Dharmputra (1961)

Several readers have told me, over the past couple of years, that I should watch this film. It is, if you go by just the details of cast, crew, and awards won, a promising film. Directed by Yash Chopra, starring Mala Sinha, Rehman, Ashok Kumar, Shashi Kapoor (in his first role as an adult), Nirupa Roy, Indrani Mukherjee, Manmohan Krishna—with guest appearances by Rajendra Kumar and Shashikala. The winner of the President’s Silver Medal for Best Feature Film in Hindi at the National Film Awards.
And with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi, set to music by N Dutta. I could well imagine Dharmputra would be a film worth watching. So when I finally managed to lay my hands on it, I didn’t waste much time getting around to seeing it.

Shashi Kapoor in DharmputraDharmputra begins in 1925, at the house of Dr Amrit Rai (Manmohan Krishna). A distraught Nawab Badruddin (Ashok Kumar), who is Amrit Rai’s now-dead father’s bosom pal (and the man who paid for Amrit Rai’s education, after his father’s death) arrives at the doctor’s home. The reason for his unease is soon revealed: his daughter Husn Bano (Mala Sinha), whom Amrit Rai regards as a sister, is pregnant. No, not a cause for rejoicing, because Bano is also unmarried, as a shocked Amrit Rai is well aware.

Nawab Badruddin comes to meet Amrit Rai
Amrit Rai goes out to the curtained car where Bano is sitting, and hears the sad story from her. She had fallen in love with her tutor, Javed (Rehman), but when Javed approached Nawab Sahib to ask for Bano’s hand in marriage, Nawab Sahib threw out this poor and ineligible suitor. Javed had long vanished, who knows where, before Bano told her father that she was pregnant. Now Nawab Sahib has come to Amrit Rai for help.

Husn Bano tells her 'brother' the story
Amrit Rai, in a conversation with his wife Savitri (Nirupa Roy), confesses that he’s in a quandary. As a doctor, he can abort the foetus, but personally, his conscience  won’t allow him to. Also, he realises the stigma attached to an unwed mother: Nawab Sahib’s and Bano’s names will be a hissing and a byword.

Amrit Rai confides in Savitri
After much thinking, Amrit Rai makes a suggestion: he and Savitri will accompany Nawab Sahib and Bano to Simla, where the nawab has a home. They’ll stay in Simla until Bano’s baby is born, and the baby will be registered as the doctor’s and Savitri’s child.
This is duly done, and the baby is handed over to Savitri and Amrit Rai, who adopt the child. He is named Dilip, and nobody’s any the wiser about Dilip’s actual parentage.

The baby is born
Nawab Sahib and Bano now go off on a pilgrimage, and at one of the many shrines they visit, they run into Javed, Bano’s long-lost lover. Nawab Sahib is quick to beg the younger man forgiveness, and to insist that he and Bano get married as soon as possible.
This too, takes place, and the newly married couple move into the house next door to Dr Amrit Rai’s.

Javed and Bano get married, finally
Everything seems couldn’t-be-better. Javed and Bano are deeply in love and supremely happy. She has told him who Dilip is, and Javed does not grudge Amrit Rai and Savitri the bringing up of his biological son, whom—as Javed can see—the doctor and his wife dote upon.

Dilip, the apple of Javed's and Bano's eye
But disaster strikes one day when a now-pregnant Bano, fleeing, giggling, from a flirtatious husband, falls down the stairs and miscarries. And, as is typical in Hindi films of this type [where tragedy and joy follow each other in quick succession], learns that she can now never be a mother. This is, as is to be expected, a shattering blow to Bano and Javed. More so, since [in an ironic twist of fate], Savitri soon after gives birth to twin sons.

Dr Amrit Rai says to Savitri [thankfully not in Javed and Bano’s presence] that God has meted out justice to their neighbours for letting their libidos run away with themselves all those months back. Now they will never know the joy of being parents. A rather judgmental sort of remark, but I can imagine that it would have been fairly typical of the time. [It still would be pretty typical of much of India, I think, even nearly a century later].

