The Fault in our Stars (The Rich vs Poor)

Our holy books are brimming with advice about how to be a good person, but then why is there such a disconnect between what we are advised and what we do? We go to our places of worship or we listen to people who know better, or we read words of wisdom. Why do we, after all this, walk a different path?

“Verily I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. This was Jesus Christ addressing his disciples, as quoted in The Holy Bible. Since we run so much after wealth, it hardly seems like we are listening to Jesus. Perhaps his advice seems overstated, and therefore, at least today, appears irrelevant? It’s a no-brainer that this thought also idealizes poor people, and yet, it’s also true that the poor have never had it good. That is seen in our cinema too, which often hits the poor man, usually in a subtle fashion. But sometimes he must feel like a dartboard, as in the case of Do Badan (1966). Here’s the essential storyline of that film.

Wealthy Wasti is Asha Parekh’s father. He wants his daughter to marry Pran, but she has her sights on college sweetheart Manoj Kumar, who has no money but has lots of other good virtues. Just before his exams, the young man’s father passes away, so he skips the papers, and goes for the funeral instead. Consequently, he is soon out of college. Asha then gets her beau a job in her father’s lumbar estate, without telling her father just how close she is to her friend. When the father gets wise about things, he arranges a party for the town’s who’s who, and makes sure to invite the young man who can then be humiliated publicly. This is the tongue-in-cheek way Vikas, the college-dropout, is welcomed by the wealthy man:

“Hullo Vikas, tum aa gaye?”. “Jee”.“Aao main tumhen apne mehmaanon se milaoon. Aap se mileye, aap hain Mr Yash Kohli. Cambridge se doctorate karke abhi-abhi laute the. Aaj kal distribution. Aur aap hain Mr Vikas…er, meri ladki ke class fellow the. Bichaare is saal BA mein fail ho gaye…Mrs. Kohli…Aap se miliye, aap hain Mr Khanna, tea plantations aur gardens ke maalik. Laakhon rupaye ki aamdani. Ha ha, aap hain Mr Vikas. Meri ladki ke class-fellow the, aur usiki sifaarish ki wajah se mere jangalaat mein Overseer…Mrs Khanna…Aapse miliye, aap hain Mr Sareen. Crorepati baap ke bête. Ha ha aur aap hain Mr Vikas, BA mein fail ho gaye lekin mehnat se jee naheen churaaya, aur hamaare yahaan lakdiyaan kaatne ke naukar ho gaye. Aur humne taras kha kar inhen achhi si naukri de di. Mr Vikas romantic bhi bahut hain, aur gaana bhi khoob jaante hain. Aap sahibaan ne, er, bahut se qawwaal sune honge. Lekin maine socha ki aaj inki sureeli awaaz se aap logon ka dil behlaaya jaaye. Kya khayaal hai Mr Vikas?” (Applause, and audience sounds of “very good, yes!”).

That’s it. That’s all the poet Shakeel’s inspiration wanted, a mammon-worshipping custodian of society’s values, who insults the poor without a veneer of pretense. That’s all he needed to produce one of the finest ghazals to have graced the Hall of Fame of Hindi Cinema. Here is its start:

Bhari duniya mein aakhir dil ko samjhaane kahaan jaayen
Muhabbat ho gayi jinko wo deewaane kahaan jaayen

Earlier the same rich girl-poor boy story characterized the narrative of Chori Chori (1956). Wealthy lass Nargis runs away from home because her father Gope will not let her settle down with the man she has identified for marriage. The frantic father advertises a reward of Rs. 1.25 lacs for anyone who can help find his runaway daughter. In such a situation is born a beautiful Lata-Rafi fun song, filmed on Bhagwan and Rajasulochana:

Tum arbon ka her-pher karne waale Ramji
Sawa laakh ki laatery bhejo apne bhi naam ji!

As an aside, apart from the many nice songs filmed on Pran, it’s interesting how many wonderful songs were even caused by his roles. In Do Badan, Wasti wanted his daughter Asha Parekh to marry Pran, and in Chori Chori, it was the reverse; Gope did not want his daughter Nargis to marry Pran. It was she who wanted to marry him!

Meanwhile, it was Raj Kapoor who was the poor boy in Chori Chori. Recall poor Raj Kapoor versus rich Nutan in Anari (1959) too: “Sab kuchh seekha humen na seekhi hoshiyaari…Humne har jeene waale ko dhan daulat pe marte dekha”. And Rajesh Khanna opposite Mumtaz in Do Raaste (1970): “Khizaan ke phool pe aati kabhi bahaar naheen…ghareeb kaise muhabbat kare ameeron se”.

Shashi Kapoor comes to mind for having been involved so often as a poor man in love with rich women. This happened for instance opposite Sharmila in Waqt (1965), opposite Nanda in Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965), and opposite Nanda again in Raja Saab (1969), lending scope for songs that made at least oblique references to his financial situation through “Din hain bahaar ke, tere-mere iqraar ke”, “Yahaan main ajnabi hoon”, and “Raju ka tha ek khwaab”, respectively.

The point of this story is that when the characters are sharply drawn—regardless of good or bad—it gives writers what they need to create good art. Several lyricists have explored the economic divide fault in lovers’ stars, to offer memorable poetry.

Here are a few more songs that were born as a consequence of the rich/poor divide between lovers, never mind whether the boy was rich, or it was the girl. In other words, “sajni ameer-saajan ghareeb”, or “saajan ameer-sajni ghareeb”!

  • Tumko mubaarak hon oonche mahal ye, humko hain pyaari hamaari galiyaan (Basant, 1942)
  • Tu mahal mein rehne waali, main kutiya mein rehne waala (Shabnam, 1949)
  • Mehlon ne chheen liya bachpan ka pyaar mera (Zabak, 1961)
  • Mehlon mein rehne waali, dil hai ghareeb ka (Tel Malish Boot Polish, 1961)
  • Chaandi ki deewaar na todi, pyaar bhara dil tod diya (Vishwas, 1969)

 Did you know that in 2015 the top 1% of India’s population—the super-rich—owned nearly 50% of the nation’s wealth? The top 10% owned nearly 75%, which was also a staggering 370 times the wealth of the bottom 10%. That should tell us something about economic disparity in our country. For the global view, an Oxfam report of January 2016 informs us that the world’s top sixty-two billionaires between them control more wealth than half the world’s population. That the world’s richest 1% have more wealth than the remaining 99%. Whew!

“The only place poverty belongs to is the museum”, said Muhammad Yunus, banker and economist who worked miracles with his initiatives of micro-financing in Bangladesh. He is also a Nobel Laureate, so he should know.

Or should he? Another Nobel Laureate, Albert Camus, was born poor, and he had a different view. This is what he wrote at the very start of his diaries: “What I mean is this: that one can, with no romanticism, feel nostalgic for lost poverty”.

One thing is clear, that an economically-homogenised world will blunt the songwriter’s pen. In such a world, Sahir could not have said, for Raj Kapoor in Dil Hi To Hai (1963): “Har cheez hai daulat waalon ki…muflis ka sahaara dil hi to hai”. But who said you can have everything?


(Photo: Chaandi ki deewaar na todi)

Originally published: 29th May 2016

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