Ek Hi Raasta (1956)

BR Chopra is one director for whom I have a lot of respect: he was one of the most versatile film makers of his time, a man whose films could not easily be dumped together into one broad category. Look at the difference between Waqt and Sadhna, for instance: one stylish and glamorous, the first big multi-starrer in Hindi cinema; the other a low-key yet impactful film with an unusual female lead. Or Humraaz, a sleek suspense thriller, and—on the other hand—Dharamputra, a commentary on secularism and bigotry and several related ills which still plague India.

Whether he was conveying a message, highlighting a social evil, or simply making an entertaining film, BR Chopra was in a class by himself. His films invariably had excellent production values; the music could always be counted upon to be topnotch (and the fact that he often commissioned Sahir Ludhianvi as lyricist meant that it wasn’t just the music that was superb, it was also the words of the songs—some of Sahir’s best songs are for BR Chopra’s films).

Which brings me to this film. Ek Hi Raasta was one of BR Chopra’s earlier films, and while it doesn’t have the impact of (say) Gumraah or Dhool ka Phool, it is still an interesting story.

Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar in Ek Hi Raasta

Ek Hi Raasta spends the first half hour introducing us to its main characters and their relationships. There is, for one, Prakash Mehta (Ashok Kumar), who is a government contractor. Prakash is a bachelor and freely admits that that’s because his expectations of a wife are of someone so very perfect that he’s unlikely to ever be able to find a woman like that. Prakash lives alone in a big bungalow with his servant Pyarelal (Radhakrishan) and a dog, Tiger.

Prakash at home with Pyarelal and Tiger

Prakash’s employee and manager is Amar (BR Chopra favourite Sunil Dutt). The relationship between the two men is more of friendship than of employer and employee: they’re informal, they pull each other’s legs, and Prakash is also a frequent visitor to Amar’s house, where he’s on very friendly terms with Amar’s little son Raja (Daisy Irani, billed as Roop Kumar). Amar’s pretty wife Malti (Meena Kumari) is also comfortable in Prakash’s presence: he treats her with an easy respect. It’s almost as if Prakash were another member of the family.

... and visiting Amar and Malti

And what a sweet [at times sickeningly so] family this is. Both Amar and Malti are orphans and have been brought up in orphanages, so have nobody but each other and Raja to call their own. The love between the three of them is manifested in the way the two adults indulge the child in his games, playing hide-and-seek with him, letting him pretend to be a bandit and they his victims, taking him on fun outings where they cycle through the countryside.

A little family goes on an outing

Amar and Prakash do not know, however, that their business is being used as a front for some underhand work by their munshi, Bihari (Jeevan). Bihari, in cahoots with the truck driver, has been cooking the books and stealing sacksful of cement (substituting them with sand) and selling the cement off—plus, of course, pocketing the income.

This has been going on for a while when one day Amar, picnicking beside a swimming pool with Malti and Raja, spots Bihari along with the company’s truck, handing over cement to an illicit buyer. Amar goes and confronts the two of them, and immediately takes action.

Amar stumbles upon some crookedness

The result is that the truck driver ends up behind bars and Bihari is dismissed from his job. Bitter and angry, Bihari takes to selling sweets from a portable khomcha, and this is where the truck driver—after completing his stint in jail—finds himself.

As luck would have it, Amar comes by too, and when the truck driver saunters up to him, a naïve and utterly oblivious Amar tells him that he should mend his ways. The truck driver lets fly, Amar fights back, and they roll into some mud. The truck driver ends up very muddy and thoroughly humiliated. Amar goes off homeward, but the truck driver vows to have his revenge…

A brawl in the mud

… and this he does, by running down Amar a few days later. [Just like that. Amar is cycling home from the market, bearing gifts and balloons for Raja’s birthday party, and suddenly—wham]. Malti’s world crumbles. In one fell swoop she’s gone from being happy and effervescent and a much-loved wife to a lonely, miserable mother of a child who keeps asking her where his father is.

Malti finds herself widowed

This is a question which Malti and the household’s maid Shobha (Yashodara Katju) always evade, but Prakash, who continues to visit, tells Raja that his father is in the hospital and will be home soon. Just another three or four days, and see? He’s even sent this toy for Raja to play with. And if Raja is a good boy and goes to school and eats his meals, Pitaji will soon be home. [I lay no claim to knowing anything about handling children, but even I can see how utterly devoid of foresight this approach can be—and what it can lead to. Poor Raja].

Prakash tells a lie

Prakash, seeing Malti in such misery, offers a suggestion: she should work. Since she’s a trained dancer, how about holding dance classes? It will keep her occupied, and the income, of course, will be welcome. Malti, though a little nervous, agrees, and soon the dance school has been set up and little girls are coming there to be trained by Malti.

