I tend not to watch too many Hindi films from before the 1950s, and even those that I do, don’t always end up getting reviewed. Mostly, that’s because I either find them fairly forgettable (though there are exceptions, like the superb Neecha Nagar) or otherwise not landmark films in any sense. Nothing that deserves a review.
This one, though, probably needs to be reviewed, even though it’s not extraordinary. Based on a story by Sailajanand Mukhopadhyay (the same story being remade in 1977 as the Uttam Kumar-Sharmila Tagore starrer Anand Ashram), Doctor was made simultaneously in Hindi and Bengali. This was the first Pankaj Mullick film I’ve seen (though I’ve heard his songs many times earlier); and given its music, it deserved, I thought, a review.
Doctor begins with the eponymous doctor, a young man named Amarnath (Pankaj Mullick) returning by train to his ancestral home in the village after finishing medical studies.
Amarnath is met at the train station by the family’s old servitor Dayal Kaka (Amar Mullick) who’s come with a palanquin to take Amarnath home. Amarnath manages to hoodwink Dayal into going off in the palanquin, while himself getting a cycle and joining some other young friends of his who’re around.
Even before he gets home, Amarnath discovers that the countryside has been hit by cholera, and there have been many deaths. One local goddess has been elevated to the position of ‘the Goddess of Cholera’ and is being feted and prayed to at the temple. Amarnath is disgusted; superstition is trumping science once again.
One man, Beni, is dying of cholera, with only his daughter Maya (Panna Rani) beside him. When Amarnath agrees to go to Beni, he is dissuaded by all and sundry. Beni is an outcast; his daughter Maya was abandoned at her wedding mandap, and since then, both father and daughter have been ostracized by the entire village. (It is not clear why she was abandoned, but the general consensus seems to be that the fault lies with Maya).
Amarnath does not listen to anyone but goes to Beni anyway…
… and here, with his dying breath, Beni puts Maya’s hand in Amarnath’s.
When Amarnath comes home, he tells his father, the zamindar Sitanath (Ahindra Choudhary) about what has happened. Sitanath is adamant: Amarnath cannot marry that woman, no matter if he has promised to do so. She is another man’s wife; the fact that the wedding rituals weren’t completed before her bridegroom walked out on her doesn’t change that. If Amarnath insists on marrying Maya, he will no longer be a part of this family.
Amarnath not only doesn’t listen to this rot, he quietly tells his father that he has given his word of honour, and that in his heart, he already accepts Maya as his bride. Here and now, he relinquishes all claim to being Sitanath’s son and heir.
The next we see them, Amarnath and Maya are happily married and setting up not just a home, but a hospital. A friend of Amarnath’s, Akshay Babu (Nemo, whom I had, prior to this, seen only in Shree 420), has loaned Amarnath a large piece of land for this purpose. On this piece of land, a small charitable hospital is built, and Amarnath starts treating, for free, the local villagers. Maya and he have fallen in love from the very beginning and there is a warm companionship about them as they go about working in the hospital, she as a sort-of nurse.
Maya is soon pregnant, and when Akshay Babu comes next, his wife accompanies him. It’s she who confidently tells Maya that Maya is probably going to have a son. (This is definitely more wishful thinking than anything else).
Later that evening, once Akshay Babu and his wife have gone, Maya dreamily talks to Amarnath of their child. How he will grow up, and study medicine. How he will come here, to the rural hinterland, to save lives the way his father is doing… Amarnath too is swept up in this daydream.
However, on the fateful day that Maya goes into labour, Amarnath gets a sudden and frantic summons from a local villager whose wife is having a lot of trouble delivering her baby. The man begs Amarnath to save his wife; her life is more precious to him than anything else. Amarnath refuses; Maya needs him.
But Maya, seeing the man’s panic, persuades Amarnath to go, telling him that she will be fine. There are plenty of people around here to look after her. And if he is needed, they will send for him.
Finally, Amarnath goes to the man’s hut. The baby is born, but though the mother is fine, the newborn isn’t responding to stimuli. Amarnath gets so busy using every means he can think of to elicit some response from the baby that even when a man comes running from the hospital, shouting that he’s needed, Maya is having trouble, Amarnath is too engrossed in saving the young life in his hands. He slams the window shut on the man’s frantic cries, and ignores him.
The baby is saved, just as another man comes from the hospital to announce that Maya has had a son. Amarnath finally realizes what’s happening, and goes rushing back to the hospital—only to find that Maya has died. Amarnath is heartbroken, and tries to cope as best as he can. Fortunately, given that the hospital has plenty of nurses from among the village women who’ve come here with ailing family members and have learnt some rudiments of caregiving, he has help.
