Arpan (1957)

When I was going through Chetan Anand’s filmography last year (to commemorate his birth centenary), I stumbled across a Chetan Anand film in which he starred, besides directing it: a film, too, which immediately struck me as unusual, just given its length: a mere one hour. For a Hindi film, rare indeed. Though I didn’t watch Arpan back then, I bookmarked it and decided I’d watch it sometime later.

And it is an unusual film. Not just short, but also somewhat surreal in places. Hauntingly beautiful at times, outright odd at others.

Arpan is set, we are told, 2,500 years ago. A famine is ravaging the land, and people are starving left, right and centre. In this situation, the royalty, of course, is expected to set an example, and thus Princess Madhavi (Sheila Ramani) is going about, a large entourage with her, distributing food to her father’s subjects.

The princess’s palanquin comes to a stop near a dying tree, under which sits a lone bhikshu, a Buddhist monk named Anand (Chetan Anand). Madhavi sits up, interested, and commands her servants to take out food to give to the man. All the baskets are searched, and right at the bottom is found one lone roti. Everything else is gone, donated.

Madhavi notices that there is another starving person nearby: a thin old woman, sitting silent at a slight distance from the bhikshu. Briefly, we see indecision in Madhavi’s eyes; the old woman? The younger, stronger, bhikshu?  She turns, and gives her servant orders to give the roti to Anand.

But Anand, instead of eating the roti, gets to his feet and takes it to the old woman. He gives it to her, and on his way back to his station under the tree, he stumbles and falls flat. This little effort has been too much for him. Madhavi rushes to him, calling frantically to her servants to come and attend to the man.

The scene now changes, and we are introduced to another woman. Rohini (Nimmi) is a chandaalika, an untouchable, who lives in a community of chandaals in the forest. There is a brief scene to explain something of the beliefs of these people: Rohini and her friend (played by Kumkum) discuss a local tradition, stemming from a tantric-chandaal belief in the divinity of snakes. A necklace of small skulls (skull models, I assume) hangs at the shrine to the Naga Devta, and anyone who dons that macabre necklace (whether of their own accord, or made to do so) has to then dance, until the Naga Devta, in the form of a cobra that lives in the shrine, puts in an appearance.

It’s up to the Naga Devta to then pronounce sentence on the dancer: if the dancer is construed to be blameless and good, hopefully the cobra will turn away and let them live; if not, it will bite them. The chandaals believe firmly in the ‘justice’ of the Naga Devta, as we later see in a scene where a woman (Kammo) accused of adultery by her husband, is thus killed by the cobra.

Anyway, back to the present, where, once her friend has gone her way, Rohini is sitting beside the well when Bhikshu Anand comes by and asks Rohini if she will draw water and give him to drink.

Rohini is startled; she tells him that she is a chandaal; he will be polluted if he takes water from her matka. Anand is unfazed, and says it doesn’t matter to him. Rohini is so surprised and so bedazzled by this man who doesn’t hold her caste against her, that she lets the water drip onto his head instead of into his cupped hand.

By the time Anand leaves a little later, Rohini is deliriously in love with him.

And, shortly after, Princess Madhavi again meets Anand. He, along with a group of other bhikshus, is walking through the countryside, and their singing—Buddham sharanam gachhaami—attracts Madhavi’s attention. She is so mesmerized, in particular, by Anand’s voice, that she has her servants go and get him. It is a pleasant surprise for her to find that the monk with the beautiful voice is none other than the man she has met before and been entranced by.

Madhavi tries her best to give Anand some oblique hint about her fascination for him, but Anand seems truly to be the unflappable monk, unmoved and unaffected. He goes his way, and Madhavi’s request, that he come by sometimes, goes (perhaps?) unheard.

Two very different women, both in love with the same man, and that a man who has renounced the world and its ties. Where will their love take Madhavi and Rohini?

The story of Aparna is not unknown in Hindi cinema; these love triangles (sort of) are common enough. But they’re usually part of a much longer, much more convoluted story, not the sole focus of the plot. Here, Madhavi’s and Rohini’s unrequited love for Anand is pretty much everything in the story. How each is affected by her love for the man, how each views the other, and how their love, even if one-sided, can have the power to change them.

What I liked about this film:

The beauty of it, visually. A lot of it is pretty dark, even grimly, gloomily so at times, but it serves to highlight the beauty, in particular, of its women. Every actress here, from Sheila Ramani to Nimmi, Kumkum to Kammo, ends up looking stunningly beautiful. They’re exquisitely framed, almost all through the film.

