Musafir (1957)

Game for experiments (Left) Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Dilip Kumar

Game for experiments (Left) Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Dilip Kumar  

Dilip Kumar, Usha Kiron, Suchitra Sen, Shekhar, Kishore Kumar, Durga Khote, Paul Mahendra, David, Bipin Gupta, Keshto Mukherjee, Mohan Choti, Baby Naaz...

This is an example of how the failure of a well-conceived, sincere effort with a formidable star cast changed the course of a debutant director’s whole approach to cinema. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who had started out as a cameraman before switching over to editing with New Theatres in Calcutta – he had moved to Bombay with mentor Bimal Roy and assisted him in the making of the ace director’s earlier films – encouraged by Dilip Kumar set himself up as an independent producer-director with this film. Ritwik Ghatak, who later became an iconoclast director with Bengali films, co-scripted the film with Rajinder Singh Bedi contributing dialogue for this unusual episodic movie, about the sorrows and joys of everyday existence – a characteristic feature of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s subsequent 41 films, till his death in 2006.

The film opens with a voice-over narrative by Balraj Sahni (“Lakh lakh makaan aur in mein rehnewala karodan insaan…Musafir teen kirayedaron ke jeevan chakron ki kahani hai jo ki ek ke baad ek is makaan mein rehne aate hai”), as the camera pans to a cluster of old houses before zooming on to an old suburban house in an unidentified location. The house becomes a character in the film as the three related family stories are unfolded with a set of some other common characteristics and characters, like the landlord Mahadev Choudhary (David), tea shop boy (Mohan Choti), a neighbouring housewife and her daughter, Muni (Baby Naaz), and a postman, and last, but not the least the shadow of someone who makes a dramatic appearance only in t he last story – Dilip Kumar as the suicide-driven drunkard violinist, Raja, an extension of Devdas.

Aspirations and unemployment

Made at a meagre cost of Rs. Six lakhs, the first of the three stories deals with Ajay (Shekhar) who marries an orphaned young woman, Shakuntala Varma (Suchitra Sen) against family sanction, trying to prevail upon her husband to make up with his family; the second, dealing with aspirations and unemployment has Bhanu (Kishore Kumar), his widowed sister-in-law (Nirupa Roy), and aging father (Nazir Husain); and the third, and the longest, again involves a young widow, Uma (Usha Kiron) her disabled son, Raja (Daisy Irani), and father-in-law (Paul Mahendra), and her unexpected but pre-ordained encounters with her first lover, Pagal Babu Raja (Dilip Kumar) in whose death is latent hope for the child…symbolically deployed with the flowering of a bud. In fact, the seed for the eventual flower is sown in the first episode itself when Shakuntala plants it; in the second it turns into a bud and blossoms in the third.

Despite tutelage under Bimal Roy, who had an inherent ear for music, there hadn’t been much either to Shailendra’s lyrics nor Salil Choudhury’s music even though Dilip Kumar had lent his own voice for a duet with Lata Mangeshkar, ‘Lagi nahin chhute Ram, chhute jaye naa’. Nor could the Shamshad Begum-Manna Dey ‘Tehdi tehdi humse phire saari duniya’ or the Kishore number ‘Munna bada pyara ammi ka dulara’ cast any spell. The song picturisation also left a lot to be desired. Kamal Bose did a brilliant job in this 151-minute black and white film, the panoramic shots can be a lesson for the contemporary cinematographers.

* * *


According to Gulzar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee had an unerring sense of shooting a scene

There aren’t many raconteurs left in Bollywood who can reflect adequately on the film or its making. Only two from the original crew are alive, Dilip Kumar and Usha Kiron but unavailable for comment for varied reasons. Gulzar, a chip of the old block, who was later closely associated with the film maker, however is on record with the following:

“I used to call him Masterjee. Hrishida was always playing around, kicking the ball around. He knew the medium so well. He started his directorial career with the experimental “Musafir”. It had three separate stories in one film. He was so much ahead of his times. He had an unerring sense of shooting a scene because even before lensing it he knew how and where he is going to cut it.

What an enviable cast he had assembled even then. He pioneered the concept of parallel cinema. It was one of his favourite though its failure made him change tracks. For the better I think. The latter films were lighter in their narrative. In the 1970s I virtually wrote all of Hrishida’s films. It was the golden period of my life. He would often argue about our scenes. But I always listened to what he said.”


Recommended for you