Unlike any other Indian actor, Dilip Kumar in his long and distinguished career was instrumental in either adaptations of some Hollywood classics, or re-enacting certain characters. Two of these were Heathcliff from Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” (in “Arzoo”, “Hulchul”, “Dil Diya Dard Liya”) and Emiliano Zapata from the John Steinbeck scripted, Elia Kazan directed “Viva Zapata!” — with the inimitable Marlon Brando in the lead, supported by powerhouse actors like Anthony Quinn and Jean Peters. “Sagina”, which took four years in the making, and remaking, thanks to the thespian, turned out to be not a patch on the original. It also seemed to be a watered down version of the Bengali “Sagina Mahato” (1970) by the same set of producers (J.K. Kapur and Heman Ganguly), scripted and directed by Tapan Sinha from a story by Rupdarshi with dialogue by Rahi Masoom Reza. If the Bengali version won the National Award for Best Bengali Film, as also Best Picture Award at the International Film Festival at Moscow and overwhelming praise for an inspired performance to Dilip Kumar, its Hindi remake had no such luck.
We do get to see vintage Dilip Kumar in four or five scenes: the telephone sequence; while addressing the workers from the hillock; when he pleads with police to release the associate who killed the rapist at his provocation; when he calls for a strike; when he confronts the mill owner; the scene with Aparna Sen when the two talk about their families and childhood, and the short climax. Otherwise, we see the thespian at his loudest, though the subject demanded a sober enactment of the role of a factory worker manipulated by the owners into becoming a labour leader. The worst of it was evident in the buffoonery demonstrated in S.D. Burman’s composition of the Majrooh Sultanpuri lyric “Sala mein to saab ban gaya”, rendered by Kishore Kumar and Pankaj Mitra. The film’s excellent dialogue often gets lost due to the thespian’s over-the-top performance
The 140-minute film opens with Kumar’s voiceover apprising the audience about the true story of the 1942-43 labour movement recreated with a set of fictional characters, and the mock trial of Sagina Mahato, the trade union leader of a factory in Siliguri, in flashback by Anirudha (Anil Chatterjee) and his uniformed comrades, including Visakha Devi (Aparna Sen) as prosecutor in full view of other factory workers — some of who, like Lalita (Saira Bano) and Guru (Om Prakash) rise in his defence. An abrupt cut brings the narrative to the beginning, a drum-beating Sagina bursting out into “Uparwala dukhiyon ki nahi sunta tha” in Kishore’s voice (other such songs include “Gajab chamki bindiya tori aadhi raat” by Lata-Kishore, “Tumre sang to rain bitayee” by Asha-Kishore) that leads to his appointment as Welfare Officer to be manipulated by Comrade Anirudha, much to the dismay of his compatriots. He is sent to Calcutta, while back home, police power is unleashed on the striking workers. Sagina is pronounced the great betrayer who is beaten blue and red, provoked by Anirudha, and exposed at the end of his own staged mock trial.
Anil Chatterjee performs well, while Aparna Sen excels through a restrained performance. Of the others, K N Singh demonstrates his class in a brief appearance as a ruthless Calcutta mill owner, father of socialism practising daughter Visakha. Saira Bano, though, is miscast, and Kader Khan has just one scene. Some actors seem just wasted, particularly Om Prakash. Burmanda’s rendering of “Chhote chhote sapne hamaar” begins and ends the narrative.
Too many flashbacks result in reducing the impact of an otherwise strong script. The film ends with the exposure of Anirudha, his death at the hands of Visakha who feels as cheated and manipulated as Sagina and others. Although art director Sudhendu Roy won the Filmfare trophy for his work, “Sagina” did not fare well at the box office, even with Subodh Roy’s editing and Bimal Mukherjee’s cinematography.