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Usne Kaha Tha 1961

Sunil Dutt, Nanda, Durga Khote, Rajendranath, Taru Bose, Baby Farida, Asit Sen



A GOOD MELANGE Sunil Dutt with the inimitable Durga Khote in a still from the film

There is a raging debate in the literary circles whether Chander Dhar Sharma Guleri’s (whose 125th birth anniversary was celebrated in July this year) “Usne Kaha Tha” was the first short story in Hindi or not. It was first published in 1915, and made into a film under Bimal Roy Productions in 1960. And though “Madhumati” had been a hit, for some strange reason he asked his assistant Moni Bhattacharya to direct it. One still vividly remembers the punch line ‘Teri kudmai ho gayi?’ (‘Are you engaged?”), with which the hero, Sunil Dutt teases the heroine Nanda, and she runs away saying ‘dhat’ . The teasing assumes a different colour when one day she says, ‘Haan ho gayi’ . And the playfulness turns into melancholy. This was the first turning point in the story which the film failed to capture convincingly.

The second turning point which also fails to draw the right impact, despite Sunil Dutt’s efforts, is when the hero goes to his superior’s house years later before departing for the front (badly shot war sequences) and discovers to his horror that the Subedar’s wife was none other than his own lost love interest. And she extracts a promise from him that he would look after her husband and the only son which he eventually does at his own peril because ‘usne kaha tha’ (he had said it).

Nanda, the brilliant actress, who invariably excelled in situations that required underplay, once again came out with a sterling performance despite the difficulty in picking up Punjabi nuances. Rajendranath was the only other actor from a predominantly Bengali cast who appeared natural.

Set in Punjab

“Usne Kaha Tha”, one of the three stories Guleri wrote, is actually the tale of love, valour and sacrifice with an underlying melancholy refrain. Set against the rural background of Amritsar and Ambala, it is a story of compassion and subtle human emotions. For the film, however, scenes and situations were made somewhat contrived and in the process the central point got lost altogether. One presumes this was because a predominantly Bengali unit had been behind the making of an essentially Punjabi backdrop. Two other important sequences, each a turning point in its own right, fail to sustain. One, when Lehna’s mother approaches Kamli’s uncle for her son, and he humiliates her by calling her son a good for nothing guy who hangs around the town harassing others. Two, when he discovers the truth about Kamli. Both situations could have been suitably expanded. Instead, they become unconvincing and melodramatic.

The strength of the flawed movie, which unfortunately too failed to redeem it at the box office, was Shailendra’s playfully appropriate lyrics and Salil Choudhary’s melodious music. Almost all the songs continue to engage the listeners even today. “Aha rim jhim ke pyare pyare geet liye ayi raat sunhani” (Lata-Talat Mahmood), “Janewale sipahi se pucho woh kahan ja raha hai” (Maqdoom Mohiudin), “Machalti arzoo khadi baahen pasare” (Lata), “Balkhati sharmati aaja” (Mohammed Rafi). Salil’s wife Sabita Choudhary’s voice lent credence to the “Janewale” number in the duet with Manna Dey. Another beautiful song, that has generally remained unsung, is “Jahaan tak aaj yeh rah”, a Mohammed Rafi-Manna Dey duet.

On the whole, “Usne Kaha Tha”, like three other films (for which Bimal Roy entrusted the job of direction to his assistants, comedian Asit Sen: Apradhi Kaun and Parivar, and S Khalil: Benazir) failed to add to the banner’s reputation.

SURESH KOHLI

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