Happy 100th birthday, Dilip Kumar!
It was on this day that Mohammad Yusuf Khan, who was to go on to become one of India’s most-loved and finest actors, was born in Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani Bazaar.
In a career spanning several decades, and some sixty-odd films, Dilip Kumar attained a status all his own. He was one of the first to win a Filmfare Award, and went on to win the most Best Actor Awards (until the record was equalled— though not yet surpassed). His scenes have been copied and re-done, his dialogues have become familiar to fans of cinema, his films and his acting closely dissected.
Of course I had to review one of Dilip Kumar’s films to commemorate his birth centenary. But which one? Not, I decided, one of his more standard tragedies, films like Devdas or Dard or Deedaar, for which he was mostly known. His more light-hearted films, like the delightful Kohinoor, Azaad and Ram aur Shyam, I have already reviewed.
But this one, an all-time classic about man versus machine, also stars Dilip Kumar in a role that isn’t heavy and brooding. And it has plenty more to recommend it.
Naya Daur is set in a village where most of the population either works in a local saw mill (or its subsidiary work, that of logging), or as tongawallahs, ferrying people mostly between the railway station and the village. One of these tongawallahs is Shankar (Dilip Kumar), a boisterous, happy-go-lucky sort who lives with his mother (Leela Chitnis) and his younger sister Manju (Chand Usmani).
Shankar’s best friend, his bosom buddy, is Krishna (Ajit), who works at the timber factory: he is a woodcutter, and is also good at carpentry. Shankar and Krishna’s friendship is underlined and emphasized from the very start of the film, when Krishna stops by at Shankar’s home. There’s some mutual pulling-of-legs here, some goofing off, and when a shy Manju assures Krishna that she’s kept some breakfast for him, it also becomes clear that— even if Krishna and Shankar don’t realize it—the fact is that Manju is in love with her brother’s friend.
Later still, Krishna is shown in an altercation with some local goons, who accuse him of cutting trees in land that isn’t the property of the saw mill. Krishna finds himself surrounded by stick-wielding hooligans and is in serious danger when Shankar, passing by, comes to his aid and helps Krishna send the goons flying. Such is the bromance between these two (and exemplified in a classic song, Dil leke dagaa denge yaar hain matlab ke, the lyrics of which actually sound more like a ‘betrayed love’ love song).
The saw mill and the woods around are the property of the wealthiest man in the village, a benevolent Sethji (Nazir Hussain). Sethji is genuinely kind and good, refusing to let his more money-minded munshi (?) get rid of an old worker because he’s no longer able to work as hard as before. Instead, Sethji looks for ways to help his workers, and this is why he’s much loved.
When Sethiji decides to leave in a pilgrimage, everybody at the saw mill comes to bid him farewell. Jumma Dada (Manmohan Krishna), who is usually the spokesman for the workers, gives Sethji many wishes for a safe journey. Sethji tells Jumma Dada and the others that his (Sethji’s) son, Kundan (Jeevan) will soon be arriving from the city, and will be taking over the saw mill in Sethji’s absence.
Kundan, when he comes, brings briskness and a no-nonsense, unabashed love for making money. Not for him the benevolence of his absent father. The local astrologer (Radhakrishan), addressed as ‘Maharaj’ by all and sundry, is pleased to see Kundan’s love for money, because it will obviously help divert from more income into his own pocket. Kundan confides in Maharaj too that he’s ordered a machine for the saw mill; it will be arriving any day now.
Meanwhile, someone interesting arrives at the village. Rajni (Vyjyanthimala), along with her mother (Pratima Devi) and her little brother Cheekoo (Daisy Irani) returns to the village, after many years of having lived in the city. Shankar, who recognizes Rajni’s mother and insists on driving them to the village, is immediately attracted to Rajni, and it’s obvious that Rajni reciprocates.
Because their old home in the village has fallen into a sorry state of disrepair from being unoccupied all these years, Shankar and his mother persuade Rajni and her family to stay with them while the house is repaired. This allows Shankar and Rajni to spend more time smiling shyly at each other, or singing songs of love while in the tonga, returning from a trip to the local temple, which is quite a pilgrim centre.
Working on repairing Rajni’s old house is Krishna, who, from his very first look at Rajni, too falls in love with her. Rajni is oblivious, and remains so—even after Shankar comes to know of Krishna’s feelings, as he does one day when visiting his friend.
Unlike most other Hindi film heroes who’re happy to keep mum and give up their love for their friend, Shankar is only briefly discomfited. He tells Krishna the truth; that he, too, wants to marry Rajni. That done, Shankar reverts to filmi type and says that God will decide who will get Rajni (Rajni, being chattel, has no say in the matter). Soon, an important pooja is to be held at the big temple, and Rajni, like all the other women for miles around, will go for that, bearing a thali full of flowers. Whichever colour flowers she carries, that will decide whom she will wed. After some bickering, they decide that if Rajni carries orange marigolds, she will be Krishna’s; if white jasmine, Shankar’s.
What neither of the two men realize is that Manju has been eavesdropping on this conversation. Manju’s betrothal, to a man Shankar had found in another village (and whom she has never even seen) has recently collapsed, because when Shankar went to talk about the wedding, Manju’s future father-in-law demanded a huge dowry. Shankar, furious, broke off the match and went back home, vowing to find a better groom for Manju… and who else but Krishna? Manju, overhearing, had been all excited and happy, but with the realization that Krishna is in love with Rajni, Manju is shattered.
