I can blame my not having watched Bahaaron ke Sapne all these years on my father: when I first expressed an interest in the film because it had been directed by Nasir Husain (back then, a teenaged me associated Nasir Husain only with frothy and entertaining films like Dil Deke Dekho, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, and Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon), my father said, ‘It’s a serious film.’
And that was that. Because, back then, I didn’t care to ask how serious. Anything that smacked of reality rather than escapism was not to be touched with a barge pole.
My tolerance for ‘serious’ films—provided they’re well-made—has risen considerably since those days. So, when a couple of years back a friend gifted me the DVD of Bahaaron ke Sapne, I told myself that should be impetus enough to finally watch the film. My friend had already told me the main plot of the film, and it didn’t seem all that depressing, compared to some of the fare that’s come my way in these past few years.
It starts off, though, depressingly enough: with a frail Bholanath ‘Bhola’ (Nana Palsikar, who could give Leela Chitnis a run for her money in the frailty department) coming home to his hut ‘in an industrial township near Bombay’, coughing alarmingly.
Within the next few minutes, we are introduced to not just Bhola, but several of the people who live in this basti. There’s the bicycle repairman Lachhu (Anwar Husain); there’s his assistant, the comical Pandu (Rajendranath); and the pretty banana-seller Jayshree (Padma Khanna) whom Pandu is besotted with.
There is the local prostitute, Sundari (Jayshree Gadkar) who sits outside her house, at the bottom of a staircase, and calls out to every passing man, enticing him in.
And there is, as always, the local bad penny disguised as a gold guinea: Shankar (Madan Puri), who is kind and friendly to Bhola, and whom Bhola does not for a moment suspect of perfidy.
Within Bhola’s own home, there is his long-suffering wife Gauri (Sulochana Latkar) his elder daughter Champa (Azra), and two younger children, a boy and a girl. There is also, though we do not see him right now, the ghar ka chiraag, the man on whom all the fond hopes of his father rest: Ram (Rajesh Khanna). On the evening on which the story opens, Bhola is excited: Ram is now a BA Pass! He has done them proud, and now, armed with his graduate’s degree, when he applies for a job and gets a warm welcome into some plush office, life is going to be so much better for all of them.
Gauri, the anxious and rather more pragmatic voice of reason, tries to tell her husband that he should temper his enthusiasm a bit, but Bhola isn’t listening.
And, sure enough, when Ram comes home, it’s apparent from his face: he is still among the unemployed. Bhola’s optimism isn’t affected, however; he is certain that Ram will soon get a really good job somewhere. In fact—a brainwave—he, Bhola, will take Ram with him the next day to the mill where Bhola has been working for the past 30 years. They are in need of managers and supervisors, and who better than Ram, not just well qualified but also loyal, the son of an old employee?
Bhola is upbeat, but Ram, more realistic, does not seem too hopeful. He goes off by himself, and soon meets his childhood sweetheart Geeta (Asha Parekh), who consoles him. Ram cheers up a little and tries to tell her he didn’t want her to worry for him, but Geeta asserts her right to be worried.
Geeta is an orphan and lives with her henpecked uncle (Shivraj) and his harridan of a wife (Manorama). Chacha is sweet, though submissive; Chachi is constantly berating Geeta and yelling at her for spending all her free time with Ram. He’s no good; he doesn’t even have a job. In Chachi’s opinion, at least, a degree is utterly worthless.
Geeta also has to contend with the very unwelcome attentions of the lecherous Shankar, who keeps pestering her to marry him. Geeta, though, is not one of your timid and spineless sorts; she is as good at telling Shankar to get lost as she is at grabbing Chachi’s wrist (when Chachi tries to hit her) and telling Chachi that she, Geeta, is the one who does all the housework and looks after Chachi’s brood of brats all by herself. The next time Chachi tries to be bossy, Geeta will leave—and then Chachi can figure out how to manage all by herself.
Meanwhile, the next day, Bhola takes Ram with him to meet the manager of the mill. Mr Kapoor (Premnath) is a busy man, and refuses to even see Ram. He allows Bhola to come into his office, though, and gets increasingly impatient as Bhola, trying to be polite, ends up being long-winded. ‘Don’t waste my time!’ Mr Kapoor yells. ‘Time is money!’
