Jhinder Bondi (1961)

Considering I’ve recently reviewed two Hindi swashbucklers (Baadal and Baadal), both obviously—in one case even with credit accorded—inspired by European sources, I thought it appropriate to continue in the genre for another film. Also a swashbuckler, also inspired by a work from European literature. The Bengali film Jhinder Bondi (‘The Prisoner of Jhind’), based on Anthony Hope’s classic The Prisoner of Zenda (and the novel which Saradindu Bandyopadhyay—of Byomkesh  Bakshi fame—based on The Prisoner of Zenda).

After a very brief and pretty much unnecessary scene on a train, Jhinder Bondi switches to a scene in a Calcutta club, where a dignified man in uniform (? Radhamohan Bhattacharya?) wanders about. He happens to see a bout of fencing in progress, and looks startled. He turns to a passerby and asks if one of those fencers is Shankar Singh. No, he’s told, that’s Gauri Shankar Rai. The man in uniform insists, but has to retract his assertion when the fencer takes off his mask.

Shortly after, the uniformed man turns up at an impressive mansion, wanting to meet Gauri Shankar Rai. Gauri Shankar Rai has just returned from the club, so while he’s getting ready to meet this unexpected guest, Gauri Shankar’s elder brother plays host. The man in uniform is struck by a portrait he sees on a wall. He asks whose portrait that is, and is told that it is that of an ancestor, Kali Shankar Rai.

When Gauri Shankar (a moustached Uttam Kumar) enters, the uniformed man gets down to business and explains matters to the two brothers. He informs them that he is the General, the Fauji Sardar, of a kingdom called Jhind, which lies in the mountains. The heir to the throne of Jhind is Shankar Singh, and he has a younger brother named Udit Singh. Udit Singh is a greedy, rapacious man who covets the throne and has tried to get it for himself ever since the last king, the brothers’ father, passed away.

The General says that they—Shankar Singh, the General, their loyal servants—have twice arranged for Shankar Singh’s coronation. On both occasions, Udit Singh has succeeded in spiriting away Shankar Singh so that the coronation has fallen through. Now, for the third time, the date of the coronation has been set—and Shankar Singh has again disappeared. This time around, the situation is dire, because if the coronation doesn’t happen now, Udit Singh will automatically be crowned.

… and Udit Singh is certainly not the man for Jhind. Shankar Singh is a drunkard, lazy and a good for nothing, but at least his heart is in the right place, and the people of Jhind love him. Of the two evils, the General seems to suggest, Shankar Singh is the lesser.

The General, searching desperately for Shankar Singh, has come to Calcutta, and fate has brought him to cross paths with Gauri Shankar, who is the spitting image of Shankar Singh. Will Gauri Shankar help, by coming to Jhind, pretending to be Shankar Singh so that he can be crowned and act as king until Shankar Singh can be found?

Gauri Shankar agrees readily—he probably thinks of this as an exciting adventure—but his elder brother refuses. This is dangerous business; Gauri Shankar should stay away.

Cut to the present. Gauri Shankar hasn’t listened to his elder brother, and now arrives at the railway station in Jhind, accompanied by the General. The General imperiously orders the station master to arrange for two horses. This the station master does, looking curiously at Gauri Shankar (who’s trying to shield his face all the while).

When the two men have ridden off on, the station master immediately sends a telegraphic message to someone, who prints it out and hands it over to a messenger. The messenger hurries, taking a boat across a lake and reaching a fine palace [I recognize this, and the locales: Udaipur, which has featured in God knows how many films in how many languages]. The General’s arrival has not gone unnoticed.

They are to meet yet another man, and this one a formidable adversary. Mayurvahan (Soumitra Chatterjee), Udit Singh’s henchman, astride a horse, passes by. He calls out tauntingly to the General, asking him who his companion is (Gauri Shankar has turned his face away again, and Mayurvahan asks if this is a woman, all shy and demure?) He doesn’t wait for an answer, though, and rides away.

Within the next few hours, Gauri Shankar (now with his moustache shaved off) is masquerading as Shankar Singh and has made some progress. Firstly, he’s been examined by the royal physician, who’s been surprised to find ‘His Highness’ so well, with no signs of a failing liver or other consequences of debauchery. When the doctor is gone, the General tells Gauri Shankar that this is one hurdle crossed; if the doctor could not tell that this man was not Shankar Singh, their secret is safe.

