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Recovery of lost Kishore Kumar film has buffs agog

A still from the song which was picturised on Jaikishan. Special Arrangement

A still from the song which was picturised on Jaikishan. Special Arrangement  

A little more than a week after its release, Paramount Pictures got wind of the Hindi rip-off and allegedly filed a copyright suit in a Mumbai court.

For decades, collectors of rare Indian film memorabilia and, particularly, aficionados of the music of legendary Bollywood composer duo of Shanker-Jaikishan, have been doggedly searching for prints of a “lost” 1957 film starring Kishore Kumar, which uniquely featured a song picturised on Jaikishan himself.

For Indian film cineastes, the haunting melody ‘Ae Pyase Dil Bezubaan’ from the film Begunah, sung by the great Mukesh, had Jaikishan playing the piano in the song sequence. It was considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of rare collectibles as it was believed that prints of the film did not exist any more.

Serendipity

Now, in a fortunate stroke of serendipity, the Pune-based National Film Archive of India (NFAI) has come into possession of two 16 mm reels of Begunah, totalling around 60 minutes of the film’s footage but more vitally, has the iconic song picturised on Jaikishan.

Of all hard-to-find Indian film items, Begunah has a particularly interesting history as it was a knock-off of a 1954 Hollywood film from Paramount Pictures titled Knock on Wood, starring famous comedian-musician Danny Kaye.

NFAI Director Prakash Magdum with 16 mm reels of the 'lost' Hindi film Begunah, whose prints were allegedly destroyed by a court order in 1957.

NFAI Director Prakash Magdum with 16 mm reels of the 'lost' Hindi film Begunah, whose prints were allegedly destroyed by a court order in 1957.  

 

A little more than a week after its release, Paramount Pictures got wind of the Hindi rip-off and allegedly filed a copyright suit in a Mumbai court. The court, with alacrity, then directed all prints of the Hindi film to be destroyed.

“While it may have been the Mumbai Metropolitan Court, we do not exactly know in which Mumbai court the copyright suit was allegedly filed by Paramount. The court directed all prints of Begunah to be destroyed on grounds of plagiarism. The film is especially interesting as it features Kishore Kumar, who was a darling of Indian film distributors in his acting heyday, and most fascinatingly, the famous song sung by Mukesh ‘Ae Pyase Dil Bezubaan’ and picturised on maestro Jaikishan marks his only substantial appearance in any movie,” said NFAI director Prakash Magdum, speaking to The Hindu.

Unique song

He said that the uniqueness of the song had prompted a veritable “treasure hunt” among die-hard Shanker-Jaikishan fans for any surviving prints of Begunah.

“I had been approached by several collectors and Indian cinema enthusiasts who firmly believed that rare prints of Begunah still existed. Until this thrilling acquisition, we had nothing save a few stills of the film, including one still of that song,” Mr. Magdum said.

Commenting on the fortuitous discovery, he said the NFAI had several enthusiasts across India who helped it source content of rare archival value.

“It was one such contact in Mumbai who gave us the two reels of Begunah, which contains around 60-70 minutes of the film with no title credits, but has the classic song. This is an important discovery and we believe that this is piece of history that must be preserved as part of our cinematic heritage,” Mr. Magdum said.

Talking about the genesis of the song in Begunah, Sandeep Apte, a city-based researcher and writer currently working on a web series on Shanker-Jaikishan, said that it was notable as it was not sung by Kishore Kumar in a film which starred him, and incidentally also featured a memorable Kishore number, ‘Aaj Na Jaane Pagal Manwa’.

‘Final word’

“What transpired was that Mukesh was in need of money and approached Shankar, who was incidentally in the process of composing the tune. Shankar got his collaborator and friend, the renowned Shailendra, to write the lyrics and called the film’s producer Mahipatray Shah to say the song, which would be sung by Mukesh, would be picturised on Jaikishan. The idea startled Shah, who feared that the song had no relation to the film. But in the late 1950s, Shanker-Jaikishan practically ruled the Indian film music world and Shanker’s word was final,” Mr. Apte said, remarking that Sheila Vaz’s dancing was another major highlight of the song.

NFAI Director Prakash Magdum with 16 mm reels of the 'lost' Hindi film Begunah, whose prints were allegedly destroyed by a court order in 1957.

NFAI Director Prakash Magdum with 16 mm reels of the 'lost' Hindi film Begunah, whose prints were allegedly destroyed by a court order in 1957.  

He further said that the severity of the court’s judgement was ironic as Kishore Kumar used to idolise Danny Kaye, even keeping a picture of the entertainer among a gallery of cinema and literary luminaries at his residence.

While Knock on Wood was a typical vehicle for Kaye, whose talents were better showcased in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and The Inspector General (1949), the Hindi version was considerably more interesting for its astonishing confluence of talents.

Besides Kishore Kumar starring in a tailor-made role, the film had songs by Manna Dey, Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore himself, with lyrics by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri and the “plagiarised” story written by none other than the colourful I.S. Johar.

‘A highlight’

“The song featuring Jaikishan must have been marketed as a highlight of Begunah. These are historic artefacts, which need to be preserved, and Begunah is a particularly unusual case in that a film starring Kishore Kumar as the hero has a classic song sung by Mukesh and picturised on Jaikishan,” said Mr. Apte, remarking that he felt a frisson of excitement on learning that the NFAI had finally acquired footage of the lost film.

“The Kishore Kumar of the 1950s is often bracketed with S.D. Burman, but what many are unaware of is the deep relationship that the singer-actor shared with Shanker-Jaikishan, who scored six of the films he starred in. A classic example is the song ‘Nakhrewaali’ from the 1956 film New Delhi,” observed Mr. Apte, remarking that Begunah was a film as important for Kishore Kumar fans as it was for Shanker-Jaikishan aficionados.

Speaking on the prickly legal issues that have dogged Begunah since its release, Mr. Magdum said that the NFAI’s stand was very clear on the matter and that the reels of film must be preserved for educational use as the archive believed it to be a part of cinematic history.

‘No commercial motive’

“There is no commercial motive involved in preserving these reels. Following their discovery, the NFAI has written to the Mumbai High Court asking if they could source a copy of the original court judgement. However, the High Court wrote back to us demanding additional details, which we are not aware of. I have, through several lawyers working on film and copyright issues, also attempted to get hold of a copy of the judgment, but we have not found anything till date. Even then, we have alerted the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and Paramount Pictures, of the same,” he said.

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 3:30:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/recovery-of-lost-kishore-kumar-film-has-buffs-agog/article30736858.ece

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