Not for long, because Dayal Kaka, the old family servant, turns up and begs Amarnath to give him the child (now a toddler, Somnath) to him. Dayal Kaka says he will take Somnath home and bring him up the way he brought Amarnath up after Amarnath’s mother died. After some initial hesitation on Amarnath’s part and much emotional blackmail on Dayal Kaka’s part, Amarnath acquiesces. But he has one condition: his father Sitanath must not be told who Somnath is. Neither must Somnath, when he grows up, realize that he has been brought up in his grandfather’s house.
So Dayal Kaka takes the boy home, and Sitanath’s first reaction is to throw him out. Who is this foundling, he says. What caste is he? Possibly knowing Sitanath’s prejudices, Amarnath has attached a little note to the child’s clothing, stating that he’s a Brahmin. Sitanath is mollified. Somewhat. He grudgingly consents to let this waif be brought up in his mansion.
But very soon, Sitanath has been won over by Somnath, and is happily giving the boy rides around the drawing room… and so Somnath grows up, totally oblivious of the fact that he is actually the grandson of the man he refers to as Grandfather.
And, years later, Somnath (now Jyoti Prakash), newly qualified as a doctor, returns home from medical college. Amarnath comes to know that Somnath has taken up a job working in a laboratory, and is furious. Work in a laboratory? Why? Somnath should be going off to the villages and saving the villagers, not doing a cushy job fiddling with test tubes.
He is so upset he goes to meet Somnath. Somnath is very surprised at this visit from this elderly stranger (who only hands over a visiting card with the name Dr A Roy on it). He’s even more taken aback when his unannounced guest starts berating him for working in a laboratory.
Somnath has already been drawing flak from his grandfather for the same reason—working in a laboratory, but Sitanath’s objections are rooted in silly pride: zamindars don’t work, especially not for others. Not so for Amarnath, whose motive in dissuading Somnath is purely altruistic (with the focus of that altruism being the rural poor).
Soon after, Somnath runs into this strange old gentleman again, at the home of an acquaintance: Akshay Babu, whom Somnath has also met. Somnath is already halfway in love with Akshay Babu’s daughter Shivani (Bharati Devi)…
… and when he sees the deep bond between her, her younger brother and Akshay Babu on the one hand and the mysterious ‘Dr A Roy’ on the other, Somnath begins to think rather more charitably of the man.
Doctor is not a brilliant film, but its music, composed by Pankaj Mullick himself, is superb. For me, this was the main reason to watch this film. Oddly enough, very early on in the film, I found two more reasons to watch it, and both happened to be actors who may not be great actors, but who had immense screen presence.
Pankaj Mullick, for one, who is tall and broad and looks quite striking, both in his avatar as a young man and as an older, bearded one.
And, later, Jyoti Prakash Bhattacharya as Somnath. His acting, like Pankaj Mullick’s, is adequate, no more. But I must confess I have rarely seen an Indian actor who’s so handsome. While Jyoti Prakash was onscreen, I pretty much forgot to look at anybody else. Jyoti Prakash’s biography (which, I must admit, I got off IMDB and have no means of verifying) is both interesting as well as tragic: he had trained as a commercial pilot but instead became an actor, starring in not just Doctor but several other films, including the Bengali version of the famous Raj Nartaki. Despite being married, he ended up converting to Islam in order to marry fellow film star Sheila Haldar. When Sheila Haldar died in childbirth, Jyoti Prakash committed suicide, aged just 26 years.
What I liked about this film:
Pankaj Mullick’s music, which is wonderful. Three songs stand out for me: Aayi bahaar (which begins the film); Chale pawan ki chaal, and Mehak rahi phulwaari humri.
The central message of the film is also commendable, given its theme of doctors serving in the rural hinterland, helping the cause of science triumph over superstition, and trying to get rid of the caste system. Eventually, though, this is a story of a father and a son: of Sitanath and Amarnath and their need to reconcile. Their relationship, Amarnath’s obstinacy about concealing his identity (and Somnath’s parentage) and Sitanath’s pride, are the key elements here.
What I didn’t like:
The theatrical acting of the women, especially Bharati Devi. I have one question, which I would love to have an answer to: why is it that so many women of 30s and 40s Hindi cinema act in such a theatrical way, while the men tend to generally act in a more realistic fashion? I’ve seen it again and again, in film after film, without being able to guess why.
