Can Dacoit Films Convey A Message of Non-Violence?

Mujhe Jeene Do

Many dacoit films have been made in Hindi cinema, against the background of Chambal region and also in other contexts. But most of these do not go beyond violence, revenge and romance. In fact some of these with the exaggerated importance these give to seeking revenge as well with long drawn-out violence sequences  can have quite a negative impact on society. A dacoit film like Sholay is counted among all –time hits of Hindi cinema. The exaggerated mannerisms of the main dacoit figure Gabbar Singh combined with the overall popularity of the multi-star film made the dacoit character something of a cult figure, certainly in the context of a negative impact on society.

However some outstanding films have also been made on the subject of dacoits and dacoit gangs. A few of these films succeed in giving a message of non-violence and leave a lasting impression on the viewer. One of these memorable films is Sunil Dutt’s Mujhe Jeene Do ( 1963 ), directed by Moni Bhattacharjee, a production of  Ajanta Arts founded around the same time by  Dutt. He was a man of firm social commitments and this is revealed all too clearly in Mujhe Jeene Do, a film made with a clear intent of spreading a message against violence. The use of the great Rafi song Ab Koi Gulshan Naa Ujre sets the mood and the purpose of the film at the very beginning and the viewer realizes that this is not just another dacoit masala film.

With excellent music by Jaidev and superb performances by Dutt and Waheeda Rehman, this film is remembered as one of the most memorable films of Hindi cinema. Its songs like Nadi Naare Na Jao Shyam Paiyan Paroon and Raat Bhi Hai Kuch Bhigi Bhigi ( Apart from Ab Koi Gulshan ) are still hummed frequently n by people. All the songs have been filmed beautifully. The story-line is structured in such a way that a message against taking to dacoity comes out very strongly. This is related through the deep tragedy in the lives of the victims of dacoits as well as well as the tragedy in the life of the main dacoit and his family. The message of non-violence is very strong and the film excels in almost all  aspects of film-making. Outdoor shooting in Chambal ravine areas captures the moods of the Chambal region very well.

Another outstanding film on this theme is Raj Kapoor’s Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960), directed by Radhu Karmakar. This is a different kind of film, the lead character is not a dacoit at all, so here there is no comparison with Mujhe Jeene Do, which is out and out a dacoit film. However Jis Desh is clearly one of the most memorable achievements of Hindi cinema, with  outstanding performances by Raj Kapoor, Pran and Padmini, with Raj Kapoor really living it up in one of the most memorable characters created in Hindi cinema—Raju the simple orphan who earns his livelihood singing songs on the street but gets caught up in the affairs  of a dacoit gang. Lyrics by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri are simply great. Songs are very helpful in bringing out the philosophy and thinking of the film , particularly Aa Ab Laut Chalen, Hum Bhi Hain Tum Bhi Ho, Mera Naam Raju Gharana Anaam , Honthon Pe Sachai Rehti Hai and O Basanti Pawan Paagal. This film leaves a very powerful message of peace.

What is common to both these great films Mujhe Jeene and Jis Desh is a strong impact of the efforts  of Gandhian leaders and activists for surrender of dacoits. Having covered this subject as a journalist, I could feel very involved with these films.

Dilip Kumar’s Ganga Jamuna ( 1961), directed by Nitin Bose, has been the most discussed dacoit film, known for its great music and use of folk dialect.

Katche Dhaage and Mera Gaon Mera Desh are  two other dacoit films which to some extent convey a message of non-violence but these do not make a very deep impact . Mera Saaya (1966) is not a dacoit film but dacoity issue appears in the film and the film conveys a strong message against dacoit life.

Outside India the better-known dacoit film is the one made on Phoolan Devi made by Shekhar Kappor, originally in English but available with Hindi sub-titles. Although outwards it gives appearance of authentic scenes and situations, it is not a very honest film as it caters more to what the western viewer would like to see.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Sachai Ki Kasam ( a collection of Hindi short stories) and Ummeed Mat  Jhorna ( Collection of Hindi poetry and songs).



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