New Delhi (1956)

Over the years, I have heard and read much praise for this relatively little-known film. Its songs, which various people have introduced to me over the years, are good, and Anu—whose taste and opinion usually match my own—had good things to say about New Delhi in her review of the film. I decided it was time to watch it for myself.

New Delhi is set, of course, in New Delhi (though a bit of Old Delhi intrudes now and then, even as it does in everyday life in Delhi today). The film begins outside New Delhi Railway Station, where Anand Kumar (Kishore Kumar) has just arrived from Jalandhar, to study radio engineering. Anand hails a passing taxi at the same time that Janaki (Vyjyantimala), who is standing a few steps further along the road, does too. One taxi draws up; both Anand and Janaki get into it, and then start arguing over whose taxi this is.

Anand meets Janaki in a taxi

The taxi driver, when asked to explain whom he stopped for, pleads that he thought these two were together. Eventually, since Janaki is inclined to go to the nearest police station and have the cops intercede, Anand throws in the towel and gets out.

Anand manages to get to a sarai, where he checks in for a couple of days while he goes about looking for more long-term accommodation. The very first house he arrives at, on the heels of a ‘to let’ ad in the newspaper, seems nice enough. This is occupied by a young artist, Ashok Banerjee (Prabhu Dayal) who quickly makes friends with Anand and is happy to let him have the accommodation.

Ashok, however, hasn’t reckoned with his father. Old Mr Banerjee, arriving on the scene soon after and discovering that Anand is a Punjabi, says that he’s already rented out the accommodation. It soon becomes obvious that this is just an excuse, and that he wants, as tenant, only a Bengali.

Anand at the Bannerjee's home

Anand soon realizes, as he goes from one prospective landlord to the other, that people are woefully insular. Sindhis only want Sindhi tenants; Marawaris only want Marwaris, Gujaratis only want Gujaratis, and so on. Nobody wants a Hindustani, they say; they only want people from their own communities, their own regions, their own castes. A despondent Anand winds up sharing his woes with Kumaraswamy (Dhumal), the general dogsbody at the sarai.

Kumaraswamy is resourceful and optimistic. When Anand sadly admits that the latest ad—by a Mr Iyer, asking for tenants—is also likely to come to nothing, he is reassured: no, this one is going to come through.

Kumaraswamy assures Anand

… And so it does. Because the man who turns up at Mr Iyer’s is not Anand Kumar the Punjabi but the dhoti-kurta clad Anand Kumaraswamy, who admits that he doesn’t know Tamil because he’s been brought up in Punjab. But he looks so obviously the good South Indian young man that Mr Iyer approves of him immediately, as does a visiting friend, Mr Subramaniam (Nana Palsikar), who is a big shot in the local South Indian Cultural Association. This is what our youth should be like, they say: proud of their heritage.

Anand gets the thumbs up from Mr Subramaniam

Meanwhile, we catch up with Janaki. She goes to meet a dear acquaintance and family friend, Sadhuram (Radhakrishna), who owns a ghee shop. Although there’s a big sign outside to the effect that Sadhuram’s ghee is so pure that anybody who can prove it’s adulterated will be rewarded a thousand rupees, Sadhuram himself is busy behind closed doors, filling vanaspati in tins labelled ‘ghee’. It’s the label that matters, he tells Janaki, when Janaki teases Sadhuram Chacha about this subterfuge. The only pure ghee to be found here, he informs her, is what burns in the little lamp placed before the idol in the little temple inside.

Janaki goes to meet an 'uncle'

… Which comes in use now and then. If a canny customer comes by, wanting to test a sample of Sadhuram’s ghee, Sadhuram scoops out a spoonful from the lamp and takes it out to the customer. Easy as pie.

There is a bit of news: Sadhuram’s niece, Mohini, is getting to be of marriageable age, and her mother (Sadhuram’s sister) has decided to come from their native Punjab to Delhi to find a suitable groom. Janaki suggests that it might be a good idea for Mohini to come too.

