Bombay Returned

Exactly a hundred years ago, in 1918, Germany surrendered and World War I came to a merciful end. This was not India’s war, but the British had recruited Indians to combat the Germans in various war zones abroad. Towards this end, a million Indians were dispatched out of the country, of which over 74,000 laid down their lives. The fortunate ones that came back proudly called themselves England Returned, an epithet that had been coined before for Indians who had spent at least a few months abroad—even if not in England—and returned home. There was a certain prestige, a sense of culture and sophistication, when such words were appended to your name. That is why many returnees printed the two words just below their names on their personalized stationery like letterheads and business cards.

Meantime, three years after the war ended was released a silent Bangla film called Bilet Ferat, meaning Foreign Returned. This became known as the first Indian film based on a love story, and also the first one to feature multiple kissing scenes in an Indian film. In the story, its hero Dhirendranath Ganguly goes to England and returns suitably impressed with western civilization. He also awes everyone here with his new British-style affectation, for which people begin referring to him as Bilet Ferat. Ironically, this movie was promoted as “the first Bengali-produced and Bengali-acted film without any foreign assistance”.

The film gave a boost to the England-Returned or Foreign-Returned tagline, since more and more people were going abroad and returning, initially from the United Kingdom, and later from America or elsewhere. A hundred years on, the words have lost their mojo, but in the first half of the last century, it was huge.

At one time it was also a big deal if our actors went abroad and did some work in a foreign film. You may recall for instance, IS Johar, Persis Khambatta, and Kabir Bedi in their Hollywood appearances. Many followed their footsteps too. But all of them returned to do more work back home.

However, all was not lost for those of us who could not go abroad to come back. In a smaller way, it was prestigious if you had left lesser platforms and returned from large cities like Calcutta or Bombay, Delhi or Madras. You were then Bombay Returned, Calcutta Returned, etc.

Now, like the actors who went abroad and came back, you must certainly know of many actors, singers, composers or filmmakers who came to Bombay to try their fortunes in Hindi films, only to go back to where they were known better. Most of these talents came from West Bengal or from “the south”, which for uninformed north Indians generally means the erstwhile state of Madras. These are actors who did fine where they came from, but not so well in Bombay. Maybe they weren’t accepted by the Hindi audiences, or perhaps they had come for a quick visit anyway. Our story is about such artists from the two areas mentioned, actors on whom songs were filmed too. In fact, we’ll visit these actors mainly through the prism of their songs.

We begin with Aparna Sen, so admired in Bengali cinema. She was seen in a few Hindi films too. Do recall Vishwas (1969), in which she lip-synced her part in two duets: Aap se humko bichhde hue, and Le chal le chal mere jeevan saathi. In Imaan Dharam (1977), we found her moving her lips to Aye kaash main dekh sakti.

Next comes Ruma Devi (nee Ruma Guha Thakurta), Kishore Kumar’s first wife, who was an actress and singer in Bengali films. She acted in Afsar (1950), Mashaal (1950), and Raag Rang (1952). Do recall the song Aankhon se door-door hain par dil ke paas jo from Mashaal.

Suchitra Sen (nee Roma Dasgupta) was huge in Bengal, but acted in Bombay in Devdas (1955), Musafir (1957), Champakali (1957), Bambai Ka Babu (1960), Sarhad (1960), Mamta (1966), and Aandhi (1975). Who can forget these songs filmed on her? Chhup gaya koi re door se pukaar ke (Champakali), Deewana mastaana hua dil (Bambai Ka Babu), Rehte the kabhi jinke dil mein and Rahen na rahen hum (both Mamta), Is mod se jaate hain and Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to naheen (both Aandhi).

Sumita Sanyal acted in Ashirwad (1968), Anand (1971), Guddi (1971), and Mere Apne (1971). Her better known songs? Ik tha bachpan (Ashirwad), and Na, jiya laage na (Anand).

Supriya Choudhury performed to Bulaati hai bahaar in Begaana (1963), Agar mujhse muhabbat hai (Aap Ki Parchaiyan, 1964), and Khoya khoya chanda (Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein, 1964).

