Jeet (1949)

jeet_womanpower

One of the best things about Hindi movies for me is that they are a window into the growing pains—and hopes and joys—of a brand new nation. (I’m talking mostly about north India only since I don’t watch south Indian movies yet, but still. It’s there, in front of you.) Most cinema is reflective of its origins and time to some extent of course; but the timing of India’s independence, and the fledgling country’s tenacious adherence to specifically Indian traditions and issues, makes Hindi cinema particularly so (this is also true of the pre-independence period, although in a more veiled way). For this reason, I try to slog my way through the 1940s, although I find films from the era sometimes a little too melodramatic and preachy, and a little too song-saturated, to make it easy.

But I really enjoyed this one! It’s feminist! Chock-full of woman power, seriously! Sure, it’s heavy-handed (and laughably idealistic if one is a wee bit cynical), but it has such charm and youthful optimism (that same unknown cynic might call it naivete) that I got sucked right in. Plus, the incredibly young Dev Anand and Madan Puri are so…incredibly young!

Suraiya plays Jeet, an intelligent and fierce woman of means with very definite ideas about what is important to her. She has inherited a small fortune from her deceased father, and lives with her uncle Kalyan Singh (Kanhaiyalal) next door to Maa (a barely middle-aged Durga Khote—only six years post-Prithvi Vallabh). Jeet is in love with one of Durga’s sons, idealistic Vijay (Dev Anand), whose brother Ratan (Madan Puri) has just returned from living abroad in America.

It starts out a little unpromisingly with fervent speeches on behalf of a socialist and rooted-in-traditions India. Throughout the film Jeet is the main voice for the film’s message, with Vijay offering support rather than the other way around. I don’t know if this is because Suraiya was a bigger star than Dev Anand at this point in time, but it’s a refreshing change!

jeet_idealism

Then there’s a little bit of America-bashing (although Ratan springs to the defense of capitalism) and more idealism:

jeet_america

I sigh and wonder how soon it will be before I want to blow my head off (all this and more in only 8 minutes or so!). But gears shift pretty quickly into an actual—and entertaining—storyline. There are deep divisions in the village between the poor majority and the few wealthy zamindars and moneylenders who inhabit it. Despite her own wealth, Jeet is dedicated to helping the farmers and workers who live around her; Vijay is equally dedicated to helping her.

I have to say here that Suraiya and Dev Anand are very sweet in this. I think their real-life romance must have been going strong here; their comfort level and happiness together shines from the screen. I especially love their duet “Chahe Kitni Kathin Dagar Ho,” sung by Suraiya and Shankar Dasgupta—Shankar Dasgupta was heretofore unknown to me, but his voice blends beautifully with hers and I think it suits Dev very nicely as well. And the song is picturized simply on the two (Dev and Suraiya) walking along hand in hand—so cute. I’m putting it here as it’s not easy to find.

jeet_love

Anyway, on the evening of Ratan’s arrival the entire village attends a play performance, and Jeet sings a song whose lyrics aren’t subtitled but whose meaning is clear. This “modern” pair are clearly meant as figures of fun!

jeet_modern

Infuriated at what he perceives as an insult from Jeet, Ratan storms out. The next day Jeet’s cousin Kiran arrives from the city, where she has been studying surgery at a Medical College. I think Kiran is played by Suraiya Chowdhury—at least she’s the actress in the highest credit order who I’m not already familiary with. She seems very uncomfortable onscreen, swaying back and forth and swinging her purse as she delivers her lines. She does get a bit better by the end. Still, it’s distracting.

jeet_kiran

Ratan is clearly pleased to see her, and she is clearly a woman who could be his type, so I am confused when minutes later he confides in Kalyan Singh that he wants to marry—Jeet! The same Jeet who keeps insulting him in public!

jeet_wealth

Ahh. DUH. Jeet’s uncle is a greedy, greedy man too; he strikes a deal with Ratan that if Ratan can convince Maa, Vijay and Jeet that he should marry Jeet, he won’t stand in the way—as long as Ratan gives him half of Jeet’s inheritance. This seems a tall order, and indeed Maa’s first reaction is an emphatic “Never!” when her Munimji brings Kalyan’s proposal.

jeet_orphan

She isn’t talking about Jeet, either—it turns out that Vijay is not actually her son, but she adopted him when his parents died. And may I point out how very gorgeous Durga Khote was. What bone structure—what a face!

