Roti (1942)

This is a classic film from Mehboob Khan which really ought to be subtitled and put on a dvd (sans gaudy logo). Even the vcd print is not bad, so I’d think it could be relatively easily done! In any case, my friend Raja subtitled it for me and I am so grateful. Even without subtitles I sensed that this was a very moving and message-heavy film—it is Mehboob, after all!—and so it is. And the cast is magnificent, led by Chandramohan and a very young Sheikh Mukhtar, with the particularly fabulous support of Sitara Devi.

A hard-hitting criticism of the exploitation of the starving and helpless masses of the poor by the small numbers of wealthy elite, it works beautifully as an allegory contrasting the purity of tribal life against the corruption of the city. No doubt it resonated for audiences at that time too as a smack upside the head for the government of the Raj! I was reminded of Abraham Eraly’s wonderful book about the Mughal rule in India as well: the excesses in which the emperors and their courts indulged at the expense of the vast majority of the Indian population in no small part contributed to their own downfall.

Of course there are a gazillion examples of the same thing in western history too. We really don’t ever learn anything! which helps to make this film and its message particularly timeless.

The narrative is pushed along by a Greek chorus (literally—much of his discourse is through song) of a character called Jaggu (Ashraf Khan) who gleefully taunts the poor, blaming them for their own lack of courage and initiative, and eggs on those who are strong enough to grasp whatever they want.

He meets a homeless and hungry man on the street one day who looks exactly like the long-lost son, Laxmidas, of a wealthy old woman. Knowing that the real Laxmi is dead, Jaggu styles the starving and ragged man as her son and presents him to the old lady (and the world) as Seth Laxmidas—she readily and joyfully accepts him.

The old widow’s long-time partner in business is a man named Tarachand, who has a daughter named Darling (Akhtaribai Faizabadi—later known as Begum Akhtar, the ghazal singer). The old lady and Tarachand have nurtured a fond hope that when her son returned he would marry Darling, and thus consolidate the business under one name and one roof.

Darling is not drawn to Laxmi for long: when his “mother” dies soon after handing over her half of the business to him, he loses no time in murdering Tarachand by locking him in his own vault filled with gold. It is a brutal scene—Tarachand essentially suffocates to death in an airless tomb. Laxmidas returns to the vault afterwards and steals all the gold contained in it, leaving Tarachand’s body.

Tarachand’s Munimji and Darling both suspect Laxmi’s involvement but cannot prove anything.

Darling vows to bide her time, and since she still nominally owns half the company Laxmidas needs her as well. Laxmi further proves his ruthlessness by ruining another wealthy man named Premchand, who commits suicide in the office after begging for mercy—Laxmi remains unmoved. He buys up all the grain available and hoards it; when the mill workers threaten to strike because they no longer can afford to buy wheat he crushes them by raising the prices even higher, despite the protests of Munimji.

He and Darling set off together on a trip to a remote jungle to look at some gold mines in which Laxmi is considering investing. The plane crashes in the jungle next to a village whose chief is brave young Balam (Sheikh Mukhtar).

The villagers have never seen an airplane before (Balam flings his spear at it, and they think he has killed it, whatever it is), but when they hear Darling’s cries for help they pull her and Laxmidas from the wreckage; they are the only two survivors. As the days pass Laxmi frets about his lack of contact with the outside world while Darling falls for Balam and the village’s utopian way of life. She is particularly impressed as she watches the villagers divide the harvest equally, and in complete harmony with each other.

Balam is uninterested in finding out what life is like beyond the jungle: he has heard that people go there, become slaves, and never return. So he repeatedly refuses Laxmi’s requests for an escort and his pair of bullocks and a cart to take him and Darling back to the city.

But Balam is in love with—and loved in return by—a lively and beautiful village girl named Kinari (Sitara Devi).

Kinari is enchanted by the gold Laxmi has brought with him, and more than a little jealous when Darling makes her interest in Balam clear (although he rejects her, gently). Laxmi seizes his chance and convinces Kinari to let him take Balam’s beloved bulls Changu and Mangu while Balam isn’t looking; she arranges for another villager named Haada to show Laxmi and Darling the way out and makes Laxmi promise to send Haada and Changu-Mangu (as they are called) back once they reach the outer edges of the jungle.

Balam is furious when he discovers what Kinari has done. She has been given gold, but gold of course cannot plough the fields; and when Haada returns weeks later without Changu-Mangu (Laxmi having reneged on his promise), Balam and a very remorseful Kinari (along with a very cute pet monkey) set off for the city to retrieve their bullocks.

