Starting from the second half of the 19th Century, Bombay (as Mumbai was called then) progressively became a hub of textile mills, an industry, which at its peak, had more than 130 operational units with employment provided to a large number of workers. To ensure that the workers were located close to their place of work, the owners built clusters of small tenements (just a notch above the level of slums) which in common parlance came to be known as ‘chawl’, in proximity to the mills. These localities spawned a distinct culture of their own.
However, by the seventh decade of the 20th Century, these mills faced a steady decline due to falling profits and unrest caused by militant unions. There was a continuous stress in relationship between workers and mill owners, which often flared up, into violence and destruction of property. This led to many units shifting out of Bombay. The final death knell of the industry was sounded in 1982, when Datta Samant called the ‘Great Bombay Textile Mill Strike’, from which the industry never managed to recover.
Therefore, it is not surprising that mainstream Hindi film industry made several films against the backdrop of textile mills in this period. “Resham Ki Dori”, directed by Atma Ram, is one such film, although its basic premise is the undying love between a brother and sister. As far as the film pedigree goes, Atma Ram was second to none, with the legendary Guru Dutt being his elder sibling, whom he had assisted in some films. Although he did not reach the highest echelons of critical acclaim that marked Guru Dutt’s oeuvre, some of his films did well at the all-important box-office, including “Resham Ki Dori”.
However, the film is marred by an extremely lopsided editing, credited to Y.G. Chavan. There are sudden breaks in the narrative which damage the overall viewing experience. Not that the story and screenplay, written by Ranjan Bose, is without flaws. There are two to three strands intertwined in the story. Also, art direction by S.S. Samel is rather tacky .
The story commences with the turmoil of two orphans , Ajit (master Sachin) and his younger sister, Rajjo. By the time the credits are over, a grown-up Ajit Singh (Dharmendra) who won Filmfare nomination for the best actor, is shown as working in a mill in Bombay, owned by a devious proprietor. When his sister (Kumud Chuggani) is sexually assaulted by the owner, an infuriated Ajit enters into a brawl in which the perpetrator is killed by his own pistol. However, Ajit is held guilty by the law and sentenced to five years of rigorous imprisonment. During his absence, Rajjo is ill-treated by Ajit’s confidante, Bade Babu’s (Shivraj) wife, due to which she leaves Bade Babu’s house and takes employment at a construction site.
A desperate Ajit joins a dreaded dacoit in his successful bid of escaping from prison. But he is unable to go far as the police is on his heels. To escape the fast closing dragnet, Ajit boards a running train. In the compartment, he meets Anupama (Saira Banu), who is the granddaughter of the owner of Deshpur Textile Mill. Through Banke Bihari (Rajendranath), Ajit (using a pseudonym Vinod) gets employment in the textile mill. When he raises his voice against the mistreatment of workers by Dinesh (Sujit Kumar), manager of the mill, the mill is put under lockout, a move which is endorsed by Anupama, who is vicious in her anti-labour stance.
However, a chance encounter with an ageing employee in the workers’ colony changes her perspective, as the bearded man is none than her father (who several years earlier was a meagre worker in Deshpur Mills, whom her grandfather, Lalaji, had proclaimed insane and sent to an asylum for having the audacity of marrying a rich man’s daughter, a shock which led to her mother’s untimely death). Therein love blossoms between Ajit and Anupama, who ratifies his proposal that the workers run the mill. In the midst of all this, the separated brother-sister are reunited, but not before Rajjo escapes another bid on her modesty .
A strong message in socialism follows, with pro- labour dialogues (written by Vrajendra Gaur) peppered in. Perhaps, these were inspired by Atma Ram’s own tryst with union activities in Calcutta (as Kolkata was known once upon a time). Here, a definite bias against capitalism creeps in –with all rich people being projected as unscrupulous and poverty being the only virtue.
This move is resisted by Dinesh, who moves in to set the mill on fire, and put the blame on Ajit. However, Lalaji sees reason at the nick of time and tells the truth to Inspector Ranbir (Ramesh Deo). At this stage the long arm of the law catches up with Ajit, as he is once again presented before the court.
A strong point of the film is its music, composed by Shankar-Jaikishen (Filmfare nomination for the best music score), although it is rather surprising that in none of the tracks they used Lata Mangeshkar’s voice, something unusual for that period. For “Behna Ne Bhai Ki Kalai Se Pyar Bandha Hai” written by Indivar (which earned him the Filmfare nomination for the best lyricist), they used Suman Kalyanpur (Filmfare nomination for best playback singing-female) and for “Zohra Jamal Hoon Bemisal Hoon”, written by Hasrat Jaipuri, they used Asha Bhosle. Equally hummable are “Sone Ke Gehne Kyon Tu Ne Pehne” (sung by Mohammed Rafi) and “Chamka Pasina Ban Ke Nagina” (sung with verve and passion by the legendary Kishore Kumar) - both written by Indivar. There are two other tracks written by Neeraj as well.
During 1973-74, Dharmendra and Saira Banu starred opposite each other in a few successful movies, although their on screen chemistry was quite tepid, perhaps due to their different styles of acting and calibre. While Dharmendra was a natural, with a formidable command over his craft, which saw him reach the commanding heights of stardom (at least till the early 80s), Saira Banu, despite her effervescent screen presence, never really managed to inspire awe in discerning filmgoers. Her dialogue delivery had blemishes, her dance moves were not without effort either. In “Resham Ki Dori” she gets to do an interesting cabaret dance on “Zohra Jamal Hoon Bemisal Hoon” .
As for the support cast, Ramesh Deo, who is usually quite competent, looks like a fish out of water for most of the film, despite a strong role. Rajendranath does his buffoon act with effortless ease and predictability. Sujit Kumar as the mean manager is good. However, Kumud Chuggani, in a tailor-made role, is a big disappointment.