jeet_durga

Ratan overhears her conversation with Munimji, and so does Vijay. Ratan orders him out of the house and Vijay leaves willingly, although Maa is greatly saddened by these events. He’s happy enough though, and begins building his own hut (oh! such a simple life!):

jeet_practicepreach

Ratan begins to pursue Jeet, who shows him nothing but scorn. She doesn’t care at all that Vijay is now living in a hut, and their love is as strong as ever. Ratan’s case still seems hopeless; but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to never ever underestimate the power of a favorite older son over an indulgent and wishful Maa!

jeet_support

The support he needs? Jeet, of course! Reluctantly, Maa goes to see Vijay and asks him to sacrifice his love for her sake.

jeet_normal

How I love Hindi movie psychology! To his credit, a heartbroken Vijay says it will have to be up to Jeet. And Jeet’s uncle has not stopped his assault on her fortune either. He asks her to put her signature on a blank piece of paper, assuring her that he won’t cheat her. She pretends to sign—but you can’t pull the wool over this girl’s eyes so easily.

jeet_sign

Vijay tells Jeet in the meantime what his Maa has asked of him. Fed up, she goes to the village elders, who her uncle is now trying to manipulate, and accuses him in front of them of trying to cheat her. Kiran appears in the middle of this speech (I’ve now started swaying and rocking when I see her) in time for Jeet’s dramatic announcement.

jeet_giving-away

She signs over all her wealth and property to Kiran! I love this more than I can say: in one bold movie she’s completely thwarted her uncle and gotten rid of Ratan as well. Kiran goes to see Ratan, and he immediately switches his affections to her when she shows him the papers signed by Jeet.

Jeet meets Vijay and tells him what she’s done; they go and get Maa, and the three of them go to meet Ratan, only to find him romancing Kiran. Maa is furious—and disappointed—at his duplicity and leaves with Vijay and Jeet. Ratan is insulted (apparently by Jeet’s keen insight into his psyche) and vows to avenge himself; Kiran chimes in too.

jeet_insulted

Can Jeet’s intelligence and moxie keep Maa, Vijay and herself safe? Her uncle is mad too, and the wealthy men of the village are not happy with Vijay and Jeet’s social work. Will the power of wealth defeat the hard work and idealism of the poor? Watch Jeet to find out, and for lots of angry villagers with sticks and paranoid landowners! Oh, newly independent India—how did you survive?

Seriously though, I enjoyed this film despite being bashed over the head with idealistic sermons—and to be fair, there are some interesting arguments introduced too. The Dev-Suraiya romance is sweet, and it’s more fun than I can describe to see Jeet exercising her considerable powers. She is smart, loving, and willing to stand up for her beliefs; when her Maa-in-law finally joins in, can anything stop them? There are too many songs for my tastes, but most of them are really lovely and all of them are relatively short, as is the film itself (just over two hours). Lata sings a couple of songs, one of her early films, and so does Geeta Dutt, in addition to Suraiya singing for herself.

Plus, it’s just a whole lot of fun to see such a young Madan Puri as well.

jeet_madanpuri

If you want to stick your toe in early Hindi movie waters, this isn’t a bad place to start.

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30 Comments to “Jeet (1949)”

  1. This looks pretty good, i love the post partition movies where every one is earnest and full of heavy handed nationalism! Though the cynic in me might just scoff at the debates, but i wont say no to a feminist heroine, or a too young maa in Durga Khote. And Madan Puri looks almost cute in this! I think Suraiya must have been a bigger star than Dev, if all her seems to be here is a debater and love-sacrificer!

  2. I remember some sweet suraiya songs from this movie. Dev and Suraiya sure look cute together.

  3. This sounds sweet. I think I saw this somewhere in my movie shopping sprees and passed up the opportunity since my previous experiences of Suraiya-Dev werent all that great (he looks rather mousy in comparison to her, and her acting skills are of the more dramatic variety than I like). Will look out for this on my next shopping venture!

    • He didn’t look mousy at all, was v.v. handsome. Suraiya’s not one of my favorites—she does tend to declaim her lines while looking off in the distance, but that’s what they did back then I guess :-) They look totally smitten with each other whenever they’re onscreen together. Sad that it didn’t work out for them.