I love these two together. Balam is serious and responsible and very wary of the city. Kinari’s vivacious curiosity is a great foil for him, although it gets them into rather more trouble than they bargained for. They soon run into our narrator Jaggu, who wastes no time in taking advantage of their simplicity and naivete.

He quickly relieves them of the gold they have brought with them, although he does take them to see Seth Laxmidas. But Laxmi has long ago sold off Changu-Mangu and has no interest in helping Balam and Kinari despite their earlier generosity to him and Darling; he throws them out of his huge mansion.

Determined to find their bullocks, Balam finds a job as a day laborer and they take shelter in a crowded chawl which they find suffocating. The landlord is horrified when they declare their intent to sleep out in the open air—it’s a matter of shame, he tells them. They have no idea what shame is, but understand that they are supposed to stay in the stifling indoors.

Can our two innocents find their beloved animals and buy them back? Will they survive the rigors of city life and find their way home eventually? Or will they be crushed as so many have been before them? And what of Seth Laxmidas and his crimes: will he ever get his comeuppance? Will poor Darling get her revenge?

I really, really love this movie. The story might seem a bit simplistic for today but it is incredibly well done and as I said, the moral is still very relevant. Outside of Jaggu’s songs there are a couple of lovely tribal dances (music is by Anil Biswas). Plus, the cast is wonderful—you cannot help but root for sweet Balam and Kinari; and Chandramohan is fantastic as the faux Seth Laxmidas. He takes to greed, murder and larceny with a malice and total lack of conscience that is quite simply shocking—but not at all unbelievable.

If anyone is interested in seeing this with the benefit of subtitles (thank you again Raja!), let me know and I will make it happen. I highly recommend it.

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58 Comments to “Roti (1942)”

  1. This is another film that i’ve heard about, but have been less fortunate to actually watch. I haven’t actually seen Begum Akhtar before, did she get that famous?? Well, this good look’s like a good film, I really would like to see it!!

  2. Lovely review, Greta. How do you manage to always come up with just the perfect narrative of a storyline, without giving away the plot? And with just the right screenshots? :-)

    I just LOVE this movie. Easily one of my favourites. There are so many things I like about this movie I don’t know where to start.

    The story is engaging from start to end. Not for a moment did I get bored.
    There are so many scenes I liked in the movie, I cannot pick just a few. It is just such a wonderful sequence of scenes.

    The cast is excellent and the chemistry between the characters (whether love or hate emotions on display) is compelling. Enough has been said about Chandramohan (I found him just brilliantly ruthless in this!) but the other characters are also extremely good. Sitara Devi’s vivaciousness, Sheikh Mukhtar’s “proud” villager role and Akhtaribai all make the movie special.

    I loved all the songs too, the tribal ones as well as the ones sung by Ashraf Khan.

    I thoroughly enjoyed subtitling this, it was such a pleasure. Thanks,Greta, for introducing me to this movie.

    Seeing how much I fell in love with Roti, I felt like seeing some more Mehboob Khan of that period. I recently saw Elan (1947) and liked it also very much. It also has a strong message that is relevant even today.

    • It does move along like a train wreck—a train wreck you really want a happy ending for!

      Do you really think *enough* has been said about Chandramohan, LOL!!! :D I did think the main cast were all very special. I would love to see Sitara Devi especially in more (of course I have seen Sheikh Mukhtar in more!).

      Would love to see Elan, hint hint hint…

  3. Based on your recommendation and Raja’s enthusiastic thumbs up I’ll definitely see this movie. Sitara Devi –I hadn’t really paid attention to her before –is also someone I want to see. She’s so pretty. I’m swamped with work for the next couple of months but I would be very interested in seeing the subtitled version after that if you put it up somewhere legal.

    • She’s beautiful. Not sure what you mean by someplace legal—if you want legal you’ll have to wait for the indian dvd people to cooperate and it might be a very long and fruitless wait.

  4. Wonderful review as always.
    Have sent an email to beg ‘to make it happen’ :-)
    That’s a very kind and generous offer.
    Thank you.

  5. Please may it “happen” for me as well.

  6. Would love to see it, Memsaab. I’ll check if I can get a VCD here. But if not.

  7. Memsaab, I am very interested in seeing this movie with the benefit of subtitles, if you could possibly make that happen for me!