Bhola still doesn’t get the message, so that by the time he gets around to saying what he wants, Mr Kapoor is so furious that he wastes no time telling Bhola the truth: there is no work here for yet another BA graduate. Graduates are nothing exceptional these days; everybody’s a graduate, and everybody’s doing menial work: working as a coolie, polishing shoes, anything.
By the time a dejected Bhola leaves the boss’s office, Ram (who has overheard everything) has already left. Bhola goes home, where Champa’s wedding has been finalized and there is much rejoicing.
Ram has not yet come home. After a while, when he’s still not returned, his worried mother asks Geeta to go look for him.
Geeta does—and finds Ram walking in the middle of the train track, right into the path of an oncoming train. She runs forward, pulling him away, saving him. When, half-sobbing and half-angry, she yells at him for trying to kill himself, Ram laughingly convinces her that she must have been seeing wrong; he was walking by the side of the track, not in the middle. He was in no danger. Geeta so badly wants to believe that, she accepts it as the truth.
Soon after, Bhola goes one morning to the mill to draw his salary, and is given two months’ salary by the cashier. Bhola, too naïve to understand what this means, is delirious with joy: he knew Kapoor Sahib could not be so heartless! So what if he hasn’t given Ram a job; at least he has given Bhola enough money to enable him to prepare for Champa’s wedding.
Bhola cannot contain his joy and gratitude, and immediately goes off to the boss’s office to thank him…
… Where, of course, the blunt and impatient Mr Kapoor breaks the news to him. Bhola’s 30 years of hard work, Bhola’s having been a loyal worker since the days of Kapoor’s father—all of these are of no significance. What the mill needs is new blood, young workers to operate the machines, not a ‘chalti-phirti laash’ (literally, ‘a walking corpse’), as the boss cruelly puts it.
Bhola is devastated. He walks out in a daze, but realizes on the way home that the news of his being laid off will wreak havoc at home.
So Bhola goes home, says that this money is an advance on the next month’s wages, and hands over all the cash to Gauri, who is pleasantly surprised at this windfall. It still won’t be enough to cover all the expenses for Champa’s wedding—they will probably need to take a loan from the local moneylender, exorbitant interest rates at all—but this will at least get them somewhere.
Bhola cannot bring himself to tell anybody he’s no longer working at the mill. Every morning, therefore, he dutifully takes the lunch Champa packs for him, and goes off towards the mill. Nearby, sitting under a tree, is a beggar who invites Bhola to sit with him and pass the day, and this Bhola does. Everyday, for a month, until one day, by chance, Gauri happens to come there to buy vegetables from a nearby vendor. Unnoticed by Bhola, she sees him getting up—just as the day’s work at the mill ends and the workers stream out. She hears Bhola bidding farewell to the beggar, telling him that yes, this is a good way to pass the day.
Gauri is shattered. But shattered in the way of a strong, mature woman, a woman who realizes that there is no point haranguing her husband for something beyond his control. She quietly goes home without letting Bhola know that she knows…
And, shortly after, Bhola brings home news for Ram. The mill owner’s son, Rajan, who was a collegemate of Ram’s, is getting engaged. Ram should go for the engagement, taking a gift: Bhola even takes out a few rupees and gives them to Ram. Ram protests; he only knows Rajan by face; they aren’t acquainted, because even in college, social barriers were maintained. The offspring of the rich didn’t mingle with those of the poor. Besides, it isn’t good manners to barge in where one hasn’t been invited.
Bhola is too stubborn (and perhaps too desperate?) to listen. No, he tells Ram; just by virtue of being an old classmate, and because his father works for the mill, Ram should go.
So, on the day in question, Ram goes hesitantly into the party hall, sticking out like a sore thumb amidst the suits and silks and heavy jewellery. He makes an attempt to introduce himself to Rajan (who looks puzzled, and then gives Ram the cold shoulder, especially when Ram offers his present—a small model of the Taj Mahal). Within minutes, Ram finds himself being humiliated so roundly by everybody around, that he loses his temper, yells curses at all of them for their callousness, and storms out of the party.
On his way home, Ram finds a drunk staggering home from the local tavern (run, stereotypically enough, by a man named John). The drunk’s raving about how drink helps him forget his misery for a while. Ram, by now desperate, decides that he better go and drown his sorrows in drink too. He goes into John’s and happens to meet Lachhu, jovial as always.