Prakash, too, keeps visiting Malti now and then to check on her. He continues even when his servant warns him that nasty gossip is spreading about Prakash and Malti. Prakash laughs it off; gossip is gossip, no harm will come of it.

But one day, when Prakash goes to pay Malti a visit, he finds Bihari already there. Bihari is trying to get fresh with Malti, and Prakash loses his temper. He hits out at Bihari, and this humiliation makes Bihari even more incensed.

Bihari gets slapped by Prakash

Soon, things are getting unbearable for Malti. Egged on by Bihari, everybody in the neighbourhood begins to taunt her. To her face, people tell her that she should get out, there’s no place in their midst for a harlot who was carrying on with her husband’s boss even when the husband was alive, and now that Amar is dead, she’s left off all shame. Malti is hemmed in on all sides—when Prakash comes to her rescue. He not only fights off a bunch of lathi-wielding goons, he even [in a fit of rage at the malice of these people] presses a thumb to the blood flowing from his scalp and uses it to colour her maang.

Malti becomes a wife again, in dramatic circumstances

But is this enough? If Malti marries Prakash, are all her troubles at an end? Or is she just exchanging one lot of troubles for another?

The social message in Ek Hi Raasta—that of widow remarriage—is briefly dealt with, and takes second place. It’s not as if anybody opposes Malti’s getting married again; the problem, rather, is that people cannot see a man and a woman together (even in the most innocuous of circumstances) without imagining that there’s something illicit going on [and who, pray, gave anybody the license to interfere in another adult’s life?] Unlike several of BR Chopra’s other films that have a strong social message—like Dhool ka Phool or DharmputraEk Hi Raasta focuses not on a social malaise, but on the relationships between members of a family. How does a small child adjust to a stepparent? What are the implications of remarriage? What effect can a lie—even if said with the very best of intentions—have on relationships?

What I liked about this film:

The simplicity of the story, which can be summed up in just a few sentences. There are no convoluted plots here, no protracted wooing, very little in the way of comic asides: the focus is on the main characters and their lives.

Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar. I have lost count of the number of films I’ve seen starring this pair [though, as someone pointed out elsewhere, Ashok Kumar—especially when Pradeep Kumar also featured in the film—always ended up being the man who lost out], and this is one in which I’ve especially liked them. Meena Kumari, though weepy through much of the second half, is beautiful, and Ashok Kumar—never my idea of a dreamboat—looks surprisingly handsome at times. Plus, there’s his acting: his chemistry with his co-stars, both Meena Kumari as well as Daisy Irani, in particular, appears so effortless, so genuine. In fact, Ashok Kumar and Daisy Irani’s interactions here reminded me of their absolutely delightful jugalbandi in Bandish (coincidentally, also with Meena Kumari).

Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar in Ek Hi Raasta

And, last but by no means the least, Hemant’s music. Saanwle-salone aaye din bahaar ke has long been a favourite of mine, but there are some other great songs too: Chali gori pee se milan ko chali, Chamka bankar aman ka tara, Kaisi lagi kaisi lagi—and the precocious but infectious Bade bhaiya laaye hain London se chhori, with a very young Baby Naaz shaking a leg for all she’s worth.

What I didn’t like:

The pretty pointless interludes featuring Pyarelal and his nemesis, the dog Tiger. These are tedious, take up time, and have little relevance to the main story.

And, Raja in the first half of the film. It’s not Daisy Irani’s acting I object to; she fits the character perfectly—it’s the character I don’t like, because Raja is a spoilt, precocious brat whom I couldn’t summon up a liking for, despite Daisy Irani’s cuteness. On the other hand, Raja in the second half of the film I found easier to relate to: a little kid, confused and lost because he’s been told something and now sees everything through that perspective. Pitaji is in hospital; then why isn’t he coming home? And why is Ma allowing Prakash Babu to touch her hair? Why are they living in Prakash Babu’s home? When will they go back home to be with Pitaji? He is a child, so he will do seemingly stupid things an adult wouldn’t, but the psychology of the child comes through very well in this part of the film. Good writing, good understanding of children, and good acting.

I first watched this film as a young teen (good old Doordarshan, as always). I’d forgotten much of it, other than the bare bones of the plot—but a rewatch wasn’t painful. By no means one of BR Chopra’s best, Ek Hi Raasta is still not a bad film.

