Ghar Sansar (1958)

Balraj Sahni ranks as one of my favourite actors. He brought a sense of dignity to pretty much every role he essayed, and there were very few roles which he could not pull off convincingly. That said, there was a certain type of film that he very often got slotted in: the family drama. These films, often made by production houses like AVM Productions, equally often followed a fairly predictable pattern.

A close-knit joint family (with Balraj Sahni as its head, usually as elder brother) lives in one home, each member of the family devoted to the other, each going out of their way and being self-sacrificing to smoothen the way for the others. Then, as the result of a wedding (usually of a younger male relative, often a character who’s the younger brother of Balraj Sahni’s character), a somewhat headstrong chhoti bahu enters the household. She is warmly welcomed and is inclined to be as sweet to others as others are to her [after all, the hero has fallen in love with her; she cannot be out-and-out bad]. But, someone evil and self-serving or just plain old malicious lurks in the vicinity. A neighbour, a close relative (often a step-relative, step-brother, step-sister, etc, of the bahu—since, again, blood relations can’t be all bad) or other person who despises the family for its saccharine sanctimoniousness, decides to throw a spanner in the works.

With the result that poor Balraj Sahni’s character gets the short end of the stick. He and his long-suffering spouse lose their home, their child (or children) fall ill, someone goes blind, they are nearly [not definitely, since they have so much self-respect] reduced to begging in the streets.

Whether it’s Bhabhi or Chhoti Bahen or Shaadi—or this one, Ghar Sansar—the basic plot remains pretty much the same.

Here, Balraj Sahni plays Kailash, a letter-writer who offers his services to those illiterates who cannot write for themselves. Kailash and his wife Uma (Nargis) and their daughter Bharti (Baby Devika) live with Kailash’s younger brother Deepak (Rajendra Kumar), who is studying law and on whom all of their hopes are pinned.

When Ghar Sansar begins, this ghar ka chiraagh is busy picnicking with his college mates. After the picnic’s over, Deepak accompanies his girlfriend Jyoti (Kumkum) to her home. As soon as they reach home, Jyoti’s blind father (?), hearing her come in, starts raving and ranting about how she’s being a bad girl, going about gallivanting. When Jyoti tells her father off for scolding her in front of a visitor—and tells her father who the visitor is—Daddy gets even angrier. He will especially not have Jyoti gadding about with some good-for-nothing like Deepak.

A very hurt Deepak leaves [he needn’t be despondent, though: with names like those, you can be sure Deepak and Jyoti are destined for each other]. Jyoti, very upset too, goes off crying to her room. And her brother, Baanke (Johnny Walker), who’s also a friend and college mate of Deepak and Jyoti’s, arrives. Baanke wonders why Daddy is so het up about the Deepak-Jyoti romance, and Daddy deigns to tell him.

The shameful truth emerges: years ago, Daddy (who is now a Rai Bahadur, but back then was a lowly Heeralal) had embezzled funds. He had allowed another man, a fellow clerk, to be implicated in the affair (or had deliberately framed him; it’s not clear) and the man was arrested. In anguish at the dishonour this arrest caused, the man committed suicide [obviously, faith in the judicial system and police investigations being in short supply].

He left behind him a young son, who, now that he would be a grown man, Daddy intends to have as a son-in-law. [Why any man would want to marry the daughter of the man who caused, whether directly or indirectly, his father’s death, is beyond me. Also, why does Daddy not realize that if the groom in question isn’t a saint, this could mean throwing Jyoti to the wolves?]

So. Jyoti cannot afford to get too fond of Deepak. She can’t be his.

Meanwhile, Uma and Deepak experience the malice of their neighbour, Maneka (Shammi). Deepak’s exams are approaching and he’s busy studying at home when Maneka instigates the neighbourhood boys to gang up and start singing loudly and tunelessly outside Deepak’s room. Uma, distressed, rushes out and tells the boys to please stop. But they, egged on by Maneka (who is careful to keep herself out of sight), pay no heed and instead start singing even louder.

This leads to unforeseen and unfortunate consequences. There is a tussle; one of the boys falls down and hits his head on the railing of a staircase. His friends all run off, and while Uma is trying to revive the boy, his irate father comes along (summoned by Maneka), and raises hell.

