The 1950s saw a change in the Bollywood industry and many of the films actually altered it in many ways. One of these films was Master Bhagwan's Albela, in which he starred opposite the well-known actress Geeta Bali.
Though there had been previous movies which could have been considered musicals, it is Albela, released in 1951, that is the best remembered today. This had comedy and tragedy as well as music and songs which are also remembered. It was the story of a daydreamer, Pyare, who lives with his retired father and mother, a brother, sister-in-law, and an unmarried sister who is about to get married. His father puts cash in the thousands towards the wedding, while his brother arranges for more. But Pyare is only able to raise a hundred as he is fired from his job due to his regular habit of daydreaming about becoming a star. He leaves his home and does go on to become a star. The songs: 'Shola jo bhadke, dil mera dhake' ('As the fire lights, my heart beats faster'), and 'Nindiya aajare aaja dheerese aaja' ('Sleep come slowly'), are the best remembered ones as they were so popular at the time. Though Albela was a big hit movie, it was the only successful film by Master Bhagwan. The dances that he performed in the movie became so popular that many actors are said to have approached him for his guidance, including the superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
The well-known actress Geeta Bali came from the state of Punjab before the partition in 1947 but started her career in 1948 with the film Suhaag Raat (First Night) and went on to act with Guru Dutt and Dev Anand, and her future brother-in-law Raj Kapoor. But unlike other actresses, who stopped working in films after marriage, she continued to work and once acted with her future father-in-law, Prithviraj Kapoor in Anand Math, which was released in 1952. Her secretary was Surinder Kapoor, father of the movie director Boney Kapoor and actor and producer Anil Kapoor. She kept on working until her death on 21 January, 1965, when she succumbed to smallpox. Geeta Bali was survived by her husband Shammi Kapoor, a son Aditya and a daughter Kanchan. Her niece, Yogeeta Bali, later joined the industry.
The early 1950s saw another well known movie being released — Raj Kapoor's Awaara (Rogue). Whenever this title is mentioned, one remembers the dream sequence. This was the first RK Film to be shot in its own studios at Chembur. In this, Raj Kapoor plays the role of a son whose mother is thrown out of the house by her husband, a high class judge. The son, Raj, adopts a life of a dacoit (robber) and rogue, but then he meets his childhood sweetheart, Rita, who has been brought up by his father. Raj finds out how ruthlessly his father had thrown out his mother and he also finds out the cause was the dacoit, Jagga, who had kidnapped her. In a act of revenge, Raj, tries to kill his father and also kills the dacoit. The movie starred Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Prithviraj Kapoor, Leela Chitnis, KN Singh and a very young Shashi Kapoor as the young Raj.
The dream sequence is shown when Raj thinks about his childhood sweetheart and dreams that he is going to heaven from hell. Here he sees himself going into heaven which is surrounded by clouds, and statues of gods. Looking around he sees Rita, dressed in white, as an angelic figure, singing the song, 'Ghar aya mera padesi' ('My beloved has returned home') the playback1 for which is by Lata Mangeshkar (for Nargis). Raj follows Rita up a spiralling staircase but then he sees the dark figure of the dacoit Jagga, he finds himself confused and going back to where he belonged, screaming for help and saying that he would like to stop living the life of a dacoit. This sequence was said to be taped at the very end of the filming and was then added to the film. It went on to become very popular, not just in India but also other countries such as Russia, Greece and China, and some Arabian and African countries. In Russia, many people could be heard singing another popular song from the movie, 'Awaara hoon' ('I am a rogue'), sung by Raj Kapoor's friend and playback singer Mukesh.
Raj Kapoor built RK Studios with the profits from his earlier movie, Barsaat, which had been released in 1949. The symbol of RK films was adopted from a scene of this film, when Nargis bends over backwards and is held with one hand by Raj Kapoor, who also holds a violin.
