Dushmun (1971)

First of all, many many thanks to Suhan for sending this to me! I love films with a village setting, and Mumtaz, and Rajesh Khanna, and this has all three. Plus, it has quite an interesting premise, Meena Kumari in one of her last roles and Kumari Naaz, and I really wanted to see it.

In the end though, I had mixed feelings about Dushmun. I genuinely enjoyed a lot (even most) of it, but some of it I found troubling (that was intentional on the part of the makers), and some aspects were just irritating (not intentional) (and not Meena! she was actually very good and not at all weepy despite playing a put-upon widow).

Surjit Singh (Rajesh Khanna) is a hard-drinking truck driver. Leaving his co-pilot and friend Jaggu one night to change a punctured tyre, Surjit visits a local dancing girl named Chamelibai (Bindu) and stays the night with her. (He also sings a lovely song called “Sachhai Chhup Nahin Sakti” and looks verrry handsome with his gold earrings and his mouche.)

He oversleeps, and the next morning drives a little too fast in very foggy weather trying to make up lost time. Tragically he fails to see a farmer crossing the road with his buffalo, and hits them, killing both instantly.

The villagers and farmer’s family come running, and Surjit is arrested for reckless driving. In court, he faces a judge (Rehman) and pleads not guilty, blaming the fog for the accident. The judge sets his sentencing hearing after hearing the arguments on both sides. The farmer’s wife Malti (Meena Kumari) and her father-in-law (Nana Palsikar) go to see the judge and Malti asks him to sentence her family to death as well, since their sole means of support and survival is gone.

Her deceased husband was caring for his father Ganga, who is crippled, and his mother (Leela Mishra), who is blind. He was also about to get his sister Kamla (Kumari Naaz) married and had promised to pay a dowry, in addition to supporting Malti and their two sons, for whom he wanted to provide a good education. Now Malti justifiably fears that they will all starve. In addition, the buffalo that was killed alongside Ramdin is too expensive to replace, even if there was someone who could plough his fields.

The judge consults with the higher court, saying that he wants to both punish the offender (but not so harshly that his life is ruined, since he believes that Surjit is not a bad man) and help the victims. He gets permission to hand down a very unusual two-year sentence for Surjit, that he won’t serve in jail.

He tells Surjit that he will have to plough and sow Ramdin’s fields, live with the family, and be responsible for their welfare. Almost everyone in the courtroom sees problems ahead with this solution, but the judge remains adamant.

Surjit is escorted to the village by its head constable Harishchandra (Asit Sen=Comic Side Plot). He warns Surjit that he’ll be keeping an eye on him, and when the village men turn up with sticks to beat Surjit, he stops them. The family’s not any happier to receive him, either. The old man hits him with one of his crutches, and is chided by the havaldar.

Surjit himself is churlish and unpleasant which doesn’t make the situation any easier.

It’s Ramdin’s youngest boy Billu (Master Tito) who breaks the ice a little by talking to Surjit, but his mother calls him inside the house, angrily.

Billu’s too young to really get the concept though. He continues to talk to Surjit, addressing him as “Dushmun Chacha.”

Meanwhile, Jaggu comes to see Surjit with a plan to help him escape that evening, but they are caught pretty quickly. Surjit complains that the family haven’t given him anything to eat. The police Inspector (Abhi Bhattacharya) points out that thanks to Surjit they have barely enough to eat themselves, and takes a slightly chastened Surjit back to the village. He now sees how hungry they all are, and takes his first steps towards helping them.

A local timber estate owner (Anwar Hussein) has invested in a tractor which has broken down. Surjit applies his mechanical skills and gets it running again for a payment of Rs 30. When he brings bread home for the family, Malti orders Kamla to throw it away.

When poor hungry Billu tries to eat some of the bread anyway, Malti sends him off angrily. Surjit buys him some more bread, and Billu wants to share it with his older brother Lallu (Master Deepak) at school. At first Lallu wants nothing to do with any gifts from Surjit either, but Surjit asks him for forgiveness.

That (and no doubt his gnawing hunger) prompts Lallu to eat. Surjit now has the two boys on his side. Buoyed by their acceptance and wanting to right some of his wrongs, Surjit throws himself into ploughing Ramdin’s field (he “borrows” the timber estate tractor). As the villagers see that he is genuinely trying, they begin to warm up to him too.

