Keralites are marvellously enterprising people. You find them in every sector, and you find them everywhere you go, Dubai, Hong Kong, Canada, you name it. Punjabis have made a great name for themselves too, especially in cinema and commerce. Our story essentially flies over two men from Kerala, and two from Punjab.
Verghese Kurien spent the best part of his life in Anand (Gujarat), quadrupling India’s milk production and converting it from a deficit producer to a surplus one. In time he came to be called The Milkman of India, and the Father of the White Revolution. Shyam Benegal even made Manthan (1978), a film inspired by his work. Another Malayali, named PK Nair, was in Poona (Maharashtra), and around the same time as Kurien, ie, the early 1960s, began doing amazing work for the preservation of cinema. He founded the National Film Archive of Poona, and did remarkable work in sourcing, restoring, and cataloguing films from around the world.
In his time, Nair made out a list of 21 Most Wanted Missing Indian Films, many of them firsts in one way or another. Among these Most Wanted are India’s first talkie, Alam Ara (1931) and India’s first banned film, The Mill (1934). This was a Munshi Premchand story about striking factory workers. In the film, the mill owner’s daughter came out to defend the cause of the striking workers. The powerful textile owners’ lobby of the time was able to influence the British censor to ban the film, ostensibly because it “attempted to glamorize mutiny”.
One of the other films in the Most Wanted list is Sairandhri (1933), a V Shantaram-directed venture which took a story from the Mahabharata epic. This is the only film that was processed in colour and yet released in black & white. The reason is that the colours came out as too garish. But that apart, the film was actually the first Indian colour film, though it was processed in Germany. And yet, history books name Kisaan Kanya (1937), produced by Ardeshir Irani of Alam Ara fame, as India’s first colour film. Perhaps “indigenously” processed is of relevance here. If that is so, you wonder why Aan (1952), processed in Technicolor in London, is often cited as India’s first Technicolor film.
Anyway, to pick up with the colour-film story after Aan, a few films started happening in colour, for example Mayur Pankh (1954). But colour stock was expensive, so, to build a bridge between costs and attraction, filmmakers started offering “partly in colour” films in the 1950s. Nagin (1954) was a black & white film with some parts in Gevacolor. Champakali (1957) had some songs in colour too, even as Mehboob Khan went all-colour in Mother India in the same year. Meantime, V Shantaram, ignored by history as mentioned earlier, did make Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955) in colour, but, financially stretched, reverted to monochrome in Toofan Aur Diya (1956) and Do Ankhen Barah Haath (1957). He went on to make Navrang (1959) in colour again, because, as he told us in a cameo at the start of the film, he was nearly blinded when grappling with a bull in the last scene of Do Ankhen Barah Haath. They operated on his eye and blindfolded him for months, when he saw a lot of colourful dreams and realized the value of vision, something he was very keen to share with us.
So, colour was still the exception, not the norm, in much of the 1950s. But in the early 1960s, when Kurien was focussing on white and Nair was mainly interested in black & white, a colour revolution of sorts was underway in Bombay. Many films like Junglee (1961), Professor (1962), Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon (1963), April Fool (1964) and Waqt (1965) were being made in colour, even as several films were still being made in black & white in parallel. Examples of these from the early 1960s are Hum Dono (1961), Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), Bandini (1963), Ghazal (1964) and Shaheed (1965).
Let’s pause here now to see some colour songs that were from “partly-in-colour” films:
- Oonchi oonchi duniya ki deewaaren saiyaan tod ke (Lata/Nagin, 1954)
- Zaalim teri aankhon ne kya cheez pila di hai (Lata/Devta, 1956)
- Kahaan le chale ho bata do musafir (Lata/Durgesh Nandini, 1956)
- Ina meena deeka (Asha/Aasha, 1957)
- Chhup gaya koi re door se pukaar ke (Lata/Champakali, 1957)
- Tumhaare pyaar ka nasha hamaare dil pe chha gaya (Lata/Madaari, 1959)
- Chaudhvin ka chaand ho (Rafi/Chaudhvin Ka Chand, 1960)
- Pyaar kiya to darna kya (Lata/Mughal-e-Azam, 1960)
- Tum jo aao to pyaar aa jaaye (Manna Dey, Suman/Sakhi Robin, 1962)
- Tu hi tu hai main dekha karoon (Lata/Sunehri Nagin, 1963)
- Hum pyaar kiye jaayenge (Lata/Aaya Toofan, 1964)
- Kya jaanu sajan (Lata/Baharon Ke Sapne, 1967)
New Delhi-based Sundeep Pahwa is something of an authority on films. His father Basant Kumar was an actor and film producer, known for his roles like opposite Manju in Bahu (1955), with two Talat and Geeta duets filmed on them: Thandi hawaon mein taaron ki chhaon mein and Dekho dekho ji balam dheere dheere. In fact, it was Basant Kumar who gave a directorial break to Shakti Samanta in the same Bahu. Sundeep Pahwa enlightens me that in the early ‘60s, Wadia Brothers were the first production company to announce a B-grade film entirely in colour. That was the Feroz Khan and Sayeeda Khan starrer Char Darwesh of 1964. This music and film buff also offered interesting information about another colour film released in 1964. That was J Om Prakash’s Ayee Milan Ki Bela, which was to be made in black & white. The film was announced, the mahurat happened, the coconut was broken, and there was “Congratulations” and “Good Luck” all around. At this point, a unit member suggested to the producer to make it a colour film instead. “Yes”, said the filmmaker, “that’s it!” It was re-announced as a colour film. The film went on to become a silver jubilee hit.
Two Punjabi men
J Om Prakash becomes the first of our Punjabi gents mentioned at the start of this story. The other one is his namesake, Om Prakash, the comedian who was also a filmmaker. It was the same year as J Om Prakash’s Ayee Milan Ki Bela, 1964, when this man’s colour production Jahan Ara was released. But what released? It was such a commercial disaster that it had to be pulled away on its fourth day, from even its main theatre.
When Jahan Ara failed, many people attempted to understand what could have gone so wrong, why such savage rejection of a film that had settled actors in Bharat Bhushan and Mala Sinha, a fine composer in Madan Mohan, sensational lyrics by Rajinder Krishan and awesome vocals by Talat and Rafi, Suman and Lata and Asha. Could it be that the time of historicals was over? Or maybe that colour was a bad idea, that Bharat Bhushan and Mala Sinha were both identified with their black & white films, so audiences would have loved them the way they had loved them till now.
One thing is for sure. Om Prakash would certainly have saved some money had he used black & white film. He also incurred huge costs on expensive musicians like Ram Narain, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Rais Khan and Shiv Kumar Sharma. But that’s fine. Because the music album did sell very well. Music is the only reason most people even remember that film.
Originally published on 04 November 2018 in DNA Jaipur page 11
Featured image on top: From Chaudhvin ka chaand ho