Pyaasa

The post-independence years are regarded by many as the golden age of Hindi cinema. The idealism of  the freedom movement was still alive and this was reflected well in the films of those days. Since many Hindi films tend to be more dominated by heroes or the male lead roles, the idealist film hero  figured significantly in many films and many memorable roles and films can be recalled in this context.

Perhaps it is equally a reflection of more recent times that the idealist film hero is seen much less frequently now, or when seen, his idealism is less clear, more confusing, less perfect, more ambivalent, and sometimes what is sought to be presented as idealism may even be found a bit insulting by the more sincere idealists. So those yearning for a sense of identity for their idealism may still find more support in some of the more memorable roles of older films which are worth recalling. Some of these roles have very great songs linked closely with them, which makes them all the more unforgettable. Whether it is Raj Kapoor in Anari or Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, or Balraj Sahni in Anuradha, or Dharmendra in Satyakam or Anupama,  or Dalip Kumar in Naya Daur, or Sunil Dutt in Sujata and Usne Kaha Tha, or Ashok Kumar in Bandini, or Guru Dutt in Pyaasa it is just not possible to forget these roles and the great songs associated with them

The character of Raj Kapoor as the simple, struggling, happy-go-lucky, jovial young man with a heart of gold in Anari , (also a very sincere but awkward lover) is simply adorable, made even more affectionate by songs like kisi ki muskrahto pe. But Raj Kapoor in his own production Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai goes a step further and creates a character that is a  marvel , a gem. This is the inimitable Raju, an orphan who has grown up without a home and family ( mera naam Raju , gharana anaam), making his living by singing songs with a message of hope and love ( kaam  naye nit geet banana, geet bana ke sabhi ko sunaana). He dresses up in a most peculiar way, unlike any other dashing Hindi film hero, yet appears as the most endearing young man. It is this simpleton who by force of circumstances gets caught in the web of a gang of deadly dacoits. The film is all about his love conquering all and leading dacoits to a different path( aa ab laut chalein ).

In Anuradha Balraj Sahni’s  brilliant acting captures very well all the conflicts and problems an idealist doctor can face when he devotes his life to serving the rural poor. Hrishikesh Mukherjee returns much later to the idealist doctor in  Anand, although here Amitabh Bachan has only a supporting yet endearing role, even though the focus really is on the other very memorable role of Rajesh Khanna, which is again idealism of a different kind. Another  very important film on this theme is Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, with V. Shantaram playing the role of the great real-life Dr. Kotnis who served the Chinese people so well in very difficult conditions and sacrificed his life in the process.

Dharmendra plays the uncompromising honest engineer in a great film, Satyakam, losing one job after another but refusing to  give up on his ideals. He plays a somewhat similar role of a very honest civil engineer in Aadmi Aur Insaan, but his role in Satyakam really stands out and makes a deeper impact. Dhrmendra is also remembered for his role of an idealist journalist in Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi.  His portrayal of a struggling and sensitive poet in Anupama is also memorable ( is dil ki suno duniyawalo), even though this is a film which is dominated by the heroine Sharmila Tagore.

Similarly although Bandini is a film centered mostly on the heroine Nutan,  the role played by Ashok Kumar as the troubled revolutionary caught up constantly in difficult and complex situations  is outstanding .

Among working class heroes the role played by Dilip Kumar in Naya Daur can not be forgotten easily ( Saathi Haath Badaana). This is a film which actually starts with a quotation by Mahatma Gandhi against indiscriminate mechanization and the entire film revolves around this, with  Dalip Kumar playing the role of a leader of villagers who are resisting indiscriminate mechanization, the entire conflict culminating in a tonga racing against a motor vehicle.

However the role of idealist hero which has left perhaps the deepest impact is that of the brilliant but struggling poet Vijay played by Guru Dutt in his own film Pyaasa. This  role has also been immortalized by the association of the brilliant poetry of Sahir Ludhianvi , some of which has been turned into all-time great songs by the music of Sachin Dev Burman. In particular the song Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye To Kya Hai just has to be there in any listing of the best songs of Hindi cinema.

These roles provide strength and support to those in the audience who are inclined towards idealism and face problems and dilemmas which are all too familiar to those with idealistic yearnings. This is the reason for durable, longer-term memories associated with these roles and this is also the reason why sometimes the young generation often finds solace and inspiration in these classic films.

 Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author who has written on public interest issues for over four decades.


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