Starring Sanjeev Kumar, Jaya Bhaduri, Om Prakash

Sanjeev Kumar was an actor’s actor, a director’s strength and a fan’s delight. A journeyman in the world of celluloid, he personified the essence of art on the screen. Beginning from ‘C’ grade films, he came to represent the group of actors who rose and conquered the industry with their awesome work. Mumtaz is a name that comes to mind readily of an actor who portrayed determination in its best form. Haribhai Jariwala in real life, Sanjeev Kumar figured in many unforgettable films, but few as diverse and compelling as “Naya Din Nai Raat”.

The role had been originally offered to Dilip Kumar (Yousuf Khan) but the thespian reportedly declined the role and proposed Sanjeev Kumar’s name. The two had acted together in “Sungharsh” with Sanjeev giving a fine performance. Obviously, Dilip Saab knew the potential of his recommendation and was not let down by a masterly act that established Sanjeev as one of the most versatile actors in the history of Hindi cinema.

This was a challenging film; nine different roles for one actor. Double roles had come to grab the attention of the audience, but this was an experiment that needed a complete actor, similar to legendary stars Sivaji Ganesan and Akkineni Nageswara Rao, who had both played the roles earlier. Can’t imagine a Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand or Rajesh Khanna slipping into this role! If not Dilip Saab, it had to be Sanjeev Kumar.

A pipe puffing widower to a cigar chewing cop, a gun brandishing dacoit to an alcoholic husband, a psychiatrist to a fraud godman, and the leprosy patient, played with such conviction. Sanjeev Kumar found himself in the exalted company of great performers after receiving rave reviews for his nine-character act. What if he did not receive any award for the movie? Sanjeev Kumar’s was a priceless show and recognition came in the commentary at the start of the movie. He was described as the one person best qualified to play the nine roles. Yes, the introduction was by Dilip Saab.

The movie actually is Sushma’s (Jaya Bhaduri) experience with different aspects of life. In defiance of her father’s (Om Prakash) decision to marry her off, she runs away from home and comes into contact with nine characters, so stunningly captured in different forms by make-up man Sarosh Modi, the accomplished artist who did wonderful work with Zeenat Aman in “Satyam Shivam Sundaram” and Rekha in “Khoon Bhari Maang”.

Sushma’s adventurous journey begins with the wealthy widower and his daughter; Sushma next lands in a brothel where she encounters the alcoholic who is drowning his painful memories of an unfaithful wife; a psychiatrist who is an epitome of compassion; an outlaw who has avenged the death of his brother’s killers; a smuggler masquerading as a godman; an affluent philanthropist afflicted with leprosy; a transvestite artist; a gregarious and garrulous cop who hunts a lion to save Sushma’s life and finally a young man, who happens to be the prospective candidate chosen by her father to become her life partner.

There is Jaya Bhaduri in most frames, but the towering presence of Sanjeev Kumar dominates the movie. His stage background does carry him to the pinnacle of acting.

There are many memorable scenes but the standout show comes in the role of the bandit.

There is this particular scene where Sanjeev Kumar narrates his transformation from a doting elder brother to a bandit.

He delivers a sterling performance in a single shot with some forceful acting, his voice modulating from fierce to emotional strains, leaving you in a trance.

And then the leprosy patient!

This is Sanjeev Kumar at his best, the symbolic gesture of swatting flies, his face a tragic reflection of the degenerating physical shape of his life, a harsh commentary on the social structure of a society which shuns the same man who once indulged in generous charity to give a good life to the needy.

The godman, swinging to “Bolo Krishna Bolo Krishna, Radhe Radhe Krishna Krishna”, is Sanjeev Kumar at his villainous best; not to forget the alcoholic, deliriously lip-syncing “Mai Wahi, Wahi Baat,” sung by Mohammad Rafi in as intoxicating a delivery as you can imagine.

As director, A. Bhim Singh does a fine job; so do most associates in this movie, but Sanjeev Kumar is the master.

As the film concludes with six characters attending the wedding of Anand and Sushma, you can’t but exclaim “What an actor!”