In 1953 another change took place in the industry when Mehboob Khan released his film Aan in colour2. Aan starred Dilip Kumar in the role of Jao Tilak, a poor villager, who enters a competition to tame a horse which belongs to a princess. Upon winning it, he is challenged to a fencing duel by the evil Prince, who loses. However, Jai falls in love with the arrogant Princess, played by the debutant actress Nadira, aged 19.
Nadira, whose real name was Frahat Ezekiel, was born in Israel but she moved to India to work in films. She worked in a total of 66 films, including Raj Kapoor's Shree 420. It was because of her sharp, European features that Mehboob Khan offered her the role in his movie and also because he wanted to dub the movie in English. Nadira never married, and in later life she went on to play character roles. On 9 February, 2006, she passed away following a heart attack.
Do Bigha Zameen
One of the most popular films that is remembered today from this decade is Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zameen (Two Acres of Land). Bimal Roy was heavily influenced by the Italian Vittorio De Sicca, and he was also swayed by socialist dramas. In this film, the script was written by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who later went on to make some well known movies. Bimal Roy poured his heart and soul into this sentimental, moving drama about the predicament of a small-time farmer.
A farmer is in danger of losing his two acres of land, which is his ancestral plot, unless he repays a debt to the feudal lord. The farmer decides to go to the Bengali city of Calcutta to raise money. To do this he becomes a rickshaw puller, but struggles against the odds that are mounting. Despite all his efforts, sadly he loses his land and a factory is built upon it.
Bimal Roy was born in the city of Dhaka (now the capital of Bangladesh) in 1909, which was a part of the Bengal province in what was then British India. In the 1930s Roy joined New India Pvt Ltd as an assistant cameraman. During this period he assisted PC Barua in directing Devdas which starred KL Saigal, but it was not until the 1950s that he became well known. His films included Madhumati, which starred Dilip Kumar, Vyjayantimala and Pran, and Parineeta, which starred Ashok Kumar and Meena Kumari.
Roy's films showed great depth in the understanding of human strengths and weaknesses. During his lifetime, he received seven Filmfare awards (the Indian equivalent to the Academy Awards) for Best Director, four Filmfare awards for Best Movie, plus an International Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Do Bigha Zameen. He passed away on 7 January, 1966, but his influence can be felt in films such as Lagaan (Tax), released in 2001, which was directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar and starred Aamir Khan. This was put forward for the Academy Awards by the Indian Film Industry but failed to win the award. Bimal Roy is fondly remembered today as Bimal Da.
Another director but also an actor who is well remembered today in 'Bollywood' is Guru Dutt. Mention Guru Dutt's name and many start to remember one of the songs from a movie that he acted in, Chaudvin Ka Chand (The Moon of the Fourteenth) from the film of the same title, accompanied by Waheeda Rehman. Dutt was said to have had a romance with Waheeda Rehman, even though he was married to a very well known playback singer, Geeta Dutt. His birth name was Vasanth Kumar Shivshankar Padukone but following an accident, chose to re-name himself Guru Dutt. His childhood days were hard due to financial difficulties and strained relationship between his parents, hostility from his maternal uncle's family and a most frightening encounter with his insane, adopted, uncle. Dutt spent a lot of time with his mother's cousin, Balakrishna B Benegal, whose job was to paint posters for the film industry. Her younger brother Sridhar B Benegal is the father of the famous director Shyam Benegal.
Though a good student, Dutt never went to college and instead joined Uday Shankar's performing arts troupe3. However, he soon left and joined his parents and was found a job at Prabhat Film Company in Poona. It was here that he met two people who would go on to be good friends of his — Dev Anand and Rehman. In 1944 Dutt went on to act in a small film entitled Chand (Moon) and a year later he became an assistant director. But then in 1946, not only did he act and direct but also choreographed for the film Hum Ek Hain (We Are Together). The following year he became an assistant to the CEO at Prabhat Film Company and Studio. After that he became unemployed, and for ten months he lived with his parents, during which time he developed a flair for writing in English, and also began to write short stories. At the same time he wrote a script called Kashmakash, which was later re-titled Pyaasa (The Thirsty One) and this film was released in 1957.