    Last spring I put up posts about both Sitara Devi and Begum Akhtar in Roti…

    http://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/sitara-devi-in-roti-1942-2/

    http://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/glimpses-ofbegum-akhtar/

    The Begum Akhtar clip that I posted was one of several scenes from the film that I found on YouTube. I had read about the plot in a couple of places and there was a good chunk of the movie in these clips, so I think I mostly saw it in a way :) . But it would be great to see the whole film with subtitles!

  8. I’ve uploaded the film with hard-coded subtitles (you can’t turn them off) in avi format (2 parts) here:

    Part 1: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=7A31EQT8

    Part 2: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=JYMJ70N7

    Enjoy! and all praise again to Raja for his efforts on our behalf :)

    • You’ve come through without me even having to ask. You must be psychic. ;)

      Thank you so much for making this available and thanks a million to Raja for his hard work for us.

  9. YAY! I’m delighted to see all this love for Roti, which entirely deserves it. I don’t know about you, but the film stayed with me for a few days after I watched. It’s difficult to explain, but I just found it mesmerizing.

    If you get a chance do check out “Aurat” (1940), Mehboob’s first take on the “Mother India” tale. It’s about time you discovered the fabulous Yakub. :-)

  10. Wow, lucky you. Been wanting to see this one for a while now…

    • If you wait a while, I *might* be able to provide a proper dvd with subs you can turn off ;-)

      Until then, I know fIENDS has put it on vcd but no doubt it’s a crappy crappy product, not befitting the film’s stature. But you should be able to find it pretty easily in India…

      :)

  11. Iam glad you got the movie with subtitles and enjoyed your Chandramohan, Memsaab!

  12. I bought the movie when I read about it on Richard’s blog. I remember watching the movie on doordarshan and being mesmerised by Chandramohan. At that time, I didn’t know Darling was played by Begum Akhtar.

    Changu-Mangu have passed into legend, it is now a metaphor for any friends who hang out together.

  13. Roti is master peace of MEHBOOB Sahab.Even this movie is black & white vcd print is superb.This movie is made in 1942 still in 2010 my 11yrs old son sits with me and enjoy this movie.

    • I’m so happy to hear that you are showing it to an eleven year old!!!! It is a timeless classic, for sure, and the print I have anyway (Nice, as you can see from the logo) is very good.

  14. Greta – Do you know of ay movie where Chandramohan has a comic role? With his intense roles, it might have been a once in a lifetime role for him :-)

  15. I loved this film for its message years byck when it was aired on DD!
    Though the dialogue delivery and all was a bit hard to digest and the character laxmi was a bit too evil. the way runs over his secretary and all.
    And I LOVED Sitara Devi’s dances!

  16. Hello Memsaab,

    I’d like to see the movie too – it’s just that the first part of the movie is ‘temporarily unavailable’. Could you please upload it again or give us another link?

    Thanks!

    • Hi Fehmeen, That messages comes up routinely on megaupload, but if you keep trying it will work. I don’t know if it only allows one download at a time or what…but it’s there, and you should be able to get if you keep trying :) Let me know if not.

  17. it worked. i had to clear my browser’s cache. thanks for the help

    • I’m glad, enjoy it :) Let me know what you think when you see it!

    • I saw the movie with my grandfather – he had seen in way back when it was released (and banned) because one of the actors (sheikh mukhtar) was his neighbour in delhi. He remembers a court scene which has been cut from the movie – it talked about the two-faced nature of justice during that time and I can imagine why that clipping has been removed entirely.

      As for the movie – i thought the premise and storyline was excellent, but i wish the acting was a bit better. Plus, i thought Laxman’s character transformed too quickly into a cold-hearted and greedy man, and I was surprised to see he didn’t change when death was eminent – but perhaps if all that had happened, it would have been too predictable :)

      Either way, I’m glad we saw it. Thanks for uploading it!

      • laxmidas, not laxman

      • You are very welcome, Fehmeen—was your grandfather acquainted with Sheikh Mukhtar? He must have cut quite a figure :) The acting at that time (in Hollywood too) was still very influenced by the stage—people hadn’t quite figured out that with a camera right there expressions and voice didn’t need to be as exaggerated. Some were starting to but mostly directors still expected actors to be theatrical. I don’t mind it so much keeping that in mind…

        Too bad a scene has been cut…but it’s true of pretty much every film available today :(

        • they were simply neighbours before the partition, he knew sheikh mukhtar’s brother and watched the movie ‘through’ him. now that u explain the ‘acting’, it really isn’t an issue :)

  18. I have just finished seeing this film, and loved it too. It’s so well made, and so hard-hitting. And it’s aged well, too, I think… much better than something like Kismet, for instance. Thank you so much for telling me about it!