... and reads out a letter about Mohini'

Soon after, Janaki has several accidental meetings with Anand. No, they don’t fall in love; instead, they let fly at each other and pass snide remarks. One day, however, when Anand goes to Daryaganj (and again bumps into Janaki), a misunderstanding erupts. Some passersby, all of them belligerent, think Anand is making a pass at Janaki, and start to assault him.

Anand finds himself cornered
Anand manages to give them the slip and ducks into a nearby music and dance school. Here, for lack of any other plausible reason to account for his presence to the principal (Mirza Musharraf), he pretends he’s come seeking admission. Minutes later, Anand finds himself admitted to the school, where his teacher is none other than a scornful Janaki.

The new student meets his professor

Fortunately, Anand is quickly able to mend matters with Janaki; he sings her a song, to prove that he can sing, and in the process, confesses his love for her. Soon, with many shy glances (on Janaki’s part) and somewhat more overt expressions (on Anand’s part), they are an item.

... and charms her with a song

When Janaki invites Anand to come and attend her performance at Pongal celebrations, Anand regretfully refuses, since he’s promised Mr Subramaniam that he’ll attend the Pongal function being organized by the South Indian Cultural Association. So it’s with pleasant surprise that Anand discovers that the star performer at the Association’s function is none other than Janaki herself—and that she is Mr Subramaniam’s daughter. Mr Subramaniam, who has been so approving of Anand from the beginning, is happy too, especially when he realizes that this very worthy Madrasi will make a fine son-in-law.

Anand discovers that Janaki is Mr Subramaniam's daughter

Things now shift into top gear. Anand receives news from home: his family—parents and sister—are shifting to Delhi, since Daddy, Daulat Ram Khanna, has got a job in Delhi. They have already arranged for a house in Delhi, and Anand is peremptorily ordered to come receive them at the railway station, before helping them set up home. This takes some adroit jugglery (since it happens to coincide with a date with Janaki, to go boating at India Gate’s Boat Club), but Anand manages.

Khanna Sahib (Nazir Hussain) is a strict disciplinarian, Ma (Mumtaz Begum) is benign but no pushover, and Anand’s sister Nirmala ‘Nikki’ has a delightfully informal relationship with her brother. Anand has managed to lure Kumaraswamy away from the sarai, and the man, within minutes, becomes part of the household.

Anand's parents arrive in town, and Kumaraswamy gets a job at their home

Anand is able to wheedle Nikki (with the help of a monetary incentive; you can push sisterly love only this far) into helping him get out of the house. He takes her off to visit the Red Fort, hoping for an opportunity to shake himself free of Nikki there and hurry off by himself to India Gate to meet Janaki.

Anand and Nikki manage to manipulate Daddy into letting them go out

Anand is lucky: who should he run into there but Ashok Banerjee, who is trying (unsuccessfully) to sketch the monuments around. Ashok, meeting Nikki and enchanted by her at first glance, asks if he may sketch her, and when she agrees, Anand grabs at the chance. Nikki is entrusted to Ashok for the next half-hour, while Anand rushes off to India Gate to meet Janaki.

Nikki and Anand meet Ashok at the Red Fort

Soon after, Anand is back in Red Fort, this time with Janaki. They’re walking along, chatting (she has given him all the news: for instance, that her father’s office is getting a new manager, a Punjabi who will probably be—like all Punjabis—a brash, loud sort), when they run into Nikki and Ashok. Anand, in a quandary (Nikki is obviously Punjabi), hurriedly introduces Nikki as being ‘almost like a sister’, being the daughter of dear friends. Nikki is confused and Janaki is taken aback, but since Anand rushes off with Nikki right after, there’s nothing to be done.

A chance meeting at the Red Fort

The next day, Janaki’s father goes to his office and meets the new manager—who is none other than Khanna Sahib, Anand’s father. Khanna Sahib is at his most domineering, and has soon got everybody in the office petrified. Mr Subramaniam ends up having to tear through his breakfast and his preparations for office every morning, almost forgetting his shoes and socks in the process (he is saved by Janaki, who reminds him). Mr Subramaniam tells Janaki to ask Anand to introduce his father to him, Mr Subramaniam.

Janaki's father tells her to fetch Anand and his father sometime...