They tell him that Ramdin had bought a “haunted field” in the middle of the village. A crazy woman had hung herself from the tree in the middle of the field, and superstition about it now reigns. Surjit laughs off their stories and says he’ll clear the land and take down the tree. He does so in the middle of the night, which makes no sense to me, but I surrender to the aesthetic (™ Filmigeek).

The “ghost” of the crazy woman turns out to be a village girl named Phoolmati (Mumtaz). She hides her meagre earnings in the tree to keep her alcoholic grandfather from stealing them. She’s trying to save money for her marriage, if it ever happens.

Phoolmati dances and sings and has a travelling peep show (no, not that kind) which appears to operate along the same lines as the old View Master reels I used to love as a kid (only much bigger). The box contains scenes from all over India and the kids in particular love it.

Trouble comes in the form of the timber estate owner. He wants Ramdin’s fields, which are the only ones around that he doesn’t already own. He has systematically swindled all the other villagers out of their land by loaning them money at exhorbitant interest rates (some things never change).

He is angry when Surjit’s crops flourish in the fields, and orders his men to burn them. All Surjit’s hopes of paying Kamla’s dowry and feeding Ramdin’s family go up in smoke with them. Meanwhile, Malti remains implacably hostile towards him although the rest of the family is beginning to relent—and their capitulation is making her very unhappy.

What can Surjit do now? How can he finish his sentence and meet his obligations to Ramdin’s family without money from his harvest? Can he ever win Malti’s forgiveness? What lengths will the timber merchant go to for Ramdin’s fields? Has Phoolmati finally found a good man?

I really enjoyed the first half, although I wasn’t sure I agreed with the judge’s sentence. Why should Ramdin’s family be forced to live with his killer? But it’s an interesting argument (and that of course was the point); at least in the movie the family did seem to find some peace in helping to redeem his killer. I doubt that in real life though, Surjit’s volte-face would have been this glib: he went from surly alcoholic truck driver to loving, hard-working farmer and family man pretty easily. This was partly due to the second half’s major issue: it devolved into melodrama, with Rajesh over-acting (along with everyone else) and too much emotional manipulation. The first half showed a lot more subtlety, both in the story and in the performances, but then it seems that the director threw up his hands and said “Let’s just get this over with, shall we?”

If a little restraint had been shown all the way throughout, it would have been a very fine film indeed. Even so, it is interesting and entertaining with plenty of food (no pun intended) for thought.

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28 Comments to “Dushmun (1971)”

  1. You’re very welcome Memsaab!

    You know when I watch the old RK, especially, am usually in such a beatific state that ALL critical abilities go for a hike so I unabashedly loved the film! Like you I love the village settings which one hardly ever sees any more and Mumu was quite lovely—that ‘paisa pheko tamasha dekho’ song was very popular. And arguably the best he’s ever looked is in that corker of a number with Bindu (refer your 2nd screencap). Dishy …:-D

    FYI, in July 2008 in “Movie” magazine, Vikram Bhatt (director, Bhatt family, ex bf of Sushmita Sen, Amisha Patel, etc.) wrote about the 25 best dramatic performances ever in Hindi cinema. He rated RK’s Dushman as the best, followed by Vinod Khanna in Achanak and put Amitabh’s Deewar at no. 3. And noted for the record that he’s not a fan of RK, I guess to establish his objectivity. Will let you know when some kind soul at the forum scans and puts it up on flickr.

  2. Hi Suhan: I did like the film, but I don’t think it’s Rajesh’s best by any stretch of the imagination! (although he did look goooooood). Mumtaz’s song and the first song with Bindu totally rocked though :-)

  3. awwww Rajesh in earrings and moush! my kinda man!!! *swooooon*, i really liked this movie when I saw it, its got all my fave people in it, RK, Meena who i don’t mind as a perenial tragedy queen, and good ol Master Tito, I love that kid, i wonder what he looks like now, or when he became my age!

  4. This movie was made at a time when there was a lot of debate about putting people behind bars or make them do community service. The community service part was already there in US, but in India it was still a novel concept. (Still is I think!)

