One review suffices for two films, really. Jagriti was an Indian film, Bedari a Pakistani one. Why I say one review suffices is because Bedari was a blatant copy of Jagriti: so blatant that when Pakistanis cottoned onto the fact that it was a copy, there was a furore which resulted in the Federal Board of Film Censor in Pakistan banning Bedari.
I’ll discuss the synopsis by looking at Jagriti, since Bedari used exactly the same plot, down to the scenes.
Jagriti begins by introducing us to the very wild teenager Ajay Mukherjee (Raj Kumar), who spends his after-school time gallivanting around the village with his gang of equally wild friends. They steal mangoes from an orchard and leave the irate gardener with a bump on his head; Ajay slips onto a ferry and deprives a banana-seller of an entire day’s worth of bananas.
By the time Ajay gets home, his uncle (Bipin Gupta) has been besieged by some very upset villagers. He’s had to soothe them, pay up their damages, and promise that the situation will be amended.
Ajay gets thrashed and told to sit down to his studies until 10 o’clock – and he won’t be given any dinner, Uncle instructs Ajay’s widowed mother (Mumtaz Begum). Ajay being who he is, fiddles with the clock, putting it forward an hour so that he gets off studying at 9. His mother, however, refuses to feed him and Ajay goes off to bed in a huff.
Uncle, however, is not quite the tyrant he appears at first glance. On realizing that Ajay’s mother hasn’t fed him, Uncle too sets his plate aside, saying he’s not hungry. And later, Uncle lovingly caresses a sports trophy Ajay has won.
Uncle realizes how bad the situation is, and tells his sister-in-law that he’s decided Ajay should go to the city to study in a good school. Ajay is furious at this news, and throws an unholy tantrum, flinging things around. Eventually however his mother’s distress at his behaviour has its effect: Ajay agrees to go.
Thus Ajay washes up at Brijnath High School, where Uncle accompanies him. The Superintendent (? Who is this actor?) assures Uncle that the boys in the school are very good and Ajay will be warmly welcomed. Unfortunately, though, this proves to be mere wishful thinking: the Superintendent (whom the boys refer to as ‘King Kong’) is still chatting with Uncle—while Ajay has been shown upstairs to his room by a servant—when there’s an uproar.
They go up and discover that Ajay’s welcome has been far from warm: he’s been tripped up, water has been poured on him, and since Ajay is not the sort to take such treatment lying down, he’s let fly with his fists and inflicted some wounds on his tormentor. King Kong yells at all of them and dismisses them, before taking Ajay to the room he’ll be sharing with several other boys.
Ajay’s new roommates, fortunately, are a kinder, friendlier lot. One of them, a saintly little child called Shakti (Ratan Kumar), is especially welcoming and sweet. It takes Ajay some time to realize that Shakti cannot walk and has to use crutches.
What’s more, Shakti is from a very poor household: his widowed mother works as domestic help at some rich people’s home, and every afternoon brings some leftover sweets for Shakti. Shakti’s relationship with his mother is almost cloyingly sweet: he hides behind a tree when she comes, teasing her to find him. He sings to her, telling her how, when he’s grown up, he’ll look after her.
Ajay, who is quickly befriended by Shakti, also meets Shakti’s mother and likes her a lot.
Several of the other boys rag Ajay, getting him into trouble with teachers in the process (one boy tells Ajay to shout when he talks to a particular teacher, because “he’s hard of hearing”, and Ajay’s loud shouts naturally irk the teacher, who can hear perfectly well). Ajay ends up getting punished by several teachers, and not being a submissive type, is considerably annoyed by the injustice.
Being friends with the studious and ‘very good’ Shakti does not have much of an effect on Ajay. He’s still as unruly as ever, and once he’s made friends with the other boys, he takes the lead when it comes to perpetrating a variety of misdemeanours. King Kong, the Superintendent, is a prime target for most of these petty crimes: he’s a nasty, gluttonous man, who has no qualms about stuffing himself silly on special dishes prepared by the maharaj for him, while the boys get food that’s barely edible…
… and when the boys, led by Ajay, try to protest, they get punished. The boys retaliate: they start by surreptitiously adding huge quantities of salt to King Kong’s food, and then they amp up the pressure.
