In this paper I address some of the ways in which ideas of modernity and nationhood is tackled in Hindi films after independence . My primary interest is to understand how modernity and Nationhood was envisaged and narrated by the films of this period. My concerns are the ways in which dislocation of the characters, reconstruction of the narrative space, reformulation of Identity paved the way for treatment of modernity . I will take into consideration “DO BIGHA ZAMEEN” (Roy 1953) and likes of “SHREE 420” (Kapoor 1955). Although, my central Discussion will be around DO BIGHA ZAMEEN.
Before entering into argument I would quickly throw some light on modernity and nationhood. “The idea of world open to transformation, a complex of economic institutions, a certain range of political institutions including nation – state, mass democracy. It is a society which, unlike preceding culture, lives in the future rather than the past” (Giddens 1994) Indian nationhood and democracy are an accommodation between the local and the national, the cosmopolitan and the rooted. Some seek to homogenize from below; others to parochialize from below. Both attempts will and must fail (Guha 2012)
These are the two quotes, perhaps, which define modernity and nationhood in best possible way. Modernity and nationhood have a broader meaning and context in India. On one hand, modernity was a confrontation of beliefs, practices, traditions which Indians followed over the centuries. Ironically, nationhood was a task to gave a democratic and secular shape to a nation which was deeply fragmented in different religions, classes, sects and belief. Industrialization and secular state were two prominent aspects of Nehruvian ideology. Nehru’s vision was in confrontation with the conventional life that Indian had.
Indian’s have a agragarian economy and simplistic life. My review of the film is an attempt to inspect into these confrontations, an attempt to show how this film takes on these issues . Reformulation of personality In understanding the transformation of identity in context of modernity I will take into account the Hindu mythology and traditions which divide life cycle into four stages: “brahmacharya” focus should be on celibacy and learning; “grahsta” the life of a householder; “vanprasta”, phase of withdrawal from worldly life; “sambas”, stage for renunciation of worldly life.
In Hindi cinema, before independence the renouncer figure was given preference over the worldly achiever like Raja Harishchandra (Falke 1913) these films attention was given on suffering, loss of emotions, unrealized desire etc. These renunciatory characters were the victims of social injustice, exploitation or troubled relationship who did not find society a suitable place, and instead of sorting a way out of the social dilemma they chose to declare society as an unjust and corrupt place or institution. Despite any clear evidence, I would like to say prevalence of such narratives could be due to many reasons.
In India, the renouncer was always given the highest place, it is all evident in Indian mythology, history, folktales. In contrast to renunciation narration, in the 1950s we notice a change in construction of narratives where characters or the hero does not declare society as a corrupt place and alienates himself but has conviction, Determination and commitment to bear the harshness of society with tenacity. This change in the character of the hero is constructed for a new imperative to achieve a stable and just society.
In case of “DoBigha Zameen” (Roy 1951) Shambhu, (Balraj Sahni) a peasant is supposed to return a certain amount of loan money to the landlord to save his ancestral land. Shambhu doesn’t surrender and withdraw from the society, he is determined to retain his land and leaves for the city in order to earn the loan money quickly. Shambhu is accompanied by his son to the city. He reaches to city and did not find any job. With passage of the time, he stays in a slum and learns to pull rickshaw. Shambhu comes under the cruelty of the city as his belongings are lost and could not find any job.
Despite the ill fate, he strives with the will, conviction, firmness for the achievement and determination and somehow, starts pulling a rickshaw. He pulls rickshaw day and night but could not arrange the money. His son falls prey to corrupt nature of the city and joins a pickpoketer and starts pickpocketing. Shambhu health goes down due to inhuman labour and ultimately meets to an accident. In course of time, his wife comes to city and then narratives takes a turn but Shambhu loses his land due to failure to accumulate the required money.
This change in the characters personality very well give us an insight into the confrontation of modernity. It gives conviction of a sort where society is a place with corruption, hardships but in spite of all, it should be resolved with options located within the society. It qualifies social life as a part and parcel of human existence and helps to attain the tools for a just, stable and balanced social order and not renunciation. In my argument I take a reference from Ashok Kumar’s statement. He states the baby faced tenderfoot actor who sang songs and chased heroines….