… And Anand, when Janaki passes on the message and he realizes why, also realizes that he’s in a fix. He, after all, has been masquerading as Anand Kumaraswamy; Mr Subramaniam will not take kindly to the unveiling of this deception. And Khanna Sahib, staunch old Punjabi that he is, will be none too eager to have his only son marry a Madrasi.

There is only one thing to be done, and Anand does it: he bullies and cajoles Kumaraswamy into pretending to be Anand’s father. The result completely fools Janaki and Mr Subramaniam, so much so that tea at the Subramaniam household is all bonhomie and goodwill—until Mr Subramaniam, happening to go out into the balcony, looks down and sees, passing by, his boss. All bubbling over with good cheer (he has pretty much finalized the match for his only daughter, after all), Mr Subramaniam invites Khanna Sahib to come on up and have some coffee.

Anand, as soon as he hears who’s coming up, realizes that disaster looms. Working pretty much along the lines of a Wodehousian character, he pretends his father (Kumaraswamy, who has anyway half-collapsed from sheer fright) has had an epileptic seizure. With Janaki’s help, ‘Baba’ is helped into an adjoining room and laid down on the bed and Anand says he’ll go off and fetch a doctor.

... with disastrous consequences

The ‘doctor’ (Anand, in wig and beard) arrives to find that Khanna Sahib, solicitous for his colleague’s samdhi-to-be, has ensconced himself in a chair beside the sickbed (Kumaraswamy has, with great presence of mind, covered himself up to the eyebrows). Khanna Sahib has plonked a shoe down on the sufferer’s nose, believing that this is the best cure for an epileptic seizure. ‘Dr Sahib’ dismisses this, shoos Khanna Sahib out, and revives the terrified Kumaraswamy. Janaki is told, by the doctor, that Anand will be along soon—he’s gone to get some medicine.

Anand faces up to his father

Whew. All is, or so it seems, all right for now. But how long can this deception last? Anand knows that it is high time he at least told Janaki the truth: that he is no more a Madrasi than is chhola-bhatura. Janaki loves him enough to not let this come in the way of their love; but Khanna Sahib? Mr Subramaniam? For these two old gentlemen, both excessively proud of their respective communities and cultures and regions, it is unthinkable that their offspring should marry someone from another state…

What I liked about this film:

The overall feel of it. New Delhi addresses what was (and, sadly, still is, even sixty years later) a very real problem in India: the insularity of communities, the ‘us-and-them’ belief that dominates. We are good, we are cultured and civilized and upright; they are barbaric, uncouth, or—at the very least—just simply odd. There are plenty of films that have tackled this issue in one way or another, but most of the ones I remember from the good old days fall into the ‘very serious’ trap, with high melodrama and all.

New Delhi, while it does get very dramatic, even sinking into melodrama now and then, manages to remain on a rather more light-heartedly even keel through it all. There are moments of humour even when things are getting serious, and almost nobody is depicted as being so irredeemably nasty that nothing but death can solve matters. And, in a refreshing take on the usual, nobody is ever left completely without people who care for them—in fact, there’s a heartwarming instance when a couple of unexpected saviours come to the rescue of someone in very dire straits.

The music, by Shankar-Jaikishan, is good, even if it’s not terribly well-known. My favourite song from the film is Murli bairan bhayi Kanhaiyya tori murli bairan bhayi; Nakhrewaali comes a close second.

And, another thing I liked: the heroine. Vyjyanthimala’s Janaki is not your typical filmi heroine: she’s rather more feisty, and though she does crumple under for a brief while and teeters on the edge of despair, she has a good deal of spunk. For instance, she doesn’t baulk at telling Anand, to his face, how spineless he is for expecting her to coax her father into agreeing to their match, while not himself being able to summon up the courage to talk to his father.

Vyjyanthimala as Janaki in New Delhi

Lastly: that scene with Kumaraswamy posing as Anand’s father, when they go to Janaki’s house. Great fun.

What I didn’t like:

Not much, really, though it does get pretty melodramatic in the last scenes. Even then, the scenes are only as long as they need to be: it isn’t melodrama piled on melodrama, and the relief comes quickly.

