Sadhna (1958)


I learned about two important things when I first saw this BR Chopra classic a while ago: Sahir Ludhianvi’s sublime lyrics, and Sunil Dutt’s penchant for making progressive women-centric films. He stars alongside Vyjayanthimala, who has many opportunities to show off her considerable dancing skills. She plays a nautch-girl whom Sunil’s character hires to pose as his fiancee to make his dying mother happy. She won the Filmfare (Best Actress) award for it as well, as did the story writer Mukhram Sharma.

Mohan (Sunil Dutt) is a morally upright, honest young man living with his beloved Ma (Leela Chitnis), who is singleminded in her pursuit of one goal:


Mohan teaches literature and poetry at a nearby college. During one lesson about a nobleman who has fallen for a prostitute, he makes his feelings about dancing girls quite clear.


Not long after, his Ma (who is running a fever) falls down the stairs in their home and is unconscious. The doctor is called, injections are given, the neighbors all come crowding in, and much shaking of the head ensues, but she finally regains her senses long enough to say this:


The doctor pronounces his judgment that with the medication, she will get better; but the packed-in neighbors are much more gloomy.


They all file out, still muttering amongst themselves. I find this hilarious, since I was spared such attention from my parents—but I’ve seen friends go through it and it’s not pretty.

Kya kare? One of the neighbors, Jeevan (Radhakrishan), has creditors hounding him, and he sees a little opportunity to make some money. He tells Mohan that he knows a girl who might be persuaded to pose as his fiancee for a few days, but her father will probably want money. Mohan of course is willing at this point to do anything and agrees to give Jeevan whatever he wants.

Jeevan goes to see Champabai, a local tawaif. She’s dancing to a lovely song, “Kaho Ji Tum Kya” in front of a crowd of admirers.


He negotiates a price with her (Rs 100 although he charges Mohan Rs 200 later) for posing as Mohan’s fiancee for the evening. She puts on a demure sari and he takes her to see Ma and meet Mohan. Ma wakes up long enough to bless her before falling back into a deep sleep.

Champa for her part is unimpressed by either mother or son and mocks them when she gets home.


Jeevan gives her money, which is promptly pocketed by the brothel owner Lallubhai (a very young Manmohan Krishna). The next day Ma asks to see “Rajani” again, and Mohan asks Jeevan to bring her again that evening—Jeevan has told Mohan that she is the daughter of a distant relative.

Time for another song, “Aise Vaise Thikane Pe”; if you like mujras, you will love this movie!


In any case, Champa/Rajani is bowled over by the expensive jewelry that Ma shows her as the family bride-to-be. She decides to forgo her fee (to Jeevan’s dismay) in favor of pretending to have real feelings for Mohan until she can find an opportunity to steal it. She soon does, as one day Ma gives her the bridal sari and jewelry to take home and try on. She puts on her finery for her customers that evening, and they make fun of her.


She flees in humiliation and the jewels she put on so happily moments before now feel like they are scalding her.


Her customers sing a lively qawwali to try and coax her out (“Aaj Kyon Humse Parde”). But when she emerges, this time in her dance costume, they laugh at her again and she realizes that she means nothing to them: they don’t think of her as a person with feelings or emotions. The next day, subdued, she brings back the jewelry and bridal sari to Ma (who, by the way, is recovering nicely). Ma’s warm greeting and kind affection makes her feel even worse.

Meanwhile, Mohan has fallen for Rajani, and he wants to speak to her father! Jeevan puts him off, and he returns home to find Rajani there. He expresses his affection gently, and she tells him that she is not worthy; she’s a “scent-less flower.”


She leaves sadly, and the next evening refuses to dance for her customers. Lallu’s threats don’t move her either, and she throws him out after an impassioned speech about how he has been living off her earnings for years. He goes, but vows that he will make her dance in the bazaar.

