Nastik (1954)

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Let me begin by saying that I loved this film, although it did lose some momentum and direction towards the end. It is essentially a movie about faith (or the lack thereof: nastik = atheist), and unusually for a Hindi movie (at least in my limited experience), contains a fairly strong condemnation of the hypocrisy in organized religion. Comedian IS Johar both wrote and directed the film, and has a supporting role. A strikingly young and handsome Ajit stars alongside the beautiful Nalini Jaywant—who looks a lot like Nargis, and is absolutely wonderful as Rama, the moral center of the story. The real star of the show, though, is the sublime music by Chitalkar Ramchandra (a severely underrated music director in my opinion) with lyrics by the great lyricist and poet Kavi Pradeep.

The film begins with a song that I have not been able to stop listening to in three days: “Kitna Badal Gaya Insaan” sung by Kavi Pradeep. It made me weep, maybe because the world doesn’t seem to have changed much. It is pictured on Anil (Ajit), his sister Kamala, and their young brother Munna who are fleeing their home after Partition. Their parents are dead, killed in front of Anil.

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These are the lyrics as subtitled on my DVD (if anyone can find the Hindi lyrics online, please post a link in the comments!):

See what your world has come to O God
How man has changed
The sun did not change, nor the moon, and nor did the sky
How man has changed
What times are these
Man has become a ruffian today
There are fights somewhere and riots somewhere
Man has shed all his humanity
He is selling his soul to fraud and deceit
How man has changed
Ram’s devotees, Rahim’s disciples
Are all weaving webs of deception
How deceiving, how blind are they
I know what they all are
It is due to their instigation that this country has become a graveyard
How man has changed
Had we not fought among ourselves
Why would matters reach this state
Why would so many families be ruined
Why would children be orphaned
Why would Bapu cry
How man has changed

The violence of Partition has left Anil with no faith in God, but at his sister’s urging he tries to get the priest Tulsiram (Ulhal) to come and help Munna, who is dying. This priest is not interested in a poverty-stricken beggar and throws him out of the temple. When he threatens the indifferent priest in his desperation, Tulsiram has him arrested and put in jail. At his court hearing, Anil lashes out again at the priest and declares his atheism. Not surprisingly, he’s put right back in prison.

Munna dies, and Tulsiram throws Kamala (Roopmala) out of the rest-house belonging to the temple. As she wanders homeless and starving, she is picked up on the street by Vinod Kumar (Raj Mehra) and his servant (a very young Mehmood). They have nefarious plans for her.

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When Ajit is released from jail along with his cellmate and now friend Joker (IS Johar), he goes looking for Kamala. When he finds her in the brothel he is angry even though she explains how Kumar tricked her and then forced her to sing (yes, all she has done is sing). He tells her it would have been better had she died and leaves her sobbing. No prizes for guessing what happens next.

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When he goes back to ask her for forgiveness, she has already killed herself. Racked with sorrow and guilt, Anil vows to avenge his siblings by tracking down Tulsiram and Kumar. They have both gone on pilgrimages, and Anil and Joker set off in pursuit. Joker sees the irony:

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They go from pilgrimage place to pilgrimage place (there’s some spectacular temple footage). In Vrindavan, they see an untouchable boy begging. He is abused by a devotee named Rani Ma (Leela Mishra) when he touches her, and a priest slaps him. Anil punches the priest, knocking him down. Rani Ma indignantly asks who is he is; he answers, I am human—unlike you. She defends her right as a Brahmin not to be defiled by an untouchable.

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He scoffs at her, saying her religion should be wiped out. Watching this exchange with interest and not a little delight, is Rama (Nalini Jaywant), who has been praying at the temple. When the crowd disperses, she stays behind, cradling the beggar child. Anil asks if she doesn’t believe in untouchability.

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Joker arrives with news that he’s located Tulsiram. That evening, Rani Ma hosts a dance performance in Tulsiram’s honor. Rama—who is his daughter—performs a lovely song: “Kanha Bajaye Bansuri.”