Worth a watch.

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31 thoughts on “New Delhi (1956)

  1. I watched this years and years ago. I remember it being a lot of fun. I loved Nakhrewali. I don’t know why that song was so short. Murli bairan bhai is such a sweet song.

    Lovely review, Madhu.

    • Nakhrewaali is actually a back-to-back song (rather like Saiyaan beimaan and Kya se kya ho gaya – they move from one into the other without a break). The other half of the song is ‘sung’ by Vyjyanthimala and is longer than Nakhrewaali itself. Such a shame, because it’s not as nice.

      Glad you liked the review, Ava! Thank you. :-)

  2. Damn good review from you of a very good movie. I endorse your assessment and analysis to the full. I have seen this movie both on the large screen and on the small screen and penned my own review too. It’s definitely one of those olden goldies that can be watched for clean entertainment as well as an idealistic message for the audience.

    Jitendra Mathur

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed this review! Yes, this is a good example of a film that was thoroughly entertaining and yet had a good message (which it handled in an often amusing way).

    • Thank you for your review, Anu, because if it hadn’t been for that, I don’t know when (and if) I’d ever have got around to watching this. It was such a good film. Thank you for the recommendation. :-)

  3. Dear Madhu!

    I have not seen – or even heard of – this movie but your review certainly compels me to watch it. I also have a friend who is an ardent Kishore admirer and pesters me to watch his movies – this one looks very promising and entertaining so I’ll give it a go :) I’ve never seen Kishore in a film, I know him only as a singer – and I am most curious to make this long-overdue discovery.

    I don’t expect there will be subtitles but I think I will be able to make it out thanks to your detailed analysis.

    • Alisa, thank you. This is, I think, one of the best Kishore Kumar (in a leading role) films that I’ve seen, so do try and watch it. I hope you can find a version with subtitles.

      Kishore is not one of my favourite actors. He’s great fun in some films and in some roles (for example, in Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Padosan and Pyaar Kiye Jaa, but in a lot of the films he starred in during the 50s, he got slotted as a sort-of comic hero. Not as outright a comedian as (say) Johnny Walker, and yet not as complete a somewhat frivolous hero as (say) Shammi Kapoor. Which means he ends up in a lot of silly films that are primarily slapstick and then degenerate into melodrama – Naughty Boy, Ek Raaz, Jhumroo, Half Ticket and Dilli ka Thug are all like that (though I’m sure your Kishore-loving friend will disagree). Personally, the only reason I’d watch these films is because Kishore was invariably featured opposite the gorgeous Madhubala, and the films had fabulous music.

      New Delhi, that way, is refreshingly different, and good – fun, but not OTT. Melodramatic near the end, but again not as OTT as some others.

  4. A typically good review (this has now become a tautology for Mrs. Liddle’s posts).

    As this is a blog which deals with pre-1970 films, and is targeted largely at fans of films from that period, I must, however, take issue with your use of the phrase “relatively little-known film”. While not a front-ranker, this is a fairly well-known and popular film.

    Kishore Kumar had the misfortune to be slotted into comic hero roles by producers, directors, and, above all, the viewers who usually rejected him in any serious roles. While no Naseer or Dilip Kumar in the acting stakes, he was no slouch either. Perhaps it was to satisfy his creative discontent and dissatisfaction that he directed films like Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein, Door Ka Raahi, & Door Waadiyon Mein Kahin. Good films all, with competent performances by KK, but duds at the box office.

      • I’ve been wanting to see that film for a while now, too! (Though my reason for wanting to watch it will probably strike you as very odd – my interest in handlooms has grown a lot over the past year, and Dhaka cotton is one handloom I especially love. Therefore…!)

        But even Induna – my usual go-to place for obscure movies – doesn’t seem to have it, so it may be that, like Mr X and Miss Coca-Cola, this is another of those films that hasn’t been released on VCD/DVD yet.