Secondly, he’s met his ‘brother’, Udit Singh (Tarun Kumar), who has outright asked him, “Who are you?” Gauri Shankar later remarks to the General that that was an odd thing to say (why, after all, would Udit Singh ask his own brother who he was? Would that not imply that Udit Singh knew this could not possibly be Shankar Singh?)

At Gauri Shankar’s questioning, the General explains how, the last two times, Udit Singh was able to lure Shankar Singh away just before the coronation was to take place. Once, with a girl from Kashmir; the second time, with a girl from Lucknow. Both times, Shankar Singh took the bait and disappeared from Jhind in pursuit of the promised girl.

The General also tells Gauri Shankar that the hilltop fortress that can be seen from the palace is Shaktigarh, which is part of Udit Singh’s property. Could it be, asks Gauri Shankar, that Udit Singh has imprisoned Shankar Singh there?

Nobody knows.

Soon, Gauri Shankar has also realized that he is not merely to be proxy king, he is also to be proxy fiancé—Shankar Singh having been betrothed to Kasturi Bai, the Queen of Jharowar. Gauri Shankar is a bit sceptical about this, but there’s nothing much he can do if he’s to see this masquerade through till the end.

He soon also discovers that all the attendants of Shankar Singh (except the male guards) are women. Gauri Shankar finds this odd, but the General assures him that Shankar Singh does not even glance at the women [which strikes me as strange, considering how Udit Singh has lured him away on earlier occasions…]. In fact, says the General, the highest and most noble families of Jhind consider it an honour to have their daughters serve His Highness.

Things begin to move fast now. In between brief scenes of a disheveled and unshaven Shankar Singh sitting in a prison cell and being occasionally threatened by Mayurvahan, we have Gauri Shankar being king. In letter (he is duly crowned, with an edict being sent by the British, who—this being pre-Independence India—rule the roost), and in spirit (he soon endears himself to various servitors, especially his maid Champa and a guard, Rudraroop (Dilip Roy), whom Champa is in love with.

Also, very importantly, he meets Rani Kasturi Bai (Arundhati Devi), his supposed fiancée. Kasturi Bai looks severe and distant to begin with; she ceremonially greets him with an aarti and so on, but there is obviously no warmth in her towards her betrothed. It’s only when the  trolley of wines is wheeled in and Kasturi Bai reaches out to pour ‘Shankar Singh’ a glass that the situation begins to change: because Gauri Shankar stops her, saying he’s given up drinking.

By the end of their date (so to say), Kasturi Bai has definitely thawed towards Gauri Shankar, and within a few days, what with the frequent exchange of letters, it becomes obvious that she has fallen in love with him, as he has with her. She even admits that she had never really liked him earlier, even though she’s known him since childhood. Now, suddenly, though, he seems a changed man…

What lies in store for Gauri Shankar, for Kasturi Bai, for Shankar Singh, and for Jhind?

I haven’t read Saradindu Badopadhyay’s Jhinder Bondi, but the resemblance of this film to the plot of The Prisoner of Zenda is startling—I wonder how much Bandyopadhyay himself deviated from Hope’s plot? Almost everything, from the lookalike (who’s a lookalike not because of sheer coincidence, as in Hum Dono, but because there is a shared ancestry) to the political machinations, the fiancée who must be kept in the dark, to even the name of the state (Jhind? Zenda? Too similar?)

One important deviation is that Jhinder Bondi doesn’t feature a mistress for the king; Shankar Singh is a drunk and possibly a womanizer too, but there’s no equivalent of an Antoinette de Mauban here. This is also a less complex plot, with fewer antagonists.

What I liked about this film:

Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee, two actors whom I love, and together, too! Double joy. Arundhati Devi is an actress I don’t recall having seen before, but she was striking—and very convincing as a dignified Rajput queen.

The locales, which are stunning. From the palaces to the hilltop fortress, the looming ramparts and the plush interiors: everything fitted perfectly.

And, lastly: Ali Akbar Khan’s music. There’s very little music, but it’s there, mostly in the form of snatches of classical Hindustani music sung either by Shankar Singh, or for his entertainment—and it’s very good.

What I didn’t like:

The seeming disjointedness of part of the film, though I don’t know if this is the fault of director Tapan Sinha, editor Subodh Roy, or the video production company that created the version I watched on Youtube. For the first three quarters or so, the story moves along logically enough; after that, as it races towards the climax, it suddenly starts leaping forward, moving too swiftly for my liking. In the process, it creates an impression of extreme unevenness: the first part of the film good and well-paced, the second too quick, and so a bit of a let-down.