One night one of the boys, fast asleep, is smuggled out, mattress, bed linen and all, and left outside the school gate, after which the alarm is raised: there’s a corpse lying outside!
King Kong takes a while to discover that this is no corpse but a sleeping student, but already the fear of ghosts has been put into his mind. The boys follow it up with dressing up in a sheet and wearing a skull mask outside King Kong’s window…
… and finally, as the crowning achievement, they smuggle a pair of donkeys into the room where King Kong sleeps along with his servant. King Kong’s waking, to a donkey tugging at his covers, is spectacularly funny as far as the boys are concerned.
It is also the last they see of King Kong. He’s had enough.
A few days later, a new Superintendent turns up at Brijnath High School. Shekhar (Abhi Bhattacharya) meets Ajay and Shakti on the way to the school, and when he asks Ajay the way to the school, Ajay (for a lark, not realizing this is a new teacher) gives him wrong directions. Shekhar wanders about a bit before finding his way to school.
Here, the Headmaster introduces him to the boys, and Shekhar of course recognizes Ajay. Ajay is filled with dread: from long experience with teachers, he can guess what’s coming: public accusation, disgrace, punishment. Surprisingly enough, though, Shekhar says nothing at the time. Later, when they’re alone, he asks Ajay mildly why Ajay pulled such a prank. Ajay somewhat reluctantly confesses, and Shekhar lets it go. No punishment, nothing except an appeal to Ajay’s better sense.
The boys have all been too long used to teachers who shout at them and thrash them for even the most minor of infractions, so they take a perverse pleasure in playing tricks on the teachers. But Shekhar does not let these faze him; he carries on, patiently and with good humour countering all that the boys throw at him. Ajay, however, is unimpressed. He is too cynical and jaded to accept that Shekhar could be different from the other teachers. When Shakti tries to reason with him and tell Ajay to be a better boy, Ajay (to please Shakti) agrees that he’ll try. But it’s all eye wash: the leopard’s not going to change his spots in a hurry.
Jagriti and Bedari:
Jagriti won two Filmfare Awards: a Best Film Award for director Satyen Bose and a Best Actor Award for Abhi Bhattacharya. It also won a Certificate of Merit for the Best Film at the National Film Awards, 1954. Perhaps an equally resounding proof of Jagriti’s success was the fact that it was shamelessly plagiarized in Pakistan, being remade as Bedari (‘Wakefulness’, 1956).
Ratan Kumar (it was his screen name; his real name was Syed Nazir Ali Rizvi) had worked, as a child artiste, in some very major Hindi films, including Boot Polish, Baiju Bawra, and Do Bigha Zameen—besides, of course, Jagriti. In perhaps around 1955, his family decided to shift to Pakistan, and once there, Ratan Kumar’s elder brother, Wazir Ali Rizvi, cashed in on the success of his little brother’s last big Indian hit, Jagriti. I have heard rumours that Wazir Ali Rizvi held the rights for the film, but I have found nothing to substantiate this claim. What’s more, even if he held the rights to remake the film (that is, the rights for the story/screenplay), it does not automatically imply that he also held the rights for the songs that Kavi Pradeep wrote for Jagriti, or the tunes that Hemant composed for the film.
Because Wazir Ali Rizvi didn’t merely copy the story of Jagriti; he copied everything. Every scene, most dialogues (some words in Urdu were used instead of the occasionally more Sanskritized Hindi words of Jagriti). Similarly, the names were changed (well, obviously, given that the characters here were all Muslims: Shakti became Sabir Ali, Ajay became Zafar, Shekhar was now Salim and so on; King Kong, however, remained King Kong). Interestingly enough, Ratan Kumar didn’t just play Sabir Ali; he also played the role of Zafar, the Pakistani equivalent of Ajay.
