Just ten days ago, this blog celebrated the birth centenary of an actor who pretty much came to exemplify the ‘Hindi film villain’ of the 50s and 60s: the inimitable Pran. Today, it’s time to celebrate the birth centenary of another actor who carved such a niche for himself that his name became nearly synonymous with a particular kind of role. Iftekhar, who brought so much dignity and intelligence to his usual role of police officer or lawyer—or army officer, or doctor…
Born on February 22, 1920 in Jalandhar as Sayeedana Iftekhar Ahmed Shareef, ‘Iftekhar’, as he came to be known, originally entered the world of cinema as an aspiring singer. His audition in Calcutta impressed the composer Kamal Dasgupta so much that he suggested Iftekhar’s name as an actor. Iftekhar eventually moved to Bombay, debuting in Taqraar (1944) and going on, over the next several decades, to work in some four hundred (?) films. In most, he was the cop, the public prosecutor, sometimes the doctor: all roles that called for a certain dignity, a gravitas that Iftekhar did complete justice to.
But he could also play vastly different roles too: in Deewaar (1975) he played the suave and very wealthy criminal; the nasty side-kick in Pyaar ka Mausam; the lecherous Thakur in Teesri Kasam, and more. Interestingly, though it’s not well-known, Iftekhar was one of the rare Indian actors of his generation whose spoken English was so natural that he fitted well into English-language works too. He acted, for instance, in the Dev Anand-starrer The Evil Within (1970), as well as the 1967 TV series Maya. I have seen him in the Tad Danielewski-directed The Guide, and can vouch for him: his diction was by far the best in the cast.
To choose an Iftekhar film to review was a tough task. My favourite film of his, the one which has him in possibly his best role from before 1970, is Ittefaq—and I’d reviewed that years back. So I picked a film which showcases another talent of Iftekhar too. More about what that is, later in this post. For now, a brief synopsis of Door Gagan ki Chhaaon Mein.
The story begins in a village, where Ramu (Amit Ganguly, Kishore Kumar’s son in real life too) goes every day to the riverbank along with his dog to look out for his father. Shankar (Kishore Kumar) is a soldier who’d gone off to war, and now that the war is over, Ramu waits expectantly to have his father home.
One day, Shankar does return, a happy and relieved man, glad to be finally back home again. But he’s shattered when he discovers that the home he knew is gone: the house caught fire and burnt down, killing both Shankar’s father and wife. Ramu, who escaped, witnessed the fire and saw his grandfather and mother die—a traumatic episode which has rendered him mute ever since.
Shankar, after some unsuccessful attempts at encouraging Ramu to speak, decides there’s only one thing to be done: he will take Ramu to the city. He will go to every doctor he can, and find a cure for Ramu. He will make sure Ramu’s voice returns.
So, leaving his fields in the care of the old neighbour who’s been looking after them (and after Ramu) all these past months, Shankar sets off, with Ramu and the dog.
They stop to rest at one place, and Shankar tells Ramu to wait beside the road while he (Shankar) goes downhill a little to a stream to fetch some water. Ramu, left by himself, climbs up a pile of logs lying beside the road—and the logs roll down, blocking the road. Just then, a cart comes trundling along. In it are three men: the Thakur (Raj Mehra) and his two ne’er do well sons, the elder one Jagga (Iftekhar) and the younger one (Sajjan).
Jagga, hot-tempered and belligerent, immediately gets off the cart and comes to Ramu, raging at him for having blocked their way. And why doesn’t the boy speak, he shouts. Is he mute?
Shankar, having heard the ruckus, comes running up and confronts Jagga. Jagga’s father and brother, from the cart, encourage Jagga to let Shankar know who’s boss here. Jagga hits—and Shankar hits back, but just when it seems Shankar is going to get the better of him, Jagga comes up behind Shankar and whacks him one on the head, felling Shankar.
The Thakur and his sons quickly decamp, and a terrified Ramu goes racing for help. The first person he finds is Meera (Supriya Choudhary), who is going by in a cart. Meera is a kind and gentle soul, the orphaned daughter of a once-wealthy zamindar family. She still has some land, which a faithful servant looks after, and there is her old nanny/maidservant, Jamuna Kaki (Leela Misra) at home. Meera and her servant follow Ramu to the still-unconscious Shankar, and they take him back to Meera’s home.
Here, attended to by the local doctor (Moni Chatterjee), Shankar soon regains consciousness. He is grateful to Meera, but is eager to rush off and have Ramu cured. The doctor, however, stops him: Shankar was badly hurt, he cannot move around right now. Stay a while longer here, suggests the doctor, and when you’re well, you can go.
While Shankar recuperates in Meera’s house, things happen. For one, Meera and Ramu quickly grow close to each other. Very soon, she’s feeding him his meals, helping him bathe, singing lullabies to him, and just generally doing everything you wouldn’t expect the mother of such a big child to do (but which Hindi cinema, in its blasé disregard of reality, persists in regarding as maternal duties).