Savitri has twins - and Amrit Rai rues Bano's and Javed's sins
In the meantime, Dilip has been, with encouragement from his parents (both adoptive and biological), getting very pally with Javed and Bano. They are so devoted to him that they even get a balcony constructed between the two houses, so that little Dilip can easily scurry back and forth without having to step out into the street. All looks tickety-boo…

…until Nawab Sahib, who has been participating rather vociferously in the freedom movement, one day leads a crowd to pull down and burn a Union Jack. In the violence that follows, Nawab Sahib is killed.

Nawab Sahib gets caught up in the freedom struggle
Javed and Bano, grieving and smarting with the blows life has dealt them, decide to leave India for a few years and live abroad. We never learn where they went, but they return 15 years later. It is 1947, and India is on the brink of Independence—and the brink of Partition. The “Inquilab zindabad!” of the 1920s and 30s can still be heard, but the “Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai!” has given way to “Har har Mahadev!” and “Leke rahenge Pakistan!”

15 years later, Javed and Bano return
Closer home (and therefore even more disturbing), Dilip (now Shashi Kapoor, in his first adult role) has grown up to be a Hindu bigot of the worst sort. He chastises his younger brothers (one of whom is Deven Verma, in his debut) and their younger sister (Tabassum) for playing table tennis [and thus, in Dilip’s narrow-minded opinion, straying from the cultural heritage of India and Hinduism].

Dilip tells his siblings off for beign Westernised
Dilip’s bigoted attitude has even led him to reject, sight unseen, Meena (Indrani Mukherjee), whom his parents have suggested as a prospective bride—all because Meena has lived two years abroad, and therefore must have deserted all her sanskaaras and sanskriti and become totally Westernised. Bano, who has joyfully renewed her friendship with Savitri, goes along to meet Meena, and finds herself enchanted by the girl.

Bano and Savitri go to meet Meena
But what of Dilip? Let alone Meena, he is unwilling to accept even the fact that his parents are such good friends with—horrors!—a Muslim couple. It rankles, and all his attempts to brainwash his family into breaking off ties with Javed and Bano fall on deaf ears. But Dilip soldiers on, quickly getting embroiled deeper and deeper in communal politics, while those around him look on, wondering where this will lead…

Dilip with his mother and sister
Dharmputra, when it was released (despite the National Award that it went on to win), was a resounding flop. Perhaps people were not yet ready to face up to a film that talked of forbidden things like communalism or premarital sex that didn’t end with one or both of the partners dead [though Bano’s subsequent infertility is obviously meant as proof of divine retribution].

I, however, think this film far more interesting and well-made than a lot of other of its contemporaries. It tackles a thorny subject, and though it does use some rather in-your-face moralizing at times, the overall effect is memorable. A good film, and definitely worth a watch.

What I liked about this film:

A lot. Dharmputra is an unusual film, not just in its subject matter (the Partition—or even just communalism—was something Hindi cinema tended to sweep under the carpet) but in its treatment of its characters. While it does have its moments of predictability, there are other instances where it stands out from other films of the period. There are more greys here than black-and-white: for example, Nawab Badruddin may have thrown out Javed, but when he finds the man again, actually begs Javed to marry Bano. Not because Bano’s respectability is in danger (that has been averted because of the hush-hush birth and adoption of her son), but because he realizes that Bano’s happiness lies with Javed.

Even when it comes to Dilip (who, I will admit, is quite a bigot): he’s not quite totally black-hearted. For example, there’s his obvious love for the girl he eventually falls for. And there is the fact that when his mother, Savitri, first introduces him to Husn Bano and tells him to touch Bano’s feet, Dilip hesitates (touch the feet of a Muslim?! Horrors!), but eventually complies, without kicking up a fuss.

The other major plus of this film for me was its songs. With lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi and music composed by the underrated N Dutta, Dharmputra has some very good songs, of which my favourites are Main jab bhi akeli hoti hoon and Yeh kiska lahu hai yeh kaun maraa (both of which are distinguished by not just excellent music but also, respectively, soul-stirring and hard-hitting lyrics). Aaj ki raat nahin shiqve-shikaayat le liye, Saare jahaan se achcha (repeated from Bhai-Bahen) and the qawwali Chaahe yeh maano chaahe woh maano are also good.

