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BLAST FROM THE PAST

Sunghursh (1968)

Starring Dilip Kumar, Balraj Sahni, Vyjayanthimala, Sanjeev Kumar, Jayant



Sinewy stuff Dilip Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar and Vyjayanthimala .

Some films are remembered just for their amazing casting. “Sunghursh” is one of them which brought together the stalwarts Jayant, Dilip Kumar, Balraj Sahni, Vyjayanthimala and Sanjeev Kumar, an emerging name in those days who stood up to Dilip Kumar’s histrionics, in an explosive plot. A commercial enterprise, it is interspersed with comments on the duplicity of the world we live in.

Set in Varanasi, this fast-paced film talks of thugs, the expert killers who were a terror in Northern India in the 19th Century. They used to rob the pilgrims by hook or crook. Adapted from a Mahasweta Devi work, director H.S. Rawail addresses the loot that goes on at pilgrim centres in the name of faith. How the practice of sacrifice is misused for personal gains and how men compromise love for spiritual virtues – issues that are relevant event today…issues that our films generally talk of only in hushed tones.

Bhavani Prasad (Jayant) is one such powerful thug, who masquerades as a priest. His son Shankar refused to follow his path so he wants his grandson Kundan to carry on the legacy. When his son protests, in a fit of rage, Bhavani gets Shankar killed and passes the buck to his bete noir and cousin Naubat Lal. When Naubat Lal spills the beans he gets him killed as well, which deepens the family feud.

Kundan (Dilip Kumar) grows up into a sensitive young man who doesn’t want to practise his grand father’s policy of hate. It is quite unlike, Naubat’s sons Ganeshi and Dwarka (Balraj Sahni and Sanjeev Kumar), whose only aim is to finish Bhavani’s clan. Amidst all these tense moments, we have Munni the childhood love of Kundan who fortuitously lands in the family of a courtesan and becomes Laila-e-Aasman (Vyjayanthimala), a title she got from none other than Wajid Ali Shah. Ganeshi has a soft corner for her but still uses her to reach Kundan not realising the two share a childhood bond. After several twists and turns we reach a violent climax.

Stirring

Dilip Kumar gives a stirring performance bringing the mental cauldron of Kundan to the fore. Those were the times when he had perfected his method acting and was living his image of tragedy king. One can enjoy some of his trademark gestures and postures. But the real delight is when he breaks into a folk dance “Mere Pairon Mein Ghungroo Bandh De Aur Phir Meri Chaal Dekh Le”. He proved that being macho doesn’t mean you can’t do soft dance steps, much before Mithun and company realised it. There are reports that he found it difficult to match the natural skills of Balraj Sahni and Sanjeev Kumar, who never relied on rehearsals. They would change their gestures during retakes making things difficult for Dilip Kumar, the perfectionist! You seldom find Balraj Sahni nasty. Here he breaks free from his noble age with gusto. Vyjayanthimala is graceful as ever. In a film dominated by men, Rawail made sure she had a substantial role. Her dances and Naushad’s lilting tunes come as a welcome break to the sinewy tone imparted by Abrar Alvi and Gulzar’s dialogues. “Jab Dil Se Dil Takrata Hai” and “Mere Paas Aao Nazar To Milao” stood the test of time. If you like hard hitting stuff, watch this engaging fare.

‘Deserved better’

Harnam Singh Rawail died unsung. His son, director Rahul Rawail says his father didn’t get his due from the industry. “Somebody who gave us films like ‘Mere Mehboob’, ‘Sunghursh’ and ‘Laila Majnu’ deserved better. But he is not the only one; one of his finest actors Rishi Kapoor is facing the same. He is never considered for a title.”

Calling “Sunghursh” a classic which should be seen and not talked about, Rahul says it was a shift from the kind of films he was making. “Before ‘Sunghursh’ he made “Mere Mehboob”, which was a huge success. It inspired a trend of Muslim socials. Despite the applause he tried to explore this novel idea of how faith is manipulated in Hindu religious centres. This was his hallmark; he didn’t want to repeat himself. It is also something I learnt from him. I also tried not to limit myself to one genre.”

Like many of his generation, Rawail came from Pakistan’s Faisalabad to make a living in the world of films. He first went to Kolkata and after making a mark there decided to head for Bollywood.

“He was a meticulous person who cared for the minute details before going for the shot. He took special about the costumes and sets to create the look of Benaras of the 19th Century. He had a great liking for Urdu poetry and perhaps that is why he shared a strong bond with Naushad sahib.” Talking about the casting coup, Rahul, who once complimented his father by naming one his films as “Jeeven Ke Sangharsh”, says he was too young at that time to know behind-the-scene stories.

“But what I gather from my talks with him, those were times when actors wanted to know their characters not whom they are pitted against. I believe they had much more belief in their strengths in comparison to what the current crop has. They didn’t think about personal rivalries before signing a project.”

ANUJ KUMAR

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