Uttam Kumar—revered in Bengal—is remembered for lip-syncing Hindi songs Chhoti si mulaaqaat pyaar ban gayi (Chhoti Si Mulaqat, 1967), Dil aisa kisi ne mera toda (Amanush, 1975), Saara pyaar tumhaara maine baandh liya hai (Anand Ashram, 1977), and Mere ghar aana zindagi (Dooriyaan, 1981)

We travel south to find many such talents too. Remember, there have been several stars from the south who bought a one-way ticket to Bombay, those whose corpus in Bombay was larger than where they came from. Our narrative is only about the Bombay Returned kind.

Anjali Devi: Baat chalat nayi chunri rang daari (Ladki, 1953), Aye chaand kal jo aana, Do nainon ka bana jhoolna, and Kaise aaoon Jamuna ke teer (all three from Devta, 1956), Ajab hai ye duniya ajab zindagi hai (Naya Aadmi, 1956), Kuhu kuhu bole koyaliya (Suvarna Sundari, 1958), and Taaron ki thandi-thandi chhaiyaan (Naag Devta, 1962).

Arvind Swamy had a great entry in Roja (1993), with Roja jaan-e-man. Then Tu hi re, from Bombay (1995), Door na ja mujhse, paas aa (Sapnay, 1997), Jhooth bol na, sach bol de (Saat Rang Ke Sapne, 1998), Mera dil chura ke wo chal di (Raja Ko Rani Se Pyaar Ho Gaya, 2000).

B Saroja Devi was spotted essaying roles in Paigham (1959, Hum rang rangili jobanvanti titliyaan re), Opera House (1961, Saiyaan haaye haaye haaye tere gaon mein, Dekho mausam kya bahaar hai, and Balma maane na), Sasural (1961, Ik sawaal main karoon), Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya (1963, Muhabbat ka naghma zubaan par na aata), Beti Bete (1964, Agar teri jalwa-numaayi na hoti), Dooj Ka Chaand (1964, Pade barkha phuaar), and Preet Na Jaane Reet (1966, O jaane wale sun zara).

Among other films, Gemini Ganeshan was spotted acting and singing in Kisi se pyaar hai humko (Devta, 1957) and O raat ke musafir chanda zara bata de (Miss Mary, 1957).

Jamuna was seen moving her lips to Saiyaan lag ja gale (Miss Mary, 1957), Ajnabi se ban ke karo na kinaara (Ek Raaz, 1963), Mujhko apne gale laga lo, Karke jiska intezaar and Man re tu hi bata kya gaoon (all from Hamrahi, 1963), Aaj kal mein dhal gaya (Beti Bete, 1964), Mujhe yaad karne waale (Rishte Naate, 1965), and Bol gori bol tera kaun piya (Milan, 1967).

We did see Sivaji Ganeshan in Amar Shaheed (1960, Jhoome mori beliya preet re). While the future Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha was in 1968 moving her lips and body to Jaagi badan mein jwaala saiyaan tune kya kar daala (Izzat).

Many actors from other points bought similar return tickets to Bombay, the Mecca of Indian Cinema. Perhaps we’ll put them under the scanner some other day.


Originally published in DNA Jaipur Page 11, on 18 February 2018

Featured images: Top, Sumita Sanyal; above, Arvind Swamy.


6 thoughts on “Bombay Returned

  1. Manekji, once more you have hit a six! While some stuck to Bombay/Mumbai, others had strong roots in home country , so they went back.

    1. Right PS, and just wondering. Bollywood was named so in the early 70s if it were now, they would have to call it Mollywood 🙂

    1. Space constraints Dilip: I overshot my brief anyway 🙂 Even Antara told me a few names from Bengal. But Jayalalitha is mentioned, and her song is offered as an illustration too, maybe you missed it!

  2. Round trip tickets for so many who came, were seen but failed to conquer! Of the actors mentioned I would imagine only Suchitra Sen really had some success with her unforgettable performances in Aandhi and Mamta ( in a double role too).
    I continue to be amazed at the panoramic presentations you make week after week, bringing history into music or vice versa.
    Outstanding presentation once again Manek!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *