed like fun! (And he had kheer! :OOO I LOVE KHEER.)

    Anyway. I think the first hour and a half could’ve been shortened. o_o Too. Much. Melodrama. How much will you make Nargis suffer? And I kept waiting for Raaj Kumar to come back but no. xP When they finally, finally got to where Birju and Ramu were grown up, I was ready to faint out of happiness. Fine, I admit that I kept watching just to see Rajendra (I told you, I am crazy!), but… but… nothing.

    Sunil Dutt did a really good job. He was cool as Birju, but how the hell did he become a dacoit so quickly? Also: What the hell was with his red face? Otherwise, I did like his character. Gambling and breaking pots sounds like a lot of fun. Nargis too was awesome, although the melodrama in places was just… bleh. I know I need some romance and coats (VERY IMPORTANT. HEROES MUST BE DEBONAIR OR ELSE I DIE.) and good songs (Naushad’s music was good, but darn it, the three-four songs about working in the fields started to get on my nerves. You need a romantic duet. That is all.), but melodrama… not too much to my taste.

    Fine, fine, fine, I admit that I was in a mood for some black and white romance (Nau Do Gyarah! YAAAAY! :D) or noir or something I usually watch, but still… the first half… not so impressive. It picked up in the second half though. I think Rajendra’s presence helped. And yes, Rajendra is soooo cuuuuuute. :D Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. :P I do wish that he had been given a teeny weeny little more scope (Come on, he doesn’t even sing any songs! WHY. WHY. -cries-), but that’s okay. His character started to get on my nerves a little. Seriously, no one is like that. If your mother forgives the moneylender, you’re supposed to be angry, if not enraged! Even if he is calm and all that.

    And finally the climax. How many times was Rajendra beaten up by Sunil? Come on, it’s not very nice. And he’s your brother. But I guess I can’t blame Rajendra when he had a stick and Sunil had an axe. Can’t blame Sunil either because his anger is justified. I side Sunil. :D

    See, this thingy is kind of like Guide too. You don’t know who’s wrong in Guide (ARGH. I haven’t got that one sorted out yet. But I will always unconditionally support Dev. But please, don’t tear me (or Dev or Goldie!) to shreds over the ending. And no, you cannot throw things at Dev. It’s as bad as hitting Rajendra over the head with an axe!), uh, no, like, the… um… you have two people to side and both are correct. Same thing over here. Hallmark of a good movie.

    Maybe I will want to watch it again. I think I do, but maybe in a few months’ time. Now is rewatch season. I need to rewatch Dev’s movies. :P


  15. I would have commented here sooner, but I have been busy all week with my own struggles, trying to survive under the economic tyranny of capitalism. :-) There are two things that will definitely draw me to a Hindi movie: 1. if it was made in the 1940s (because I love the style, mood, music, and often the themes, of so many ’40s films) and 2. if it is socialist (as I said, the themes)… To me, a socialist film with great music (and sometimes great dance) is incredibly refreshing compared to the movies that I have seen for most of my life in my country, the U.S., because so many of those are capitalist/individualist in nature and because most of them don’t have great music or dance. (Though maybe Hollywood produced a good number of movies with great music and, especially, dance way back in the 30s, and maybe some movies from that period also had socialist themes. But by the time our favorite Hindi socialist movies started coming out, Hollywood had the blacklist.)

    Naturally, I also am very interested in the IPTA (as well as KPAC).

    I don’t know if I’m a big fan of Maxim Gorky, though. Actually, the only work of his that I tried to read was Mother, and the prose (at least as translated) was so heavy-handed (or something…), I didn’t get through much of it. But there have been many, many novels that I could not get through. I also saw Mother India, which was quite good, though it was very long, wasn’t it? :)

    Anyway, for the cast, the director, the music, the time period, and the themes… This is a film I will have to watch one of these days.


    • Richard, I thought of you when I discovered the IPTA connection – though I’d already guessed Neecha Nagar was a film you might like, considering its socialist theme.