 

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22 thoughts on “Ek Hi Raasta (1956)

  1. Finally! A review of a movie I have seen! This is a movie I watched recently, on one of my trips to India last year, and enjoyed thoroughly. I agree with you, the kid Raja was so spoiled and bratty I was irritated even though it was the handling of the situation by the adults that created most of the problems. The songs were delightful and Sunil Dutt, Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar were very good, too.
    Nosy people are to be found wherever you have people with petty minds, which is pretty much everywhere!
    Great review, Madhu!

    • Thank you, Lalitha! I’m so glad you liked the review.

      Yes, the kid Raja really was bratty, wasn’t he? Spoilt silly, and pretty much the cookie cutter child of Hindi cinema. I did feel for him in the second half of the film, because he’s really too small to understand what has happened – and, as you rightly point out – the adults have created most of the problems.

  2. Another Asho Kumar-Meena Kumari film, which I haven’t seen.
    The songs are all nice. And the plot sounds good too.
    So one of these days, it might slip in in my to-watch list.

  3. Oh, I am so happy you wrote about this film! I saw this film as a teenager during the summer holidays in Mettur ( Tamil Nadu ) in 1957.That was the time I was learning Hindi, could not follow the dialogues fully. But for some bitter-sweet reason i remember the film. I remember the main story but have forgotten the details. For me the film is memorable only for the song ‘Saanwle salone aaye ‘. The whole scene is so beautiful! Where do you find such roads, trees, parks in cities and towns now? The cycle scene is so enchanting, it has been etched in memory! I think this is easily one of the top duets in Hindi movies and I still sing this almost daily!
    I can’t forget one thing. As I was coming out of the theatre after the show, one man shouted in Tamil about the music director: ” he is Yemaanda Kumar ” which means he was one who had lost his way! After Nagin, people had high expectations about Hemant Kumar and the music of this film was not to our liking, but for this beautiful duet!
    Reading your column, I have relived those days, Thank you!

    • Thank you for commenting, and especially for that anecdote about ‘Yemaanda Kumar’! That really made me grin. I guess Hemant went through a trough – because, in the 60s, he did come back with some stellar scores (for instance, Bees Saal Baad, Kohraa, Anupama and Khamoshi), and even some films (like Duniya Jhukti Hai) which were marked by one outstanding song.

      Very true about the beauty of the countryside in Saanwle-salone aaye din bahaar ke. It looks so pristine and unspoilt. One would have to travel a good few hours out of the city now to find something like that….

  4. That song on the tandem bicycle is easily one of the best picturised songs in Hindi Films . Observe that the characters are actually riding the cycle and there are some extremely “long takes” with the camera stationary and the subjects moving (eg right at the beginning of the song) . Also , towards the end of the song , when Daisy is about to put her lips to the Mouth Organ at the wrong time , Sunil Dutt taps her on the head – he taps her head again when it is time for her to start playing , synchronous to to the Music .

    The song was shot on then deserted roads of Aarey Milk Colony .

    Thanks for reviving old memories .

    With warm regards ,

    PARTHA CHANDA

    • Thank you for that! I hadn’t known where it was filmed – I’d imagined it would have been somewhere out in the countryside.

      And thank you for pointing out that little detail about Sunil Dutt tapping Daisy Irani on the head as a cue. I hadn’t noticed that. Just watched it again, and was enchanted by it.

  5. I’m so glad you wrote this film up, Madhu. It has long been on my list of films to be reviewed but I never got around to watching it again. Such a simple story, and such a understated way of dealing with it. The Meena Kumari-Ashok Kumar pairing really worked, and here, at least, poor Ashok Kumar did get the heroine after all. :) Though they had to kill Sunil Dutt off, for that to happen.

    I love most of BR’s films – he always had something interesting to say!

    • I probably wouldn’t have watched it again, either, because – well, it’s just not one of those utterly memorable films, is it? Good, interesting, but not (as far as I’m concerned) absolutely unmissable. But then someone made a request for this, and I thought I may as well, since I recalled not outright disliking it. And I think I actually liked it better this time than I did the last time I watched it.

      “Though they had to kill Sunil Dutt off, for that to happen.

      On the other hand, BR Chopra takes away Sunil Dutt’s beloved in Gumraah and has her married off to Ashok Kumar, so I guess they’re quits. ;-)

  6. The pet theory that Anu mentions above made me grin :). I was thinking as I was reading the review as to why Ashok Kumar never gets Meena K. To begin with. She ends up with him yes, but more often than not. Savera and Parineeta were exceptions, but there too circumstances keep them apart. I saw this one years ago and had forgotten most of the details, e.g. the truck driver taking his revenge, I remembered it as just an accident. Saanvare salone seems to be a very popular song, my only reason for remembering this movie. I have wondered often if this movie turned Meena Kumari’s roles into tragedy. She was her sweet smiling self in the first half and then played the tragic side pretty well too. (The blood being used for sindoor is another cliche). Daisy Irani’s roles were always more often than not written as a very spoilt or overly witty almost adult like kid. Given that she was so good, wish they had presented her more childlike.