Shankar, obviously, being Ramu’s father, is not oblivious to any of this. When he’s a bit better, he starts doing small tasks around the place—fixing the broken-down old tractor on Meera’s farm, for one. He is also sensitive enough to notice that Meera is not oblivious to him. Jamuna Kaki and the other servant are all for Meera getting married to Shankar and Jamuna Kaki is blunt enough to say so, too, but Shankar deliberately ignores the hints he’s getting.
The fact that Shankar is staying in Meera’s house has not gone unnoticed; the Thakur and his two sons know it, and Jagga, especially, is thoroughly incensed. Meera is going to be his wife, he says; how dare Shankar come and try and encroach? (Jagga quite obviously loves Meera’s wealth and her fields more than he loves her, but this doesn’t matter to him. It still makes him very possessive about Meera).
But all Shankar wants is to take Ramu to the city, to get his voice back… will that happen? Or has Ramu’s voice gone forever? And what of lonely Meera, who, having had a glimpse of what it could be to have a family of her own, and must now see Shankar and Ramu go away, perhaps forever? What of Jagga, who grows more and more irate and impatient with each passing day?
Iftekhar plays a very different character here from most of his roles. Jagga isn’t the small-time crook who appears briefly, as one of the gang in films like Pyaar ka Mausam or Night Club. This isn’t a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role. Jagga is an important character, and a nasty one: he does all the things that Iftekhar’s characters invariably arrested people for in other films! He beats up people, tries to force himself on a woman, hits a child, and even attempts murder.
And, in the process, Iftekhar shows how well he could act. Not just as the law-abiding citizen, but as the law-breaking one too.
What I liked about this film:
The overall simplicity of the story. I sometimes like my stories to be uncluttered and straightforward—and Door Gagan ki Chhaaon Mein is an example of that type of plot. No convoluted and long-drawn complications, no dozens of characters getting in the way, no comic side plot to distract one from the main theme.
Then, the music, which (like the production and the direction) was by Kishore Kumar himself, with lyrics by Shailendra. The title song is lovely, but among the other songs I loved was the credits song, sung by Hemant; and the famous Koi lauta de mere beete hue din.
And, last but by no means least, the paintings that form a backdrop for the credits. These were painted by none other than Iftekhar himself; he was a very talented artist, who had initially trained in art before his career got diverted into cinema. I have no idea if any of his other paintings ever featured in cinema, but it’s interesting to note that he acted (in a cameo) as an artist in Professor, and one of the major clues his character unearths in Ittefaq is from an artist’s palette.
What I didn’t like:
The somewhat unconvincing romance. True, Door Gagan ki Chhaaon Mein is more about the relationship (which is pretty one-dimensional) between Shankar and Ramu, but even so: if a romance is written into the plot, I would have liked it to be more believable. Here, the love between Shankar and Meera is only hinted at, and it finally comes across as more of a way of giving Meera a son and Ramu a mother than anything else.
But, still: not a bad film. And Iftekhar is fun to watch doing all the things a baddie should.
That’s a fantastic review of a heart-warming film which I had watched decades back on Doordarshan. It’s really pleasant to know the artistic (painting) talent of Iftekhar. As per your reviewing norms, you could have reviewed Kangan (1959) also as a tribute to Iftekhar. He has played a baddie in the movie whose murder is the pivotal point of that murder mystery (starring Ashok Kumar and Nirupa Roy in lead roles). Iftekhar is mainly known for his cop roles, specifically for the one in Amitabh Bachchan starrer Don (1978). However I liked him very much in Anamika (1973) also in which Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri have played the lead roles. Hearty thanks and compliments for this admirable tribute to the great actor who was indeed an actor, not a star.
Thank you for the Kangan recommendation. I had heard of the film, but didn’t know it was a murder mystery. Have found and bookmarked it – I am always keen on murder mysteries! I agree about his role in Anamika; he was very good in that too.
And thank you for the appreciation. I’m so glad you enjoyed this post.
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Will second the Kangan recommendation. I’d reviewed it many years ago (and you’d commented on it *grin*). If I may…
Ah! My memory is a sieve. :-( I will watch this. Hopefully sooner rather than later. Thanks, Anu.
Nice review of a sensitive film. It showed multifaceted talent of Kishore Kumar. I always admired Iftekhar. The suave don in ‘Deewar’, the lecherous zamindar in ‘Teesri Kasam’ and dozens of cop roles. The only role which looked not befitting him was of leering warden in ‘Bandini’. I didn’t know he was a good artist too.
Glad you liked this review, AK. Thank you.
KK used to often play the role of a
buffoon in movies (sometimes in real
life too) but at heart he was a serious
man as evidenced by films like Door ka
Rahi and Door Gagan Ki Chaaon Mein.