For me, a big part of the let-down was in the character of Soumitra Chatterjee’s Mayurvahan. Don’t get me wrong; I thought Mayurvahan was a good Indianized version of Rupert of Hentzau, and I thought Soumitra Chatterjee pulled it off brilliantly: that impudence, the arrogance, that youthfully handsome audacity: all were perfect. My discontentment lay in that Mayurvahan got too little time, too little space. He, really, is the main antagonist, not Udit, and he is certainly far more interesting. I would loved to have seen more of him, more of his arrogance. (Also, Mayurvahan’s motive seemed somewhat weak for me, at least in keeping with his character).

Still, though: an entertaining film, and one definitely worth seeing if you like Uttam Kumar, Soumitra Chatterjee, and/or swashbucklers.

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24 thoughts on “Jhinder Bondi (1961)

  1. Lovely, lovely!! I loved the 1937 John Cromwell version of Zenda. And this has been an old favourite of mine too (though admittedly it has its manifest weaknesses, a weak effort as compared to Sinha’s other works such as Kshudita Pashan).

    Just as in Zenda Fairbanks Jr steals the show and Colman, that great actor, ends up looking just a little bit drab, here too I feel Soumitra overshadows Uttam Kumar. Not surprising, perhaps, given his consummate mastery over the craft of acting.

    • I haven’t seen the John Cromwell version – the ones I’ve seen are the Stewart Granger-Deborah Kerr one, and a later, TV version, that was much more faithful to the book and really quite enjoyable. Jonathon Morris played Rupert of Hentzau in that, and was brilliant – much more the devilish yet attractive character Hope had created than James Mason was in the movie.

      I agree that Soumitra Chatterjee overshadows Uttam Kumar – which is quite a feat because Soumitra doesn’t really get that much time onscreen. He was superb; I was so disappointed not to be able to see more of him in this film.

  2. Arundhati Devi was Tapan Sinha’s wife. She was quite a decent actress although she seemed quite stiff in many roles, in my opinion. She was however, quite talented – director, screen writer, composer. She directed Chhuti, a lovely film. I would ask you to watch it except that it is not available either on youtube or on dvd.
    I agree with your comments on Jhinder Bondi – it is not one of Tapan Sinha’s best efforts. Bengali directors are not good with subjects that demand action. Mayurbahan’s character could have been fleshed out more but if I remember correctly it does not deviate from the book. So it’s probably Saradindu’s fault.

    • Ah, I see. I do agree that Arundhati Devi came across as somewhat stiff – perhaps that’s why she fits the role of the queen here, because that stiffness is easily translated into a certain regal dignity.

      “Mayurbahan’s character could have been fleshed out more but if I remember correctly it does not deviate from the book. So it’s probably Saradindu’s fault.

      Such a shame. Such a waste of Soumitra Chatterjee too! (Though he’s so very watchable even with whatever little time he gets). I’d loved to have had a Rupert of Hentzau equivalent in Bengali, devoted only to Soumitra Chatterjee as Mayurvahan. :-)

  3. I used to hear about both these films from my parents, ‘Prisoner of Zenda’ and ‘Jhinder Bondi’.
    When we were kids there used to be these comics – I guess it would be more appropriate to call them graphic novels but this term was not used then so comics it was – Illustrated Classics and Illustrated Classics Junior, now whether they were Illustrated Classics or Classics Illustrated that I do not remember anyway that is not important. The Junior one was fairy tales and the other one was an abridged version of classic novels, including Shakespeare. As a child I did not have the patience or even the ability to comprehend these novels, so these comics came to my rescue. I remember reading Prisoner of Zenda and enjoying it.
    Later thanks to Doordarshan I saw Prisoner of Zenda and Jhinder Bondi. I enjoyed both, won’t mind seeing both the films again.
    As you are not familiar with Arundhati Devi, I would suggest, Jotugriha, she is cast opposite Uttam Kumar, you will find shades of it in Gulzar’s Ijaazat. In Jotugriha, Uttam Kumar of course scores over everyone with his look of utter helplessness.
    She was also the heroine of Chalachal, which was later remade in Hindi as Safar. I haven’t seen it I plan to see it one of these days, it is there on You Tube. I have a problem, you see Sharmila Tagore had her ‘nakhras’ but when it came to dramatic scenes and expressing with her eyes she seemed to be better than most actresses least that is my personal opinion, so I do not know how much I will like Arundhati in comparison to Sharmila.
    She was also there in the Bengali version ofKabulliwallah which featured Sharmila Tagore’s little sister Tinku Tagore as Mini, Arundhati Devi played her mother, here is
    link to a song from the film, Tinku Tagore is a little darling in this one.