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See what I mean about Nargis? Anyway, at the end of the song, Anil sneaks in and stabs Tulsiram, wounding him. Tulsiram recovers, however, and leaves Vrindavan with Rama to escape Anil’s wrath. Anil tracks them down again, this time in Amarnath.

Tulsiram is staying there with his friend Rani Ma’s son Vinod Kumar (yes, that same Kumar), who wants to marry Rama. When Anil attacks Tulsiram, Kumar pushes him down a mountain into a river. They think he is dead, but Rama finds him washed up on shore. She calls a local boatman for help, who takes Anil home. Nursing him back to health, Rama falls in love with Anil (she knows nothing of his enmity with her father).

Seeing that she loves him, Anil decides to take his revenge on Tulsiram by seducing Rama into marriage, knowing that he will never approve it. He asks her to marry him immediately—without her father’s approval. He says that her father will never let her marry a pauper like he is. They get married and spend a night together before she returns to her father.

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When Tulsiram discovers that Anil is alive, and the one Rama wants to marry, he is horrified (she doesn’t tell him that she’s already married). He tries to stop her from returning to Anil, but she goes to her husband. She soon finds out the real reason he has married her though, and in trying to get away from him falls into the river. Anil thinks she has drowned and is overcome with sorrow and remorse.

She hasn’t died, though; her father finds her and takes her home. There, she discovers that she is pregnant (it’s no wonder India has more than a billion people, everyone gets pregnant the first time!). She leaves home to keep her father from finding out; she has nowhere to go, and wanders homeless, scorned as an unchaste woman.

What will happen? Vinod Kumar is still lurking about, with the brothel nearby—will he find her? Or will Anil find her? Will Anil regain his faith, or remain an atheist forever? Be warned: there are some missing bits of film in the last hour, which occur at crucial moments (naturally). You will have to piece things together somewhat. It’s worth doing, though.

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27 Comments to “Nastik (1954)”

  1. She looks more like Juhi Chawla to me.

  2. Hindi lyrics for
    “dekh tere sa.nsaar kii haalat” in ITRANS:
    http://thaxi.hsc.usc.edu/rmim/giitaayan/cisb/436.isb

    To see them in Nagari, copy and paste the text at:
    http://www.giitaayan.com/x.htm

    You may find it interesting to know that Sahir wrote a satirical parody of the song in ‘Railway Platform’ (a 1955 movie that also touches religious hypocrisy among other things. Highly recommended) – “dekh tere bhagawaan kii haalat”. The lyrics for that song are at:
    http://thaxi.hsc.usc.edu/rmim/giitaayan/cisb/15218.isb

  3. Thanks for the great post. Yet another movie I must see.

  4. It’s not a movie I would watch over and over (doesn’t contain the minimum daily masala requirement); but I am really glad I saw it. And I am listening to the music over and over! :-)

  5. Thanks for the links, v9y! Railway Platform is a movie I have wanted to see–I think it also stars Nalini Jaywant along with Sunil Dutt (pre-Mother India)…I’ll keep looking for it :-)

  6. Star connection: My grandpa’s bro was to marry Nalini Jaywant, didnt go through with it because of the whole deal about the stignma of marrying an actor at the time (dang- she could have been a cousin grandma of mine :(-)

    All in all, Ajit looks great in all his black adn white movies when he played the hero :)

  7. I would have to say—his loss! (and yours too I guess :-)

    Ajit looks especially good in this one. Yummy!

  8. I remember the song “Dekh terey sansaar ki halat” being played on 78 rpm on a wayside cafe. it was located between mirpur khas and our village. Those were the days before transistor radios. Back in early sixties we were travelling from Karachi to our village near Mirpur khas, this little cafe served tea to truck drivers and the like , few customers were sitting on a wooden bench , sipping tea from the saucers, As it was close to dusk the scene looked even more significant, the simple philosophy made sense to the customers as they applauded. After so many years , I saw the song on youtube, and was curious to know who was that strikingly handsome man in the train, in his search I reached this site and am glad to know how this movie and its theme is being appreciated. Thanks for posting the good pictures and the text.

