Shaheed (1948)

Most of you know by now that I am not terribly enamored of “earnest” movies that bludgeon the audience (i.e. me) repeatedly with trite patriotic messages. I feared this film would be like that but happily I was wrong. It is very enjoyable: part history lesson, part celebration of newly independent India, part debate whether violence is ever justified or not—still a relevant topic. Mostly, though, it’s a film about relationships, the most powerful one at hand being that between a young freedom fighter (Dilip Kumar) and his father (Chandramohan) with British loyalties. The title Shaheed (Martyr) can be applied to just about every character in the film, but the performances are, if sometimes a bit melodramatic, always heartfelt. I did get an excellent Chandramohan Nahiiin! Face but that can only be called a bonus. With eyes like that, how can he help it? The characters are well-drawn and complex, and there are touches of humor throughout to lighten what could otherwise be (okay, IS) a pretty depressing plot. And the chemistry between Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal is very sweet, too.

We begin in 1930 Amritsar, where Raibahadur Dwarkadas is the Deputy Commissioner in His Majesty’s police force. Gandhi has just completed his Salt March, a protest against British salt taxes, and the country is in a rebellious mood. Dwarkadas, being a staunch participant in and defender of the Raj, is not popular with the townspeople.

At home his loyalty to the British isolates him too. His wife (Leela Chitnis) and son Ram (Shashi Kapoor—but not that Shashi Kapoor) both admire the revolutionary spirit of Nehru and Gandhi, although Ram’s playmate Vinod—the son of Dwarkadas’ colleague and friend—is in agreement with Dwarkadas. Vinod and Ram are also rivals for young Sheila’s (Baby Anwari?) affections, although it’s pretty obvious that Ram is already the winner on this score.

I love the use of the word toady (it’s not just a subtitle gem either, they are actually saying “toady”).

“Toady bachcha! Toady bachcha!” Hilarious. It all ends in a fist-fight with Vinod the loser.

Sheila’s father Hemat Rai (VH Desai) is throwing a party to which Dwarkadas and Vinod’s father and their families are invited, and her brother Gopal has written a play to be performed. I completely adore the…shall we say gloating? gleeful?…lyrics of the song. Also hilarious!

Playing Mahatma Gandhi, Gopal interrupts the taunting of the “British” and gives a speech about ahimsa (non-violence). Dwarkadas arrives at the party just as Vinod comes on stage to arrest “Gandhi” and is infuriated, stopping the play. He forbids Ram to see his “Sheil” again, although I’m glad to see he allows Ram his Nehru portrait, which mirrors that of Gandhi in the Rai household.

Ram, now bereft of Sheila’s companionship, grows up watching as protests spread and clashes between Indians and the British government escalate. The distance between him and his father grows, with his father blaming poor Maa (she spoils him) for Ram’s rebellion.

Fast-forwarding to August of 1942, Ram (now Dilip Kumar) tells Maa that he’s off to a Congress conference. In reality he is now leading a band of revolutionaries who have embraced violence as their means to an end. Predictably, Vinod (Ram Singh) has grown up and joined the very police force presided over by Dwarkadas, although Vinod’s own father seems to have himself developed Congress sympathies despite his own employment there.

Dinner is interrupted by a phone call. Ram’s band of rebels has looted a train carrying state treasury, and Vinod dashes off to the scene. Wounded in the hand by police fire, Ram manages to escape into a train car occupied by a lone girl. It is Sheila (Kamini Kaushal) of course, but they fail to recognize each other. I am not sure if Sheila went off to school or what, but they have clearly not seen each other for years although Sheila has kept in touch with Vinod. When Vinod knocks on the door of her compartment, she doesn’t give away the wounded rebel hiding in her bathroom, although she clearly hurts Vinod’s feelings by asking about her beloved Ram.

Each still unaware who the other person is, Sheila helps Ram escape from the now-moving train. He goes home, where his father hears him coming in at midnight. It’s clear that father and son barely communicate although they live in the same house, and it’s equally obvious that Dwarkadas both suspects and fears that Ram is participating in criminal rebel activity. This is a wonderful scene for Chandramohan, underplayed (especially for him) and touching in his anxiety for the son he can’t talk to. He tells his wife that there was a train robbery the night before and that the leader of the gang was wounded.

Maa goes upstairs to discover Ram nursing his bloody hand and is caught between loyalty to her son and to her husband; if she calls the doctor Dwarkadas will be certain about Ram’s activities. Hemat Rai and Sheila conveniently arrive for a visit. Sheila is impatient to see Ram but Maa prevaricates, not wishing to give his secret away. This gives Sheila a chance to play the piano and sing a lovely little ditty about her childhood love becoming adult love (Ghulam Haider’s music ranges from stentorian patriotic anthems to light-hearted romantic tunes and is very nice indeed).

She then manages to outmaneuver Maa, slipping upstairs and forcing Ram to let her into his room. She recognizes him as her visitor on the train from the night before, and—being an almost-doctor—takes the bullet out of his injured hand while the oblivious other guests have tea downstairs. This scene is identical to the semi-erotic scenario that takes place in countless later daku-dramas, where the heroine tenderly takes a bullet out of the injured daku as he grimaces horribly and, in this case, appears to suck his thumb.