What I didn’t like:

Not very much, actually. Yes, I could have done without the melodrama of the climax, but it didn’t irritate me too much. What did puzzle me, though, was how a family that seemed as broad-minded and sane as Amrit Rai’s could have brought up someone like Dilip in their midst—he sticks out like a sore thumb.

But yes (unlike some other reviewers of the film), I don’t think Shashi Kapoor’s character is shown as unrealistically bigoted—I have come across, in real life, people who are just as bigoted, if not more.

A personal note:

I don’t know if I’m barking up the wrong tree, or if Acharya Chatursen Shastri (who wrote the novel, Dharmputra, on which this film was based) actually tried to draw a parallel between Partition-era India and the Mahabharat. The title of the film (‘dharmputra’—the son of ‘dharm’) of course alludes to the overly-‘religious’ Dilip, but is also one of the names for Yudhishthir, the eldest of the Pandavas. Seen that way, perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that Yudhishthir—though adopted by Pandu and brought up as his son—was actually the son of the god Dharm; rather like Dilip himself, born of one father but brought up by another.

Shashi Kapoor as Dilip, the 'dharmputra'
And, like Yudhishthir, Dilip too is far from infallible. He does try, within the narrow and very strict boundaries that he has set for himself, to be ‘good’. (That his ‘goodness’ consists of being irrationally prejudiced is a different matter). But, eventually, Dilip falls. Like Yudhishthir, who gambled away wife, kingdom and all, Dilip comes close to throwing away the lives of his own biological parents—and ends up confused, muddled about his own identity.

Plus, there’s the very obvious: the “Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai” slogans of the 1920s and 30s seem to point to the Kauravas and Pandavas, cousins who went to war, with disastrous consequences. Not just for the winners, but for the losers too. Was Chatursen Shastri indicating that the Partition, like the Mahabharat, led to nobody ‘winning’, but losses on all sides?

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48 thoughts on “Dharmputra (1961)

  1. Good review, Madhu!
    I liked the film too, but only till the climax. the climax spoilt it all for me. But that is so typical of Yash Chopra, he builds up the plot very well and then everything happens in a matter of seconds and one feels cheated. But 80% of the film is good. Enjoyed every moment of it.
    Love the songs. Great music score!
    You have drawn nice parallels to Mahabharata. Interesting, though I’m not of that opinion. But can’t deny them either. :)
    I think the epics have been around for so long, that many Indian writers would sub-consciously always derive inspiration from them.

    • the climax spoilt it all for me.

      I didn’t think the climax happened too quickly (because Dilip’s bigotry has been shown to be growing day by day), but I do think that perhaps a couple of the lesser songs could’ve been left out to make space for showing us how Dilip happened to become that way. (College influences? What?) But despite that, I do think this film was very enjoyable.

      I’m not sure if I was reading more into the film than the Chopras or Chatursen Shastri meant, but it just seemed to bear a resemblance to the Mahabharat. ;-)

      • “I’m not sure if I was reading more into the film than the Chopras or Chatursen Shastri meant, but it just seemed to bear a resemblance to the Mahabharat. ;-)”

        Why not? It is after all the a reviewer’s job to interpret the film. Some might agree with his/her opinion, others not. But the opinion is still valid. It adds a good aspect to the whole story. And although I might not agree totally with your interpretation, it is still a very interesting analysis.

  2. Great review, as always, Madhu! I remember when this movie was released and I wanted to watch it, just to see Shashi Kapoor, but this movie was a big flop. Let me see if I can see it on Youtube.
    As Harvey says, the epics have been around for so long and most of us have grown up listening or reading the stories, so it is hardly surprising that writers have used them for ideas and inspiration for stories and movies.

    • Thank you, Lalitha!