Dutt's best known film as a director, Baazi (A Game of Chance), which starred Dev Anand, Geeta Bali, Kalpna Kartik (who later married Dev Anand), KN Singh and Johnny Walker, was released in 1951 out of Naveketan, Dev Anand's company. This movie introduced and highlighted two technical developments, the first was the use of close-ups by using a 100mm lens. It is estimated that there are 14 such close-ups in the movie. Secondly, the use of songs to move the story along. A year later, in 1952, Dutt released his film Jaal (The Net), which again starred Dev Anand and Geeta Bali. Though these films didn't do well at the Box Office, they did succeed in bringing together a good team of film makers. Also in 1952, Dutt married the well known playback singer Geeta Roy.
In 1953, Dutt acted in his own film, Baaz (The Hawk) with Geeta Bali and KN Singh. Three years later, another film, C.I.D., was released, which starred Dev Anand, Shakila, Johnny Walker and Waheeda Rehman, but it was directed by Dutt's assistant, Raj Khosla, who was introduced to Dutt by Dev Anand. Raj Khosla went on to make some famous films such as Do Raaste (Two Ways), Mera Saaya (My Shadow) and Woh Kaun Thi (Who Was She).
Pyaasa, which Dutt starred in and also directed, also starred Waheeda Rehaman whom he was romancing, was released in 1957. Kaagaz Ke Phool (Paper Flowers), the 1959 film in which he had invested a lot of money as well as energy, was a disaster at the box office. He was so devastated that he decided not to direct any more films. Dutt's romance with Waheeda Rehman interfered with his marriage and he separated from his wife. He was already a smoker and began drinking heavily. Mixing sleeping tablets with alcohol proved to be a dangerous combination as he was found dead on 10 October, 1964, in what was termed a suicide. Today Kaagaz Ke Phool is considered a cult classic. In the 2002 Sight & Sound Critics and Directors poll it, and his other movie Pyaasa, were featured among the top 160 all time greatest films. In this same poll, Guru Dutt was ranked at number 73 in the list of all time great directors.
Mother India (1957)
One of the first to be nominated for an Academy Award for 'Best Foreign Film' is Mehboob Khan's Mother India. This is thought of as India's Gone With The Wind. Mother India was a powerful story about a mother and her two sons — one a dutiful and law-abiding, and the other rebellious and defiant. This storyline contained the message of Indian motherhood. It was also a vindication of women's authority and a statement on the strength of determination of character that is able to withstand a marathon struggle as well as bitter conflict.
The film depicts the painful struggle of a peaceful Indian farmer to cling to the glory of the bygone days. A farmer, who loses his hands in an accident, leaves his family. His wife 'Radha' faces the task of not just farming the land but also raising two sons, 'Birju' and 'Ramu'. Radha goes on to perform great sacrifices, which includes selling herself to the money lender so that she is able to buy food. But when the sons grow up, one becomes a rebel when he takes up a gun, rather than follow the footsteps of his brother Ramu and their mother. The ending, where the mother shoots her rebel son, is still remembered today and has been recreated several times. Most recently it was recreated on the Indian Television daily soap opera, Kyunke Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.
The film is also remembered for a dramatic incident as well. While filming a scene where there is fire all around her, the actress Nargis, who played the role of 'Radha', was surrounded by flames which went out of control. Actor Sunil Dutt, who played the part of the rebel son 'Birju', leapt in and saved her. The two later got married. Nargis Dutt was only 51 when she died on 3 May, 1981, after suffering from pancreatic cancer, just days before her son Sanjay's first film Rocky was released. Sanjay Dutt is now also involved in politics as is his sister Priya. Actor Sunil Dutt, husband of Nargis and father to Sanjay and Priya, passed away on 25 May, 2005.
The 1960s would introduce further changes in 'Bollywood' as black and white films would be totally replaced by colour, and would feature the first superstar in a long time, Rajesh Khanna.