1950s – One of the unique decades in the history of Indian cinema, blessed with talented directors and artistes who could stamp their individuality in their work. If we take the example of Hindi cinema in particular, the Golden Age has already begun. Unfortunately only a handful of my contemporaries are aware of this era (there are some who rave about 70s, another peak time in Hindi cinema, but 50s to me still remains a landmark era – left unexplored by many). Not only the story ideas and presentation, some of the milestone songs were also created in the era that lingers forever in our mind. The movies in the 50s mostly revolved around the common people, who faced various struggles in life – struggles that the audience could relate to. India just got its independence and there’s struggle in every front as reflected in many of these films. And finally the films of this decade showed that the good always triumphs over the evil.
I feel proud to have watched a good number of films of that period. There are so many to name, but here I’ve listed out six of my most favourite Hindi films of the 1950s.
• Do Bigha Zamin
• Mother India
• Kaagaz ke Phool
In Do Bigha Zamin, one of the most memorable 1950s films, Balraj Sahni and Bimal Roy join forces. The film relates to that of the Italian neo-realist movement. It revolves around a poor farmer who is obliged to go with his young son to Calcutta to make money in order to save his land from a greedy landlord. Sahni’s towering performance is the axis around which the film moves. Brilliantly directed, beautifully photographed and acted, the film was the recipient of several national and international awards for its direction and acting.
Mother India, one of the outstanding films in the Golden Age of Indian cinema, is an epic tale of a mother’s struggle against adversity to retain her farm and bring up her children. Radha, played by screen queen Nargis, is a strong, passionate mother, tilling the soil with the plough on her back when there are no oxen, and raising her children alone. The film portrays with perfection a powerful view of rural life. Set in a small Indian village, it exhibits raw emotions and cinematic fineness.
Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa remains a masterpiece. It quenches the thirst that one has when they desire to see a great film. This classic film is the epitome of fineness potraying Vijay (Guru Dutt), an unemployed poet, who discovers that the love of his life, Meena (Mala Sinha), has been married off to a rich businessman. The poet has little to live for besides his only friends, a messeur (Johny Walker) and a prostitute (Waheeda Rehman), who came to his life as an angel, saving him in more than one way. Besides its enthralling screenplay and performances, the film is known for its extraordinary music by S. D. Burman.
Sujata by Bimal Roy explores the plight of untouchability and remains one of the most humanistic films made on the subject. The story narrated in restrained manner, sees yet another stunning performance from Nutan in the central role. She enacts the role of the untouchable girl with extraordinary grace and is able to convey her hurt and trauma with her inimitable gesture. Dialogues are evocative that brings out the human emotions of the story. And helping to lift the film several notches is its evergreen musical score by S. D. Burman. All in all, Sujata endures as one of Bimal Roy’s masterpieces and one of Nutan’s best ever performances.
According to me, 1950s would remain incomplete if I miss out on Guru Dutt’s semi-autobiographical film, Kagaz Ke Phool. This cult classic was made ahead of its time, but later experts recognised its piercing brilliance – its bold symbolism. Guru Dutt as the genius filmmaker and Waheeda Rehman as his protégée act beautifully. This melancholic masterpiece boasts of breathtaking cinematography is what critics believe.
Raj Kapoor’s Awaara is also a stunning example of full tilt filmmaking. Featuring outstanding musical interludes by the duo Shankar-Jaikashan, this film effortlessly blends a wide range of influences like neo-realism and the surrealism. Raj Kapoor and Nargis – the finest screen couples of all time makes it an exciting and unforgettable film.
My other favourites of the 1950s include Baiju Bawra, Jagriti, Bimal Roy’s Devdas, V. Shantaram’s Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje and Do Aankhen Barah Haath (another great director ahead of his time). I often liked Dev Anand’s films for its songs more than storyline and performance. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention the names of many more of my favourite films, which I would surely do in my next blog post.