She goes to see Jeevan and makes him promise that he won’t tell Mohan the truth about her, not because she thinks she has a future with him, but because she can’t bear to become a lesser woman in his eyes.

Alas! Soon after that, Mohan sees Rajani walking in the street. When he calls her name she flees, and he follows her to her house.


Mohan is horrified and angry. He tells his bewildered mother that he will never see Rajani again. What will happen now? Can Champa ever be anything except a prostitute? Will Lallu make good on his threats?

Watch Sadhna to find out! The denouement of the story is really the power-packed part of the film but I don’t want to spoil it for you.

It’s Vyjayanthimala’s show all the way. She portrays Champa’s journey from jaded prostitute to defiant and angry woman beautifully. Sunil Dutt and Leela Chitnis give her solid support, and as I said earlier, her dancing talents are used in full measure. The music is lovely and Sahir’s lyrics are so expressive and poignant. My favorite song is the stinging—and sad—indictment of female oppression: “Aurat Ne Janam Diya Mardon Ko”:


Edited to add: This is how the song was subtitled on the DVD; I don’t think the translation is even the best so I can only imagine how beautiful the song is when understood in the original language:

Woman gave birth to man.
And he gave her the flesh-trade
Whenever they felt like it
They trampled on her or discarded her
Woman gave birth to man

She is weighed in dinars
Or sold in open markets
She’s stripped in the court of lustful men
She’s that ill-reputed thing
Which settles among the reputed
Woman gave birth to man

Man can commit every crime
But a woman can’t even weep
Man sleeps on a million soft beds
The woman gets the funeral pyre
Man has a right to every luxury
For a woman life itself is a punishment
And it was a woman who gave birth to man

The lips which declared love
Were traded for money
The womb [from] which they were born
Was used as a business
The very body they blossomed from
[Was] abused by them
Woman gave birth to man

Men made customs which were regarded as their rights
But a woman being burnt alive was looked upon as sacrifice
Even the food given to her was considered an obligation
And to think it was a woman who gave birth to man

Every act of shamelessness is rooted in poverty
What is passion in men is a sin to woman
Woman gave birth to man

A woman is destiny of the world
But she doesn’t have it herself
She bears prophets and lord incarnates
Even then she’s considered a devil’s child
This is that unfortunate mom
Who sleeps with her own sons

For woman is the mother of man
But they gave her the marketplace
Whenever they felt like it they accepted or discarded her
And it was a woman who gave birth to man

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41 Comments to “Sadhna (1958)”

  1. Brilliant! Vaijanthi’s character looks like she has a backbone AND she looks like she ends happily ever after- I love it! This was my only quibble w/ Pakeeza- Meena just wasnt defiant enough- at least I couldnt see it as such :)

  2. She does, and she has wonderful dialogues (and lyrics) to deliver. I couldn’t get through Pakeezah, Meena’s weepy self-pity drove me up the wall. But this film kicks ass.

  3. Vyjayanthimala was great and I loved the calculating Champabai. She had so much potential to be an atypical Bollywood heroine. But then she suddenly decides that she wants to be a bride and turns into Bollywod’s sad courtesan. :-( I would have had more sympathy with her if she had been moved by Sunil Dutt’s extraordinary good looks and not by her need for respectability! ;-) Still, she and Leela Chitnis had some great dialogues and I loved the end. Poor Sunil Dutt came off as a somewhat righteous prig even if he redeems himself at the end. He did way better in Nartaki which unfortunately has no Vyjayanthimala dances.

  4. Hmmm…I think she was moved by Sunil Dutt’s affection and sweetness (and probably his extraordinary good looks) in addition to wanting the respectability that she was just getting a taste of. She wasn’t sad for long either; I think she was fierce! Mohan was a bit of a righteous prig, but I don’t think he was (or IS) alone in that :-)

  5. Memsaab, thank you for reviewing this one. It’s definitely Vyjayanthimala’s film all the way. These could be the best two mujras anywhere, and her acting is fine in this film as well. The soundtrack by N. Dutta is also terrific. (I thought it was the best soundtrack of the ’50s, until I listened to Nagin. It’s a close contest. I suppose it helps in my appreciation of both that I’ll always picture Vyjayanthimala dancing to them.)