Doctor is available for viewing on Youtube on various channels, with Shemaroo having probably the best print around. About five minutes of audio, at two different points in the first half hour, is missing, but the rest is fine.
I love Nemo. Looked the personification of Evil.
In a substantial role in Shri 420 and a more fleeting one in Jagte Raho.
Will watch Doctor to see how ‘evil’ he looked at a younger age.
He doesn’t look very different from his older avatar. Just, perhaps because his character is a good man, not quite so evil.
Nemo is a good actor and unfortunately pretty much underrated too. And like many other talents of his time, he was a find of the legendary New Theatres studio, Calcutta; though today he is most remembered for his RK banner films – Shree 420 & Jagte Raho.
Nemo’s preeminent place in the RK setup at Bombay doesn’t come as a surprise though. Raj Kapoor’s father Prithiviraj Kapoor too was a New Theatres find afterall. Indeed, contrary to popular perception, the beginning of the road to stardom of Kapoor family started at Calcutta, not Bombay – and Prithiviraj Kapoor, just like KL Saigal, was a gift of the New Theatres to the film industry.
Yes, I knew about Prithviraj Kapoor. Incidentally, Raj Nartaki is in my watchlist, waiting to be seen, someday…
I am glad that you knew. 😊 Otherwise many have this misconception that the Kapoor family attained stardom in Bombay – which isn’t the case in reality.
Prithviraj Kapoor was catapulted into stardom after he did a string of 3 successive hits with the inimitable Debaki Bose in Rajrani Meera, Seeta and Inquilab ( all in Calcutta). It was only in 1939 – 40 that Prithviraj migrated to Bombay to work in Chandulal Shah’s Ranjit studios; after working and staying in Calcutta for nearly 7-8 years.
As far as Raj Nartaki is concerned though, Prithiviraj is probably the weakest part of the picture. It’s an out and out Sadhana Bose show – moreso for her dancing and beauty rather than her acting.
Also, Raj Nartaki had nothing do with Calcutta or the New Theatres. It was very much a Bombay film produced under the prestigious banner of Wadia Movietone; though, yes, it was directed by Madhu Bose ( an underrated director and the pioneer of biopic movies in the real sense in India) and starred his lovely wife in the eponymous role of Raj Nartaki. And both of them hailed from Calcutta.
Ooh, nice! I have had this on my watch list for some time now, particularly for the songs, but the star cast didn’t provide any encouragement. Neither did the title, to be honest. But your review makes me want to watch it.
It’s not fabulous, Anu. But better than I’d thought it would be. And the two men are quite arresting. ;-)
I would actually love to watch more older films, but it’s hard to find recs, or subtitled versions. Pre-50s Indian actors are extremely beautiful. Jyoti is a smoke show, look at that kiss curl! Wow.
I’ve noticed the difference between female actors and male actors at this time as well, and I can think of two reasons for it. Firstly, it could be that it’s expressing some gender or beauty ideal of the time; I am specifically talking about their stilted style of movement which does remind me of some classical dances. But I don’t know anything about older Indian beauty ideals so I am wildly guessing.
Secondly, famous melodramatic actresses acting in early film (Fanny Ward, Sarah Bernhardt) also acted in a weird, artificial way. This is not because those actresses didn’t know how to act for film, but because they didn’t want to. They were so famous for that style, and were also expressing their legitimacy as actresses by showing that they knew stage acting. So the stage style in India could be different for women, they could be trying harder, or they had a different background.
Thanks for venturing those suggestions – I wonder if the ‘expression of a contemporary beauty ideal’ might be the answer. Because the second one, I’m not sure about. While Indian cinema drew a good deal from theatre (and I think theatrical acting would be a result of that), the fact too is that in pretty much all theatre back then (as in some of the earliest films, like Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra), the female roles were played by men. Theatre, and later cinema, was considered too low for ‘decent’ women to be part of.
Of course, some 30 years on, things had probably changed a good deal in cinema, and the distance from its theatrical origins might have meant there should have been changes in acting styles too. But why it was mostly only the men who adopted a realistic style while the women continued that tradition of theatrical acting, I still find it difficult to understand.
Yes, I thought it could be that they were imitating “high art” acting styles from men or actresses from other countries, to gain status or prove their right to act.
I had a look at the earliest female actresses, who were Jewish and came from dance theatre backgrounds. But sadly I haven’t seen any of their movies, and so I don’t know if they were responsible for taking dance theatre acting style into film acting. The actresses in the Osten films are all doing standard silent film acting, so I don’t think it’s some random expressionist influence.