The costumes too were more in keeping with Pakistan as opposed to India: saris were replaced with salwar-kameezes, a formal kurta-pajama/dhoti-kurta with an achkan and pajama. The food King Kong gorges on became gosht instead of machhli.
And, importantly, all the songs were lifted, the tunes unchanged, the words changed wherever needed. For instance, the Sabarmati ka Sant became the Qaaid-e-Azam, Jinnah, and “De di humein aazaadi bina khadg bina dhal” became “Yoon di humein aazaadi ke duniya hui hairaan, ae Qaaid-e-Azam, tera ehsaan hai, ehsaan” and the rest of the song too became all about how Pakistan became a refuge for beleaguered Muslims in the Indian subcontinent.
Similarly, Aao bachchon tumhe dikhaayein became Aao bachchon sair karaayein Pakistan ki, and (of course) all the sites en route changed, wandering across Sindh, Punjab, Kashmir, and the frontier areas. Hum laayein hain toofaan se kishti nikaalke, though it retained the signature line, had the rest of the words changed in keeping with its setting in Pakistan.
The only song that pretty much retained the words in addition to the tune was Chalo chalein ma.
What I liked:
Jagriti and Bedari are so alike that it’s easy to club what is good about one with what is good about the other. The comparison (where one film scores over the other) will follow later, but here I’ll discuss what I liked.
First of all, the story. I like the somewhat offbeat story—no romance, and a story focusing on teenagers and their relationship with a teacher instead. The way the story builds up too is plausible, believable; it’s not as if Shekhar is able to convert all the boys immediately. It takes time and effort, and he faces resistance from his jaded fellow teachers as well, who are convinced there’s only one way to teach.
I also like the characterization of one person in particular: Ajay (or, in Bedari, Zafar). This is a boy who’s wild and unruly, but that doesn’t mean, either, that he’s all bad. There are moments, for example, where he’s more sinned against than sinning (the times when he’s being ragged shortly after joining the school reflect this). And there are moments when you see the softer side of the boy: in his interactions with his mother, with Shakti/Sabir, or with Shakti’s/Sabir’s mother. He may be angry and constantly up to mischief with others, but with these people, he’s still a boy who can appreciate goodness and strive to be good.
Also, I liked the way Ajay’s/Zafar’s resistance to Shekhar is shown. This is not the easily-converted (and unnaturally converted, to my mind) style so common in Hindi cinema. After all, Ajay has been ribbed and ragged and treated badly by teachers a long time; to expect that he will change overnight thanks to one teacher would be a bit excessive.
And, the other element I liked: the music, by Hemant, with lyrics by Kavi Pradeep. The three patriotic songs, De di humein aazaadi, Hum laaye hain toofaan se kishti nikaalke, and Aao bachchon tumhe dikhaayein jhaanki Hindustan ki, are my favourites, with Aao bachchon tumhe dikhaayein counting as one of my top favourite patriotic songs ever.
(Fateh Ali Khan—father of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan—was credited with the music of Bedari, a dubious credit, given that he actually composed only one song for the film: Bhookh se armaan machalkar reh gaye, which the boys sing when they’re tormenting King Kong by doctoring his food).
Note: One more thing I liked about Jagriti was that I finally got to see Brahm Bhardwaj with black hair!
What I didn’t like:
There is little I outright disliked about Jagriti/Bedari. True, both tend to go overboard with the melodrama at times, but if you’re watching Bollywood/Lollywood, you sort of take that in your stride. The melodrama is something I’m used to.
But oh, one thing which I simply hated. Hated with a vengeance, and wished I could unsee. A bare-chested King Kong. I have no idea who played King Kong in either of the two films, but both were morbidly obese. I am not sizeist at all (I can hardly afford to be!) but this struck me as positively grotesque. And sizeist too, because the obesity of the man is equated with his gluttony and his accompanying nastiness to the boys. Fat man = evil man. Not a nice stereotype.
