Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Parvarish (1958) – upliftment of fallen MEN!

Anyone who’s seen enough old Bollywood films knows about fallen women – the nightclub dancer, the tawaif, the gangster’s moll, etc. The deserving among these debased women usually get a leg up into higher strata of society where they get the privilege of wearing vermilion in their hair partings and no longer have to wear the dreaded ghungroo. There seem to be several of these fallen and subsequently uplifted women in Bollywood. But seldom does one come across a similar upliftment of fallen men. Thats what makes this movie so unique – it takes two men out of the kotha (filmi brothel) and makes them respectable!


Thakur Jaswant Singh (Nasir Hussain) and his wife Rukmini (Lalita Pawar) are expecting their first-born in late middle age. To avoid any medical problems, they decide against a home birth – a decision that he at least will live to regret for a long time. Before the new-born can be introduced to his parents, disaster in the nursery leads to a mix-up. Jaswant’s son gets mixed up with that of a courtesan who died in childbirth, and nobody knows which kid goes with what mother. After some high drama and a lot of “Thakur!”, “Thakur!!”, Jaswant’s friend, Thakur Harinam Singh (Krishnakant), suggests to Jaswant that he claim both babies. The two can be distinguished at a later date as the courtesan’s son will reveal his origins with time (“blood will out”)!

A reluctant Jaswant and Rukmini take home both babies. Also along with them is the dead courtesan’s brother Banke Bihari (Radhakrishan) who happened to be a musician in the kotha – a miraasi (a singer/musician who apparently occupies the same social status as the courtesan). Banke now makes his home with his nephew in Jaswant’s mansion.
Then begins the endless wait for the “dirty” courtesan blood to show itself. Bringing up the kids, Rukmini gets attached to both children, and so does Banke. Jaswant and Harinam though, are perpetually looking for signs of courtesan-iness – in vain! As the babies grow up, people continue to upbraid Jaswant for fostering a nautch-girl’s kid. After the thousandth such incident has pained Jaswant, Harinam pledges to marry his daughter to Jaswant’s real son who will be known when the lower class kid finally shows his true colors. Soon after, Harinam loses his wife and moves to vilaayat (foreign land – usually England) with his daughter, Asha.
The years fly by, without either kid developing any base characteristics. The two sons grow up into frolicking young men – Raja (Raj Kapoor, of course!) and Ramesh (Mehmood). Their Mom, Rukmini, loves them both dearly and they in turn are very attached to each other and their parents.
Harinam returns to India with a grown up Asha (Mala Sinha) while Jaswant’s real son is still to reveal himself. A contretemps at Harinam’s welcome home party leads to the nth person (‘n’ here equals infinity, if the film is to be believed!) taunting Jaswant about bringing up a naachnewaali’s son in his house. He comes home and yells at both sons, bemoaning his fate. Thats when Raja decides to take action. Since neither brother is developing any immoral characteristics, he decides that he will display some base characteristics to show himself as the true descendant of the nautch girl and her depraved family. After some argument between the brothers about who will pretend to be the base-born, Raja prevails.
Thus begins Raja’s journey into the despised demi-monde. He steals money from home, drinks and gambles, gets into a fight and lands up in jail. Jaswant is jubilant to finally know who his real son is (the still-good boy Ramesh), while Rukmini is unwilling to believe bad things of either of her sons and is convinced that there is some misunderstanding. Since Jaswant will no longer entertain Raja at home, she instructs Ramesh to send Raja to her house outside the city.
Raja is happy to have made his father happy. Then, a chance encounter with Asha leads to mutual love. They do know each other’s names, but are too busy falling in love to introduce each other’s families. When the truth surfaces, Raja is in full sacrifice-for-family mode while Asha is in strong-woman mode - refusing to bow down to familial and societal pressure and intent on marrying Raja.
A dramatic blood transfusion later, the men finally wake up to the all-important fact that their womenfolk had always known – that its not birth but upbringing (parvarish) that decides a person’s character! The dramatics and plot development are routine and the endless cycles of taunting-preaching get old very fast. However, there are a couple of things that make this film stand out. The first is that unlike in regular Bollywood films, every character talks to everyone else (whenever possible) and misunderstandings do not persist for longer than a couple of scenes. As one who has frequently wished for this to happen, I am now aware that one must be careful what one wishes for. Every character clearing up every misunderstanding just RUINS a plot! Note to screen-writers – never, NEVER, let characters be frank and open with their loved ones.
The second, and most remarkable thing, as I mentioned in the beginning of the post, is the upliftment of fallen MEN. No they arent murderers, thieves, libertines or rapists – Bollywood is usually very forgiving to them. Our fallen men are actually people who work in the kotha as musicians – the real dregs of the society. Raja seeks the kotha in his quest to debase himself. Like the courtesan of a typical sad-courtesan drama, he shows Asha his true milieu and begs her to leave him in his filth. His Uncle, Banke, had already spent a lifetime in said filth before his nephew’s unexpected adoption led him into Thakur-ian abodes. Both these fallen men are claimed from their gutterly surroundings and uplifted into respectable society. Has that ever happened before (or after)? The idea that upbringing plays a role in forming a person’s character has been explored in a later Parvarish, too, but not even a Manmohan Desai ever dared to reclaim such fallen men!
There! That concludes my public-service post. You’ve been informed of the best aspects of this film so you can escape Raj Kapoor’s self-indulgent sacrificing, everybody’s endless preaching, and whack-over-the-head morals. You’ve been WARNED, so watch at your own peril. O and dont forget to check out the songs on youtube – they are lovely. Jhoome re jhoome re, O mama o mama, Beliyaa beliyaa beliyaa, Aansoo bhari hain, Jaane kaisa jadoo kiya and Masti bhara hai samaan, are all lovely.