    P.S. The “Get me a daughter in law [before I die]” bit is something of a Bollywood cliche, though, isn’t it? Though maybe not as much when this film was made… I noticed that theme coming back in a big way when I watched Mera Naam Joker.

  6. Hi Richard :-) I knew you liked this film too. I think the whole nagging-about-marriage and threatening to die if no son/daughter-in-law is produced is age-old and cross-cultural. As I said, I managed to escape it, but my parents are different than many, to say the least.

  7. So, I wanted to see what Sunil Dutt would’ve looked like if he had threaded his eyesbrows: …didn’t make much of a difference, but he was a handsome man nevertheless. :-D

  8. Thank you for reviewing this. I saw it long back, but loved it! I thought it a sensitively made film, much more effective in the `tawaif-respectable man’ genre than, say, Sharafat (though Khilona was pretty good too). And yes, I agree with you completely – Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko is awesome! I got gooseflesh just thinking about it.

  9. I’ve seen this film in parts. Must see the entire film now. How I miss that crowd of neigbours in films these days. But then, they are usually missing in our lives as well. At least in the cities.

  10. LOL @ ‘a daughter-in-law, get me a daughter-in-law’. This looks really good – I’ve never seen Vyjayanthimala in anything, and this looks like a good place to start.

  11. Anonymous, that’s funny :-) I like his eyebrows the way they are though—he is a v. v. handsome man!

    dustedoff: I saw it a while ago too, when I was first starting to watch the older Hindi films and I loved it. Took me a while to find a copy (I rented it originally) of my own, but worth the effort!

    Banno: Yes, do see the whole thing. I absolutely loved the crowd of neighbors, they were so ghoulish. When I’ve gone to my friend Bina’s father’s village they’ve crowded into the house like that (to look at me) and the questions and chatter is so uninhibited and hilarious. I loved it here when the doctor says “She should be all right” and they all start planning her funeral. And of course criticizing poor Mohan for breaking her heart re: marriage.

    DG: She was obsessed. It is a great film, very good place to start with Vyjayanthimala!

  12. Cultural difference indeed. My mother still insists that I marry (at every opportunity she gets!)

    I love this story and will seek this film out. Thank you Memsaab!

  13. Eliza: I feel very lucky that my parents never did that to me. But I think I’m in a teeny tiny minority!

  14. memsaab
    yah hindi ki un filmo main se hai jo mujhe bahut pasand hai, specialy is ka vah geet
    “Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko
    mardon ne use baazaar diya
    jab ji chaha masala kuchala
    jab ji chaha dutkaar diya…

    badhiya janakari dene ke liye dhanyavaad, greta ji

  15. Hi Sagar :-) It is such a great song. I think I might capture the subtitled lyrics and add them to the post—they were really so moving and beautiful. Wah!

  16. Vyju was so beautiful, wasn’t she? For some reason I think there is a Tamil version of this movie – but cannot find any info about it – I distinctly remember a very similar storyline, in Tamil. (Not andha 7 naatkal/woh saat din, which had only the sick-mother-need-bride story in common).
    Was this dubbed into Tamil?


  17. I’ve got no idea, although Vyjayanthimala entered Hindi films through doing remakes of her Tamil hits. I’ll bet one of my other all-knowing readers can tell us though :-)

  18. I think they remade / reinterpreted this movie in the 70s with Hema Malini (or was it Mumtaz?) in which she ends up taking the rap for a stolen necklace but this movie was much better imo.