  9. Parveen, thank you for sharing your story! What a lovely scene it conjures up :-) I can imagine how it would be something that would stick in your head.

  10. Nalini Jaywant was Shobana Samrth’s cousin. Which makes her (in India) Nutan and Tanuja’s aunt.
    BTW she starred in another Nastik in the 80s (her last film), where she played I think Amitabh’s mother.
    A very beautiful and underrated actress. have yo seen by any chance her Shikast. Supposed to be a very good movie with unusual roles for her and Dilip Kumar!

  11. Ah Memsaab, I am just getting caught up with this film tonight and I also loved it! Of course you know I adore Ajit,and it seems strange afte watching this film that he ended up in B movies (not that I am complaining, mind you).

    Have you yet seen him in OPERA HOUSE? He is grand!

  12. Oh I’m glad :) I was depressed the other day and listening to Kitne Badal Gaya Insaan…still think it’s one of the best songs ever.

    No, I will look for Opera House! :)

  13. Nasstik is one of the finest movies ever produced in India. The songs of this movie are lovely ones and chitalkar ramachandra has given life to the songs of this movie. Even if you hear these meaningful songs one thousand times, you still want to hear them and will never get bored.
    I wish all Hindi filmi channels telecast this move over and over again so that all Indians can see this memorable movie.

  14. Memsaab, I just watched Natstik now, ten months after this post was written, but I had to come back here to say that I love this movie too! It is a really fine film. And every time I see a movie with a soundtrack by C. Ramchandra, I love his music even more!

  15. ooh, I love the Kavi Pradeep song. C. Ramchandra has some great songs.. Have you heard the Albela soundtrack? It’s really beautiful — one of my most favorite Bollywood soundtracks.

    I place C. Ramchandra right after Shankar Jaikishan and Naushad. My top three.. :)

  16. While looking for the identity of Kamla, I reached this post. You know how I am when it comes to identifying actresses of that era. But it seems that you have forgotten to mention her name. And all other resources in internet (they all copy from each other) are clueless on who played Kamla. Please tell me who she is, o the knowledgeable one.

    • I probably didn’t know either, or I would have mentioned it here. I can go back and dig out the dvd and have a look to see if I recognize her or what the names in the credits are (or one of YOUR very knowledgeable readers will tell you ;-)).

  17. It is Roopmala, as informed to me by a knowledgeable reader.

  18. Watched Nastik this weekend and checked out your review. You have voiced my views exactly! The attack on Vinod is missing, as also a confrontation between the father and daughter (there is a still of the scene on the CD cover).

    My Mother used to sing snatches of these songs when I was a kid – and as each song came up I seemed to have stumbled on a long lost friend. C Ramachandra is highly esteemed for his work. Though listening to some people (and FM Radio) no one existed other than RD. It’s their loss.

    My Mother used to recount how a friend of hers (Goan I think) – unfamiliar with the Hindi word “Raksha (Help) Karo” – wondered why Nailini was calling out for a Rickshaw in the middle of the river!

  19. Hi I have seen this beautiful film and yes I wept whilst listening to the beautiful song by pradeep.ANother song which has a similar effect on me-kasdme vaade pyar wafa In upkar.I have also recently been watching films starring nalini jaywant.she was indeed very beautiful and talented.you must watch shiksat ( not sure about spelling).the song kaare baadre sung picturised on nalini is sublime.

  20. Though it is unusual for hindi films to have an anti religion theme, it is here probably because it is written by I S Johar. ( I was surprised when I saw this movie ) He always played characters that were anti religion or held religion responsible for social troubles. It comes through very clearly in a punjabi movie Nanak naam jahaj hai.

  21. Thanks a lot, Memsaab for this piece. Definitely the song you want to hear when the world stops making sense (every other day for me!)

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