    • Thank you for the praise! And for correcting me about the popularity of this film; I tend to rank films by whether I’ve heard my father mention them – he is a huge fan of old Hindi films, partly because his older brother was part of them – so I’ve grown up listening to Papa talking of this film and that film. Never New Delhi, and I never even heard of this film otherwise till a few years back, though I had heard Nakhrewaali often enough.

      I have never got around to watching any of Kishore’s films that he directed himself, though I have heard praise for them. Especially Door Gagan ki Chhaaon Mein – several people have recommended it to me. One reason I’ve shied away from it is that Kishore in ‘serious’ scenes in even the comedies he’s worked in doesn’t appeal to me too much.

  5. Excellent review as always. I tend to agree with Millind Phanse above that it was a very popular movie and it’s songs played constantly on vividh bharati. There is a Punjabi dance number by Vyjayanthimala, I hope they did not cut it from the movie, her moves are a must see. She bends backwards touching the ground. If I switch to YouTube to check the song, I will loose this comment, I know.

    BTW, haven’t commented lately because of the same old problem of browser shutting down on me :(…

    • I have to admit I haven’t listened to much radio since I was about ten (that was when TV became a big thing, and all our attention got suddenly diverted) – so I had never heard the songs of New Delhi on radio. I did come across Nakhrewaali on TV now and then, but had forgotten which film it was from.

      Tum sang preet lagaayi is there in the film, they haven’t cut it out.

      • I see your point of view. While it was popular in the late 50s and songs played till at least mid sixties, one can say it is not a classic that have stood the test of time. One reason could be the typical portrayals of regional people. How many from Bombay southward tolerate being slotted as madrasis. Other could be Kishore Kumar himself as you say, he acted in a lot of silly roles. Though I have read praise for half ticket in blog pages, I have never liked that movie. There was also a ban on Kishore Kumar songs on DD and radio early 70s ? I don’t quite remember when or the reason behind it. So perhaps it is not a movie that was popular for later generation.

        • “One reason could be the typical portrayals of regional people.

          I doubt that that the reason. After all, Padosan – which was made well after this one, and stereotyped the ‘Madrasi’ to such an extent that even I, a North Indian, find it galling – is still very popular. In fact, I’d think New Delhi, while the South Indian characters in it do refer to themselves as ‘Madrasis’ (and, to give them credit, they are supposed to be Tamilians), there is the refreshingly cosmopolitan nature of the heroine herself. Janaki doesn’t have the slightest trace of an accent; she sings in Punjabi (and dances) as well as any Punjabi would; and her greatest confidant is eventually a Punjabi.

          I think New Delhi probably just fell off the radar… there were a lot of great films being made those days, and perhaps this just couldn’t hold its own when it came to being a lambi race ka ghoda (also, the songs aren’t especially memorable. They’re not bad, but they’re not the type that stick in one’s memory for years after).

          Who knows, actually.

          I can’t stand Half Ticket either, Neeru! Kishore Kumar pretending to be a lollipop-sucking child makes me see red.

  6. Lovely to hear of a film, which I liked a lot when I saw it on DD when I was small. S-J have given good music and the actors and actresses are good too. Will put it on my watch-list.
    Thanks for the good, descriptive review, dear Madhu!

  7. Another great review. I remember this one quite well, mostly for the great music and also the thing that always irked me about us Indians – which you point out as well, is still very much the same even today.

    “Nobody wants a Hindustani, they say; they only want people from their own communities, their own regions, their own castes. “. Sad state of affairs. Indians are their religion, caste, region, langauge before they are Indians… It needs to be the other way around..

    Also, I heard Javed Akhtar on one of his shows that this movie was the first one to have two things:
    – a punjabi “Tuppa” – bari barsi khatan gaya si.
    – yodeling in Nakhrewali

    I loved the light songs, and this one had many – Having Kishore mostly ensures that. I personally like “Milte Hi Nazar” a lot though Nakhrewali was definitely the most popular song from this movie.