    • Shilpi, thank you so much for sharing that – and very especially for the video. Oddly enough, this is one video I had seen not too long back, without realizing who that adorable kid in the clip was. You see, my sister, when she was in boarding school, had been taught Khoro baayu boye bege, and she had taught me a bit of it. Some months back, I was suddenly reminded of it and thought I should try and see if I could find some good versions of it on Youtube – and I came across this one. (Also, one which gives me gooseflesh, the one by Pankaj Mullick):

      I shall look out for the Arundhati Devi movies you mention. I hope I can find them with subtitles!

      • Jatugriha is indeed very watchable. It was remade in Hindi as Ijaazat. In my opinion Arundhati Devi’s finest role is in Harmonium, another Tapan Sinha movie. It is available on youtube but alas, no subtitles.

        • I wish the couple of people in my immediate family who understand Bengali were kind enough, free enough, and tech-savvy enough to sub these films for me! :-)

  4. “Jhinder Bandi” was remade twice in hindi. One was by F.C. Mehra in 1978. It was named “Bandie” starring Uttam Kumar,Sulakshana Pandit & Amzad Khan. It was Bengali-hindi double version movie. The second one was in recent past named “Prem ratan dhan pao” starring Salman khan. Unfortunately, neither of those was acknowledged by their makers as remake.

    • I had never heard of Bandie (I was always under the impression that Uttam Kumar acted in only three Hindi films: Chhoti si Mulaqat, Amanush and Anand Ashram). One lives and learns. Thank you for telling me about that.

      I’d heard of Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo, though I hadn’t known that it was a remake of this. I will avoid that, though: Salman Khan is not an actor I like!

  5. I recommend you two Bengali movies in which Uttam Kumar & Soumitra Chatterjee shared equal space. One is “Stree”(The Wife) which was remade by Shakti Samanta as “Aiyaas”(1982) starring Sanjeev Kumar. The other one is “Aparichita”(The Unknown One) which was also remade in hindi as “Yugpurush”(1998) starring Nana Pateker & Manisha Koirala.
    All four movies are on youtube. But unfortunately Bengali movies have no subtitle.

      • ‘Yugpurush’ was remake of ‘Aparichita’ as I mentioned. The original novel was written by Bengali writer Samaresh Basu by the same name.
        ‘Yugpurush’ created a controversy at that time. It has three songs , the tune of which were directly copied from three “Rabindrasngeet”(songs of Rabindranath Tagore). As I remember ‘Visva-bharati’ filed a case against the filmmakers and they had to pay fine for it.

    • Thank you for the recommendations. Unfortunately, my Bangla is very limited; I might be able to make some guesses about what’s happening, and that for me is not a fulfilling way to watch a film. But I will make a note of the films you’ve suggested. I recently discovered a Youtube channel which is devoted to Bengali movies subtitled in English, so I’m hoping that sometime these – and other films I want to watch – will show up on that.

  6. Uttam Kumar acted in 10 hindi movies. other than three you have mentioned the movies are :
    1) Kitaab(1977)
    2) Bandie(1978)
    3) Nishaan(1978)
    4) Dooriyan(1979)
    5) Plot No. 5 (1981)
    6) Desh premee(1982)
    7) Mera karam mera dharam(1987)
    Uttam Kumar died in 1980. In the movies which were released after his death the voice were dubbed by others.

    • Ah, I see. I should have remembered Dooriyaan, because that is one I recall seeing parts of when I was very young. I’ve heard of Desh Premee and Mera Karam Mera Dharam but haven’t seen either, and didn’t realize they featured Uttam Kumar.

  7. In “Jhinder Bandi”, the character of Champa was played by Sandhya Roy.
    Did you identify her ?
    She acted in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s “Asli naqli” as the sister of Anwar Hussain.

  8. Oh Madhulika, your post brought back memories of schooldays when I got into an argument with a friend because of Prisoner of Zenda. I absolutely adored Rupert whom I liked more than the hero while she was like….He is such a villain. How Can you??????

    Incidentally, though I keep on planning to, have never read the unabridged version of Zenda nor its sequel: Rupert of Hentzau. Has anybody?

    • I first watched a TV version of this. Rupert of Hentzau was played by Jonathon Morris, and he did a superb job of it. I really liked him in that (and Soumitra Chatterjee does brilliantly as well – I wish there had been more of him in this film!)

      I have read the unabridged version of The Prisoner of Zenda, though not Rupert of Hentzau.

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