    I love the young Sunil Dutt. His later message movies got a little ham handed and he suffered from the caricature phase that all the old heroes seem to have suffered from (except for his turn in the Munnabhai movie) but the young Sunil Dutt was a treat. One of my all time faves is Mera Saaya which is a movie totally made for a tween audience.

    I don’t think she entered Hindi films via the remake route (Tamil remakes wouldn’t reach their popularity until the 80s although the odd movie was made from time to time) but she was definitely the first star who was also seen as a great dancer.

  19. I remember the one you refer to, and I can’t remember if it was Hema or Mumtaz either! :-) I love young Sunil as well. As he got older, I think the style of films in general got heavier-handed (the seventies vs the fifties are night and day almost)…

    Vyjayanthimala first came to Bombay to remake her first Tamil film Vazhkai (it was a huge hit, and remade in Telugu as well)—it was made in Hindi as Bahar in 1951. Bahar was a smash hit, mostly because of her dancing! and the offers started coming in (she made a couple of other Tamil films too, and one of them called Penn was remade in Hindi as Ladki with her too, in 1952 or 1953). She made Nagin in 1954 which was another big hit (again, great music and dancing) and she was off and running as a Hindi heroine. So maybe she only did two remakes, but still it was her entree to Hindi films :-)

  20. Amrita—Is the film you’re referring to Chorni? with Neetu? (I reviewed it on here)…she didn’t play a nautch-girl, but she was a thief, and she didn’t pretend to be engaged to Jeetendra, but it was a little similar in that it was about society’s disapproval of her based on circumstances over which she had no real control.

  21. Thanks for the review — looks like a great movie. Where did you find a copy of this film? I’ve looked for it on the rental companies’ web sites and have even tried to purchase it on Nehaflix and other similar sites, to no avail.

  22. You know, there’s an Istream interview with Vyjayanthimala available on YouTube in which she talks about how she entered films via Vazhkai and how Bahar made her “an all-India star overnight”:

    Also, one very interesting Hindi movie, Amar Deep (1958), which starred Vyjayanthimala, Padmini, Ragini, Dev Anand, Pran, Ragini and Johnny Walker, was a remake of the Tamil movie Amardeepam (1956). Both versions were directed by T. Prakash Rao. I don’t think Vyjayanthimala was actually in Amardeepam – but Padmini was.

  23. I have been watching hindi film songs on DVD – quite a few of them are of Vyjanthimala’s flims – she is an awesome dancer – all her films seem to have utilised her dance talents in some way or the other.

  24. Sally, I was lucky to finally find a friend who had it and gave it to me :-) I looked for it forever…it’s a Yashraj DVD, don’t know why it’s so hard to find. Netflix has it though, or at least they did—that’s where I first saw it.

    Richard: great link, I could watch all those interviews all day! :-) Esp. Rakhee talking about Gulzar! (iStream has my Bollywood Ka Boss episode up there too…oy.)

  25. Vyjayanthimala looks beautiful especially in your first screencap and Sunil Dutt ain’t so bad either.

    By the way, I think the film that Amrita was referring to about the stolen necklace is Hema and Rajesh’s “Prem Nagar” of 1974, a jubilee hit. Great score by R.D. Burman and a kind of bizarre OTT story by Koduri Kausalya Devi, a Telegu litterateur. Hema was particularly beautiful and RK a drunk trailing a shawl in “Yeh lal rang kab mujhe chhorega” but still mmm :-)

  26. Anonymous: I think she was best known for her dancing, although she was a pretty good actress too.

    Suhan: She looked gorgeous in the film, and Sunil was too. I have not seen Prem Nagar yet, but if it’s like this one I need to! :-)

  27. Honestly, memsaab, if you haven’t seen Prem Nagar yet, you haven’t missed much. Hema is beautiful, but personally I think an unshaven Rajesh Khanna with bulgy red eyes isn’t all that great – especially if it isn’t redeemed by an otherwise good storyline (e.g Aap ki Kasam). If someone lends it to you or you get to watch it for free, go ahead… but I wouldn’t invest my hard-earned money buying or renting the movie.