    • Thank you, Ashish. I’m so glad you enjoyed this review. It made me sad to see just how things have remained the same, even after all these decades… the only way the mindsets of people in Delhi seem to have changed is in that now the definition of ‘us’ seems to extend even to people of contiguous regions: us, Hindi or Punjabi-speaking (Urdu-speaking automatically gets equated with being Muslim, even more taboo). Them, everybody else. I feel especially bad at the way a lot of people from the North-East are treated. There’s been a huge influx of people from the North-East over the past few years, for studies, jobs, and more, and the snide remarks, the physical violence and the outright racism against them is horrific.

      Thank you for sharing the trivia about the film. I hadn’t known that!

      • That’s worse than what I had seen in the past. So now there are more reasons/groups to discriminate against? I can’t believe how blatant this has become. You mention in other comments which I agree with – how making fun of a region in a movie (or in real life) is supposedly be comedic?

        • Yes, it’s awful, the way people from the North-East tend to be treated in Delhi and around. Because their features often set them apart, making them ‘visibly different’, and because many of them aren’t fluent in Hindi, they make for easy prey. There are fewer reports in the newspapers right now, but till a few months back, there was bound to be an article every single day about someone from the North-East being beaten, raped, or even murdered.

          I can’t fathom this concept of how poking fun at someone because of the region they hail from, can be considered funny, either. Both in real life as well as in cinema. It’s sort of juvenile – one reason why, despite Padosan being so very popular, I don’t like it much.

          • You are right. I admit that I used to love the comedy in “padosan” until the realization came that it is very insensitive. People and movies taking potshots at regions is just wrong! You can make timeless comedies like Chupke-Chupke that can be enjoyed without at the expense of any community or region.

            Btw, we are seeing that “us versus them” is not just an issue in India, it is spreading like a wild fire from Brexit supporters in UK to Trump supporters in the US. You would have thought that globe is shrinking but it’s actually heading in the opposite direction. A very dangerous phenomenon. Didn’t see that coming. :(

            • Yes, I used to be very amused by Padosan when I was a kid, too – it’s only in later years that I’ve begun to see just how unfunny this poking of fun at people of a certain region or community can be. And I agree that comedies like Chupke-Chupke (or Pyaar Kiye Jaa and Dekh Kabira Roya, to mention two of my other favourites) are far better that way – they use other, less hurtful ways of making people laugh.

              (On a similar note, there’s the thing about sardarji jokes. A few years back, I was at a coffeeshop with a few friends, and we were chatting and laughing till quite late. The only other people in the coffeeshop was a family, who the friend next to me didn’t notice were Sikhs. When I said something deliberately stupid to tease my friend, he said, “Madhooo! Yeh kya sardaaronwaali baat kar rahi hai!” When he realized that the people at the next table were Sikhs and had overheard him, he apologized immediately, but what struck me then was that even when people don’t really mean harm – I know my friend didn’t – there is this widespread belief that some people – Sikh, Irish, blonde, whatever – are stupid. Which is such an insensitive, sad generalization).

              P.S. And yes. Not an Indian phenomenon at all. Everyday, everywhere, this insularity is spreading. From policemen getting women to strip off burkinis on Nice’s beaches, to a Norwegian barber refusing to cut a Muslim’s hair, to Trump’s insane ravings and rantings… whew. God knows what the world is coming to.

  8. Madhu,
    Excellent review. The film seemed promising. I happened to have free time and access to Internet. Therefore, I watched it on YT. The film has a nice plot, but execution could be more taut. I like even the OTT Kishore Kumar, from his standards he was quite sober. Thanks a lot.

  9. This film even managed to win praise from Baburao Patel, not an easy feat by any means. This is what he said in his FilmIndia review :
    “New Delhi, Mohan Segal’s maiden effort in production and his third attempt in direction is a picture, which is entertaining, enlightening, purposeful and topical – all at once. In our sorry industry it is indeed an unusual feat and its young producer-director therefore draws all praise for making an intelligent effort to entertain through the usually abused film medium.”

      • I enjoy your reviews of old movies. I like to see them too since they have more simpler plots, Please try to watch Ek Raaz with Kishore Kumar and Jamuna. It is also a very simple enjoyable story.

        • Thank you!

          I have seen Ek Raaz, but didn’t find it interesting enough – in either a good way or a bad one – to bother to write a review of it. But it does have some wonderful songs.

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