Starring Sandhya, Mahipal, Baburao Pendharkar, Chandrakant, Vatsala Deshpande, K. Date

Coming after the hugely successful and critically acclaimed socially relevant films like “Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje” and “Do Aankhen Barah Haat”, V. Shantaram’s ambitious “Navrang”, which was generally panned by the critics, turned out to be a golden jubilee hit. Many described it as a feast of colours, many others a riot of the proverbial nine rasas.

Colourful extravaganza

Not only that, this daring colourful extravaganza, costing more than 30 lakh rupees, was also considered to be the most expensive film of its time.

Based on a simple but contrived and many layered Marathi story by G.D. Madgulkar, the film, set in the 18th Century feudal setup, is about a folk poet, Diwakar (Mahipal), his wife Jamuna, and a muse aptly named Mohini (Sandhya in a double role) at a time when the British were beginning to annex small kingdoms.

It was to be originally made as an experimental black and white movie in Marathi with Sandhya and Arun Sarnaik but after an initial schedule Shantaram decided to make it in Hindi with the relatively unknown Mahipal as the hero opposite wife Sandhya.

Much of Navrang’s poetry is about a beautiful woman, Mohini, a figment of his fertile imagination though he sees his wife Jamuna’s face while describing her virtues. But his reputation earns him the job of Raj Kavi, or court poet which is, however, short lived.

To make matters worse, a desperate and confused wife too, unable to cope with his fantasy that is made worse by his suffering from writer’s block, abandons him, and goes away but not before the narrative goes through several song and dance numbers — especially the Asha Bhosle Holi number “Arre ja re natkhat.”

Patriotic angle

To make the narrative vexed, the patriotic angle is infused into the screenplay (Shantaram himself) which not only helps add more songs but also is an attempt to extend the hero’s role which had nearly reached a dead end, and give another fillip to the underlying family saga.

Navrang now starts penning patriotic songs like “Na raja rahega na rani rahegi”, “Shyamal shaymal baran”, “Yeh mati sabhi ki kahani” alongside romantic solos and duets. Maestro C. Ramachandra infused some raw energy into his compositions like “Aadha hai chandrama rath aadhi”, “Tu chhupi hai kahan”, “Tu mera main teri”, “Aa dil se dil mila le” — mostly Asha solos except “Tu chhupi” with Manna Dey, and “Aadha hai chandrama” with debutant Mahendra Kapoor. Incidentally, Jeetendra (subsequently introduced as a hero in “Geet Gaya Pattharo Ne”) acted as a junior artiste in the climactic crowded song sequence “Tu chupi ki kahan main tarasta yahan”.

Interestingly, the entire film was shot within the Rajkamal Studio in a 9 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. shift with the entire cast and crew on a regular monthly payroll. Made under the Rajkamal Kalamandir Private Limited banner with V. Shantaram as the screenplay writer and director Bharat Vyas as the lyricist.

Amazing choreography by Shaam included the breathtaking Kathak dance in which Sandhya sways, bends, twists and turns and performs balancing 10 earthen pots on her head.

It was first released in Mumbai’s Liberty Cinema, where it ran exactly for 50 weeks before it was taken off to pave the way for Mehboob Khan’s disastrous swansong, “Son of India”.