Over the past two decades, we, the Indians, have been hearing a lot about electoral reforms through the voices and the activities of several people and agencies. However, can the election process actually be reformed when there is so much money involved in this process ? Can a common man (like the writer of this review) dream to fight (and win) an election when the competitors can legally spend millions of rupees in the election as per the legal permission and much more under some camouflage ? And one who spends so much money has to recover his expenditure first (and then earn on his ‘investment’) after winning. How will he do it ? Undoubtedly, through misuse of his position and embezzlement of the public money he becomes custodian of through his victory in the election. This vicious cycle has been continuing in our country for more than six and a half decades and there is no likelihood that it can be broken in the near future. Benjamin Franklin has asserted – ‘Money begets money’ but I don’t know whether anybody has ever said – ‘Honesty begets honesty’. The problem is ticklish. More than half a century back, a movie had been made on the theme of the role of money in the public life of India which, in today’s scenario, can be considered as much ahead of its time. This black and white movie is Parakh (1960).
Parakh (assay / test) tells a heart-warming story which reminds of the idealistic stories once told by Prem Chand. However, it is more a satire on the voting based Indian democratic system in which the resourceful candidates create their vote banks by offering short-term benefits / peanuts to the prospective voters. The movie was produced and directed by the legendary filmmaker – Bimal Roy but quite interestingly, the credit of its story has been given to the music director – Salil Chowdhury. Other than these two, the hero of this movie is also a Bengali – Vasant Choudhary. Quite naturally, the story has been set up in a small village of West Bengal and the total milieu is Bengali only. One additional trivia is that the dialogues of this movie have been written by the lyricist – Shailendra. Thus, talented artists tried their hands in the fields they normally didn’t enter and with the help of the seasoned and highly revered director, they succeeded in presenting a product which is now considered a classic.
The story starts with a clean-heart, virtuous and honest postmaster of a village, Raadhanagar who runs the post office with the help of a temporarily kept limping postman, Haaradhan (Moti Laal). Postmaster Nivaaran Babu (Nazir Hussain) is worried on many counts. His wife (Leela Chitnis) is ailing and bed-ridden. He had taken loan for the marriage of his elder daughter which he could not repay and now the money-lender has arranged a decree from the court to snatch his house and belongings against the same. His younger daughter, Seema (Sadhana) is unmarried and the money-lender is involved in a conspiracy with a construction contractor (Asit Sen) in the village whose evil eye is on Seema and he wants to use the unpaid loan as a tool to marry Seema. Seema, on the other hand, is silently in love with a young school teacher, Rajat (Vasant Choudhary). Nivaaran Babu knows her liking for Rajat and hence he is not ready to bow before the contractor and his accomplice, i.e., the money-lender. He has to tackle not only them but also the unscrupulous priest (Kanhaiyalaal), the cagy landlord (Jayant) and the greedy doctor (Rashid Khan) of the village. All of these high profile people never sit peacefully and remain busy in working out newer tricks to extract more and more money from the already distressed (by poverty) villagers.
In such a scenario, one day a letter comes for Nivaaran Babu, accompanied by a cheque worth Rs. 5 Lakh. The letter is from Mr. J.C. Roy who is a big businessman settled in the city but willing to do something for Raadhanagar because his father had lived there for years before migrating. The letter says to the postmaster that he should handover the cheque to the most upstanding person of the village who will be having a free hand to spend the money for the welfare of the village according to his wisdom. Now seeing the hefty sum (in 1960, the sum of Rs. 5 Lakh was indeed a very huge amount), all the high profile people, i.e., the landlord, the priest, the contractor, the doctor etc. become interested in pocketing the same. The postmaster, Nivaaran Babu and the young teacher, Rajat decide that the decision as to who should be given this money, should be taken through a democratic process. It is agreed to by all that after one month, a voting will take place in the village and all the villagers will vote according to their choice of the most upstanding person of the village. All the big guns alongwith Rajat become candidates for the poll. And now except Rajat, all others start their respective games to woo the villagers so that they cast their votes in their favour. Nobody knows the real identity of J.C. Roy who is actually there in the village itself, living under a different name and with a fake identity.