Having finished their tea, the other guests now trickle upstairs. Sheila’s brother Gopal (Prabhu Dayal) is the first to arrive, and he instantly understands what’s happened although Sheila claims that Ram has a “hunting injury”. He chastises Ram for using violent methods to gain independence, saying that a polite smile cannot be met with abuse (he doesn’t know one of my neighbors). Then Vinod comes in with his father and Hemat Rai, sees the bullet in Sheila’s medical tray, and surreptitiously pockets it. He warns Ram not to leave the house while letting him know at the same time that he knows what Ram has been up to.

After they leave Dwarkadas confronts his son. Ram stops short of admitting his guilt specifically and Dwarkadas doesn’t request him to. He tells Ram to leave the house and Ram quietly does so, going to the Rai house to see Gopal, to whom he had earlier made a mysterious whispered request. He sees Vinod’s father on his way out of the house, who tells him that Vinod and Sheila’s marriage has been fixed although unbeknownst to them, Sheila has rejected Vinod’s proposal with some vehemence.

She sees Ram leaving and runs after him. He is angry at her but also feverish, and she takes him to a hotel and checks them in as man and wife. He collapses and she sits by his side until he wakes up. She straightens out the misunderstanding over Vinod and they confess their undying love for one another. So so sweet! But sadly, Gopal is caught at the scene when he fails to stop a bridge from being blown up (I assume the secret between him and Ram was Ram telling him about the plot?) and arrested.

Vinod seizes his chance. Having been arrested for an incident involving violence, Gopal faces the death sentence. Vinod tells Sheila and her father that he will make sure Gopal is released if she tells him where Ram is and marries him. Because, you know, forcing someone who dislikes you to marry you is such a positive step towards lifelong happiness for both of you.

Even Vinod’s father is disgusted by this.

But Vinod is adamant, and Sheila finally gives in—although she does bar him from her bedroom, remaining faithful to her Ram in body if not in name. Ram has gone underground, returning to the fight for freedom, completely unaware of developments at home until Gopal visits him in hiding (still preaching ahimsa). Gopal seems clueless as to the reality behind Sheila’s marriage to Vinod and I want to smack him, hard. What an idiot.

Heartbroken, Ram goes to see Sheila for himself and happens to arrive just as Vinod is trying to force his attentions on her. He misinterprets the scene and leaves, dropping some of his papers as he goes. When Sheila sees them later (having fought off Vinod’s advances once again) she assumes they are Vinod’s and gives them to him—and they contain details on Ram’s gang’s hideout.

Will Vinod find and arrest Ram and his compatriots? Will Ram (and Gopal) ever discover the truth about Sheila’s sacrifice, or will this signify an even greater betrayal? Will Sheila give in to Vinod for the sake of Ram and his friends? Will Dwarkadas ever understand Ram’s point of view, or will he stand by and watch if Ram is tried and hung for treason? Does it all just end in tears as is usual for Dilip Kumar films?

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend Shaheed. The fine acting and interesting plot against the background of Independence (particularly given the year it was made) are a compelling watch, particularly scenes with the oh-so-magnetic Chandramohan. He portrays Dwarkadas’ turmoil and conflicting emotions for his son beautifully. I just can’t ever really see enough of that man.

37 Comments to “Shaheed (1948)”

  1. For me, the film, excellent as it is, has its best moment in the picturization of the song “watan kii rah maiN watan ke naujawan shaheed ho.” the first one stirring even now, the second one stirring but also extremely moving.

  2. I have seen this film, but so long back that I have forgotten all. Time to revisit, if I can find time.

    Beautiful write-up Memsaab, and beautiful screen caps.

  3. Badnaam na ho jaye mohabbat ka fasana
    Bachpan ki yaad dheere dheere pyar ban gayi
    Hum tumko na payenge tum humko na paoge
    Haye hum kahan aur tum kahan
    What more one can ask. This was the film in which S Mukherji did not permit Ghulam Hyder to use Lata Mangeshkar because her voice was too thin. Ghulam Hyder told him , one day producers would fall at at feet begging to sing for them. Nevertheless he created magic with Surinder Kaur and Lalita Deolkar.


  4. Badnaam na ho jaye … is in this movie? I knew about Watan ki raah mein … but this song too? Now that I have read your review, I have to watch it – the only question is – when? One of these days, perhaps?! Loved your review of this movie!

    • Like I said, I’m a bit of a philistine when it comes to Hindi film music of the 40s, but the songs in this are fantastic. And it’s just a great film, do watch it and let me know what you think of it afterwards :D

  5. Time to revisit this film, memsaab. I loved it when I first watched it as a child. And yes, lovely songs, too.

  6. “40s might not be you cup of tea”
    but once you realize that there was one take,
    one microphone, 3 minute limit. recording machine
    size of truck then you can see what kind of perfection
    it took to even produce a record. and there was less of
    copying of hollywood sound back then.

    • It’s not that I think the quality is bad or anything, it just isn’t generally a “sound” that I take to. But the songs in this I did very much like.