Even though pretty much everything about these two films is the same, the differences between Bedari and Jagriti can be seen in the details. In the little things that make one film marginally better than the other.
First, though, the elements where Bedari is actually different from Jagriti: two scenes (one fairly brief), and one song (Bhookh se armaan machalkar reh gaye).
The ‘brief scene’ which I mention is when the boys pull a prank and carry out a sleeping boy to place him at the school gate. In Bedari, they don’t just put him down and run off to raise the alarm, proclaiming him to be a corpse; they dress up as ghosts and whatnot, complete with flashing eyes, and spend a good bit of (tiresome) time frightening the wits out of him.
The other scene that is in Bedari but not in Jagriti is the end scene. Jagriti ends with Shekhar singing Hum laaye hain toofaan se kishti nikaalke. Bedari has the same song at the same place too, but it’s followed by a scene where Zafar dresses up as Sabir. This was, to me, an action that may have shown him as having his heart in the right place, but it would have been, in the long term, such a troublesome and fraught-with-difficulty action that I would have strongly advised against it. Jagriti, by leaving that particular end loose, was a little bit more realistic.
One interesting way in which I found Bedari subtly different from Jagriti is in its (Bedari’s) undertones of patriotism/nationalism. While Jagriti is often referred to as a ‘patriotic’ film, to me its patriotism lies primarily in its songs; the lyrics of the three songs other than Chalo chalein ma are definitely patriotic. Other than that, though, Jagriti does not go the patriotic route (unless you extend the exemplary teacher’s attempt to revamp the educational system as being a patriotic gesture).
Bedari, on the other hand, does try, wherever and however it can, to push across the patriotism message. For example, the three patriotic songs (with lyrics by Fayyaz Hashmi) go all-out when it comes to exalting Pakistan and pushing Pakistan’s agenda. In fact, Hum laaye hain toofaan se kashti nikaalke even has a line which goes: Kashmir pe lehraana hai jhandaa uchhaalke, along with other references to how Pakistan has to get Kashmir back from India. (Tum gaad do gagan mein tiranga uchhaalke is the equivalent in the Jagriti song: a song which mostly exhorts the new generation to work hard, to soar, and to uphold peace and development).
What’s more, the picturization of all three patriotic songs in Bedari is full of footage showing Mohammad Ali Jinnah and other Pakistani political leaders. In contrast, while portraits (painted/sculpted) of Gandhi, Nehru, Rana Pratap, Shivaji and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose do appear in the Jagriti songs, they’re restrained, and there’s more of an emphasis on the actors and/or common people.
Also on the theme of über-patriotism in Bedari, there’s the scene where the teacher (in this case Salim, played by Santosh Kumar) gives the boys a lesson out in the open instead of in the class. The lesson consists of a lecture on being good Pakistanis, on loving Pakistan above all else, and so on. In contrast, in Jagriti, when Shekhar lectures his students out in the open, his lesson is on ancient Indian history—specifically on the nomadism of the Aryans versus the settled life of the Dravidians, the original dwellers of the land.
All said and done, I was a little taken aback by how much Rizvi tried to push the nationalism message in Bedari. It made me wonder why: was it a reflection of general trends in Pakistan at the time? A feeling of needing to assert the nation’s identity (that reference to the Kashmir issue in Hum laaye hain toofaan se is really rather forced)?
I have no idea; all I can say is that I preferred the more subdued tone of Jagriti, and the more toned down, less belligerent patriotism of Kavi Pradeep’s songs in that film.
And lastly, one more way in which I liked Jagriti over the Bedari: Raj Kumar’s acting as Ajay in the former is far superior to Ratan Kumar’s as Zafar. Ratan Kumar as the saintly and sweet Shakti/Sabir is fine; Ratan Kumar as the rebellious Zafar comes across as shrill and rather melodramatic. In contrast, Raj Kumar’s Ajay has a quiet defiance about him that I found much more believable.
Jagriti is definitely better. Not just because it’s more original, either.