Hira Aur Patthar (1977)


I struggle a bit with Hindi films that are a commentary on religion and atheism since of course by Hindi Film Law the protagonists all have to end up squarely on the side of religion. I grew up on a mission station, attended church every Sunday for the first 17 years of my life, sang in the church choir, belonged to the youth group, etc., until I left home and could finally choose what to do on Sunday mornings for myself (generally I chose to sleep in). So turning my back on organized religion and embracing atheism was an “informed” choice for me and I doubt that I will ever change my mind. Having said that, one of the things I appreciated about this movie was its open discussion of atheism and morality and how they are not necessarily in conflict. Plus: Shabana Azmi, Shashi Kapoor, Ashok Kumar and Bindu!

Shankar (Shashi Kapoor) becomes an atheist as a child when his mother dies despite his pleas to Lord Jagdishwar, the occupant of a pilgrimage temple above Shankar’s village. His father and uncle are palanquin bearers, carrying devotees up the steep hillside to the temple and back down again. Like most of the other villagers, they were farmers until they lost their land to the local zamindar and moneylender Nahar Singh, who also “manages” the offerings at the temple.


By “manages” of course, I mean he siphons it off; over the years he has made himself and his cronies very wealthy indeed by lending money to poor farmers at exhorbitant interest rates and then taking over their land when they can’t make the payments (in addition to helping themselves to a portion of devotee temple contributions). When Shankar’s uncle and father had a good crop and were about to pay off their debt, Nahar Singh had their crops burned to keep them under his thumb—his mother died of her burns from that fire.

All these years later Shankar still nurtures his hatred of the deity who sat by and did nothing, a point that doesn’t escape his old friend and village philanthropist Dr. Anand (Ashok Kumar).


Another side effect of Shankar’s aversion to Lord Jagdishwar is that he refuses to carry a palanquin with his buddy Tota (Asrani), thereby doing both of them out of a job. Tota is in love with Chanda (Jayshree T)—this is obviously the CSP with an assist from Chanda’s father (Asit Sen). It’s not bad as CSPs go, but it’s also not unpredictable so I will say no more about it.

Tota and Shankar meet up one day with some friends who are visiting from the city and bragging about their high-paying “peon” jobs.


Minutes after deciding that he’ll go back with them for a job, Shankar meets a new girl in town named Gauri (Shabana Azmi) when she accidentally splatters him with vegetable seeds and then tries to clean off his face.


She also catches the lecherous eye of slimeball-son-of-Nahar-Singh, Pratap Singh (Narendranath).


Naturally Shankar bashes him up to rescue Gauri, an action which in turn puts him in the sights of local nautch girl Rupa (Bindu), who lives in the kotha with her mother (and madam) Champabai (Manorama).


Gauri is suitably grateful, and Shankar is now so smitten that he decides to stay in the village instead of heading off to the city. He discovers that Gauri is the daughter of the new security guard at the temple, retired army officer Vikram Singh (Raj Mehra). This goes a long way towards mitigating his resistance to anything having to do with the temple, and he tells Tota that they can begin work as palanquin bearers. Of course it becomes his habit to run off and romance Gauri once they get their passengers to the top.


When Vikram Singh finds out about his daughter’s romance, he forbids her to see him again since Shankar is a poor man and it will reflect badly on their own status.


Meanwhile, the prostitute Rupa is pursuing Shankar with all the wiles she possesses—but he wants nothing to do with her and dimisses her scornfully, which incenses her.


One day a stranger (Ramesh Deo) comes to town and visits the temple, then asks Tota and Shankar where he can spend the evening having some fun (this dichotomy between saint and sinner is one of the film’s main themes). At Rupa’s kotha, the stranger gets into an altercation with Pratap Singh which ends in Pratap Singh killing him. Champabai witnesses the whole thing and takes the opportunity to extort money for her silence from Pratap Singh.

How I love Manorama’s face!


Seeing his daughter’s distress at being separated from Shankar, Vikram Singh goes to see Dr. Anand, who tells him what a fine man Shankar is despite his poverty. Vikram Singh relents, and Shankar and Gauri are engaged. But alas! at the engagement ceremony, Vikram Singh insists that they all go to Lord Jagdishwar’s temple to seal it with a puja. Shankar refuses to go, and a furious Vikram Singh breaks the engagement.


Poor Gauri! She is initially angry that Shankar won’t just give in for her sake, but he persuades her that his principles are essential to him and he cannot betray them. He tells her to forget him, but she’s got more faith in their love than that: atheism, she says, is a disease—a disease that her love can cure.


This makes me both giggle and roll my eyes at the same time. Next, Shankar convinces all the palanquin bearers to form a union and work together to increase their wages. Around the same time the police arrive looking for the stranger who has disappeared, and Dr. Anand reports Nahar Singh to the government for embezzling money meant for the temple and stealing the farmers’ lands.

Of course Nahar Singh and Pratap Singh are not going to get caught easily! And Shankar has earned their enmity by having the temerity to organize the village men against them. Dancer Rupa is pretty mad at him too. What will happen to Shankar? Will Gauri’s love “save” him from eternal hellfire? Watch Hira Aur Patthar to find out, especially if you are a Shashi or Shabana fan. The music is lovely (Kalyanji Anandji) and the people so pretty.

And as I said earlier—the first half of the film puts up some good arguments about the true nature of integrity and religion. If only it had been willing to rest on the strength of that conviction! Shankar is a good and honest man despite his atheism, whereas the moneylenders in the temple (how very Christian of them!)—despite their outward show of piety—are evil and greedy people.


To which I can only say: amen.