Deepak too has emerged and comes to his bhabhi’s rescue.  The father is sent off along with his son, and Uma has a chat with Deepak. This can’t go on, she says. Deepak will never get his studies done at this rate. It’s best that he join the college hostel and go live there. At least he’ll be able to study in peace. Deepak says that won’t be possible; the hostel will cost Rs 100. They cannot possibly afford it.

For a family where, when little Bharti asks for an extra roti at mealtime, both her parents are ready to sacrifice their roti for her—because there’s no room for extra rotis—yes, Rs 100 will be very difficult to shell out. But impossible? Uma decides no; even if it means extra work for her (she stitches for people), even if it means borrowing money from the local moneylender (?), who is Maneka’s father.

Maneka’s father lends Uma the money she asks for and says he won’t take up more of her time by making her wait while he enters the amount in his ledger. Uma, gratefully accepting the money, goes off. [She should know better, considering she is already well aware of what Maneka’s like. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?]

Anyway, with the hundred rupees Uma gives him, Deepak goes off to the hostel and gets down to studying. Jyoti comes visiting, and is surprised to discover that he’s so poor he can’t even afford to give her a cup of tea (he surreptitiously gives her the tea he’d made for herself and drinks water). However, Jyoti is also affected by this: does he think her so paraayi that he cannot let her know of his poverty? When he refuses the money she offers, she promises that she will be with him, live with him when they’re married, even if it’s in the direst poverty.

All seems blissful. They even have the time to go out on a date and sing a song beside the river.

In the meantime, though, aware of just how shaky their finances are as a family, Kailash has found a night job, working at doing the accounts for a local trader. He works all day as a letter-writer and through much of the night, slogging away for Deepak’s sake.

The next time Jyoti comes visiting Deepak, it happens to be on the eve of Deepak’s exam. He’s neck-deep in books and tells her that he can’t come out with her—at which Jyoti throws a hissy fit and behaves in an utterly juvenile manner. She runs off, gets into her car, and starts up. Deepak, running out into the road to stop her, nearly gets hit by some passing traffic—but it’s Jyoti, turning around to see what’s happening, who loses control of her car and has an accident.

Deepak takes her to hospital, waits there for a while, goes back to study (but isn’t able to, he’s so abstracted and tense), and then returns to the hospital. He is told that visitors aren’t allowed now, so goes back to the hostel… and tries desperately to catch up with his studying. Eventually, exhausted, he falls asleep, and comes awake only when the peon comes to his room the next morning, to inform him that the exam is already well under way.

Deepak rushes off to the examination hall, but (despite pleas to the principal) is refused. He is so upset that he writes a suicide note and sends it to Kailash and Uma, who read it and are beside themselves with grief. Fortunately for all concerned, Baanke arrives, dragging along with him a teary and remorseful Deepak: he tried to kill himself, but Baanke saved him.

Kailash comforts his brother, telling him that all is not lost; failures are merely stepping stones on the way to success. Deepak must pick himself up and continue to move on. At this, Deepak admits that there is a way: he can go to Delhi and give the exam there. The only problem is, that will need Rs 300. Kailash, despite his two jobs (both ill-paying) and Uma, despite her work as a seamstress, cannot hope to earn that much money, certainly not in a matter of a few hours.

… so, without telling either of the men what she’s doing, Uma again goes to Maneka’s father and this time gives him the only thing of value she has left: her mangalsutra. And, as blithely naïve as before, signs against a blank space in his ledger, which he promises he’ll fill later.

Deepak accepts the money, goes to Delhi to give the exam, and, as can be expected, is successful. Finally, finally, relief. Everybody is overjoyed.

The local purohit comes to Uma with a marriage proposal for Deepak (Deepak arrives just as Uma is turning down the proposal, saying that this wedding can never be, since the bride is the daughter of Kailash and Deepak’s old enemy). The purohit goes his way, and soon after, Baanke too turns up with a marriage proposal for Deepak: Jyoti. He speaks to Kailash, tells him about how Deepak and Jyoti are already in love, and basically convinces Kailash that this is the perfect jodi.

At the wedding, there is a hiccup: when, after many (increasingly frantic and suspicious) questions regarding Jyoti’s father (whom no-one from Kailash’s family has met yet), the man finally emerges. Kailash sees that it is the very man because of whom Kailash and Deepak’s father killed himself all those years back. Kailash immediately wants to stop the wedding, but Uma comes to the rescue. What Jyoti’s father did is no fault of Jyoti’s, so why should she have to pay for it?