I badly want to read this: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/290764643_Wanted_cultured_ladies_only_Female_stardom_and_cinema_in_India_1930s-1950s but do not have access to my university library database now.
I remember having stumbled onto – long back – a web page that was about those early Jewish actresses. Fascinating stuff, and I remember going a bit mad trying to find an early Ruby Myers/Sulochana film to watch (one that I’m particularly keen on seeing is Bambai ki Billi aka Wildcat of Bombay, in which she seems to have played nine roles (or donned nine disguises, I’m not sure which). Sadly, nowhere to be found. :-(
That paper sounds very interesting. I’d love to read it too. Someday, hopefully…
Nearly all existing Indian silent film was lost in that fire. Perhaps there are some copies in Israel. They never restore any Indian silent film, which is very annoying, because honestly they all sound really great.
Yes, those Indian silent films do sound very interesting. Such a pity Indians generally have so little interest in preserving movies (or anything old, come to think of it).
Well, well, there are multiple reasons for why women acted in that theatrical manner in the early days of Indian talkies. I will try to list some of these here, to the best of my abilities-
1.) Many of the women who came to act in the early days of the Indian talkie, came from a background of – a) Theatre – By that time, women were acting in stage much more than they did during Dadasaheb Phalke’s period. But more importantly..
B) Many more women came from the background of indigenous theatres like Nautanki, Jatra, etc. The themes of indigenous theatre are mostly based on mythology and history ( which were two favourite themes of our early filmmakers too!!) – two themes which themselves call for artificial flowery dialogue Delivery backed by some super – popping movement of the eyes. No wonder many of our early heroines did that!!
2.) Some women also came from a tawaif background. The mannerisms, the way of speech and singing there too is done in an highly artificial and theatrical way – no wonder that got transmitted to the movies too!!
3.) In general also, the style of acting in early days of the talkies in most countries was theatrical to an extent. The likes of the inimitable Devika Rani, Sabita Devi and Madhuri were trained in that style only and emulated that in the Indian context. Popka Superstar has alluded to this point too in her comment about the acting style in Osten- Himanshu films.
4.) Since theatrical style of acting had gained huge acceptance, even the actresses who didn’t came from the above mentioned backgrounds, followed this style of acting only – especially in the early days of their career.
5.) About the influence of the Anglo & Jewish actresses from the silent era on the theatrical acting done by the lady superstars of the talkie era, the influence was almost zero. Theatricality lies mainly in the dialogue delivery and the silent films, as we all know, had no dialogues. Infact many of the Anglo and Jewish female stars of the silent era went out of business with the arrival of talkies, as they couldn’t speak Hindi or other Indian languages!!
6.) Strange as it may sound, from what I have seen or mostly heard from the elders; many ladies of that period actually talked in a manner which will come across as affected and unnatural to our modern ears. I personally know two grandaunts, both nearing 90; and I distinctly remember as a young kid that I found their way of talking to be very different from ours. It seemed very slow, forcefully coy and affected; and at times closely resembling the kind of speech mannerisms our early female actresses indulged in.
7.) Again, it’s a myth that only female artists acted in a theatrical style, and the males didn’t. Infact, even the males did. Anyone, irrespective of gender, who came from the above mentioned backgrounds; acted in this style only. Sohrab Modi, Durgadas Bannerjee & Prithviraj Kapoor are some prime examples of the same. Yet why many of us have this misconception that it’s only females who acted in this style is simply because most of us have watched very few films from the 30s and 40s. And the few films most of us have seen feature actors like Ashok Kumar, Motilal or KL Saigal.
What we conveniently forget that the prevalent style of acting even among males back then was theatre style only. It was primarily Ashok Kumar, Motilal and Pahadi Sanyal who brought natural acting to the Indian screens. And the reason they could do so is because none of them had any strong theatre background, nor did they find that style of acting appealing. Initially, this conflict within their own heads to what constituted good film acting, had left them confused. Their early performances vouch for the same; for they are very messy affairs indeed. But once clarity crept in, among themselves these 3 alongwith few others, taught Indians what it meant to behave naturally in front of camera. They deserve all the kudos for that – which unfortunately they don’t get.
The two other prominent natural actors of that time ( though not in the league of the above 3) were KL Saigal and PC Barua. Again, it is pertinent to note that both of them had no theatre background – one was a singer and the other a filmmaker.
7.) Among ladies, yes; the natural style of acting that the likes of Ashok Kumar pioneered, came to be practiced much later. And unlike the men, it is very difficult to pinpoint or credit some particular female actresses for kickstarting the process of natural acting among the ladies in films – because, you see, if one carefully sees the initial films of Nargis, Madhubala or Meena Kumari; even they acted in a very weird and artificial manner. Yet, with time they all shifted to the more relaxed and normal mode of acting, as did Bharati Devi ( one you mentioned in your review ). One only has to see some of her later films, where she has given some of the best performances ever given by an Indian actress. And the same holds true for the likes of Chhaya Devi & Padma Devi too.
The whole school of natural acting among women took its own time and was a gradual process. As such I find it difficult to credit anyone in particular for this change, though my analysis for the same does tell me that certain directors like Bimal Roy, Chetan Anand and Kartik Chatterjee played a key role in bringing about this change.
8.) Lastly, I would just like to ask one question. Does theatrical acting necessarily mean bad acting? Should theatrical dialogue delivery and exaggerated expressions be the only benchmark for judging an actor’s merit or his/ her performance in a particular role? I have conflicting thoughts regarding this – which I will deal some time later in my another comment on your Street Singer post. But still , I would love to know the thoughts of you all on this; and hence asking this question.
Thank you for that long and very insightful comment. I still feel that the women’s acting tended to be generally more jarringly theatrical than the men’s. Some men, I agree, do have a tendency to be theatrical (Sohrab Modi ‘declaiming to the skies’ is one example I can think of), but on the whole, men seemed to come across as less theatrical, even the men in smaller roles. Of course, this isn’t true of all actors (and actresses) in old cinema – Dharti ke Laal is among the recent 40s films I’ve seen that had fairly non-theatrical acting from pretty much everyone.
I will not get into an argument with you regarding the merit of theatrical acting or the demerit of it! Can we just agree that it’s a personal choice? I find it irritating, I do not assume that everybody else will think the way I do. And I find it irritating because I find it unrealistic, and for me, acting is about portraying a character the actor is not. Overly theatrical acting, for me, takes away the veracity of the portrayal.
I think the essence of my last comment got lost somewhere. So, I will rephrase it. The reason why male actors came across as less theatrical than women in the films of vintage era is mainly because –
1.) Unlike the females, the many of the male actors – even in side roles, didn’t come from the conventional backgrounds of theatre or nautanki. Often, the side actors will actually be bonded to the studio in some other working capacity. The likes of Amar Mullick, Kidar Sharma, Sushil Majumdar were all assistants who would do often end up doing the supporting roles. None of them had any major theatre experience or even acting experience for that matter. Infact Ashok Kumar too started his career as a guy working in the processing laboratory, before turning into an actor. In this film itself, the hero – Pankaj Mullick too had no acting experience as such. He was a singer and music composer who first did small roles in films on insistence of PC Barua; and later acted as the hero here. This was in sharp contrast to the ladies, who often came from the backgrounds of theatre, nautanki, jatra etc.
2.) The school of natural acting in males was established pretty much early on – thanks to the efforts of Ashok Kumar, Motilal, Pahadi Sanyal, Kumar, KL Saigal – who all were among the top superstars of that period. Naturally , the others emulated them.. After all, the tendency to ape most popular stars has always existed. Among the females, the school of natural acting took more time to make its hold; and was relatively a slower , gradual process.
I didn’t ask the questions relating to pros and cons of theatrical acting, to get into a argument. It was asked with the intention of having a healthy discussion. That’s all.
I know I often air contrarian views. But do contrarian views always mean or lead to an argument? I don’t think so.
Rather, I feel that differing views lead to better understanding, as we take into consideration both the sides of the coin; and not restrict ourselves to just one side of the story. Otherwise also, constructive criticism is much more fruitful and honest than false flattery. Atleast that’s what I feel.
As far as what constitutes ” good ” acting, I think for all of us film afficianados , acting means what you stated i.e. portraying a character ( who is different from the actor ) realistically. There can’t be much debate around this definition for sure.
My question was simply this – what is the ideal way to do this? Surely there isn’t any strict and specific way to achieve this. There are multiple approaches to the art of acting – theatrical and natural mode of acting just being two of them. And depending upon the context of a particular story and situation, both the approaches can be effective.
For example, in that pretty awful film Humayun ( ideally it should have been named Humayun’s Tomb given how dead the film was), Chandramohan’s theatrical style works far better than the normal, casual and sedate acting style of Ashok Kumar ( probably in his most miscasted role ever!! ). But the same may not happen in any other film, as the context changes.