  7. I’ve never got around to watching this Shaheed, though I love Watan ki raah mein. My father was 10 years old when Shaheed was released, and remembers that he and all his friends adored that ‘Toady bachcha’ stuff. :-)

  8. So Chandramohan makes a “comeback” to your pages, eh? :-)

    Wonderful review as always.

  9. its an excellent film. i love the simplicity of the film, melodious music, grear realistic acting by dilp kumar, chandramohan and kamini kaushal. i wonder why kamini kaushal is not given life time achivement awards and why she is not hailed as she is one of they most beautiful heroines india ever had. she is senior to nargiz, nutan, waheeda, vyjanti etc…..this film must be colorized for young viewers to see it…i just loved the review …….

    • Kamini is one of those iffy heroines for me…many times she is a bit too “little girlish” for me. But she is good in this, I like her chemistry with Dilip very much. I guess this was around the time when they were having a love affair of their own, although she was married to her late sister’s husband and caring for her children. It’s 1963’s Gumrah in real life!

  10. Yes, Chandramohan is too good! His eyes are especially arresting. If I remember right, Shaheed was his last film. He died in 1949, aged just 44. Seems he took to drinks and died virtually pennyless. Really tragic… BTW, he was awesome in Roti (I digress…)!

    • I linked to a post I did all about Chandramohan at the end of this one. He was awesome in everything he was in :)

      • I missed the link! Thanks for mentioning it, and as usual, it is beautifully written. Yes, he was just too good in Roti – I can never forget his “sona aur darling” dialogs and those wonderfully arresting eyes… Of course, he was great in Pukar also – I haven’t seen any of his other films. I readily take your word that he was awesome in everything he was in!!!

  11. “Toady” is a bit of English slang that is appropriate to the context and appears to have caught the dialogue writer’s fancy. English imports were not totally banned after all :D. Patriotic films are not my first choice (and I had recently given this film a miss while shopping for VCDs) – but after reading the review I think I will see it. Early Dilip Kumar is very charming – and his romantic entanglement with Kamini was apparently the rage in gossip circles those days. Of course the ‘Watan ki rah mein’ song is a regular staple on ‘national’ holidays.

    • I know it’s English slang, although it’s sort of out of date now. But it’s still funny :D Patriotic films aren’t really my cup of tea either, but this is an exception for sure.

  12. I love Dilip Kumar from this era, and having only seen one Chandramohan film so far, I must get to this one.

  13. “ know, forcing someone who dislikes you to marry you is such a positive step towards lifelong happiness for both of you.”

    “He chastises Ram for using violent methods to gain independence, saying that a polite smile cannot be met with abuse (he doesn’t know one of my neighbors).”

    Ha ha. As usual memsaab gems here.

    Loved the film, loved this review too. Like you say, against the strong backdrop of patriotism, this movie explores personal relationships and sacrifice made on principle. During India’s freedom struggle, there must have been many families where such conflicts must have happened, where different members of the family had different loyalties.

    The chemistry between Dilip and Kamini was just superb. I like the way that, even when put under so much pressure by Vinod (and in those times!), Kamini is steadfast in her own beliefs giving as good as she got.

    The songs are indeed lovely – the lyrics of the last “watan ke naujawaan” particularly moving.

    VH Desai was good fun too. I’ve only seen him in Kismet-1943 before this. I really like the guy.

    And Chandramohan? Was kan ich sagen? That voice, that look, that style.

    Thanks, memsaab, for this review.

    • For all her weeping (and she does a lot of it) Kamini IS a pretty tough girl. I love that in 1948 she is studying to be a doctor! although of course nothing really comes of it after she’s forced to marry Vinod :(

  14. It’s been so long since I watched this movie that I don’t remember any of the details…like how stunning Chandramohan looked or how cute Dilip K. was in his early days. Patriotism is all well and good but Chandramohan’s eyebrows? THEY are extraordinary. :-D

  15. I saw this one long, long ago I do not remember anything but what I do remember (Dilip Kumar fans please pardon me) every time Dilip Kumar came on the screen I was bored and yes Chandramohan did have an impressive personality.

  16. This is a certainly a good film and a great review.
    Have you seen the film ‘Achha Bura (1983)’ which has Ranjeet in a rare leading role with Amjad Khan. It is directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and is the remake of his previous film ‘Mem Didi’.

  17. On other news, one of your favourites, the “Indian Sampson” Dara Singh (“Hanuman” for the new generation) passed away today (Thursday). R I P.

    Thought you ought to know.

  18. This was the second hit film of Dilip Kumar after “Jugnu”. Also in this film both he and Kamini were formally introduced and started a romantic affair that led to them eloping to Khandala.
    Also this was the first film where Leela Chitnis started taking the role of a mother as she was still playing heroine just a few years earlier to this film.
    The songs are haunting and lovely but Kamini Kaushal would always comment on how awkward she look while lipsynchign for a manly voice like Surnder Kaur!

  19. One of my eternal regrets is that the Brits didn’t get a similar farewell from India like the Americans got from Vietnam , hanging from the bottom of helicopters .

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