  28. OMG! Sunil Dutt looks *soooooooooooooooooooooo* handsome.


  29. Ooh sorry, S.D. Burman was the MD not R.D.

  30. dustedoff: I like unshaven Rajesh :-) and I think I have Prem Nagar, just haven’t watched it yet. Sigh. So little time, so many movies to catch up on…

    Kanan: Indeed *SO.HANDSOME*

    Suhan: As long as the music lives up to Rajesh K’s usual standards, it doesn’t matter :-)

  31. Don’t you hate it when all the stories start to bleed into each other? I thought it was this movie called Sharafat but Prem Nagar sounds more like it. However, I don’t think it was either one of them.

    The one I’m thinking of has Bindu as a daughter-in-law of the house and she has designs on this necklace. Hema is a courtesan who comes into the house under false pretences and then genuinely falls under the spell of the family and thinks of the hero’s mother as her own.

    Then she is kicked out of the house for stealing the necklace and she comes back as her true courtesanly self and throws her wealth in all their faces (or perhaps she is revealed to be the courtesan and then accused of stealing the necklace? That doesn’t make sense but hey, everything’s possible) but the family draws its virtue around itself as a shield against her dancing cooties. Eventually Bindu is revealed as the thief and all is well.

  32. Ah, Sharafat is the one I was thinking of initially when you mentioned it. I love “dancing cooties” *dies laughing*

  33. How terribly confusing–Bindu was the nasty daughter-in-law in Prem Nagar too :-)

  34. There’s a Bindu-Hema Malini jodi in Raja Jani as well ;-). Hema Malini is groomed by Dharmendra to play the part of the long-lost princess of a small state… Bindu is the princess’s sister-in-law or something as far as I remember.

  35. @ Memsaab, Suhan, Dustedoff – NAHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN!!!!

    Now this is going to bug me forever unless I watch all three movies. Sob!

  36. You mean you have better things to do with your time, Amrita? Surely not!

  37. This is a fantastic movie.
    And the lyrics of the song “aurat ne janam diya” is Sahir at his hard-hitting best.

    I saw an interview on youtube (cannot find it now) with B R Chopra where he talks about the making of this film. Apparently he had initially had Nimmi in mind for this role (she was a big star at that time). But she could not give him the dates. On hearing that he was on the lookout for a heroine, Vyjanthi’s mother came to his house and literally begged him for the role, even falling at his feet. She knew it was a landmark role for whoever played the lead actress. B R Chopra had had good experiences with Vyjanthi during Naya Daur – she was very sincere and disciplined. So he had no hesitation saying “yes” immediately. So the story goes.

    B R Chopra made many meaningful films. With strong messages.

    • Raja ji,
      It was Vyjayantimala’s grandmother Yadugiridevi(who used to be her ‘de facto’ manager and actual Controller),who went to Chopra and not her mother with whom she was on no talking terms.

  38. Just saw this yesterday and was everything you have written.
    Agree about Sunil Dutt letting the heroine rule.
    In one point I disagree though.
    Vyjayanthimala shed as many if not more tears than Meena Kumari in Pakeezah.
    I particularly looked out for this so I would be able to defend my dear MK. :-)

    There were only two places where she gets to give it back once to Manmohan Krishan and once to Sunil Dutt (when he was unwilling to accept her) about men and their ways.

    But in Pakeezah MK didn’t have to do this because it was a woman (and a relative) who was the boss.

    And her man (Raaj Kumar) was willing to accept her anyway (even without a background sob story like Vyjayanthi had which changes Sunil’s views).

  39. Vyjayanthimala was always smart to pick up roles after understanding its potential when others weren’t. She played Chandramukhi in Devdas when Nargis and Suraiya refused it. She took up Sadhana when Nimmi refused it. But both these films were immortalised and she touched a new height of glory

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