Iftekhar was a talented actor but I didn’t
Know he was a good painter too! Someone once mentioned that Iftekhar was the
brother of the famous heroine Veena. Is
I haven’t heard about Iftekhar being Veena’s brother. I wonder…
BTW, about Kishore being often a buffoon, one film of his in which he wasn’t too buffoonish and which I therefore liked a good deal was Naukri. Refreshingly different. Some of his more idiotic roles (especially Half Ticket) I find very irritating.
Another interesting though brief role played by Iftekar was in Jagte Raho.
He plays a ‘dada’ (in a building complex) who in reality is quite timid.
Ah, yes. I’d forgotten that one.
Excellent review as usual. I had forgotten that KK himself directed the film as well. A director is one of the most important persons for a good film. I haven’t watched the film. But from the review, he appears to be a good film director too.
Though KK did act like a buffoon in films and sometimes in real life as well (as Nitin ji points out), it’s said that he didn’t much like his on screen image of a joker.
Was this film his attempt to portray his acting skills? That he is capable of serious roles too.
Of course, I’m not criticizing him. I’m curious!
Should watch it someday.
Though the end of the film is predictable, I haven’t ever seen iftekar fighting and annoying the hero of the film.
Thank you, Anupji. Glad you liked the review. Yes, it certainly seems Kishore was a good director too – and I agree with you about this film possibly being an attempt to show that he could do serious roles too. As I mentioned in another comment, I find a lot of his comic roles pretty irritating, but he’s good even in the occasional serious role he got, like in Naukri. I wish he hadn’t got typecast so early on in his career.
I guess this isn’t available with subs either. I haven’t found it, anyway. I like Ifthekar a lot, an elusive kind of attractiveness in his dignity I always think. Makes him a believable villain, too.
No, it’s not available with subtitles. :-(
Agree totally about Iftekhar’s attractiveness!
I don’t know if you see this, but the recently deceased luke perry always gave me Iftekhar vibes for some reason. Search him up if you don’t know him, you may see it too.
Hmm. Interesting. I’d seen still photos of Luke Perry, though I’d never watched any of his work. I just watched a couple of scenes from Riverdale, and yes – I see what you mean. There is a certain something that recalls Iftekhar.
And I was so sure I’d also posted a comment on this review, not just pegged my own review! :( My apologies, Madhu.
This is one film I haven’t gotten around to watching, Madhu, despite the fact that I love the songs. Mostly because it stars KK, to be honest. As much as I like him singing, I detest his acting. :( Your review is making me wonder whether I should put aside my bias.
Arre, you don’t need to apologize, Anu. As long as there’s engagement happening between writer and readers, that’s what matters.
Personally, if you suffer from WDIGTT syndrome, this is a film that you can safely skip. It’s not bad, but it’s not so good that you should push it to the front (or near-front) of your queue. Kishore being serious is better than Kishore being completely idiotic, but even so.
Iftekhar’s personality itself conveyed authority, he didn’t have to shout orders for that. That’s why we mostly saw him playing the person at the helm many times. Some movies of his I like, and in which he has a considerable role are- Mehboob Ki Mehndi & Achanak (1973), besides Johnny Mera Naam, Ittefaq and Don of course.
A while back I read an interview of his wife on Cineplot.com. I gathered from it that he was great friends with Kishore Kumar and his family.
After reading this post I searched more on him. Seems a French film is also credited to him- Nocturne Indien (1989). Please confirm.
I found him listed in the cast of Nocturne Indien too. Haven’t seen the film, though.
Agree about his personality itself conveying authority: he certainly does exude that.
Supriya Chaudhary, the heroine was the
wife of the Bengali Matinee idol Uttam
Yes, I remember reading about that. But was she actually married to him?
As per Bollywood parlance, it is “inspired” by The Proud Rebel (1958). Only the hero is a Confederate soldier and the heroine (if I remember correctly) is a widow. I accidentally came across it on Amazon Prime.
Ah, interesting. Hadn’t known that. I have heard of the film but didn’t realize it had inspired Door Gagan ki Chhaaon Mein.
The year of release of this film is mentioned as 1968. I think that it should be 1964. In 1966 a Tamil film”Ramu” was released on the same story. (Story credited to Kishore Kumar.) I have seen it when it was released. It was a moderate hit, with some good songs. At that time I was not aware of Door gagan ki chaon mein.
After reading your review I realized that the Tamil film was a remake.
Thank you for pointing that out. Yes, you’re right. I’ll edit that and correct the year.
Since this talks about a movie regarding the sixties, here is an interesting seven year old article: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/edit-page/The-underrated-sixties-in-films/articleshow/15366485.cms
Interesting article, though I don’t agree with all of it. Thanks for the link.