Then, the beauty of entire scenes, both visually and aurally. Chetan Anand uses silences well, and there are several scenes where everything is said through expressions, through actions. Rohini, for instance, running lightly up the rough-hewn stone steps leading to Anand’s cave dwelling on a mountain, and strewing flowers from her aanchal as she goes. Her happy laughter, the gay abandon with which she flings down the flowers, the joy in every line of her body as she shows her love for Anand.

What I didn’t like:

The (to me) sudden cuts and abrupt changes in scene that happen now and then: for me, these left the story hanging in places, and I was confused.

Not a fantastic film; if you want to watch Chetan Anand’s work, I would recommend Haqeeqat, Aakhri Khat, or Neecha Nagar instead. Arpan comes across as a little disjointed at times, somewhat strange despite the beauty of it. Experimental, is how I’d label it.

YouTube has Arpan on several channels; most of these have poor video quality and (worse) bad syncing between audio and video. The Zee Music Company version, here, is however fairly good.

Note: If you like Sitara Devi, this is one film where you can see her dance up a storm. As Rohini’s mother, a tantric, she plays an important role in the climax of the film, with a dance that takes up most of the last ten minutes of the story. It’s not a terribly graceful dance, but there’s loads of energy there.


26 thoughts on “Arpan (1957)

  1. When the review itself is so impressive, the quality of the film can be guessed. I have bookmarked it for watching in near future. Thanks a lot for introducing it to movie buffs like me who love to watch golden oldies even when they are experimental kind of (I had thoroughly enjoyed Sunil Dutt’s experimental movie – Yaaden).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your kind words, Jitendraji. I am so glad you enjoyed the review. Coincidentally, while going through my list of bookmarked films that I intend to watch over the next couple of months, I noted that Yaadein is on that. Only yesterday, I was telling myself I should watch it soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Madhu, this film is apparently Part 1 of the adventures of the Bhikshu – Chetan Anand is said to have directed a sequel to this called Anjali, also in 1957. I have been trying to get my hands on the film but can’t find it anywhere.

    I wonder just how much he was influenced by Buddhism – I hadn’t realized any of the Anand brothers were particularly religious.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah. I have heard of Anjali, though because of the one-line synopsis (and the cast) sounded so much like that of Arpan, I was very confused – I couldn’t tell whether it was another film altogether, or just an alternate name for this one!

      Someone on my Twitter feed suggested that this was based on Tagore’s Chandaalika, minus the princess. I wonder if that is so, since I haven’t read it. But given that Chetan Anand was well-read (and perhaps because Uma was Bengali?), it may have been that it was the Tagore inspiration, not the strictly religious one.


      • Oh, I am sure it was mostly a literary inspiration since the Anand brothers were all avid readers. [Especially now that I know for sure there is no Part 2!] I have read Chandalika but I wonder where the princess came from. I mean, did he mix two stories? Or a Budhist legend with Tagore’s story, etc.


        • I would love to know! I read a synopsis of Chandalika among the comments on the post Richard has linked to, in his comment here, and it’s actually quite different – the core idea of a chandal falling for a Buddhist monk is there, but that’s about it. I wonder what inspired the final story.

          Also, I think I have figured out what the difference might be: the songs. Arpan basically has just that one song, Buddham sharanam gachhaami, while Anjali has loads of songs. Some ten of them, I think I saw someone write.


  3. Madhu, I was working on the following comment when you posted your response to Anu above (as you know, based on a concurrent conversation on Facebook ;) ). As you will see here, some of that information that you got on Twitter was confirmed elsewhere as well…

    I posted Sitara Devi’s magnificent dance from this film on my blog 13 years ago, and a very interesting conversation followed:

    Anu, it was my understanding that Anjali is not a sequel but actually the same film. When I posted Sitara Devi’s dance, I took it from the film labeled as Anjali. From what I’ve read, Anjali was the original title of the film. Arpan might be a slightly different version, though, after some edits were made. (That’s my understanding from different things that I read.) If you got information about Anjali being a sequel to Arpan, that just seems kind of strange to me. :)

    According to Pritha Chakrabarty’s comment on my old post, this film was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s drama Chandalika. In that comments thread, I supplied a detailed description of the seven scenes of Chandalika that I had found on Scribd. (Madhu, I was thinking of looking over that description and comparing it to some of the summary that you’ve given in your post… But, unfortunately, I haven’t quite had the time to do that yet.)

    By the way, I also tagged Pritha on Facebook and she said she was going to refresh her memory about all of this. (Well, it was a while ago.)

    Anyway, I have tried to watch some version(s) of Anjali on YouTube and it was a bit difficult to get through, because of the poor quality of the print and the fact that it didn’t have English subtitles. But I kind of fast-forwarded through it, and it did seem very interesting.

