Rajendra Kumar, Meena Kumari, Raaj Kumar
Watch a heart-rending movie like “Dil Ek Mandir” and you yearn for the era when compassion and integrity were essential traits of human relations. Even today, when glamour and glitz dominate each human interaction and sacrifice and kindness are often ridiculed as afflictions of foolish mortals, “Dil Ek Mandir” enchants with its timeless story of moral courage and devotion in the face of adversity.
Released in 1963, the film was completed in record 27 days and must surely rank as a Herculean effort, considering it had three major stars of the era — Rajendra Kumar (as Dr. Dharmesh), Meena Kumari (as Sita) and Raaj Kumar (as Ram).
Obviously, what made it possible was the tight script by Raj Baldev Raj and Arjun Dev Rashk based on an engrossing story by C. V. Sridhar, the director of the film. Incidentally, while Rashk received the Filmfare trophy for best dialogue, Raaj Kumar and Rajendra Kumar won honours as Best Supporting Actor and Best Popular Actor (along with an award for his stellar performance in “Sangam”) respectively.
A remake of the Tamil film, “Nenjil Ore Alayam” (1962), “Dil Ek Mandir” revolves around the tragic romance of Dr. Dharmesh and Sita. They vow to get married after Dharmesh returns from abroad on completion of higher studies. By a quirk of fate, Sita is married to a caring businessman, Ram and accepts her new role in stoic silence. Traumatised on return by Sita's marriage, Dharmesh dedicates his life to serving cancer patients in a far flung nursing home.
One day, unaware of Dharmesh's whereabouts, Sita brings forth her cancer afflicted husband to the nursing home and the sudden encounter disturbs the rhythm of their lives. Petrified that Dharmesh may not provide Ram with a fair treatment, Sita wishes to take her husband to another hospital, but is dissuaded by Dharmesh as he promises to do his best to save Ram.
Meanwhile, convinced he wouldn't survive for long, Ram worries about Sita's future and when he overhears the conversation of the two friends, he suggests they get married after his death. But this proposal is promptly rejected by both as preposterously immoral!
Seized with an overwhelming burden to prove his integrity, lest he be accused of trying to get Sita, Dharmesh concentrates on the complicated surgery ignoring food and rest. After a successful operation, an elated Dharmesh runs out to convey the good news to Sita but stumbles and dies out of sheer exhaustion. The film ends with Ram and Sita leading Dharmesh's mother to the inauguration of a hospital built in his memory.
C.V. Sridhar must be complimented for extracting stunning performances from all actors. The deft camera work of P.N. Sundaram and Ajay Vincent adds to the emotional impact of the story. Scenes like Ram's visit to Dharmesh's quarters while he is staring at Sita's photograph or the death of a girl before Ram's operation are gripping as well as lyrical in execution.
The film has vintage Raaj Kumar, without his trademark drawl, matching histrionics with the tragic anguish and poise of Rajendra Kumar and the delicate Meena Kumari only adds to the charm with her velvet voice and mesmerising solemnity. Shot in black and white, each frame is embellished with grace through some wonderful juxtaposition of light and shade.
The film has some eternally haunting melodies by Shankar-Jaikishan, with Mohammed Rafi's heart tugging “Yaad Na Jaaye Beete Dino Ke” and Lata Mangeshkar's magnetic “Ruk Ja Raat Thehar Ja Re Chanda” standing out as overwhelming favourites. Some other numbers like Rafi Sahab's “Yahaan Koi Nahin Tere Mere Siwa”, Suman Kalyanpur's “Juhi Ki Kali Meri Ladli” and the Rafi-Suman duet “Dil Ek Mandir Hain” too have lilting appeal.
Overall, the film binds you with its intrinsic simplicity and you empathise with every character, a mere pawn on life's chess board. The situations of despair and hope seem our own and like we “see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower”, “Dil Ek Mandir” emphatically imprints that heart is the only temple for humanity.