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Maker of innovative, meaningful movies


He gave Hindi cinema a new direction and won the Grand Prix award at Cannes. Chetan Anand’s contribution, however, is underrated.

Unsung and unrecognised: Chetan Anand

Not many are aware that he is the only Indian filmmaker to have won the prestigious Cannes Film Festival ‘Grand Prix’ Award for his socially-conscious, innovative and meaningful movie ‘Neecha Nagar’ (1946). The unsung winner w as Chetan Anand (1915-1997), whose contribution to Hindi cinema is substantial and yet regretfully underrated and not recognised by film critics and movie pundits. Perhaps his distinguished career was overshadowed by his younger brother, the debonair Dev Anand.

Russian literature

Like his generation of intellectuals such as Balraj Sahni and Kwaja Ahmed Abbas, Chetan was drawn to the Russian political philosophy and literature. The inspiration for ‘Neecha Nagar’ was generated by the Russian literary giant Maxim Gorky’s ‘Lower Depths,’ highlighting the gulf between the rich and the poor and how the wealthy ill-treated them.

Chetan Anand turned this storyline into a meaningful movie. The film had Uma Anand (his wife), Rafiq Ahmed and introduced an attractive newcomer who would soon become a star, Kamini Kaushal. The film also introduced sitar-player Ravi Shankar as the music composer.

While being influenced by Russian literature in its content, the maker’s film craft and technique bore the stamp of socially-conscious Hollywood moviemakers such as Frank Capra, King Vidor and John Huston. He invested the elements of ‘film noir’ genre in many of his socially relevant movies later.

Social realism

In ‘Neecha Nagar,’ his camera is creative, using high and low angles to make statements of social realism. It was then something new in Hindi cinema.

An irony of life was that in spite of the award, Chetan found no takers for his talent. So together with Dev Anand, he promoted the family production company Navketan (Ketan is his son). Its first production with Dev Anand and Suraiya in lead roles was ‘Afsar’ (1950), and once again the inspiration came from Russia, Gogol’s ‘Inspector–General.’ But it had only moderate success.

Soon Chetan, Dev and Navketan hit big time with ‘Taxi Driver’ (1954). It explored the seedy, murky, underbelly of Bombay. Dev Anand and Kalpana Kartik (soon to be his wife), and Sheila Ramani (as the vamp) played the main roles. The lilting music by S.D.Burman also contributed to the success.

‘Aakhri Khat’ (1966) was another innovative creation of Chetan. For the first time in Indian cinema, lengthy scenes on actual locations were shot with a hand-held camera. Here, one saw a child walking through streets of Bombay looking for his lost mother. While the rich treated him with contempt, the poor offered him kindness.

In this film, Chetan introduced an actor who, later, blossomed into an icon. His name is Rajesh Khanna.

A mention-worthy film, ‘Haqeeqat,’ (1964) was based on the India-China Border Conflict of 1962. Shot on actual locations, Chetan told the tale of patriotism and bravery with grit and realism. It had Balraj Sahni and Dharmendra supported by Priya Rajvansh, Vijay Anand (Chetan’s brother who later became a noted Hindi filmmaker). Chetan dedicated the movie to Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and produced it under the banner of the Himalayan Films.

His ‘Aandhiyan’(1952) explored the uncomplimentary facets of capitalism. Here Dev Anand, as an honest lawyer, fought a lonely battle to bring about a happy ending.

The cast included Nimmi, Kalpana Kartik, Durga Khote, K.N.Singh and Johnny Walker.

Later he promoted his own production company, Himalaya Films, and made many movies under its banner.

Chetan’s creations included ‘Funtoosh,’ ‘Heer Ranjha,’ ‘Hindustan Ki Kasam,’ ‘Kudrat,’ ‘Janeman,’ ‘Kinara Kinare’ and ‘Param Veer Chakra’ (1988, TV Series).

Chetan Anand was born on January 3, 1915 in Punjab. He served as an active Indian National Congress worker in the 1930s after graduating from Government College, Lahore.

Drawn to films

Chetan also attempted unsuccessfully to join the Indian Civil Service (ICS) and soon felt drawn to the movies and took his bow in Hindi cinema in 1944 as the male lead in noted filmmaker Phani Majumdar’s ‘Rajkumar.’

His wife Uma was his collaborator working on his scripts and productions but regretfully they parted company. He developed a life-long relationship with attractive actor Priya Rajvansh, the heroine of ‘Haqeeqat,’ ‘Heer Ranjha,’ ‘Hindustan Ki Kasam’ and ‘Hanste Zakham.’

After a distinguished career in Hindi cinema, to which he gave a different direction, Chetan Anand passed away in 1997 during his 82nd year.

Regretfully, most books on Hindi cinema do not discuss his work, or even refer to his classics such as ‘Neecha Nagar’ or ‘Aakhri Khat.’ To make amends in recent years, Ketan Anand has been working on a film about his father’s work and his contribution to Hindi cinema. After his death, the best compliment came from brother Dev Anand who said, “It seems an eternity has passed away.”

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