Before the advent of video and the internet in the 1970s, Bollywood thrived on plagiarism. Not only plots and situations were freely borrowed from Western films even frame-by-frame copying was proudly executed.

Yash Chopra’s first independent film as a producer, that subsequently earned him the title of ‘King of Romance’, “Daag” ostensibly drew inspiration from the British television movie “The Mayor of Casterbridge” based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel by the same name. Incidentally, the silent film of 1921 directed by Sidney Morgan, co-starring Fred Groves, Paulin Peters, Warwick Ward, was the first adaptation of the classic in collaboration with the author.

The story of Chopra’s film is credited to Gulshan Nanda, a popular writer of pulp romances in Hindi during the 1960s and mid-’70s whose works had been adapted for the screen by many big directors of the period.

Unlike other directors, Chopra’s adaptation was a roaring success, with the script full of twists and turns coupled with high-pitched dialogue by Akthar-ul-Imaan and a superb performance by Rajesh Khanna the original superstar.

Sahir Ludhianvi’s memorable lyrics — “Mere dil mein aaj kya hai” (Kishore Kumar), “Ab chahe ma roothe ya baba” and “Hum aur tum, tum aur hum” (Kishore Kumar-Lata Mangeshkar duets), “Jab bhi jee chahe” and “Hawa chale kaise” (Lata Mangeshkar solos), “Ni mein yaar manana nahin” (Lata Mangeshkar-Minoo Purshotam) and the hero’s soliloquy “Mein to kuch bhi nahin” — set to chartbuster scores by Laxmikant-Pyarelal contributed in equal measure towards making the movie a blockbuster.

Khanna’s repeating the soliloquy at public venues over the next two decades gave “Daag” great repeat value.

It was remade in Telugu as “Vichitra Jeevitham” co-starring A. Nageshwara Rao, Vaneshree and Jayasudha, and judicious direction made it one of the all-time favourites.

The highest grosser of the year with a whopping Rs.6.5 crore business in its very first run, it won two Filmfare trophies: Best Director for Yash Chopra and Best Supporting Actress for Raakhee, apart from three nominations — Best Actor for Rajesh Khanna, Best Music for Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Best Male Playback Singer for “Mere dil mein aaj kya” for Kishore Kumar.

The surprise omission was Sharmila Tagore who rendered a sterling performance, both first as an ebullient young girl and later in intense grief.

It was edited by Pran Mehra, choreographed by Suresh Bhatt with superb cinematography by Kay Gee.

The plot of Hardy’s original story had a drunk Michael Henchard auctioning his wife Susan and newborn daughter, and regretting the whole episode next morning, and unable to locate them.

In “Daag”, Sunil Kohli (Rajesh Khanna) kills his boss Dheeraj Kumar (Prem Chopra) — who attempts to rape his wife Sonia (Sharmila Tagore) while they are honeymooning.

Sunil is tried for murder and sentenced to death but providentially escapes unharmed while everyone else in the jail van dies. Five years later, Sonia arrives in an unnamed town and starts working as a school teacher, bringing up their son Pinku.

Sonia discovers that her husband is alive in a new avatar of would-be mayor Sudhir and married to Chandni (Raakhee), daughter of the wealthy Dewan Saheb (Manmohan Krishna). Sudhir plays father to her illegitimate child, Rinky, to escape the law.

This leads to some interesting confrontation scenes between Sonia and Chandni.

The situation takes a turn when Inspector Singh (Iftekhar) gets posted to the township, and instantly recognises Sudhir as the fugitive Sunil, leading to a courtroom drama where Chandni’s testimony (an unexpected twist), and the plea of the defence lawyer (Madan Puri) lead to his innocence being established.

Indeed, a poem of love on celluloid.

Credits:

Genre: Romantic musical

Director: Yash Chopra

Cast: Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore, Raakhee, Prem Chopra, Madan Puri, Iftekhar, Kader Khan, A. K. Hangal, Padma Khanna, Manmohan Krishna, Achala Sachdev.

Story: Gulshan Nanda

Dialogue: Akhtar-ul-Iman

Music director: Laxmikant Pyarelal

Lyricist: Sahir Ludhianvi

Box office status: Super hit

Trivia: Expecting lukewarm response, Gulshan Rai, Yash Chopra's friend and financier released the film in a low profile manner. Within six days of the release the number of prints had to be tripled.