Today is the birth centenary of one of Hindi cinema’s most familiar character actors, the very well-known Nasir Hussain (or Nazir Hussain, or Nazir Hussein, or Nazir/Nasir Husein, whatever; Hindi cinema credits are famous for being inconsistent). Not the same man as the film maker of the same name, but an important personality in his own right. Born in Usia (Uttar Pradesh) on May 15, 1922, Nasir Hussain came to cinema in a roundabout sort of way. Having worked briefly in the railways (where his father too was employed), Nasir had ended up joining the British Army, and was posted overseas—in Malaya—during World War II. Taken captive, he was freed and subsequently went oj to join Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, the INA.
After his INA experience, Hussain could not find an alternate career and wound up doing bit parts in theatre. From here, a chance meeting with Bimal Roy finally brought him into cinema. Their very first film together (they were to go on to make several more films, with Nasir Hussain in front of the camera and Roy behind, such as Parakh, Do Bigha Zameen, and Devdas) was this one: Pehla Aadmi, in which Nasir Hussain was not just an actor, but also assistant to the director—as well as the writer of the story and the dialogues.
Two confessions, to start with. Firstly, although I am very fond of Ashok Kumar—I think he was a great actor—I find it difficult to envisage him as the dashing hero of a spy thriller. Secondly, I think 50’s and 60’s Hindi cinema (with the notable exception of Haqeeqat) never quite manages to depict war properly. Battlefields are too often obviously sets or, at the most, a bunch of extras letting off firecrackers in a patch of woodland.
So Samadhi, despite being 1950’s top-grossing Hindi film and starring the beautiful Nalini Jaywant—was a film that I approached with trepidation. Which was perhaps just as well, because if I’d begun watching it with expectations way up there, I’d probably have been disappointed. As it was, by the end, I decided it wasn’t bad; in fact, pretty watchable.