Blast from the past Friday Review

Pehchan (1970)

A scene from the film   | Photo Credit: pechchan2

Mired in red-tapism and prone to lapses of judgment, the Government has finally amended what is truly a glaring omission by bestowing the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award on the veteran Manoj ‘Bharat’ Kumar. The jury may debate the acting credentials of Kumar till the cows come home but one cannot take away credit from the man where it is due –– of laying the foundation of a ‘patriotic’ genre of movies in Bollywood.

Unfortunately, many today, who know him only through spoofs and parodies, might not be aware of his trailblazer status, from the time he acted in the biopic on the life of the revolutionary Bhagat Singh (“Shaheed”) to “Kranti” (a typical Manoj Kumar take on the First War of Independence). In between he expanded his ‘patriotic’ oeuvre with élan, through films like “Upkar” (based on Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan, ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’), “Purab aur Paschim”, (East versus West saga) and “Roti, Kapda aur Makaan” (socialism).

There is more to the actor than just patriotism, with romance and thrillers being part of his filmography, including “Pehchan”. Sohan Lal Kanwar, who produced and directed the film under his Filmnagar banner, had a special bonding with Kumar, as they gave a string of three hits in succession –– “Pehchan” followed by “Be-Imaan” (1972) and “Sanyasi” (1975).

Although Pehchan was a hit at the box-office, and did well at the Filmfare awards also, bagging eight nominations and four trophies, the screenplay and story, penned by Sachin Bhowmick is the bane as he wove two parallel tracks into one film. The first is essentially a love story between a poor, village boy and a rich, city lass, and the second has the social anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution message ingrained forcefully into it. This makes the two-and-a-half-hour film inordinately long, with the denouement needlessly cluttered with a series of action sequences which could have been restricted to bare minimum. Even if the editing by Nand Kumar was more subtle, at least half an hour could be chopped off easily.

So we have a large-hearted simpleton, Gangaram ‘Ganga’ Ramkrishan (Manoj Kumar), living in Vishnupur, a remote hamlet, who is adept in the holy scriptures, but lacks formal education. To avenge a perceived insult the village faces due to Ganga, he is ordered by the village council to get married to a city girl (a not so intelligent plot by any yardstick). Ganga reaches Bombay on his mission, where the treachery of a pimp lands him in the room of a prostitute, Champa Bai (Chand Usmani). After exchange of some dialogues about morality and familial bonds, Ganga declares Champa to be his sister and rescues her.Meanwhile, he also encounters Barkha (Babita), who, predictably, belongs to a wealthy family (a widowed mother, a brother who is set to get married to his fiancée), goes to a dance school and travels in luxury cars. Barkha makes Ganga a butt of jokes because of his attire and simple nature. However, soon she realises his worth when she meets Baba (Balraj Sahni), an ex-fire officer, who, several years earlier had lost a leg while saving Barkha from a raging fire.

From hereon true love blossoms between Ganga and Barkha with resistance from her family who finally relent leading up to some more tense moments and revelations. The tail wags for too long and somewhat needlessly.

Of the cast, Balraj Sahni, despite his ‘side’ role, exudes class and stands apart with a performance that is natural and mature somewhat overshadowing Manoj Kumar, who despite trying earnestly, seems to be straitjacketed in his trademark acting style, mannerisms, body language and model of delivering dialogues. However, his effort has its positive moments especially when he is pitted against Chand Usmani (dialogues by SK Prabhakar are hard hitting and appropriate).

As for Babita, she was never able to compensate her lack of histrionic ability with her impressive screen persona. There were always glaring gaps in her acting which robbed the glitter off her performances, making them lack genuineness.

Chand Usmani does justice to Champa’s role displaying restraint, poise and grace in a role which provided ample opportunity to to easily go over the top. Aptly, she won Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Trophy.

Kanwar assembled a plethora of lyricists for the film –– Varma Malik, Neeraj, Indeevar (“Aaya Na Humko Pyar Jatana”) and Hasrat Jaipuri –– for whom the versatile duo, Shankar-Jaikishen composed music, winning the Filmfare Best Music Director Award. Some of the songs like “Sabse Bada Nadaan” penned by Malik won two Filmfare Awards, Best Lyricist Award and Best Male Playback (Mukesh).

Genre: Romantic social

Director: Sohanlal Kanwar

Cast: Manoj Kumar, Babita, Balraj Sahni, Sailesh Kumar, Tun Tun, C.S. Dubey, Daisy Irani

Story and screenplay: Sachin Bhowmick

Dialogue: S.K. Prabhakar

Lyrics: Verma Malik, Neeraj, Indeevar, Hasrat Jaipuri

Music: Shankar-Jaikishan

Box office status: Hit

Trivia: Won Filmfare Awards for Best Supporting Actress, Best Music Director, Best Lyricist and Best Male Playback

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 4:44:45 PM |

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