From 1946 a bitter realization came to me that life was no longer simple and easy. The impact was intense. Gina Mukherjee came to me to write gangster story Sangram(The Battle) and perhaps visualized me as a gangster. This histrionic transformation was a chance to work off my bitterness. I watched the reaction of fans whenever I got tough, the audience came to its feet and roared the cheers! The public acclaimed the film and also the new Ashok Kumar with the smoking revolver, shooting a hitting out, as he was want to do very much then (Ashok Kumar, ‘Spanning two decades’ 1956).
In accordance with the same, “Shree 420” (The gentleman cheat, Raj Kapoor 1955), Raju, who finds society a place which has nothing for him despite his education, doesn’t alienate himself. He understands the crooked and dishonest principle which the actual world perhaps follows. Raju struggles with his morality and moulds himself with a grit to hold some so called dignified position in the society. Although, he sacrifices his moral values but he holds the grit and conviction to amalgamate his desire with offerings of the surroundings.
So, in my discussion, I say modernity in Hindi cinema of the 50s is confronted with a change in narrative space and formulation. It gives a character the strength of objective to fight and struggle for social balance and leveling. In “Do Beegha Zameen” (Roy 1953), when Shambhu searches for his accommodation, he goes to a slum where an old lady, reigning matriarch, of the slum tells her to pay the week rent in advance. When Shambhu tells her about his condition she gives the space but she is very harsh and straight in her statements. Although, she is rude but in her heart she is quite kind and gives Shambhu space as well as mattress.
I find her character, a fine example of narrative change in formulation of identity which exemplifies the change of personality going in narrative framework. Alienation from family and class Separation from the family and class is also a prominent and common part of the narrative in 1950s. This narrative structure places characters out of their familial sphere or social order. In Do Bigha Zameen, Shambhu and his son Kanhiya heads to the city leaving behind Shambhu’s wife and his father. Shambhu reaches in the city and somehow, finds a place to stay. He finds people in his new surrounding who are also deprived like him.
Such displacement conspires for a new, hopeful social space. In this context, films strip characters of their social markings through deprivation mainly financial. This social space with lack of basic necessities whether food, medicine, shelter, education, employment, renders narrative objective in specific way which symbolize dawn of a new democratic society and hence, visions national existence. This enlargement of the narrative space invites some historical and sociological experiences of modernity. I put forth an interesting observation made by Richard Sennet in his book.
European society from the eighteenth century onwards fashioned new social codes to deal with these new experience: ways of addressing strangers, of conducting oneself in relation to them or engaging them in conversation. (sennet 1977) In “Do Beegha Zameen (Roy 1953) Shambhu leaves his village and comes to Calcutta. His migration to the city is due to threat of his ownership on his land. In the city, as he does not have any specific skill, he learns to pull rickshaw and earns money. This narrative framework gives us a clear insight into the approach of modernity. It is a critique on the agrarian economy and simplistic life that Indians lived.
Nehruvian ideology which gives prior importance to industrialization and secular state. Narrative, perhaps, draws a parallel line as depicting it’s lack of faith and suspicion on the ideology. Shambhu loses his land and as modern mean of living he is identified with a rickshaw. Earlier, he owns a land and lives the life peacefully. In spite of poverty, he has ownership and his traditions, morals are intact. In the city, his life is not that simple, he does not claim any ownership, his son is corrupted in immoral nature of the city. When Shambhu( Balraj Sahni) enters in the city, film shows bridge which has iron bars crossing ach other. In this shot, camera tilts from down to up and pauses for a moment, this shot clearly symbolize that city life is never be so easy and simple. It is as deeply twisted as iron bars of the bridge. In next scene, we see Shambhu and his son struggle with the city roads and traffic. They are lost in the traffic, they could not cross the road easily. These frames, perhaps, indicate the life of a city which symbolizes modernity and characters weakness to adapt the change. On the account of Calcutta, Krishna Dutta wrote in his book “As a consequence, after the permanent settlement, the peasants more insecure and impoverished.