So the wedding takes place and the new bahu comes home.

And, as may be expected, soon after, the scourge of the neighbourhood, Maneka, comes visiting…

What I liked about this film:

The music, by Ravi. My very favourite song from Ghar Sansar is Yeh hawa yeh nadi ka kinaara (which, I must admit, was the reason I watched this film in the first place), but there are several others which are good too: Chhedo dhun matwaalon ki is the quintessential picnic song; Soja meri rani mera kehna na taalna is a lovely little lullaby; and Bhabhi kare appeal aur phir devar bane vakil is a very unusual song when it comes to lyrics, because it’s all about lawyers and the law.And, Nargis and Balraj Sahni. Both of them bring a quiet dignity to their roles and come across as kind and sweet people, but not the complete pushovers older siblings and their spouses often tend to be in this type of film. They bear a lot, but when it gets too much, they also lose their tempers, they also speak up against people who level allegations against them, and—most human of all—they also find it difficult to forgive.

What I didn’t like:

The predictability of it all: you could pretty much see almost exactly where this film was headed, pretty early on.

Not a brilliant film, but not even the worst of its genre. And the music is good.

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23 thoughts on “Ghar Sansar (1958)

  1. Balraj Sahni presented a mature type of hero. a real Character in most films. He projected a well-rounded personality. And he attracted very good and memorable songs and music- be it Do Bigha Zamin. Kathputli. Seema. Bhabi. Waqt, Anuradha, etc. This is a gift given to few artistes, who were good but not “stars” or even conventional ‘heroes’. The prayer song picturised on him in Seema, ‘Tu Pyar Ka Sagar Hai” is one of our best ever Hindi movie devotional songs, and is all the more remarkable for having been picturised on one who was rather not “religious” in the conventional sense.
    A distant relative of his who worked with me used to share a quirk of his. On his morning walks in Mumbai, many would identify him, stare at him; quite a few would even come to talk to him, shake hands, etc. In all such cases, he would move to them first, and say: “Tell me, do I not look like Balraj Sahni?” The visitor would be nonplussed, and Balraj Sahni would move on!

    • Thank you so much for sharing that anecdote! It’s so delightful. Interestingly, just yesterday my husband told me a similar story of a popular actor who often gets recognized by passersby. Rowan Atkinson, who plays Mr Bean in the extremely successful comedy films, said in an interview that because a lot of his acting is dependent more on expressions than dialogue, he’s very popular even among those who don’t know English too well. He was recounting an incident when he was waiting at a garage for his car to be serviced, and another customer approached him and said, “You look so much like Mr Bean! You should take advantage of the resemblance and try doing TV commercials, etc”. Atkinson made several attempts to tell the man that he was the Mr Bean, but the man refused to accept it and just got angrier and angrier at what he thought was a lookalike’s attempt to fool him.

      Agree completely about Balraj Sahni not being the conventional hero. Interestingly, while he has lip-synced to some truly memorable songs, the total number of songs he’s lip-synced to is actually surprisingly small.

  2. Balraj Sahni was a committed Marxist. He was imprisoned post independence and I have heard he used to shoot for a movie from prison
    (forget which movie…you or your other readers
    can enlighten)! But I really don’t think he could act a villain (though in Sangharsh he
    essayed a role inimical to Dilip Kumar)
    Nitin

    • Yes, Balraj Sahni didn’t make for a very convincing villain. :-) The film he shot for from prison was Jailor. There’s a bit in his autobiography in which he talks about how a prison guard would accompany him to the studio every day for the shooting. Balraj Sahni was quite amused at the irony of working in a film centred round jails while being incarcerated.

  3. Looks like a typically predictable family drama. For me too, the only attraction would have been ‘Yeh hawa Yeh nadi ka kinara’.
    But it’s picturisation has disappointed me.
    If at all, for Kumkum, I may watch it.
    But, no!
    I’m still to watch the last half an hour of Maya Bazar.
    And I’m also planning to write a review, a simple, light hearted film to start with.
    Do you think, I should do it? I mean, do you think, I would do it properly.
    I’m very confused and not confident, but I’m eager to try it.
    Let’s see
    :-)

  4. I recently saw the movie ‘Paying Guest’
    with the song ‘Mana Janab me pukara
    nahin’. The song is a classic ‘ stalking song’
    where the hero harasses the poor heroine
    who really hates the hero! Obviously
    she later changes her mind.
    I wonder whether you could write a blog
    on such songs in older Hindi films! Of
    course, no one approves of stalking… but such songs do exist and some of them are
    quite good.
    There are even songs where the heroine
    stalks the hero!
    Nitin

    • Personally, I really hate that trope – even in films and songs that I otherwise like – of one person stalking the other and pretty much browbeating them into accepting. I find it very off-putting. That aside, though, I wouldn’t want to even attempt a list of those songs, because there would be far too many of them.