    And by the way, it didn’t even occur to me that Sitara Devi wasn’t being “graceful” enough. :) I thought that this dance actually was the best representation of a real Kathak dance by her that I have seen in any old films (and I have seen her dance in a few). I found it very impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for posting that here as well, Richard. Comments tend to ‘sink’ (if you know what I mean) on Facebook, whereas here (mostly) they remain intact – though, as Anu will testify, in the recent past, WordPress seems to have been arbitrarily deleting comments. :-(

      Anyway, thank you for that, and it made interesting reading. I am off to also read your post, which I’d meant to do yesterday but couldn’t find the time for. As for Sitara Devi not coming across as ‘graceful’ – well, eye of the beholder and all that! :-)


    • Thanks for clearing that up, Richard. :)
      Madhu, I too thought it strange that the star cast was the same for both films, but then I bought into the ‘it must be a sequel’ myth. And I was wondering how that would have played out.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Arpan is definitely the shortened/truncated version of Anjali 1957.
    It is not a full-length feature film, nor released anywhere.
    Don’t think there is any censor certification details available for it.
    The cast-credit details of the two films are the same.
    The same picturization of buddham sharanam is seen in both the films.
    Anjali was censored in 1957, it is 135 minutes long film with 10 songs.
    HFGK does not mention Arpan in its 1957 movies list.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Anjali and Arpan are indeed the same , not two separate, films. Or more accurately, Arpan is the bowdlerized version of Anjali. As I understand it, some Buddhist organization took Chetan Anand’s Anjali, edited out all the songs, save “Buddham Sharanam Gachami” and the more non-Buddhist portions/plot elements – which comprised the bulk of the actual film – re-titled and released it as Arpan. Needless to say, I have serious problems with the ethics of what was done to Anand’s creation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah. Thank you for that input! That’s really interesting – and I find it strange that while this bowdlerised version has endured (at least online!), the original, with all its many songs, seems to have vanished. Serious lack of ethics there, I agree.


  6. What a fascinating conversation has been going on in these comments (though it sounds like, even in its original conception, “Anjali” was a odd-duck movie). I shudder to think what the Buddhist proselytization cut of “Amrapali” might have looked like!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Arpan” seems like an interesting movie. Your screenshots are beautiful. But it’s a very old movie and many viewers steer clear of vintage films. However I usually see films liked by you. You’ve asked me to post my comment on ‘Mere Sanam’ after I said “Hi” but it’s just not going, maybe the post is too old. I’ll see if I can post it here. Sorry for the discrepancy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Madhu,I’ve recently been going through your list of movies reviewed so that I can decide which movies to see that I haven’t seen before, or whether to rewatch the ones I saw a long time back. I find your recommendations very useful and steer clear of the ones you tell us to avoid . I agree with your choice of awful movies like, “Dil ne phir yaad kiya”, “Neel Kamal”, “Dil diya dard liya” etc. I Here you have reviewed “Mere Sanam” , a lovely movie with outstanding songs (except one) and it reminded me of the time when we saw the DVD of it some years back at home, when my older daughter was just 5. The next day she says I like one song best of all. I asked which one. She said, it began with the letter ‘H’. I said “Hamdam mere maan bhi jaao”., She said, no, not that one. Then I sang “Hue hain tum pe aashiq hum”. She again said no. Another song which began with ‘H’ in this movie “Hamne to dil ko aapke qadmon me rakh diya” (beautiful song) was not shown in the movie. Then Light dawned. It was the title song she meant. I said “Haji, Haji Haji, arrey Haji Baba, Mere Sanam se mera milne ka waada ” (I truly dislike this one! ) She went into ecstasies! Yes, that’s the one, she said ! Then I realized that there were four songs beginning with the letter ‘H’ in this movie. Surprising, isn’t it? But I just wanted to add that I read all your reviews late into the night and find them very fascinating, especially your “What I liked, and what I disliked” part. Do keep reviewing the movies of the 60’s. Even if the movies are not worth watching your observations are always interesting !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hehe! What a delightful anecdote, thank you for sharing that. I agree with you that Haji haji haji arre haji baba is definitely the one song in an otherwise great score that is pretty awful. Perhaps not bad on its own, but when you compare it to the other songs in the film…!

      I do have some 60s films lined up to be watched; I’m looking forward to them too.


  9. I saw this film few years ago. Beautiful picturization kept me engaged for some time but it appeared disjointed at times. Chetan Anand was stupendous in Haqeeqat. Loved his akhri khat wondering how he managed to illicit such performance from a toddler.. music was always strong in his films. I liked his kudrat and bold attempt in Heer Ranjha.

    Liked by 1 person

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