    • I’ve seen Savera, but so long back, that I don’t remember anything of it. And Parineeta I’ve never seen… should watch that one of these days.

      I think Meena Kumari’s stint as tragedy queen had begun before this film. In Baiju Bawra itself, where she starts off all smiling and sweet, and then degenerates into weeping…

      Have you seen Bandish, Neeru? I really liked that film, and it’s a good portrayal of what a child is really like. Daisy Irani, Ashok Kumar and Meena Kumari again, and a delightful little film.

  7. I remember in one of the radio interviews Meena Kumari had said – Ashok ji is my guru in acting. I am her fan from the days I didn’t even know what “fan” meant. She said despite his on-screen image of a rather stern person, Ashok Kumar is a very lively person…

    Thank god they killed Amar in the movie and not “presumed-dead” to only come back later in the last few scenes causing utter confusion and chaotic ending.. Keeping it simple helps, I think..

    I would pass though because I find it a bit tough to deal with the heart-breaking and absolutely troubling way Prakash seems to be dealing with Raja about the death of his father…

    • “Thank god they killed Amar in the movie and not “presumed-dead” to only come back later in the last few scenes causing utter confusion and chaotic ending.

      Yes! I hate that sort of complication. Was invariably the norm in a set-up like this.

      The ham-handed way in which Prakash deals with Raja – no matter how good his intentions – does lead to some very unfortunate circumstances, so yes, it might be better to avoid this. I don’t think I would watch it again, for one. At least not in a hurry.

  8. Hello,
    This was a really refreshing read, thank you. I watched this movie because this was an Ashok Kumar starrer, I simply adore that man! I wholeheartedly agree with some of your comments above, that of Amar’s family being sickeningly happy and the child Raja being spoilt and annoying in the first half (though perhaps not of Ashok Kumar not being a dreamboat ;-)).
    Personally speaking, I found it a bit irritating the way Ashok Kumar’s character dealt with the kid Raja and wondered if anybody would ever really show that sort of patience. All that being said, I still liked the movie mainly because the story wasn’t far-fetched and the way Prakash and Malti’s relationship moved forwards. Also, the appearance of Ashok Kumar in the mid-1950s seem the most perfect to me :-).

    Anyway, I look forward to reading some reviews of other movies from the 1950s too :-).

    Thanks again!

    • Thank you so much! We will agree to disagree about Ashok Kumar being (or not being!) a dreamboat – though I will admit that (unlike some other actors, like Rajendra Kumar or Bharat Bhushan), Ashok Kumar is one I’ve never had trouble watching. He may not be my idea of ‘handsome’, but there’s something very pleasant about him (besides the fact that he’s such a fine actor), that I always enjoy watching him.

      I agree with you about Prakash’s patience with Raja: that was stretching things a bit. But, all said and done, still a good film, I thought. As you rightly mention, not far-fetched.

      “Anyway, I look forward to reading some reviews of other movies from the 1950s too :-).

      Thanks, again! You’ll find a complete list of all the Hindi films I’ve reviewed, here:

      https://madhulikaliddle.com/hindi/

      • Hi again,
        Indeed I’ve been reading some of your other reviews, I shall comment on the other movies in the respective posts :-). Your comment about Rajendra Kumar and Bharat Bhusan made me laugh out loud. I remember watching “Dooj Ka Chand” hoping to see Ashok Kumar and my disappointment after 2 whole hours when I realised that Ashok Kumar only had a minor side role and Bharat Bhusan was the lead!
        Could I please request you to also post reviews of the movies Bandi (1956 probably, starring Ashok Kumar and Bina Rai) and Sangram (1950, starring Ashok Kumar and Nalini Jaywant)? I had loved watching both these movies. Sangram had several remakes made later (Apna Khoon starring Shashi Kapoor for instance) which were quite annoying and ridiculous to watch. Sangram had its flaws too but it was the most mature one with the same storyline in my opinion.
        Thanks again for all your work.

        • I shall give Dooj ka Chand a miss, then. ;-) Thank you for warning me off it!

          I have seen Bandi, and just a few months back, too. It didn’t leave enough of an impression on me – positive or negative – for me to want to bother posting a review. Sangram I have come across now and then (mostly through its songs), but have never got around to watching. Will put that on my list. Thanks for the recommendation!

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