Sunil Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, Nirupa Roy, Sidhu
Years ago, travelling through the dreaded Chambal valley with some former dacoits who had laid down their arms, I was privy to some astonishing stories of rural countryside. Recounting an escape, someone mentioned it was akin to a scene in “Mujhe Jeene Do” and this led to a long and memorable discussion about Hindi films and their impact upon their lives.
The fraternity of former outlaws was near unanimous that Sunil Dutt's “Mujhe Jeene Do” had the most authentic depiction of dacoits' lives, whereas “Sholay” and its ilk were merely glamorised products of imagination, with little correlation to reality. As an ardent admirer of “Mujhe Jeene Do” for its cinematic execution of a radical story, the reason for its widespread adulation was firmly stamped by this vehement affirmation and it clarified why the meticulously directed film enjoys an eternal presence in memory – It's a gripping saga of a dacoit's survival.
Shot in the actual ravines of Bhind – Morena under police protection, its black and white canvas was a heady cocktail about the turnaround of a wild outlaw into a compassionate human being because of the love of a woman. Inspired by foolhardy valour of dacoits as well as the amnesty call of Vinoba Bhave, Agha Jaan Kashmiri's unique plot is a disconcerting exposition of the futility of an outlaw's life.
Against the backdrop of an emotionally charged, unforgiving rural society and its intolerant social customs, the film deftly portrays the predicament of an outlaw seeking rehabilitation and salvation for his past mistakes for the sake of his family. The brilliant synthesis of script, photography, music, lyrics, acting and direction sends you on an emotional rollercoaster.
The film starts with the killing of an upright citizen in front of his young wife Champa (Nirupa Roy) by dacoit Jarnail Singh (Sunil Dutt) for not yielding to his demands. But the hardened killer undergoes a change of heart after he kidnaps a beautiful courtesan Chameli Jaan (Waheeda Rehman) from a village celebration and though repeatedly snubbed by the young lady, the lovelorn baddie gradually wins her affection with his relentless ardour. Blessed with a son after their marriage, Jarnail turns a new leaf and vows never to kill anyone after a child pleads with him for his father's life. This event and the subsequent saving of his wife from a lynching at the hands of a village mob by none other than Champa (Nirupa Roy) jolts his conscience and he vows to surrender before the authorities. On his way, the unarmed Jarnail is treacherously gunned down by his detractor Kripal (Sidhu) but not before he saves Champa's son from the ensuing crossfire, a sort of a penance for past deeds.
Sunil Dutt is a dacoit personified in every frame and his dialogue delivery evokes perfect intonations of ruthlessness, fear and various shades of a perplexed man, probably one of his career best roles.
Waheeda Rehman and Nirupa Roy do justice to their roles and Sidhu is extremely convincing in his well crafted role. An elaborate audio design by Essa M. Suratwala enhances the visual appeal of Sudhendu Roy's set decor and delicate camerawork of A. Bhattacharjee and the editing by Das Dhaimade makes Moni Bhattacharjee's classic grow upon your senses.
But none of this would have been worthwhile, if the film had not been blessed with an awesome musical score by genial Jaidev. Like “Hum Dono”, Sahir's astounding lyrical philosophy heightens Jaidev's heavenly notes to lend vision and wisdom to every frame. While Lata's “Raat Bhi Hai Kuch Bheegi Bheegi” and “Tere Bachpan Ko Jawani Ki Dua Deti Hoon” mesmerise you, Asha's “Maang Mein Bharle Rang Sakhee” and “Nadi Naare Na Jaao Shyaam Paiyyan Padun” hypnotise you into another world and you cannot decide who is better between the two sisters in delivering a musical note. Not to be outdone in vocal brilliance is melody king Rafi with “Ab Watan Azad Hai” that is sheer bliss for listeners and the artistic weavings of the maestros makes the film an unforgettable cinematic delight.