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BLAST FROM THE PAST

Nagin (1954)

Vyjayanthimala, Pradeep Kumar, Jeevan, I.S. Johar



The hiss effect Posters of the film.

It used to be one of the favourite pastimes of the summer vacations. The kids would wait for the snake charmer to arrive and play his mesmerising flute, gradually lifting the cover of his basket to unveil a lethal reptile, its hood greeting the motley gathering to a session of music and dance.

As the flute's captivating notes came wafting through, the children would gather under the tree, the girls instantly transformed into intrepid ballerinas, the snake happily forgotten…

The kids, swaying to the flute, held centre stage, and only when the reptile hissed angrily would the snake charmer dismiss the enthusiastic young group. The music, and not the snake, remained etched in memory.

Charming tune

It was only many summers later that one learnt the tune was not his original work. It came from a movie called “Nagin.” The tune, created by Hemant Kumar, became the theme for all snake charmers. The man playing the charming been (flute) in Hemant Da's orchestra was Kalyanji, who later joined hands with Anandji to form a highly successful team of composers. You could hear this immortal composition across the country.

It is said that when “Nagin” was released, snake charmers entertained the crowd outside the cinema halls during the intermission. It is also said that some theatre owners would engage these snake charmers to keep an eye just in case the tune from inside the hall ‘attracted' a reptile in the neighbourhood.

One had heard of a movie hall in Hyderabad being host to an unwelcome ‘guest' during the screening of “Nagin.”

Strength of music

Coming to the storyline, there is nothing exceptional about “Nagin”. Mala (Vyjayanthimala) and Sanatan (Pradeep Kumar) belong to warring tribes and fall in love when she is entranced by his been. The movie progresses on the strength of its music as the two lovers, confronting opposition in various forms, are separated before uniting in a climax that includes five songs in a row.

The closing segment of the movie is shot in colour, but it is the black-and-white portion that stands out for Hemant Da's music and Vyjayanthimala's performance.

The ethereal Vyjayanthimala, barely 18, illuminates the screen with her stunning beauty, moving around daintily from one song to the other; from the bewitching “Man Dole Mera Tan Dole” to the poignant “Mera Dil Ye Pukare Aaja…” Of course, the soul of the movie remains Lata Mangeshkar's voice and Hemant Da's unforgettable composition to some impeccable lyrics by Rajinder Krishan. Simply unmatched…

There are only a few movies that can be counted for their musical score, and “Nagin” remains one of them. When Lata sings “Jadugar Sainyya Chhodo Mori Bainyya” and Vyjayanthimala responds with her dancing skills, the result is sheer magic on the screen. The close-up shots of Vyjayanthimala highlight her ability to convey so much with so little effort.

“Nagin” was a precursor to her rise in Hindi cinema as an iconic actor, who combined her talents, performing and dancing, to rule the screen on her terms.

There are a couple of nondescript numbers too, ironically sung by Lata, but tolerable compared to some mediocre stuff that symbolises music today.

Hemant Da's contribution to the movie is monumental. He gets the best out of Lata and then lends his voice to an unforgettable duet “Arre Chhod De Sajaniya Chhod De Patang Meri Chhod De”, apart from the solos that have stood the test of time: “Tere Dwaar Khada Ek Jogi”; “Yaad Rakhna Pyaar Ki Nishani Gori Yaad Rakhna” and “Zindagi Ke Dene Wale Zindagi Ke Lene Wale…”

The two biggest recall values of “Nagin” are Vyjayanthimala and Hemant Da. The director is Nandlal Jashwantlal; there is a cameo by I.S. Johar; the villain is Jeevan and the hero is Pradeep Kumar; it was a huge hit and fittingly fetched Hemant Da the Filmfare Award. In small towns, it was common to see a man guarding snake baskets outside the theatre screening “Nagin”, for the charmers would all be inside. A pity the snake charmer has vanished in these times, but the charm of “Nagin” has only grown….

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

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