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Phir Subah Hogi (1958)

Raj Kapoor, Mala Sinha, Rehman, Leela Chitnis

Meaningful A still from “Phir Subah Hogi”.

Contrary to the popular belief that mainstream Hindi cinema drew its quantum from Hollywood (it gained momentum in Bollywood in the late 1970s and the early 1980s), films and filmmakers in the ’50s and the ’60s were greatly influenced by East European masters in both writing and technique of filmmaking, especially the Russians. Ramesh Saigal’s “Phir Subah Hogi”, made under the banner of Parijat Pictures, was no exception. Saigal had earlier made “Railway Platform” with Sunil Dutt, Nalini Jayant and Sheila Ramani on the same pattern. This simple tale of inequality, unemployment and social justice, despair and hope had been loosely culled out of Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” by actor Mubarak. Krishen Saigal was the cameraman for this 168-minute long drawn black-and-white movie.

“Chin-o-Arab hamara, Hindustan hamara, rahne ko ghar nahin hai, sara jahan hamara”, a typical Leftist Sahir Ludhianvi poem set to lilting music by Khayyam, sensitively rendered by Mukesh, brilliantly spelt a major concern in the Nehruvian era in the first decade after Independence. The song, a duet between Mukesh and Asha, was set in a night sequence at the square in front of Mumbai’s Victoria Terminus station, and the pavement which the city’s homeless use as a sleeping ground even today. Other brilliant lyrics of the film include “Woh subah kabhi to aayegi”, “Aasman pe hai Khuda aur zameen per hum”, “Aaj kal woh is taraf dekhta hai kam” and “Phir na keeje gustaq nigahon”. The film’s title song is repeated thrice: solo by Mukesh, solo by Asha Bhonsle and a duet by the duo with slightly changed lines to suit the changed situation and in lighter vein, “Jis pyaar mein yeh haal ho.”

There is a story behind Khayyam finally getting to compose the music for the film. Saigal wanted someone who would understand the intensity and depth of his poems but who would convince R.K.? The onus fell on Khayyam who then went to Kapoor with six different tunes for the title song alone. So impressed was Kapoor with the tunes that he not only approved of him as the film’s composer but also left the choice of the final choice of the tune to him.

Wrong twists

It tells the story of Ram (Raj Kapoor), a self-respecting impoverished law student who has to pawn his skeletal belongings to save his dignity (any inspiration from a similar sequence in “Shri 420 is coincidental!), and resort to crime (stealing money) to save his beloved Sohni (Mala Sinha) but ends up committing a murder — even though in self-defence. However, an innocent guy gets implicated for the murder. Mubarak, in one of his best essayed role of a cop on the real culprit’s pursuits, plays on Ram’s conscience to confess to the crime and save the innocent from the gallows which he does eventually, albeit not before delivering a speech (in the courtroom) about the inadequacies of the system.

However, the story moved at a ponderous pace. Wrong twists, turns and emphasis led to a weakening of the script which simultaneously operated at two distinct levels — romance becoming more dominant, and the crime and punishment a brooding exercise. No wonder it did not do so well at the box office despite Raj Kapoor’s rare, convincing performance outside R.K. Films. Rehman, as Ram Babu’s benevolent friend, has little to offer, though it was a treat to watch him in a showdown scene between the two. Mala Sinha, who was relatively new to the industry then, moved around with a poker-face expression, even the romantic scenes were devoid of any emotions. Yet, what made the film watchable then — and even now — were the meaningful lyrics and soulful music.

* * *


Khayyam on the film

Noted music director Khayyam, who gave the music for “Phir Subah Hogi”, recalls, “It is a long story. Producer Ramesh Saigal went to Sahir Ludhianvi saab, and said he was making a film based on ‘Crime and Punishment’ for which he had already signed Raj Kapoor, Mala Sinha and Rehman. He wanted Sahir sahib to write the lyrics. Sahir Saab asked who will be the music director. Rameshji said since Raj Kapoor is the hero, the music will have to be by Shankar-Jaikishan. It seems Sahir Saab said, ‘Rameshji you are making a film based on a classic, and not a crime thriller. I will write the lyrics only if someone who has not only read but also understood the book composes the music. He mentioned my name. It so happened that I arrived on the scene just then.”

They then decided to go to Raj Kapoor. “It was an ‘examination’ for me. Raj ji immediately pointed to a tanpura and said it had been gifted to him by Lata ji. Raj ji was a clever man, he understood music. I also understood the game. So I cleaned the tanpura and composed the first tune. I then went on to compose five different tunes, from five angles.”

Raj Kapoor, he relates, “had a blank expression on his face throughout. He then took Ramesh ji out of the room and returned after 45 minutes. He repeatedly kissed my forehead, and said he had neither heard that sort of poetry nor that kind of music….”


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