To Each His Colour

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

10 Replies to “To Each His Colour”

  1. Manekbhai as usual you really present us stunning articles. This has so much film history in it. Sundeep Bhai is such a simple person, I am only knowing now when you say he is son of Basant Kumar the actor. He is filled with film history in him. You just have to tap him.

    Lovely write up.

  2. This is an excellent write up on all the great icons who left their deep imprint in their chosen spheres of work. Dr Kurien is a larger than life legend who needs no introduction, at least to those born before 1960s.

    Mr Nair , deserves to be written about as he chose an area which has neither any respect nor any organized effort in India; “Preservation of Culture and heritage ”

    Well, Sundeep Pahwa is a ” walking talking” encyclopedia of Hindi movies. I love the information on the two On Prakash’s on the same subject of making a colour movie, where one succeeded and the other failed miserably.

    Love to read your passionate essays on the history of cinema, Manek !

  3. There was also something called Eastman Colour- Manek , which became more or less the standard of almost all the films from late 60’s onward.

    From a deficient Milk country to a – surplus Milk country [ appropriately named ” Operation Flood ” ] was the greatest achievement of Dr. [ Honourary degree ] Verghese Kurien who made dairy farming India’s largest self-sustaining industry and the largest rural employment provider, being a third of all rural income.

    He also made India self-sufficient in edible oils taking on a powerful and violently resistant oil supplying cartel.

    Another institution he built up was Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA).

    My apologies for this aside.

    I am in as much awe of P K Nair as of Dr. Verghese Kurien.
    They were both pioneers .

    I admired Om Prakash for his perfect comedy timing and the punch lines he delivered.Wonder if Bharat Bhushan [ my opinion and I stand by it ] was the sole reason for Jahan Ara , being a disaster at the Box Office. I managed to see this movie at Rivoli Theater ,near my residence at Matunga Road, in the first week itself. But that was for the extraordinary songs and Bharat Bhushan had nothing to do with it.

    J Omprakash was a successful Producer / Director. Nothing more – Nothing less’.

    Though a song from Mughul-e-Azam is mentioned [ there should be 2 of them ] , there is no mention of this magnum opus , in your write-up.

    All in all again a very satisfying Sunday read

    Dilip Apte

  4. Thanks to Sundeep, too. If this is a trailer of what both of you can come up with jointly, I am now eager to see the “complete film” :).

  5. Wow! Kerala, Gujarat, Poona, Bombay – the monochromatic and the color. Technicolor, Gevacolor – the mind boggles with all the details. A well-crafted essay that catches the imagination and satisfies dreamers and realists, both. Manek, applauding you for your focus and commitment. _()_. Interestingly last year on my way back from India, I picked up a book at the airport written by PK Nair. About his role in the preservation of our cinematic history. Reading it currently. That makes this article doubly interesting! This will definitely require a share and another read at least!

  6. Wonderful essay. Imagination fired and travel to Pune and Anand sarted to form in the brain(Pune, I saw in 2017, as for Anand, Just pondering on the word is a trip).

    Knew there were some “partly in colour” films, but never knew there were so many. I remember “Kahan le chale ho” – the colour was not very great.

    Thank you always, Manek, for helping our trip down memory lane lined with your analytical prowess. And this time colourful too.

    Thanks to Sundeep to fire your imagination to come up with this hidden aspect of Hindi Films.

    1. For the moment, Anand is also popular for surrogate births. It is a kind of an industry there and surrounding areas…but it very rarely comes under media scrutiny.

      As for the write up by Manek, as always every enlightening and informative. Hope Om Prakash Ji managed to recover some of Jahan Ara’s costs.

  7. How much serious work and data you present to us week after week! Music historian par excellence, i truly am obliged to you for your utter love n passion for Hindi cinema of the golden period.
    I had no idea so many movies were done in color in the past, but I do remember Mughal e Azam had a couple of color scenes, i think Pyaar kiya to darna kya and one more, and people were going to see the film for the gasp gasp beauty of Madhubala in color during that brilliantly picturised song with the incredible expensive Sheesh mahal set!

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