    And oh, Chandramohan. Chandramohan. My goodness. Those eyes!

    • I agree, I think it is a film which can rightly be considered a classic—its themes are timeless and still relevant. So glad you enjoyed it :) Will we see a review from you *hopefully*?

      Love Chandramohan. What a guy. They just don’t make ‘em like that on an assembly line.

  19. Thank you sooooooo much Mrs. Wenda, for making the subtitled film available! Although sadly the great Begum Akhtar’s 6 solos were cut off from this VCD :( . I saw her as an actress only here, and liked her a lot. Chandramohan, Sitara Devi and Sheikh Mukhtiar were great to….(I hope you don’t remember my bad comment on this film sometime ago, I take back what I said :) )

    Could you please try to upload Achut Kanya (1936) too? That is one film you have which Iam very eager to watch (I’ve never seen a Devika Rani film before) So hoping if you could kindly afford to share……

    • I don’t have Achhut Kanya in an uploadable format and I am pretty hopeless at converting video and other such things. Also the quality of the video I have is pretty bad, although better than nothing for sure. But let me work on it…

  20. Thanks so much for sharing this, been looking for ‘Roti’ for quite a while:) My short recommendation of the film was on IMDB 8 years ago! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0232542/

  21. Hey Memsaab, if you don’t mind, could you please extract the film with WinX DVD ripper? This could be done in various formats and it’s great.

    • She’s on a Mac. But why do you ask? She’s already made the AVIs available. You can get them and then do whatever you like with them.

      • Oh, I see. It’s also available for Macs. The source wasn’t a DVD, but a VCD, I believe, and they aren’t copy protected. But the question remains, what did you have in mind?

        • I was talking about Achut Kanya (1936). I know Roti is VCD manufactured by Friends Video. Nice to see you (I know you help in such video-cutting etc. things :) ) I truly loved Roti, thank you so much for the subtitles! Just wanted to mention – the great Madam Begum Akhtar and Chandramohan made a great pair.

  22. Hai,

    I’ve been trying to figure out the supporting cast of this after watching it from here (Thanks MemSaab!)

    The Munimji is definitely Mishra.

    The murdered Father Tarachand is either Jamshedji or Wasker — the same actor is in Andaz and those two names are credited there too. I personally think it’s is Jamshedji.

    The sneaky Mr. Sharma guy could be Qayamali / Kayamali.. but I’m not sure about that.

  23. Saw this ages ago on Doordarshan. I remember one dance of Sitara Devi and a vivid shot of a man dying on the sands (am I right?). I recently came across the VCD in the store and wasn’t sure whether to buy it or not – then I thought I should first look up Memsaab before buying it. Well you and your friends have convinced me to buy the VCD! You should charge ‘Friends’ (the VCD producer) marketing commission and have them them put “Recommended by Memsaab & Co’ on the cover :-D

    • I hope their VCD is better quality than they usually have…the Nice one that I have is a very good picture quality if you can find that one (so much for fIENDS paying me, ha ha!!!). Or you could d/l it from the links above (except you can’t turn off the subs if you don’t need them).

      • Memsaab just try to watch Anbe Vaa – 1966 classic of Saroja Devi.You willl just love it iam sure.

      • Just managed to get a copy of ‘Roti’. They were nearly sold out! Also got Pukar and Nastik (missed out on Humayun). Glad there are still takers for such old films. There seems to be a great following of Dara Singh too — I saw one ‘HARCULES’ (NOT LISTED IN YOUR SITE!) – i didn’t buy it for for I’m not a fan of Dara Singh (sorry, sorry).

  24. Saw Roti this weekend and was bowled over. Everything changes and nothing changes. Greedy men still poach on tribal land for mining with scant respect for the original inhabitants or environment. Read about this feisty lady in Goa:
    http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?271812
    I am sure Mehboob would have made a film in support of her.

  25. I saw Roti a month back when you mailed me about it.
    Still to respond back to the film here.
    But just saw a movie (Ghar ho to aisa – 1990) starring Anil Kapoor and Meenakshi.
    I then remembered Roti. The theme is greed here but here it is collective greed of family and how they curb the voice of helpless (some family members) and the theme is brought with comedy and I think you will really enjoy (if you may have not yet seen the movie)
    Kader Khan is amazing in comedy!

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