Ram, even as he’s sinking deeper into drink, has pangs of conscience when he begins to see Geeta’s face in that of Mary, John’s mute niece, who works as a waitress. That doesn’t last long; Ram is soon really tipsy. By the time he stumbles out of the shack with Lachhu, he is raving about how he’ll show the world, and blah blah blah… his drunken raving is interrupted by a furious Geeta, who finds him and berates him for drinking.
Soon, Ram’s world is racing ahead faster than he can imagine. When he goes home, not yet sober, and rages at his father for educating him—and leaving him neither accepted by the rich, nor by the poor—Gauri cannot take it anymore. She follows Ram out and chastises him, confronting him with the truth: does he not see that his father went hungry for years so that Ram may be educated? Does he not see that his father, rather than cause pain to his family, has hidden the fact of his being laid off?
This sobers up Ram very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that in a fit of remorse, he leaves home and goes off to Bombay, determined to find a job there… but Bombay is even more brutal. Graduate or not, Ram is repeatedly faced with rejection wherever he goes. What will become of him? Will his education prove useful? Or is it hard-earned money gone down the drain?
If you’re used to the frothy, romantic masala films, with their predictable lost-and-found tropes, their wolves in sheep’s clothing, that Nasir Husain was known for, Bahaaron ke Sapne may come as a surprise. This is nothing like most of Husain’s other films, even though some of the elements—the ensemble cast, the fabulous music—are there. This is a film, instead, that is often thought-provoking, as well as a reflection of the aspirations and dreams of the poor.
What I liked about this film:
The music, by RD Burman (with lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri). From the gently comforting Aaja piya tohe pyaar doon to the folksy Chunri sambhaal gori udi chali jaaye re, to the peppy, Western-themed Do pal jo teri aankhon se peene ko mile, there are several memorable songs here. Among the lesser-known songs of the film, one I especially liked was O more sajna o more balma (which has the added attraction of being picturized in an unusual locale—against a backdrop of women sifting piles of salt).
The many themes of the film. The dominating theme is of rich versus poor (and, interestingly, not always the rich being irredeemably bad or the poor being absolute saints), with the theme—surfacing in the second half of the film—of socialism, trade unionism, and Gandhism.
Other than that, there are other topics touched upon, in a more subtle way, the most important being the burden of expectations. Bhola has done what he thinks (and which is, actually) the best thing for Ram: he has educated his son. The problem arises from the fact that Ram’s poverty versus his education comes in his way of getting a job ‘worthy of his education’.
That joblessness leads to intense frustration and anguish for Ram, especially because Bhola goes on and on, crowing about how proud he is of his son, how he knows his son is going to get a good job, and so on. Not that Bhola is to be blamed, too: it is a huge achievement, and a sign of his sacrifices, that he’s been able to educate Ram to such an extent. Perhaps, too, Bhola realizes that it’s not easy to get a job, despite one’s education: perhaps, deep down, his own anxiety results in this constant need to reassure himself and all around him that it’s just a matter of time before Ram gets a job.
And, the third thing I liked about Bahaaron ke Sapne: the cast. So many respected names, so many well-known faces, even if they’re in mere cameos. Jayshree Gadkar, for instance, as the prostitute (the scene between Ram and her, where she shows Ram the reason for her ‘shamelessness’, is memorable). Or P Jairaj, usually typecast in historicals, but here so convincing as the trade unionist, Das Kaka.
What I didn’t like:
The occasional ‘aside’, which dilutes the main plot. It’s pretty much expected that a Nasir Husain film will have Rajendranath and a side plot involving his romance with a pretty lady; here, it could have been done away with, since the main plot is a grim one. Also, the Mary angle does little for the film’s main story, except possibly to add another story of the plight of the poor.
A little more focus, that’s what I would have liked.
The other thing I didn’t care for was the suddenness with which Ram becomes a trade union leader. The first hour, and more, of the film has Ram trying desperately to find employment; then, when he finally gets a job, before you know it, he’s taking an active interest in trade union activities, and then—wham!—he’s the leader. A somewhat more balanced approach, with a gradual building up of his interest in trade unionism (and, perhaps a sense of how his education helps him in that?), and it might have been more believable.
Still, all said and done, a film worth watching at least once.