27 comments:

  1. The upliftment of men? That is an unusual premise. Am not sure I'd want to watch this film, though, despite the good music - Raj Kapoor in self-sacrificing mode gets my goat.

    Isn't it weird how everybody in Hindi cinema seems to be so quick to believe the worst of their nearest and dearest, and keep mum about things? A film where misunderstandings don't persist for more than a couple of scenes would be like a breath of fresh air! Another film that had that quality was the Sanjay Khan-Mala Sinha starrer Dillagi.

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  2. You have to admire them for at least putting in a good word for nurture over nature! Still, I agree with you; I probably just got the best bits of the plot and don't need to watch now. :-)

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  3. Ha ha! Thanks for watching this so I don't have to! :-)

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  4. dustedoff, the upliftmen of men was just a by-product of the effects of parvarish. I am sure the film didnt set out to do so!

    Its true about how easily filmi people believe the worst of their loved ones - but then filmi characters are rarely consistent, so it makes sense that their good and bad points are equally believable!

    Is Dillagi worth looking out for?

    ajnabi, since you like Raj Kapoor, you might enjoy it more than I did! There were fun bits, too. I just got tired of all the people going on and on about the importance of birth/inheritance that all the filmi characters seemed to feel, just so they could be told that its upbringing thats important - talk about moral shovels!

    memsaab, I try to do my bit...

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  5. Dillagi has an irritating comic side plot and the songs are nothing exceptional, but Sanjay Khan and Mala Sinha look wonderful - and the romance between them is sweetly played out. The best bit about it, as I mentioned, is that their trust in each other wavers only briefly.

    Will be doing a post on it next week, so you can figure out whether you'd want it or not! I certainly don't regret having bought it.

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  6. I didn't even know men required uplifting until reading this! ;) I liked what you say about the misunderstandings being eliminated being something you'd wished for, but it turns out that this event could make the movie sort of go flat. Too bad I'm not an prphan or adopted, because I'd love to have a tawaif mom come an claim me, her ghungroo jingling. :)
    All the best!
    Sita-ji

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  7. That O mama song is so catchy in an annoyingly fun way, by the way Raja was dancing i could have picked him as the courtesans son, check out those moves.

    The film seems quite endearing though, the way Mala refused to bow to her parents marriage i guess that was somewhat untypical of hindi film heroines at the time and indeed Mala often took on such roles, i love her so much and it pains, not like i care about award shows that much that Mala never really got her due from the filmfare folks i don't know how true it is and i don't mean to fan any flames but some have cited her Nepali background as a reason

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  8. dustedoff, if the leads look good and the romance plays out well, I am in for it! Cant wait for your review.

    Sita-ji, Bollywood can throw up unexpected surprises, even for seasoned watchers like us! As to not being adopted, the fact may be hidden from you - so dont give up hope of the ghungroo jingles! ;-) For my part, I would prefer someone who lived in a house with a baby grand piano and lots of sweeping staircases, red carpets and chandeliers in it.

    bollywooddeewana, I LOVE the O mama song - it was solely responsible for my buying this film! And its funny you say so, because I too thought Raj's dancing could be used to claim courtesan blood for him!

    Mala Sinha did have a nice gutsy role (even beat up some villains at one point) but didnt have a lot of screen time. Too much time was taken up by the question of birth and nature vs nurture. As to Mala Sinha not getting her due from Filmfare, I think she had pretty stiff competition from the likes of Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Waheeda Rehman, Nutan, etc. who were generally considered better actresses and landed the meatier parts. Which role of hers, do you think, should have landed her a Filmfare?

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  9. Even if not an award for best actress a lifetime achievement wouldn't go amiss I don't believe Mumtaz who was her Junior ( i love Mumtaz too) was awarded one and not Mala,Mala had been in the biz since the early 1950's i think. Anyway Star Screen saw it fit and she was honoured with one in 2006, one can only imagine what would have happened had award shows like Star screen hadn't happened.