Granted, theatrical mode of speaking does mostly take away from the reality of a character. But is dialogue delivery the only dimension from which we should judge the realistic level of a performance? Dialogue delivery is just one of the dimensions of acting. There are many other dimensions of acting which are as important, if not more.
For example, body language is a key performance marker. Yet , many of our great stars – fav stars from the Golden era to contemporary times, often have the same body language irrespective of the role they play. Everyone’s -favourite -hero – in – the -blogosphere ‘ Shammi Kapoor ‘ and my favourite hero ‘ Dev Anand ‘ are two prime examples of the same. It didn’t matter whether the role was of a poor photographer now running an orphanage, or of a slightly spoilt brat son of a rich industrialist; the body language remained the same. Was it really a case of then an actor playing a character that he is not? Certainly not.
But do we judge or belittle these actors for their lack of ability to change body language as per the requirements of the role? No, we don’t. And we shouldn’t too, because these actors got the other dimensions of acting well covered in their performances. The same thing holds for those actors too who indulged in theatrics, especially while delivering the dialogue; but otherwise got all the other bases well covered – including the most tough aspect to ace in acting i.e. the body language.
And this is what my point was all about I.e. it’s unfair to judge a performance based on one criteria or dimension only. Of course, at the end of day, it is subjective. And so, yes, to each his/ her own.. 😊
I cannot resist adding another perspective to this, especially since you mention two of my favourite actors, Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand. My love for both of these is despite their acting than because of it (though there are films – Hum Dono and CID for Dev Anand, Andaaz and Professor for Shammi Kapoor – where I think their acting isn’t bad).
Why I like them is more because of their looks and their charisma, plus the larger picture – the fact that most of their films are very entertaining, have great music, and are just pure enjoyable. I think of these men as entertainers, not as actors – for the latter, I would cite Balraj Sahni, Dilip Kumar, Ashok Kumar, etc: they act. Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor are simply themselves. Which is perhaps why Dev Anand, from the mid-60s on, when he had let his mannerisms take over, begins to pall on me.
But of course, this is all subjective. :-)
No to Dard gaya na dava hai Mili Mane Dhoudn ke dheka jamana.Was another good old Film. Thanks Jay kay
It appears from the review that you are recommending Doctor to the viewers find of Golden Oldies and qualify cinema. I had watched Anand Ashram long back. Now I am willing to watch it again and also Doctor. I have seen many other Bollywood movies also made on the theme of the noble profession of medicine, hailing the dutiful, committed and benevolent doctors who are not greedy to amass wealth (through this profession). Compliments for the objective review which is a pleasure to read.
Thank you so much, I’m so glad you enjoyed this review!
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If not for any other reason, I would watch it for the songs. It features the first Tonga beats song of Hindi cinema and perhaps the first hindi film song with train rhythm as well (which I recently came across for my train song posts). So in that way, it is iconic.
Thank you for the wonderful review.
Thank you so much for the appreciation, Anupji! When I was watching this, I was thinking of you, because I knew you’d want to watch it for the songs. It’s a landmark film just for its songs!
Doctor is a landmark film in more ways than one. And music is just one of those.
How does one define a ‘ landmark ‘? Surely it can’t be defined at an individualistic level. A landmark is defined at a much larger level, and in a much bigger context.
In the context of films, a landmark is that movie which decides to take the route of innovation, and try out newer things which no one has done before, bringing in a freshness not encountered before.
This freshness could be in terms of themes, concepts, technique, style, craftsmanship etc. It could be seen in story, scripting, scenario, dialogues, editing, sets, costumes, makeup, music – in short in any field of filmmaking. And this fresh take becomes so influential that later many try to emulate it. Some fail at it and some succeed; but many try to follow it .
In countries like India where genuine innovation is hard to come by, often newer ideas which turn out to be successful are ripped off to such an extent, that over the years they turn stale and become cliche. In fields like cinema, where profits are huge but success rates are low, this holds true even moreso.
But innovation isn’t really respected in our nation, be it any field. Cinema is no different. It doesn’t help that our media has successfully over the past 40 years or so, presented a completely distorted version of our cinematic history, where good cinema starts with the advent of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, and Madhubala. Nothing can be more farther away from the truth. But that’s the version that is being shoved in the face of the public.