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25 Comments to “Hira Aur Patthar (1977)”

  1. This film is best viewed through the songs (they’re really nice) on youtube and through your post! I was gnashing my teeth through the atheism bit – which really was more of “God I wont talk to you” rather than “I dont believe in God/religion”. Given that there are many people in India who still seem to think that atheism/agnostic ideas are “strange” things and practised by heathens like Communists, guess I shouldnt hold it against a 70s film! The cast and the cute romance was certainly worth watching for.

    PS: Where did you find the DVD? All I found was a bad VCD (from Rhythm House) after much searching online!

    • You make an excellent point re: Shankar really being more mad AT God than convinced he/she didn’t exist. I got the Shemaroo DVD at induna.com :) And the songs are very pretty indeed. I did like the film overall, it had enough going on and a nice cast that I didn’t get bored and as I said, at least it made an attempt to “stick up for” the atheist/agnostic point of view!

    • Actually, there are a few schools in Indian philosophy that would be considered “atheist” by today’s standards. There’s also a bit of confusion with these terms, because the Hindi word “naastik” implies heterodoxy and not believing in the sanctity of Vedas (schools like Jainism, Buddhism, Carvakas are naastik, not atheist) which is taken to be “atheist” by many, but is not.
      It’s best to look at Hinduism through Hindi terms instead of looking at it through the lens of Christian religion. The terms that are used to describe Christian/western religion-philosophy don’t exactly/always fit Hinduism/Indian philosophy-religious schools. Prof. S.N. Balagangadhara has written a few essays on this subject if anyone is interested.

  2. The “God I won’t talk to you” sounds a bit like the Ajit-Nalini Jaywant starrer Nastik.

    I haven’t seen Hira aur Patthar, but I’m not sure I’d want to, either. I suppose I’m a bit of a paradox – I believe in God, but (a) don’t see why others shouldn’t question the existence of divinity, (b) feel that religion (or the lack of it) is a very personal thing and nobody has a right to dictate what you may or may not believe in. So a film that preaches that the only way to be branded `good’ is to believe in God and sing endless bhajans (does that happen? I hope not) may not be my cup of tea.

    Okay, getting off my soap box now and going to watch the songs on youtube.

    • The Ajit character in Nastik was a much more grey-shaded character (eg not the saintly guy Shashi is here). But actually one of the things I liked about this is that the “atheist” was the good guy and it wasn’t preachy at all (and no bhajans, mostly just love songs and nautch girl dancing). My only wish for it would be that he be allowed to remain an atheist, but I guess that would have been a lot to ask for from a ca. 1977 Indian film :)

  3. A Himalayan explorer (French)made the following observation

    “I am amazed to see all sorts of violent and terrible deeds religious imagery in many remote Buddhist valleys. But then the people in daily lives are very pacific and conflicts are always settled through talk.
    On the other hand my own christian and islamic religion preach universal brotherhood and forgiveness, and look what they do in their daily lives…”

    Agree with you about being a very gorgeous looking cast.

    • Too many people twist “religion” for their own purposes, and too many people buy into those twists without thinking.

      But by far my favorite quote on religion is by a comic whose name I do not know which goes along the lines of: “All these wars in the name of religion are really just people fighting over who has the best imaginary friend.”

  4. sounds like a good movie, though I’ve never heard of it!

  5. I liked this a lot, and not just because of the cast. It was interesting to me that Shankar is always shown as a good person, the end is more a question of him starting to talk to God again rather than him having to mend his ways, but then that often seems to be the way with movie-atheists. I am wondering whether there is one in which the non-believer doesn’t return to the fold at the end, but I haven’t seen all that many movies with atheists as main characters and the only one that springs to mind is Jogan which has at least an open end.

    • I would have liked this to end without him “returning to the fold” but…maybe next year :) I haven’t seen that many Hindi films on atheism either, and never one that didn’t end on the side of religon. Maybe I will look for Jogan!

  6. This looks great! My list grows ever-longer.

  7. Hey, this movie came out the year I was born! That explains why AtheistShashi looks so conflicted. “I’ll have to wait eighteen more years for the woman I was meant to be with.” That’s not acting, that’s me.

  8. OLD! but very immature :-)

  9. {screech}Get in LINE, Ajnabi!{/screech}

    This is sitting on top of my tv just waiting to be watched. Can’t wait! I too would probably be so excited for included, non-vilified non-god-believing that I would faint dead away.

    And who knew that throwing vegetable seeds on someone was all it took?

    • Doesn’t hurt to look like Shabana in addition to the vegetable seed throwing :-P

      But Shashi looks goooooooood throughout. You will enjoy it for that if nothing else.

  10. “Come here, come here”

    This is like that dream I had…

  11. Oh!! One of the mystery remaining Shashi titles I have yet to behold! And it’s about the atheism/religious orthodoxy too?! YIPEE!

    Will defo need to catch this. In the meantime – thanks for the caps and review! Shashi in the gold earring, YES PLZ.

  12. i like his struggel in film’s

  13. From where did you got this film out?!!!!!!!! I even searched this film in the local VHS shops too. But didn’t got anywhere!! You are simply great!! ‘The Great Greta’!!
    Thanks for reviewing this very rare film of Bindu. As far as the snapshots i guess Bindu looks fantastic in this film, and of course with no doubts she acted beautifully.
    Did Bindu or Jayshree T had any dances or songs in this film?!! May be any one of them had or may be both??!! Am i right? Well if can so kindly inform.
    Why don’t you post songs from this kind of very rare films in youtube. You as-usual have films with awesome print and with subtitles too. So please do post songs from this kind of rare films which are not there in youtube.

    Also have a look on my channel in youtube if can-http://www.youtube.com/user/TheBindufan. I hope you’ll like it :)

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