Cinema

Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957)

The meeting of the legends: V.Shantaram and Sandhya with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.  

It was a landmark year for Hindi cinema. “Mother India”, “Naya Daur”, “Pyaasa”…. Not only did it see films that made box office history but also ushered in cinema with a message, with a purpose. Anybody who doubts that the twain cannot meet should have a look at the top four box office hits of that year. Yes, we are talking about the fourth, Rajaram Vankundre Shantaram’s evocative take on prison reforms. His message that everybody deserves a second chance did ring a bell, as the bureaucracy was following the colonial system at that time. “Ae Malik Tere Bande Hum” soon became a staple feature not only in prisons but also in schools across the country.

One of the early filmmakers to realise the efficacy of the film medium, Shantaram used cinema as an instrument of social change and used it successfully to advocate humanism on the one hand and expose bigotry and injustice on the other in films like “Duniya Na Mane”, “Aadmi” and “Dahej”. He was equally adept at multicoloured song-and-dance emotional extravaganzas like “Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje” and “Navrang”. Shantaram was an all-rounder. The founder of the grand Rajkamal Studios, he used to write, produce, direct, act, distribute, and everything was under one roof. It is often said he used to create from pin to elephant in his studio.

Inspired by a real story, “Do Aankhen Barah Hath” is the tale of an idealist jailor Adinath (Shantaram), who wants to reform the dreaded prisoners into socially productive beings not in the confines of the prison but in the real world. His idealism is not utopian. He is watchful enough to grapple with a prisoner wanting to kill him but reaches for a bell and not a stick as a means to subdue his assailant. As part of the noble experiment, he picks six inmates who have been convicted for gruesome murders. Despite his senior superintendent’s serious apprehensions, he takes them to a barren area and expects them to make it fertile.

It takes him time to set the ball rolling, as the prisoners have become unused to freedom. Slowly but surely, he instils in them the traits of humanity that were fast disappearing in the dehumanising environment of the prison, where they were reduced to just a number. In fact, on the first night they can’t sleep because they have become used to being shackled in heavy chains. The jailor joins them in their labour, cooks for them and becomes one among them.

Gradual change

As the gradual awakening of the soul happens, the story becomes believable and lively. At times the inmates are unable to live up to his faith and he feels his experiment is not going to be a success, but the truth of Adinath’s eyes always coerces his men to return. A comparison is made to the all-pervasive presence of God.

The scene where the aged, half-blind mother of one of the prisoners comes to meet him with his sons is poignant in the abjectness of her poverty. Yet, when the mother gives the jailor a simple sweet as her token of appreciation, the resilience of the human spirit creates a lump in the throat. However, when Adinath introduces them to worldly business, he realises that it is the world that makes criminals. As they go out to sell their produce in the neighbourhood market, the local vegetable broker feels threatened. He uses wily ways to win over the jailor’s men. And when nothing works, he decides to destroy the crop but cannot stop the fire of humanism from spreading.

Despite being a message-based film it never lapses into polemics and remains cinematically alive. The interplay of light is mesmerising. Sandhya as the toy-seller brings in the entertainment quotient. Her one-liners and skirmishes with the prisoners keep the atmosphere light.

Composer Vasant Desai joined hands with lyricist Bharat Vyas to create the immortal “Aye Maalik Tere Bande Hum” with its eternal message of love and compassion. Even in a subject that does not lend itself to music, the score is delightfully rich. “Saiyaan Joothon Ka Bada” and “Tak tak dhoom dhoom” really helps in keeping the handkerchief at bay.

Ironically, in a film which drew attention to his eyes, Shantaram, fighting fit at 57, was seriously injured when he shot for the bull fight sequence in the climax. Luckily, his sight survived. The film won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. V. Shantaram was the first Indian to win the Golden Globe as he was awarded the special Samuel Goldwyn Award in the year 1959 for “Do Aankhen…”. In India, the film won the President’s Gold Medal in 1957. As Shantaram belonged to the old school, the performances might appear a little theatrical today, but the thought makes it a timeless piece.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 8:18:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Do-Aankhen-Barah-Haath-1957/article16877254.ece

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