The situation is further compounded by the fact that for most of our reviewers, cinema is all about story, acting of leads and songs. It’s very rare that one would encounter words like scenario, mood – building, framing etc. Even many reviewers don’t even feature the word ‘ direction ‘ in their columns!! So much for reviewing.
To add to that, most of our reviewers have little to zero knowledge of historicity and who did what for the first time in our cinema. Consequently, their reviews bereft of the context of time and influence, tend to praise well-made movies which are crafted using already established templates and techniques over inventive movies which first brought in those techniques and templates.
This tendency is fine – afterall there is nothing wrong in praising a biryani – maker for cooking up a ravishing biryani. But what is wrong is the attitude to dismiss, mock or ignore the original Biryani inventor; and consign him/her to the flames of history. Unfortunately, this is what happens in India.
Doctor , for one, isn’t a great or extraordinary film ( But then how many films are that anyways? ). But it is for sure, a very important, influential and yes a landmark film. The theme of a noble doctor leaving the behind the lure of money to serve in rural areas became so popular after Doctor that we find its echoes in movies from much later times like Himalaya Ki God Mein and some other South dramas too. No film before Doctor had gone in this direction so successfully or with this much conviction and clarity, even though Bombay Talkies’ Janmabhoomi had tried to tread a little bit on this path.
Similarly, the concept of a modern educated guy who chooses to marry of his own will; thus bringing him into a clash with his humane but conservative father, also came into vogue with this picture only. Many later films including Bhappi Sonie’s Shammi Kapoor starrer Janwaar to Karan Johar’s 2001 big- budget family drama Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham, walked in the direction first shown by ‘ Doctor ‘.
Then of course, there are the songs. And as much as Pankaj Babu deserves the credit for composing India’s first train and Horse – cart songs, a lot of credit for the same should go to scriptwriter-director Phani Majumdar too, for coming up with such revolutionary song situations. In this regard, I must mention that Doctor wasn’t a dual language version film. It was first made and released in Bangla in mid – 1940 under Majumdar’s direction. The stupendous success of the film in Bengal, led to it being re – dubbed and reshoot in parts by its editor Subodh Mitra ( by that time Majumdar had left New Theatres) , and it released in Hindi nearly a year later in 1941.
To conclude, there are many a landmark film made in India before 1950s too. Doctor is just one of those. That’s why it came as a bit disappointing to me that you in your review, were so dismissive of the entire Pre- 1950s cinema. It was all the more disappointing because you happen to be one of my most favourite movie blogger. I don’t really care about the stupid reviews that the millenials write or the bullshit reviews that some of our completely ignorant so – called famous critics write too. But I do read and care for your writings. And that is why I choose to air my thoughts. I sincerely hope you take it positively, because they are made with nothing but well-meaning, good and positive intentions only.
I apologise for coming across as dismissive of pre-50s cinema. That was not my intention.
It’s alright :)
Oh the ” Aayi bahaar ” film! Based on your review I am definitely not rushing to see this one any time soon.
You make a valid point about women acting in a theatrical way. Yes even I have noticed it. May be they had to work more for whatever pay they got ( gender inequality perhaps , who knows)
Another thing that irks me, I do not know if it is true for Hindi movies, but holds true for old Tamil movies ( at least till late fifties) is the sheer inconsistency of language all grammatical high brow in one scene and colloquial slang the next scene. It is not as if some speak poetically and others slang based on their background. It would more often be random as if different dialogue writers worked on the movie.
It used to be absolutely grating … even in movies that were otherwise engaging.
That’s very interesting, about the inconsistency of language. I haven’t come across it in Hindi cinema dialogues, though occasionally one does see it in songs – the song in all high-brow Sanskritized Hindi, while the character might be a villager who speaks in a dialect.
Must be pretty jarring to have to listen to dialogues like that. :-(
It’s not so much true for Hindi cinema. But it was true for all other industries with the exception of Marathi and Bengali cinemas. The reason why it wasn’t true for Hindi, Bengali and Marathi cinema was simply that till the late fifties all the great filmmakers of India – and there are very few makers with whom one could use the tag of great with genuineness; operated in these 3 industries only. These greats were primarily responsible for giving our cinema a facelift and bring in a sense of aesthetics, craftsmanship and realism at par with the West; though it’s a pity that the current tendency is to either mock them or obliterate them from our cinematic memory.
Enjoyed the review, Madhuji! The songs transport you to a completely different era – that of the singing stars. It makes you realize how phenomenal an advancement playback singing would have been.
Glad you enjoyed the review. :-) Thank you! Yes, truly makes you realize what a sea change was brought about by the advent of playback singing.