      I’m not a Gorky fan, either, at least not from The Lower Depths. I haven’t read Mother, but considering I had such a hard time getting through The Lower Depths, I’m not sure I’d be able to read an entire novel. Some other time, perhaps…Fortunately, there’s almost nothing of The Lower Depths in Neecha Nagar, other than the fact that the vast majority of the characters are poor and oppressed by the rich. That’s about it. I hadn’t thought I’d like this film much, but I have to admit I enjoyed (? perhaps not the correct word) it immensely. Very impressive.

      Even if Hollywood was never into socialism in a big way, thank heavens there was international cinema to compensate! Some of the European films – Metropolis, of course, or Bronenosets Potyomkin, even Lladri di Biciclette – offer very good, but varied, insights into the vast gap between the have and the have-nots.


  16. Hehhhh. Can’t beat the Russians for unredeemed tragedy. Where else but in in Russia can a person assume the pen-name Gorky (meaning bitter ? ) When I learnt Russian, I was struck by how ENORMOUSLY similar emotionally they are to my own roots. No mere defeats or disappointments for them : it has to be soul wrenching misery.

    The rich man seeking poor man’s land for development seems to be a popular theme, I recollect seeing it as late as Krantiveer in the 90s.


    • No mere defeats or disappointments for them : it has to be soul wrenching misery.

      I know one should be amused by the soul-wrenching misery of another, but that cracked me up. Heh!

      I remember a Wodehouse character, Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright, a stage actor who invariably bounces on to the stage with a tennis racquet, all cheery and smiling and asking, “Well, girls? Who wants to play tennis?” Or something of that sort. Then there’s this bit where Catsmeat’s in deep despair, and Wodehouse describes him by saying that if Catsmeat had gone onto the stage asking the girls if they wanted to play tennis, it would’ve been in the tone of someone in a Russian play coming in to say that “Grandpa had hanged himself in the barn.”

      Amusing that the Russian Wodehouse Society seems to be the most devoted. ;-)


  17. Like some others here I too am partial to Goldie’s films, therefore though I’d heard about this film I did not care much about watching it. I’d also read (or should I say attempted to read) The Lower Depths ages ago but don’t remember if I completed it.
    However, your review has nudged me into giving Neecha Nagar a try.


    • Do give it a try! It’s not as gut-wrenchingly morbid as The Lower Depths (and I think a lot of Hindi films – Devdas, Mother India and Do Bigha Zameen for example – are just as depressing, if not more).


    • No Sirji here, only a Madamji! ;-)

      I had a look at my notes for this film, and you’re right, there are 7 songs. I don’t remember the singers, but I suppose if you search online you might be able to find out. Here are the songs:

      1. Haiyya ho, haiyya ho, bahaar nayi re
      2. Dil mein samaake nahin bhoolna
      3. Utho, ki humein waqt ki gardish ne pukaara
      4. Kab tak zulm ki raat rahegi
      5. Sona, o nanhi Sona, na ab rona
      6. Ek puraani jot bujhi hai
      7. Hum jhukenge, ji nahin


  18. After watching this film a boy from kolkatta wrote a letter to chetan anand, appreciating the film and expressed his desire to become his assistant director…………… chetan anand never replied to that letter and years latter this boy from kolkatta became a very big director and when he went to the pune film institute he met chetan anand and revealed this fact to him ……………. the boys name was ”Satyajit ray”.



  19. I have a copy but with no subtitles and there are none online – could you tell me where i can get a copy with english subtitles or email me the subtitle file for english.


    • I’m sorry, I don’t have the subtitles for Neecha Nagar – I didn’t need them, and in any case, the copy I watched was off Youtube, not a DVD. Don’t even know where you get hold of the subtitles – has a DVD of the film, but the specs don’t mention subtitles.

      Or, you could post a request on the Edu Productions page at memsaabstory, and hopefully Tom, pacifist, Raja or Ava will be sweet enough to help out…


    • Not surprising, actually, I suppose – considering this was the era of Nehru, and Nehruvian socialism was pretty much everywhere in cinema. But Neecha Nagar is, to me, one of the most overtly socialist Hindi films of that period I’ve seen. And it’s good.


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