  4. That beginning part looks pretty cool to me! This one’s definitely on my list. I’ve greatly enjoyed the vast majority of ’40s films and film clips that I’ve seen so far, and just about all the Hindi film music that I’m listening to right now (at least a few albums’ worth) is from either the ’40s or 1950. (Yeah, I guess I’m a bit strange. And in my not-that-much-younger days, I prided myself with being hip to new music. :)

    Wasn’t the ’40s the best time in Hindi films for women singers and stars? Certainly the best time for actresses who were also singing stars. After Noor went to Pakistan, I guess Suraiya was the last one left. Too bad she kind of faded too (for the most part) when the ’50s got underway.

    • There were some interesting debates and I appreciated that it wasn’t completely one-sided—Ratan, for all that he was greedy, did make some good points :-) I liked the songs from this too, although I find the ones from this era more heavy going than the ones from the 60s and 70s (even the 50s, actually). Suraiya was one of the last singing stars, then Lata came along and displaced everyone :-D

  5. About a dozen or so songs from this movie arae available on youtube.

    Here is the one video link for which you have provided the audio

    • Oh thanks Atul! I looked for it and didn’t see this. And the end of this clip demonstrates Kiran’s weird swaying nicely—she did that most of the time she was onscreen. It made me dizzy.

  6. YAAAAYYY for woman power! And LOL about “here there won’t be any big bosses or workers who work like machines!” Oh, for a country like that to exist. ;-) This looks truly wonderful. I’m so glad you post about movies like these. Otherwise they’d never make a blip on my radar.

    • I don’t feel like I really conveyed well enough how awesome the women are in this. Jeet, Maa and even Kiran eventually really drive the solutions to problems in this. And some of the earnest speeches made me want to laugh AND cry…no poverty, no hamster wheel of commerce…if only.

      And I’m glad you like to read about movies like these :)

  7. I rather liked this movie too…it is, as you said, a sweet, little film. I’m not a Surayia fan so her songs don’t hold much appeal for me, but the Lata solos from Jeet are lovely.

    Dev Anand is almost always fun to watch (post-1970 for an entirely different reason ;-), but there’s an earnestness about him in his early, pre-superstar days that’s doubly endearing. I watched Tamasha (1950) a few weeks ago and one of the film’s prime pleasures was seeing Dev, Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar glow in their youthful beauty.

  8. How is Kiran insulted by Jeet??? If anyone, she should have been insulted by Ratan!! ugh, *hindi movie psychology*

    Dev Anand looks very very handsome (and “young looking” :P) in this, and Suraiya looks absolutely beautiful!! Loved her character too!! Too bad she couldn’t stand up to her relatives in real life, but after reading Dev Anand’s autobiography (*yuck!*), I’m not sure if he deserved her after all!

    • I think Kiran’s just jumping on Ratan’s bandwagon, although she also seems to be in love with Vijay sometimes. She confused me throughout with her mesmerizing rocking back and forth!

      I have to wonder if Suraiya had married Dev, if he would have turned out the same. Who knows?

  9. You know what I love the most about these movies? Their plan declaration of their intentions. “I feel villanious, I think I will destroy this person’s life and crush their dreams and hopes. Here is my plan…”

  10. Kiran’s swaying is not “weird”; it used to come naturally in this form (especially in olden times to young ladies). Probably conveys shyness. Maybe the director wanted it this way or she is just carrying her own persona.

    Madan Puri appears to be the highlight of this show – “Donkeys and horses can never become equal.” Very politically incorrect indeed!! I suppose, India’s fascination with socialism faded out only after China backstabbed in 1962.

    • Kiran’s swaying is weird. I have seen a LOT of Hindi movies and never seen this extreme behavior before. I think it was nervousness, plain and simple…Kiran was not a shy character in any way. Madan Puri was certainly one of the highlights :)

  11. A response to comments from britishraj and some others… I think that the decline of socialism as a theme in Indian films must be due to a number of factors, not just antagonisms with China or other changes on the international political front. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems a lot has to do with changes and growth in the Bollywood film industry, where or whom the money has been coming from, etc. This must be especially true in more recent decades.