      Sadly, I couldn’t find this film on Youtube. I tried, so I know! Induna have it, though:

      http://www.induna.com/1000003251-productdetails/

      I must confess to having been a bit surprised to discover that Dharmputra was a flop, because it seemed such a good film to me – well scripted, fine cast, a relevant and poignant story, and a great score. And it wasn’t as if premarital sex was something which hadn’t figured in Hindi cinema before – far from it. I’m still not being able to figure out the reason for it not faring well.

      • When it released, Madhu, the wounds of the Partition were still raw, and the film’s intense recreation of the Partition scenes led to riots in the theatres where it was being screened. Theatre owners pulled the film, scared of the backlash against their theatres. For years after that, no one touched the subject of Partition or communal politics. In fact, I think Dharamputra has the credit of being the first of the ‘Partition’ films.

        • Ah. Yes, that makes a lot of sense. I can imagine that it must have touched on a raw nerve. Considering Partition is still a sore topic with people (especially those whose families were directly affected by the Partition), I find it easy to understand that it would have been too painful for many to accept back in 1961.

  3. Nice review!This is one of my all time favorite films,though I am not a fan of Shashi Kapoor,I think that he gave a superb performance in it.This film gave a bold message that the greatest religion is humanity after all. I am amused that how such a beautiful film flopped! Agree totally to to your view of ” Mahabharata”. :)

    • Thank you! :-) I do like Shashi Kapoor, so that was a plus point for me. In any case, I do agree that he did a commendable job of acting as Dilip – from stiffnecked and bigoted to starry-eyed in love, to suddenly rudderless and confused. A good debut as an adult, I thought.

  4. I like your reviews very much, and this one is no exception. I had read the novel also several decades ago (Hind Pocket Books, Rs 1 edition). it was a short, crisp, fast paced, social novel, and Chatursen had done a much better job than Yash Chopra! But then few movies ever have bettered the novel they have been based upon. The term “Dharmputra”, I had thought, was used to denote “Godson” (that is, not the biological son). But your interpretation, of course, gives it an entirely different and enlarged dimension.

    • I tried looking for the novel last week, when I was in a bookstore, but couldn’t find it. And if you say Chatursen did a much better job than Yash Chopra, I’m sure it must be certainly worth a read! I was especially interested in seeing if Chatursen’s book has any more obvious references to the Mahabharat, since cinema of course cannot include everything from a book…

      Oddly, my initial interpretation of the word ‘dharmputra’, when I was watching the film, was that Dilip considered himself ‘the son of religion’ (i.e, the upholder of religion) – only, later in the film, to discover that he was upholding a religion he hadn’t even been born into (if one believes that a baby is born with religion). It was only when I began to further explore my theory of the Mahabharat that I discovered that one of the names for Yudhishthir is Dharmputra – which puts a punny spin on the story.

  5. Some readers have been telling you to watch Dharmputra and this particular reader who goes by the name of Shilpi Bose (HA! HA!) often talks about few of her favourite novels which include amongst others Tagore’s Gora. If you read Gora you will realize that Dharmputra’s author is not drawing a parallel between the country’s partition and Mahabharat, he is simply ripping off Tagore’s ‘Gora’, he is serving a very good wine in a different bottle, taking care to serve it with care so people do not notice but if you read Gora you will see how similar Gora’s bigotry is to Dilip’s in Dharmputra. Authors have been quietly ripping off Tagore and Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and sadly getting away with it. As I have told you films and literature were always discussed at home, my mum after seeing the film observed, “This is ‘Gora’”. I was small then but when I grew up I saw the film on television and then read the novel and the similarity was obvious. I found ‘Gora’ just mind blowing although I just read the English translation and not the original because I have a bit of a difficulty reading and understanding Tagore’ Bengali, though my mum used to make efforts to see that I learnt to appreciate it.

    • Shilpi, you’re always such a mine of information! I didn’t know this at all. Now I’m itching to read Gora – will certainly look out for it. Having not read it, though, I’m curious to know: did Tagore’s novel seem to draw inspiration from the Mahabharat?