Situation takes such a turn that to save Nivaaran Babu from ruins (due to the attachment of his house and belongings under the court order), Rajat takes money from the landlord to repay Nivaaran Babu’s loan and in lieu of that he is compelled by the landlord to withdraw his name from the contest. However, his sacrifice is of no use because Seema has already agreed to marry the contractor in return for his paying the loan of her father. On the voting day, all the greedy contestants get involved in illegal tactics to win by hook or by crook and they resort to even violence and terrorizing the voters. Then J.C. Roy reveals his true identity and declares that the most upstanding person in the village is actually the postmaster himself and he had arranged the drama of this cheque to test the integrity and so-called benevolence of the big men of the village and unmask their true faces in front of the commonfolk. Through this test (Parakh), now he has been able to show to his mother (who had initially proposed to donate the sum for the welfare of the village) as to who deserves this sum and who can actually be trusted to take care of the interests of the village at large. Then quite naturally, he also ensures that Seema is married to Rajat only.As said earlier, Parakh was much ahead of its time and whatever electoral vices we witness today in our country had been visualized by the writer and the director at that point of time. Perhaps the electoral process had started getting vitiated by that time and had someone at the helm paid attention to the message of this movie, some corrective steps would have been taken at that time itself. Anyway, this simple movie is definitely impressive and through a thin storyline, it has been able to convey the inherent message in an interesting manner without any fanfare. It is an underrated movie of the legendary director – Bimal Roy.
Cinematic liberties have been taken and the story has been narrated in a flat way. It may be due to Bimal Da’s being a maker of social movies and not mysteries, else he could have kept the suspense regarding the real identity of J.C. Roy till the climax and rendered a dramatic finish to the movie. He has not done so and revealed the true identity of J.C. Roy even before the interval point. The motive seems more to tell an interesting story than to convey something hard-hitting. And hence the movie lambastes the individuals and not the system. It has not been able to point it out that there are inherent flaws in the voting system itself which does not allow the truly deserving person to get elected (because he is resourceless and looks like an underdog when pitted against the wealthy and the mighty).Romance shown between Seema and Rajat is subtle which stays within the social restraints. However when the jealousy of Seema comes to the fore when Rajat interacts with the sister-in-law of the landlord (Nishi), it underscores a time-tested fact that despite being apparently subtle and silent, love for someone special is bound to be possessive.
The movie does not contain slapstick comedy but it has many smile-generating moments. This has been done through dialogues of various characters who unsuccessfully attempt for rhetoric and consequentially turn ridiculous in public. The scenes of Rajat’s hiding the footwear of the landlord’s sister-in-law from Seema and Rajat’s conversation with the station master are also hilarious.
Made with a low budget, the movie portrays the village life of India (in those days) quite realistically with not only the vices prevalent but also love, cooperation and virtues scattered in the rural part of the country. The movie is not unduly long and does not bore at any place.
Writers – Salil Chowdhury and Shailndra have done their regular duties of composing tunes and penning lyrics respectively with expected proficiency. Two songs stand out. One is Lata Mangeshkar’s immortal rain song – O Sajna, Barkha Bahaar Aai and the other one is also a Lata song, a less talked about one – Mere Mann Ke Diye Yun Hi Ghut Ghut Ke Jal. Background score is also perfectly in sync with the mood of the movie.Performances are quite good. This is only the second Hindi movie of Saadhana and she is present in this movie with such a simplicity and innocence (being just 19 years of age at that time) that it is difficult to imagine her as a fashion-icon that she had become through her hairdo and wardrobe in the coming years. She has acted well too, bringing to life the personality of a straightforward girl who loves someone with utmost sincerity but not at all hesitant to sacrifice her joys for the sake of her parents and her home. It’s one of those rare movies in which her full name (Sadhana Shivdasani) has been mentioned in the credits. Hero of this movie – Vasant Chaudhary has also underplayed his role with perfection. However, in this movie the actual hero is the script with all the characters suitably placed. And all the performers have done their respective bits with finesse.This long forgotten movie seems to have inspired many movies in the times to come. Even a sequence of a relatively recent movie Chalo Dilli (2011) also contains shadows of a sequence from Parakh when Rajat helps the sister-in-law of the landlord in reaching her destination from the railway station. Despite flaws, the movie is a classic and whosoever willing to reform the electoral system and the democratic process in our country, should not miss watching this satire. Besides, it can be seen for sheer entertainment also.This review is my tribute to the legendary filmmaker Bimal Roy whose 110th birth anniversary falls today (12th July).
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