    As for roles she should have gotten it for perhaps Dhool ka Phool or Pyaasa. i'm yet to see her in Himalay ki God mein which i've heard is another one of her strong roles

    What films have you loved Mala in

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  10. If you tell me the movie ends without ever definitively answering the question as to which brother is the "real" son, then I will straightaway appoint this as one of the greatest BW movies ever made. Although it sounds pretty darn awesome anyway.

    BollywoodDeewana - There's this movie I can't remember the name of: Mala Sinha's this illiterate village girl married off to a city snob against his will. On their wedding night, he abandons her and makes off for foreign parts. She then sets off in pursuit after teaching herself to be "worthy" only to have him fall for her in her new guise at which point she tells him to fuck off. If the movie had ended there then I would have loved it to bits, but it ends with the two of them coming back home where the remorseful husband begs her pardon and she reveals herself. It was still a pretty enjoyable movie... if you can turn your head off. I wonder what its called.

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  11. Amrita: Pyar Ka Sapna? I don't remember her telling him to eff off, though - in fact, she pretty much falls for him too, and goes through a lot of heartache when she thinks there may be a rival for her affections. The film had some nice songs, but frankly I expected much more from a director like Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

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  12. bollywooddeewana, Mala was never one of my favorites growing up, for some reason. I do think she is pretty good though. One film of hers that I really love is Aankhen and she is very good in this one, too. In Pyaasa I think she gets overlooked because most of the action centers on Guru Dutt, Rehman and Waheeda Rehman. O and I loved her grandma act in Khel, too. I do need to investigate some more to come up with more of her good roles, though.

    Amrita, the movie does NOT sort out the birth issue! Both the sons are finally accepted as the "real" sons. So you can safely appoint this as the greatest BW movie ever! And I do remember the film you mention, which Dustedoff identifies as Pyar Ka Sapna - if I am not wrong, for once it was the MAN who was brought back from the path of ruin (Westernisation, of course!) by a WOMAN!!! JJPK in reverse? ;-)

    dustedoff, Hrishikesh Mukherji made so many nice films that he can be forgiven for lapsing into bad films once in a while! ;-) And Pyar Ka Sapna is the one where Mala Sinha learns not just fashion sense, but English and French in a few weeks, right?

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  13. "And Pyar Ka Sapna is the one where Mala Sinha learns not just fashion sense, but English and French in a few weeks, right?"

    Yes. And to think I spent three years toiling over French, and still can't manage more than a few stock phrases... sigh.

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  14. But then, none of us are Mala Sinha! And maybe a few stock phrases is all it takes? Something along the lines of "where is the loo", "can I have cream with my coffee/tea", "do you speak English" and some swear words, should be good enough, I suppose.

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  15. bollyviewer,
    Well yes my missing mother would have been a tawaif early on, but she's moved her station in life, having married a rich industrialist (Mr. Malhotra) so like your missing mother she too For my part, would be one who, "lived in a house with a baby grand piano and lots of sweeping staircases, red carpets and chandeliers in it."
    :)
    All the best!
    Sita-ji

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  16. So you want the best of both worlds! Have you thought what the combination of a tawaif past and all that money means? BLACKMAIL! And all sorts of angst creating ghosts from the past. No Sita-ji, you must let go of this tawaif fantasy and hang on to red carpets, sweeping staircases, velvet couches and enormous chandeliers.

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  17. Dustedoff & BV - I will look up Pyar ka Sapna and sit in condemnation then! :-D

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  18. Wonderful review, heart-warming captions! Especially loved the "dont cry, I wont kiss you!" :)

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  19. Amrita, that should be fun. Maybe we can all have a Pyar Ka Sapna party - if and when it is found.

    Anonymous, your words are music to my ears! Keep visiting.

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  20. raj kapoor is really annoying in this movie.
    I think he is at fault for starting such movies. After Awara was such a hit, everybody wanted to cash on the theme!
    thanks for the review

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  21. Rajesh, thanks!

    Harvey, Raj Kapoor was usually annoying - probably because his earnestness and sincerity were so patently faux! He could be quite charming when he forgot to "act" - unfortunately, it never happened for longer than a couple of scenes in a movie. And his Awara and Shree 420 persona was already done to death by the end of 50s - but he persisted in it till late 60s.

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  22. interesting...the movie's on right now & i'm enjoyin a song so thought i'd google it. now i think i wanna watch it properly.

    thanks for your observations

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  23. Glad to be of help! Did you enjoy the film?

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  24. I'm watching this now and it's pretty hilarious. Nazir Hussein is so great at getting over-the-top emotional over little things.. I love how he's so hurt by comments made by random extras (especially considering they are spurred by his and Krishnakant's over-the-top attacks on Radhakrishan). :)

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  25. Raj Kapoor deciding to put on an act is a sure sign he is the courtesan's son, isn't it? :)

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  26. Raj Kapoor's dancing is already a dead give-away, but yes, his decision to put on an act is the final confirmation! Can't believe they did not resolve the mystery in the end. Surely the viewers deserved to know after sitting through all the trauma-drama?

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