      • No not at all, actually when you begin reading, it is all about the Brahmo Samaj of which Tagore’s family was a part. You learn about the Brahmos attitude towards the Hindus and vice-versa. Gora here is the staunch Hindu unwittingly drawn towards a Brahmo girl, there is quite a suspense, I remember I was so engrossed for although my mum always talked about the novel, she took care not to reveal the suspense, so I enjoyed it all the more. I will not reveal the end in case you lay your hands on the novel. As for the Mahabharat connection, well I did not find any for in this novel, what I found was that the author focused more on religious fanaticism. But one thing is I can say and that is if you want to, you can find parallels with Mahabharat quite easily with anything, for this epic almost covers anything and everything. I have the novel with me, if we were living in the same city, I would have given it to you, pity.

        • Oops! I just read Pacifist’s comment HA! HA!, well she has said it all, never mind you can still read it, the best part about classics is that every time you read them you discover something new although you already know what the story is all about.

            • Oh, I apologise DO :-(
              I thought since a parallel had already been drawn it wasn’t a suspense.
              And I always forget people can handle suspense unlike me. I can’t. I always read the end :-/ This makes me forget to keep spoilers in check.

                • I really admire Pacifist’s patience, and the fact that she is large-hearted enough to like so many actors and actresses. I sometimes wish I could be that way too – a little less ‘closed’, if you know what I mean.

                  • Oh DO Your compliment pleases me. Thank you so much :- )
                    I consider your choices very tasteful.
                    I mean, In discussions I have to pretend I don’t like Mahipal, when actually I don’t mind him, having seen him in some fairy tale like stories (Parasmani) and mythologies which I enjoy :-D
                    But Rajender Kumar, I really like :-I

                    • It’s true, pacifist. I honestly do admire your ability to not ‘not like’ people. That’s a very sweet, and very commendable, way to be. I do like Rajendra Kumar in films like Kanoon and Mere Mehboob and Raj Kumar in Nausherwan-e-Adil. Plus I like some whom most people seem to ditch – like Manoj Kumar (barring his patriotic films) and Biswajeet, but I draw the line at Mahipal! ;-)

                • Shilpi, hehehe
                  Though one doesn’t realise there is any suspense in Gora, so here I didn’t read the ending. :-D
                  All the more reason why I’m feeling unconfortable for having let the cat out of the bag :-(

                  • I guess you are not able to resist reading the end when it comes to murder mysteries I guess, you want to know the murderer’s identity. As for Gora, I call it suspense for it was one for me, for when Gora’s true identity is revealed I was absolutely surprised after all it was quite unexpected and that’s what I enjoyed. Imagine behaving like a staunch Hindu only to learn that he is not one. That was some twist, besides that some of the characters in the novel have been wonderfully etched by Tagore.

              • You needn’t apologise, Pacifist, because even if you did reveal the end, it doesn’t really matter – because if Dharmputra is a copy of Gora, then anybody who’s read this review (or seen the film, as I have) already knows that the main character will turn out to be just what’s he campaigning against. So, no harm done. :-)

  6. Glad you liked the film DO. I thought it was a good meaningful film. yeh kiska lahu hai kaun mara gives me goosebumps. It is so relevant even today.

    >(I> I don’t think Shashi Kapoor’s character is shown as unrealistically bigoted—I have come across, in real life, people who are just as bigoted, if not more.
    Agree completely. I too have met such people in real life and of every religion, be it hindu, muslim, christian etc.

    I’m with Shilpi about ‘Gora’. It was one of the first Tagore books I’d read and the film was quite like it. ‘gora’ being a white woman’s son born at a bengali family’s home where she took shelter while rioting was going on outside. And he grows up to be such a kattar hindu only to discover he wasn’t one.

    Thanks Madhu.

    • “yeh kiska lahu hai kaun mara gives me goosebumps. It is so relevant even today.

      This is such a coincidence! Someone on Facebook just commented about the songs of this film, saying how good Sahir was, and what you’ve written is almost exactly what I told her – down to the fact that it gave me gooseflesh, and that it’s still (sadly) so relevant even today.