    So from the economical/social POV it was considered a ‘good’ film. And because RK was a phenomenon then, he was considered great in it. I don’t agree with Vikram Bhatt that it was a superior role (acting wise). But to each his own. I think RK was good in Namak Haraam, Aakhri Khat, Aradhana, Baharon Ke Sapne (minus too many mannerisms), Anand and Safar. Rajesh Khanna was still ruling it Big. No one in those days considered his idiosyncratic mannerism funny odd. Now one cringes watching them.

    Mumu Baby had suddenly made it big and was India’s No: 1 sweetheart. I still think she’s real cute. In all her movies, be it A or B or C grade, or as a side actress. She just put her all in whatever role she performed.

  5. Rum: I love Master Tito too (although not as much as Master Raju Shrestha). And Rajesh did carry off the earrings and mouche with ease!

    Gilga: Well, what does Vikram Bhatt really know :-) He makes awful films. But RK could act when he wanted to. He was good in the first half, but deteriorated in the second along with everything else. And I completely agree re: Mumtaz. She always shines.

  6. Dushman is a very good movie though it does not come in best Five of rajesh Khanna for me.
    Since Rajesh Khanna is in adifferent character altogether and setting is mostly in a village only, screenplay remains focussed thro’out. Though I feel that it could have been shorter by 15-20 minutes easily as a lot of things have been added after Mumtaj’s maternal uncle death.
    Anyway very well explained by you Memsaab.
    One of the powerful performances of RK and one of his good movies.

  7. Dushman is one of the challenging characterizations of Rajesh Khanna. Purely non glamorous character played by him here with perfect characterization. Some expressions are all time classic as an example of his towering ability of performing a character life like natural.

  8. I bet this is what inspired “Thoda Pyar Thoda Magic”- loosely, but dont you think??

  9. Ajay: Agree, it’s overall a good movie and good performances by all, with some exceptions in the last hour or so.

    Abhijit: Rajesh does seem to be able to tackle all kinds of characterizations! I am impressed by how many different kinds of roles he essayed when he could have just played it safe as a romantic hero.

    Shweta: I haven’t seen TPTM (is it out on DVD yet?)

  10. Yes it is- but I am totally not sure if it is worth the money, at $12 at http://store.nehaflix.com/thpythmadvd.html

    overpriced i think- you may find a better price at your local indian movie shop.

  11. My local Indian shops sell used DVDs for $20 and up :-) Ridiculous!

    I’ll wait for the price to drop, thanks :-)

  12. Hey Memsaab

    Down Under we get two in one hindi movies for $4 ie Aussie dollars.

    I borrowed TPTM for $1 from my local desi spice store. The quality of the DVD was good.

    It is a simple sweet movie – good to see for a change ie with no great expectations.

    cheers

  13. Thanks :-) I do want to see it, it’s on my list. If I can find it somewhere for $1 it’s mine!

  14. I have this inexplicable fondness for Rajesh Khanna — maybe because I watched Anand in school and it blew me away. When I see it now, it sometimes feels as if RK is trying too hard while AB steals the show with his smoldering intensity. But there are moments that still work wonderfully. The ending literally gives me goosebumps, even today.

    I haven’t yet seen Dushman, but there’s a Tamil remake I saw ages ago which was pretty much the same.

    Shweta>> TPTM is indeed inspired by this, among others. Check out Amrita’s lovely review.

    ~r

  15. Ramsu: Sometimes I feel very alone in my fondness for Rajesh! I’m glad to have company in you. I’m looking forward to watching TPTM, I have a sneaking suspicion that I will like it more than many :-)

  16. Actually from my search Dushman was released on 7 th January 1972.

  17. My mother claims that when I was 4-5 years old I would dance around the courtyard of our house singing “paise phenko tamasha dekho.” I have no recollection of this and fortunately, she has no videos. :-D

  18. When I was a young schoolboy in the early 1970s, 3 out of 4 hit movies used to be Rajesh Khanna movies.
    (The 1 in 4 were movies like Jugnu, Sharmilee, Seeta Aur Geeta, Aa Gale Lag Ja, Victoria No. 203).