The singing star in question here – Pankaj Mullick, was one of the 4 key guys behind the advent of playback singing in India, which was by the way, 2-4 months ahead of even Hollywood!
And while there is little doubt that playback singing heralded in a revolutionary change, one still has to admit that atleast six of the singing stars from 30s and 40s in Pankaj Mullick, KL Saigal, KC Dey, Kanan Devi, Nurjahan & Suraiya were as good as any other singer that ever sang after them.
I feel I must put my observation in perspective. When I read the review of the movie, the thought that crossed my mind was that those who could only act but not sing could perhaps not aspire for the big roles. I totally agree that “one still has to admit that at least six of the singing stars from 30s and 40s in Pankaj Mullick, KL Saigal, KC Dey, Kanan Devi, Nurjahan & Suraiya were as good as any other singer that ever sang after them.”
In fact, the singing stars were there to shine even after playback singing was introduced. Kishore Kumar and Sulakshana Pandit are two names that I can recall as of now.
Yes, very true indeed. Kishore Kumar, in all probability, is arguably our greatest singing star till date.
Again, you are very right about the fact that back then, actors who could only act and not sing, were often relegated to the supporting roles. Yet, even in those days, a bunch of non-singing actors like Prithiviraj Kapoor, Durga Khote, Pithawala, Mumtaz Ali, Sohrab Modi, PC Barua, Pendharkar, Jairaj , Molina Devi, Chandraboti Devi, Leela Desai, Sadhana Bose, Jamuna, Chandramohan, Chhabi Biswas, Yakub, Nawab, Mazhar Khan, Jagirdar etc., were able to leave a lasting impression on the hearts and minds of their countless viewers and admirers. Speaks volumes for their ability and skill.
Good review, Madhu, but I am not sure whether I will watch it. The story line did not interest me and I detest the stiff acting prevalent in the early days of cinema.
The reason for my comment is Pankaj Mullick. He was an immense talent in music. It was he more than anyone else who made Rabindrasangeet so popular among the masses. He is probably the only person who set one of Tagore’s poems to music. The song “Diner Sheshe Ghumer Deshe” is a popular song which is mistaken for a Rabindrasangeet when in fact it is not. The poem was Tagore’s but the tune was Pankaj Mullick’s.
I have heard Diner sheshe ghumer deshe before, but had never realized the tune wasn’t Rabindranath Tagore’s! Thank you for this interesting bit of information. I hadn’t known about Pankaj Mullick’s work in popularising Rabindrasangeet until I did my post on composers singing in their own voices… that was new to me.
Good review. It is interesting to see in those era movies, the characters come to the center in front of the camera like theater, especially during songs. I guess they did not have the luxury of multiple cameras, trolleys etc.
(By the way, on an unrelated topic, what happened to Memsaab Story blog? It stopped suddenly);
Yes, I suppose the lack of multiple cameras does add to the somewhat stiff and restricted movements in that sense.
Greta (at Memsaabstory) got married about four years ago, which is why I think she perhaps doesn’t have the time to keep up her blogging. In any case, she’d been writing far fewer blog posts for a couple of years before she finally stopped.
Most of our directors – not just in the 30s and 40s, but even much later, didn’t have much cinematic sense. With the arrival of talkies in 1931, most just saw cinema as a photographed version of theatre. Visual representation of a scene, shot composition and mood – building were unknown to many ( most directors even today have no idea of what is a scenario!! ) .
Even though budget too had a role to play in this ( not everyone could afford multiple cameras or trolleys back then ), fact is this had more to do with lack of cinematic sense in most of our filmmakers. Also, songs presented a unique problem of their own.
Back then, the instrumentalists would play in the background ( due to lack of proper recording technology ) while the actors sang or lip-synced on the screen. The director had to ensure that while the actor remained strictly within the frame, not a single one of the instrumentalists playing in the background should pop – up, even by mistake, on the screen!! No wonder, the actors would be tightly placed within the centre of the frame – because otherwise it was very tough to maintain decent sound recording levels.
Finally, I can’t help myself from mentioning the names of PC Barua, Debaki Bose and Nitin Bose in this regard. It was Barua who first introduced the multi – camera setup in our films, while Debaki Bose brought in the trolley shot – both slow and fast. And Nitin Bose , in all probability, was the man who taught all Indian cinematographers what shot composition and technique really stood for in cinema.
Thank you for taking the trouble to write such long and detailed comments. I learn a lot from you. Thank you.