      Yes, the bigotry is something that never seems to go completely, hai na? I have come across no end of people – class, creed, education, etc no bar – who truly, fervently and ruthlessly believe that their beliefs are the best. And that anybody who believes differently deserves to die. *shudder*

      Yours and Shilpi’s recommendation of Gora is making me very eager to try and get hold of the book. I’ve never even heard of it. Am feeling rather ashamed.

      • I highly recommend ‘Gora’. I read it in hindi to get the feeling, and to lessen the syndrome of ‘lost in translation’. In fact I dare say nothing was lost in translation.
        It’s well constructed, great insights, quite complex too, and just wonderful. :-)

  7. I may have been one of the readers who asked you to watch this film. :) It is one of my favourites. Thank you so much for the review.
    I agree with you that Shashi Kapoor’s Dilip was not unrealistic – unfortunately, I have known people like him. :(

    • I’ve even lost count of the number of people who’d recommended Dharmputra, but yes, I can well believe that you must have been one of them. It’s just the sort of film that I think would have appealed to you (since it appealed to me, and – as we know by now – soul sisters and all!).

      I read a couple of other reviews after I’d nearly finished writing mine. Both were by non-Indian bloggers, and both seemed to think that Dilip’s character was OTT bigoted. This was definitely one instance where I was tempted to comment “You obviously don’t know Indian society too well!” The sort of bigotry I’ve seen – thankfully, never been at the receiving end – makes Dilip seem very real. Ironically, a similar sort of thing has just been happening in UP…

  8. I want to see this film now. It has long been on my movie wishlist. I love the songs so much. Main jab bhi akeli hoti hoon, mere dilbar mujh par khafa na ho.

    I love Sahir’s poem Yeh kiska lahoo tha kaun maraa.

    And I want to read Gora once again.

    • Do watch it, Ava. I’m sure you’ll like it. Another blog reader has put in (below) a link to where it can be watched online, so that’s an option.

      Tell me what you think of it!

  9. Well written! Again , just like Shikast, another film with a bold and unusual story which did not receive the recognition it deserved. Surprisingly Dhool ka phool had some similarities and was just a year before this film but it was a resounding success. For some time Mala Sinha was playing the unwed mother in many films!

    • Yes, you’re right about Dharmputra being somewhat similar to Shikast in that respect. I hadn’t noticed it before you pointed it out, but it’s true.

      I haven’t seen Dhool ka Phool yet, but mostly because Rajendra Kumar isn’t one of my favourites. Plus the few clips I’ve seen from the film were terribly melodramatic, which put me off watching it!

  10. Oh, I liked “Dharmputra” very much too. By using the Rai and Nawab Badruddin families as stand-in for the larger nation, the movie personalized it’s message and thus rendered it even more powerful, IMO. Yeah, the plot is a contrivance, but the intimacy of the family drama drives home the tragedy of dehumanizing those who are different from us as “other” and then demonizing the other.

    The music of the film is outstanding and I love almost all of the songs, especially the heartbreaking “kya dekha nainonwali, naina kyon bhar aaye.” The only song I dislike is “yeh kiska lahu hai yeh kaun mara”! From Mahendra Kapoor’s screaming to Sahir’s generic lyrics and N. Dutta’s strident music, it just doesn’t work for me.:-( Yeh kiska lahu hai reminds of another 1961 movie with some of the same themes (Partition, communal unrest, etc.) as Dharmputra called “Amar Rahe Yeh Pyar.” It’s even more depressing than Dharmputra, but well made and worth checking out.

    • “The only song I dislike is “yeh kiska lahu hai yeh kaun mara”!

      Hehe. We will agree to disagree about that (though I do agree about Mahendra Kapoor’s screaming – he could definitely have been toned down considerably). I haven’t seen (or actually even heard of) Amar Rahe Yeh Pyaar. Will look out for it, now that you’ve recommended it. Nalini Jaywant, too, I see, according to IMDB. More incentive.

  11. its the few movies of shashi ji that i didn’t watch. the way rekha and he fight in Vijeta was too much for me and like Kunaal i too felt that bus karo. aap kyu ladtey rehte ho. here i cannot see shashi ji as biogot . it was the movie that turned yash chopra to escapist cinema.

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