      • I wish people would really differentiate between ‘stalking’ songs and the nok-jhonk songs that were more innocent in their essence. Unlike the usual ‘stalking’ songs where the heroine is usually being harassed but ends up being taught her place and promptly falls in love with the hero, in Mana janab ne pukara nahin – Nutan not only doesn’t fall in love with Dev Anand, but also gets her father involved when they reach her house. Their falling in love is not because he harasses her but after she gets to know him really well.

        At least to me, ‘stalking’ songs are very different in their picturisation, with the so-called hero getting the better of the heroine, and the heroine finally falling in love with him – as if all a man has to do is to continually harass a woman for her to accept him. YMMV.

  5. Nice review. Looks like a film that must be watched for the Songs and of course for Balraj Sahni and not so bad script.. Balraj Sahni’s nice looks (atleast to my eyes) are not spoken as much as his good acting.

  6. I watched this one just a couple of months back. It’s predictable, may be that’s why one can watch it when you do not want too much to think about.

    I too agree about Balraj Shani’s looks. He had an automatic calm, soothing presence. If you know what I mean.

    • Completely agree about the ‘automatic calm, soothing presence’ of Balra Sahni. Which is perhaps why he really fitted one particular type of character so well and didn’t end up getting cast in a variety of roles. Black Cat, I think, was not the role for him. ;-)

  7. I laughed at your introduction. :) So, so predictable, no? It is one of those films that I an watch while ironing – it doesn’t demand too much of my attention because I know the story’s trajectory. But yes, both Balraj Sahni and Nargis brought a certain dignity to these stereotypical roles.

    • Yes, it really doesn’t demand any attention. Nothing is going to happen that you couldn’t already have seen coming. But at least it’s not jarringly melodramatic – which perhaps also has something to do with the restrained acting of both Nargis and Balraj Sahni (though I’ve seen Balraj Sahni in some horrifically melodramatic movies and scenes – that ghastly scene near the end of Talaash being a case in point).

  8. Am amazed that you have the patience for these films and as a good samaritan, reviewing it in such great detail, that it feels like we are watching it… given that one understands basic tropes of hindi movies from that duration, she/he can reconstruct the movie using your words. Very grateful and a big fan of your blog!! Go swell!!

    • LOL! Thank you for the appreciation.

      As for patience: yes, I guess I have developed a lot of that. And tolerance. But I do watch many more films than I review. ;-) Some of them are so boring and so predictable that I don’t bother to review them. Ghar Sansar, by that standard, isn’t bad: at least it has some good songs, and while the story is predictable, it isn’t simply awful. Plus the cast is good. It’s films like the Geeta Bali-starrer Suhaagan which really get my goat: nothing, absolutely nothing, to redeem them, and regressive to boot.

  9. Madhu ji ,
    Namaste .
    Hats off to U nd Ur patience not only for having watched this film but also for reviewing it !!!
    What a headache !!!
    Nargis was a surprise in this role which otherwise would have gone to Nirupa Roy , Sulochana etc.
    Nd yes , I agree with Anup ji about the worst picturization of ये हवा ये नदीका किनारा.

    Balraj Sahani looked quite handsome in many of his films but had the same style of acting everywhere . Taking a pause was a speciality of his dialogue delivery style which remained constant till दो रास्ते , one if his last movies.

    Well , U nd Ur review hav saved me from watching a घिसीपिटी , रुमाली movie
    Lots of thnx to U , Madhu ji , for that.

    • I hadn’t noticed that particular quality of pausing in Balraj Sahni’s dialogue delivery… interesting, now that you mention it, I do remember that.

      This film wasn’t quite so awful. Ghisi-piti, yes, but at least not absolutely irritating. Plus, as I said, the songs are good, and Nargis and Balraj Sahni do a good job.

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