    I understand that there are pockets of India where the fascination with socialism grew or rebounded. Bengal is one example (which was, by the way, the birthplace of the IPTA, the communist theater group that originally inspired Navketan Films), and Kerala is another. (Of course, I am aware that the communists in both places did miserably in the last elections, but I’m not ready to mourn just yet. :)

    Kerala has especially been attractive to people (myself included) who’ve been interested in relatively successful democratic alternatives to the authoritarian “socialism” of China, etc. Some of the films coming out of there over the years also seem very attractive (at least to me) for their humanistic discussions of Communist politics.

    Anyway, back to the 1940s (and ’50s)… As someone who’s always lived in the U.S. and known our cultural history, I am fascinated by the fact that in India there were these very popular, blockbuster movies filled with great song and dance that openly discussed and advocated socialism. This happened, as I’ve said before, at a time when people with any hint of socialist leanings were being purged from Hollywood.

    • Socialism didn’t really seem to work out that well in India, either; perhaps that is the main thing responsible for its decline as a theme :) Replaced by corruption and angry young men!!!

      • OK, I’ve already written a very long and tangential comment (not the first time I’ve done that, either :) , but (sorry) you’ve inspired me to write another one! (Though I don’t want to get into an involved political debate -really!)

        Once again, I think there are sections in India (or at least one section) where socialism did remarkably well, especially considering economic limits that had more to do with past and present imperialism(s) than a failure of socialist ideas.

        One reason I became interested in Kerala was because of some books and papers I read that discussed how this state achieved remarkable “social indicators” (extremely high literacy, low infant mortality, relatively high social and gender equality, etc.) despite the fact that it had a tiny fraction of per capita GNP (like close to one percent!) compared to the U.S. This state’s advancements defied the “common wisdom” that a “third world” area had to achieve certain levels of capitalist growth before making social progress.

        If you (or anyone) is curious about these studies that I’m talking about, this is a good place to start:

        http://chss.montclair.edu/anthro/frankepaperskerala.htm

        In India as a whole, of course, economic growth in capitalist terms has probably made socialism less fashionable to those who’ve benefited. On the other hand, as is to be expected, the picture after a wave or two of neoliberalism is not all rosy, with gross inequality, lots of poverty, rampant farmer suicides…

        But there has been this growing Indian (or Indian-originated) “middle class” to provide higher proportion of funds to the Bollywood movie industry (even if the global downturn has also had some consequences there) – which probably helps to explain the decline in social content. (And that is not just my idea, either – I’ve picked that up from opinions by people who are much closer to the source. ;)

        • Thanks Richard. I think the initial socialist attitude in India were mainly rooted in nationalism and anti-imperialism (anti-west), though it must be added that Brits were no less liberal either. So it might have been rather reactionary than original. I do not think that socialism naturally fits with the temperament of Indian society, which is culturally and foundationally hierarchical and has always been, so it had to wane out in time anyway. Conflict with China must have paved a way for this departure, although I think this could have happened much earlier as well when China sacked Tibet. Socialism, in terms of Marxism/Maoism, can only exist as a short-term affair in any given society and it is the natural tendency of people to move forward after a while. Only some kind of quasi-socialism is much more sustainable in longer term, and in this form it exists in most nations even if they are the so-called non-socialist states. Cheers

  12. Durga Khote is lovely in this. I’d only seen her previously as the Empress Jodha in /Mughal-e-Azam/–knowing that she was such a beauty adds another dimension to my appreciation of her performance in that role as well.

    And I agree that the actress playing Kiran looks terribly self-conscious. Even in the brief sequence at the end of the clip that squarecutatul posted her gestures are stiff, she can’t stop swaying, and she keeps looking at the camera. I can see why you found a film’s worth of her awkwardness so distracting.

    If only modern-day filmmakers created roles for women that were as strong and forthright as Jeet…

  13. I really love the songs of the movie. Suraiyya had some lovely songs in this movie and the Geeta songs are very delightful. Geeta Roy was barely 19 then and we see her singing for Durga Khote (Suno Suno Banwari song) with no notes ajar(more than double her age!). No wonder she was No 1 those days. The Kaam karo bhai kaam karo song is also very nice.

  14. I just love this Suraiya song from Jeet. A tender romantic song in a bhajan like musical format. I read somewhere that it was while doing Jeet that Dev and Suraiya feel deeply in love. Shows in the tender, caressing way Suraiya sings here.

    And if you are a Suraiya fan, here’s a nice playlist:-

    http://embedr.com/playlist/kuch-suraiya-ke-naghme

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