    Anyway, I used to love Rajesh Khanna movies – and knew the songs fully.
    I remember the story of Dushman quite well, though I sometimes confuse it with Apna Desh.
    (Apna Desh was the one where he gives Mumu a watch as security for not being able to pay up).

    I do remember the second half of Dushman being a bit melodramatic but overall I remember liking the movie.

    Liked the songs a lot.
    “Dekho dekho dekho” was very popular as was “sachai jhuk nahin sakti” (better known as “vaada tera vaada”).

    I know Rajesh comes in for a lot of criticsm for his mannerisms but I tell you he was absolutely KING at that time.
    The first time I heard of him (I was very young then) was when somebody came to our place and said “Yesterday we saw Baharon Ke Sapne. It is OK but Rajesh Khanna is sooooooo good”.
    Then Aradhana came out – and, to date, I cannot think of a movie that has had quite that sort of impact on an all-India basis as Aradhana had at that time.
    (The closest is probably Kaho Na Pyar Hai). Sholay does not even come close.
    My grandmother (who did not know a word of Hindi) used to try to sing Aradhana songs.:-)
    People in remote villages of Tamil Nadu knew “mere sapnon ki rani” and “roop tera mastana”.

    Anyway this is not about Aradhana (honestly I did not find it that great a movie when I saw it later), it is about the impact Rajesh Khanna had on the Indian public at that time.
    Comparisons are odious (and many will vouch for Amitabh being a bigger superstar than Rajesh – and he no doubt was) but for the brief period that Rajesh reigned, he ruled over everything.
    It went to his head – he admitted as much later on – I just remember those days with fondness.

    He even managed to carry off Haathi Mere Saathi. It was a super-duper hit at that time with kids :-)

    • I’m quite fond of Rajesh (you probably know that) and Dushman was okay—better first half, as you say. I did not care for Aradhana either. I love Haathi Mere Saathi, and so does Gemma (the elephants get her blood boiling) :-) It makes me think of the “Made for TV” Disney films of the 70s. Corny but so sweet. Plus I love any film with lots of animals as long as they aren’t mistreated!

  19. I am a fan of RK and Dharm of 70s too..I liked Dushmun, its an interesting premise by the Judge giving such a sentence..It talks of repentance and forgiving, two noble qualities in men..that was nice…though the handling of the film could have been more objective and constrained…But it was superstar masala melodrama era..so what more can you expect?

  20. I like this movie.song dekho dekho 2nd part is missing in eros dvd.Mumtaz sings this song in Kuljeet`s wedding.

  21. I was hugely impressed with this Dushman-brand of justice and continue to advocate it. Atticus Finch would approve. Was just telling my daughter the story of this movie last week and broke down a few times (the sight of Meena Kumari’s face in white is powerful enough to do that).
    Mumu and the dambuk, RK and his joke on moustaches – how men can `cultivate’ these at will.
    The songs. Ahahaha!

  22. Oops, I meant to write Meena Kumari in white.

  23. kothe par jakar nach dekhna ki jagah khud nachne lag jana Only rajesh khanna can do that

  24. raja,no matter how much people critisize RKs mannerism whcih of course swayed girls off their feet and no matter what people say amitabh being a bigger star, one thing is true..RK did a variety of roles when he could play safe and brought a feel good factor wheras amitabh played safe and stuck to his angry young man image..what he brought was violence..violence and just violence..rape…deceit..avenging for his mother or himself..same old stories..n whereas Rks mannerisms are concerned..people loved it coz they were simple and gullible until that amitabh-salim-javed era came which taught people to give importance to violence over love..

  25. Many people credit amitabh as the harbinger of the angry young man, but it was rajesh who played it first & very convincingly in Dushman. Also, he held his won opposite meena kumari. He has clashed with stalwarts like raaj kumar, meena kumari, raj kapoor & matched them, if not bettered them in his films.

    He dared to be different even when he was superstar – he had no heroine in anand, he acted in a songless film like ittefaq when songs were the norm, he acted as hero with 2 wives in daag – something daring in those days.

    j

  26. i agree with you smitha and monalisa, i have also same opinion about RK. Watch film Shatru 1986 of Rk ,where he had played cop and with no romantic song, no heroine.

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