As well as determined to make sure Krishna does not marry Rajni.
The next day, at the temple, while Shankar and Krishna stand with folded hands in front of the idol, Rajni comes in, her flower-filled thali covered with a cloth. Manju slinks in, also with a covered thali, and sits down next to Rajni. At the exact moment when Rajni, finishing her prayer, is about to lift her thali and strew the flowers in front of the deity, Manju switches the flowers.
When Rajni, eyes now open, uncovers the thali and scatters the flowers—everybody can see that it’s white jasmine. (Why does Rajni not even blink when she sees that her thali, or the cloth covering it, or the flowers, are not her own? Is she happy offering up anybody’s thali, not her own?)
Shankar, his eyes closed in prayer, has not seen the switch, but Krishna, looking eagerly on, has seen it, and is furious. He is convinced that Shankar, for his own selfish interests, has got Manju to switch the flowers. Krishna is so angry, he goes rushing out of the temple. Shankar, baffled, follows him, and there’s a huge fight between them.
And so the bromance of Shankar and Krishna comes to an acrimonious halt.
In the meantime, too, the machine Kundan had ordered from the city arrives. And with them, come the few workers from the city who operate the machine. Kundan summarily dismisses all the workmen other than the ones who fell the trees; the workers, of course, are horrified at this disaster, but though Jumma Dada tries to plead with Kundan, it is all to no avail.
Things get even worse soon, because Kundan buys a lorry and brings it to the village, to ply between the village and the station. The lorry takes ten minutes to cover the distance the tongas cover in an hour. Shankar and his fellow tongawallahs are upset; but when they try to reason with Kundan, he (as is to be expected by now) doesn’t listen. One thing leads to another, and Kundan challenges Shankar to a race: between the lorry and the tonga. They’ll see who wins. Shankar accepts.
And because Krishna is now completely anti-Shankar, he decides to throw in his lot with Kundan and see how Shankar can be defeated. Which, anyway, doesn’t look like so very difficult, anyway: how could a tonga outpace a lorry, after all?
The first blockbuster hit film (it celebrated a golden jubilee) for BR Chopra (though he had directed other well-received films, such as Afsana and Ek Hi Raasta), Naya Daur allowed Dilip Kumar some respite from the serious, heavy roles he had mostly got till then. In fact, some of his most entertaining, light-hearted films, like Kohinoor and Ram aur Shyaam, were to follow this one: in a sense, Naya Daur opened up a naya daur, a new round, for its leading man, allowing film-makers to see just how versatile Dilip Kumar was, how capable of doing justice to a role that didn’t call for the intensity and sensitivity of much of what he’d done till then.
What I liked about this film:
Pretty much the entire package. BR Chopra perfected the art of the all-round entertainer with Naya Daur: it brings together many of the most popular elements of the standard commercial Hindi film in a pleasing package. There is the bromance. A romance. A close-knit village group, with a benevolent, avuncular Muslim at the centre of it, a nod to the secularism BR Films was to go on to espouse in films like Dharamputra (directed by Yash Chopra, not BR Chopra, though). A rooted-in-the land story that may sound somewhat Luddite-ish at first, but ends with a message that would appeal to the modern urbanite as well.
There is comedy (Johnny Walker, though his role is relatively short, coming in as he does in the last half-hour of the film, is a delight as ever).
There are some great songs, with music by OP Nayyar and lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi. From the patriotic Yeh desh hai veer jawaanon ka to the devotional Aana hai toh aa; from the romantic Udein jab-jab zulfein teri and Maangke saath tumhaara to the comic Main Bambai ka babu; from the delightful Reshmi salwar kurta jaali ka, to that paean to yaari, Dil leke dagaa denge and the inspiring Saathi haath badhaana: Naya Daur’s music was one big hit after the other. One song, Ek deewaana aate-jaate, picturized on Madhubala (who had been part of the film initially, leaving later because of her father’s anger over her relationship with Dilip Kumar), was dropped from the film when Vyjyanthimala took on the role of Rajni.
And there’s Dilip Kumar, showing just how much fun he could be. Shankar is pretty much the antithesis of most of the characters Dilip Kumar was known for: stolidly sure of himself, a hot-head who wears his heart on his sleeve and neither backs down from a fight nor is shy about speaking the truth, no matter how unsavoury it might be. He’s somewhat rambunctious, not the sensitive soul who is always sweet and self-sacrificing.
What I didn’t like:
The mess, even if only brief, around the fact that both Shankar and Krishna are in love with Rajni. For one, there is the utterly sexist way in which the two men agree to ‘leave it to God’, with neither of them suggesting, even once, that it might be good to let Rajni have a say in whom she will marry. Then, once Shankar and Krishna fall out, following the episode of the switched thalis, Shankar is rude and angry at Rajni, for causing his friendship to collapse. Though Rajni does show that she’s annoyed at this idiotic assertion, it doesn’t make any difference to her in the long term: when he needs her, she comes right back to him, helping him and supporting him without him having done anything to apologize.
Still, that’s a small, rather minor, aspect of what is otherwise a fairly enjoyable film. Among Dilip Kumar’s ‘light’ films, a worthy inclusion.