The old support network between landlord and peasant was eroded; no longer would the zaminder provide meals when a cultivator’s wife was confined by childbirth. Often the only hope for the peasant was to leave the village and go to the town. And this helped to create yet another feature of Calcutta – its slums (Dutta 2003)” COUNTRYSIDE TO THE CITY Indian films in 1950s also responded to the question of modernity by creating an extended geography for the national object. In the narrative, characters are migrated from their local sense of ‘place’ to a national space. In relation to this one of the prominent feature of these ilms are and education and symbols of modernity. In Do Bigha Zameen (Roy 1951)
Kanhiya can read and write. He reads the letter which was sent by his mother who was separated from him and his father in the village. Kanhiya also writes a letter to his mother this was an important twist in narrative and later she decides to come to city. Narrative use of the postal service and children ability to read and write signals towards the imaginative geography of the nation. Postal service is a sign of a bigger world which is different from ‘local’ experience of a character. Train, postal service even education are ital signs of Modernity, when a character comes in confrontation in these due to migration from one to the other reasons it is his straight introduction with modernity. In a number of films, education is linked to the possibilities of social mobility, but literacy, or the desire for literacy, also associates the child with an imaginative geography of the nation relayed through the postal system (Vasudevan, The cinematic imagining of new society in india n. d. , 1) .” The diminishing of the regional cinema industries of the west and east by the end of 1940 led to the concentration of the labour in Bombay (krishnaswamy 1963)”
Bombay was a opular site for film making in 1940s where talent flowed from all parts of the country Many well known, directors, actors, from different parts of the country came to the city. This dislocation of the people from different parts to the country like Punjab, Bengal turn The city which didn’t have any local attributes to a national space. I argue that displacement of the people from their homeland to Bombay itself a constructing factor for the idea of a nation. Such displacement of the people distances them from regional identity if not completely lost. This lost identity provides a framework for the narrative which regenerate the way and eiterate and bemoans for the regional identity which literally impossible to realize. Some of the famous novels of from different parts of the country were also being used for cinematic text. Some of the most successful films of this time were originally a regional, Devdas by Sarat Chandra Chatarjee was adopted by Bimal Roy for a cinematic text. The way Devdas is shown as protagonist bemoans his lost beloved and lost home space. I argue this narrative portrait and use of regional literary text in itself gives a’ nation’ approach and a step towards the achievement in nationalistic object.
On one hand, it diminishes regional identity on the other literary work selection brings’ national’ to ‘local’, such an arrangement clearly establishes a link towards the goal of nationhood. The Roy biography itself develops through a double dislocation, from East Bengal to Calcutta And again from Calcutta to Bombay. Coming from the rentier family of the East Bengal, Roy’s Life parallels the movement from country to the city in the career of Devdas, a movement and Distance intensified by the subsequent shift to Bombay (Raggonwala 1979) In Do Beegha Zameen (Roy 1951) also, we find Shambhu migrates to the city in search of job.
In the city, he never finds the easy and comfort, his keenness is to earn money and continuously moans for his village. In many shots, he is shown talking to his son and other rickshaw puller about his village. He is fear of queer functionality and cruel nature of the city. Conclusion In my discussion I tried to show dislocation of the people and their entry into the new geography was their first confrontation with modernity and nation as a whole? As I discussed this journey of character from one place to other, once social class to other was never an easy task. Peruvian ideology for a secular and industrialised state was not an attempt or development of the nation. It had a greater impact on the people, their lifestyle; it needed a change of mindset which could not be achieved in a night? Do Beegha Zameen (Roy 1951) is a comment on that ideals. It explores the effect on common man life in greater subtleness and practicality.
The failure of the characters to mingle in new social set up, their desire to return to the lost society is served as a role in the critique. In some of narratives, it was shown that past has to be forgotten. Past is a time to left behind and present is accepted however, this acceptance of esent is bitter and provided the way narrative framework in many of the films. The movement characters into modern public sphere was never easy.
This transformation is always filled With trauma, loss and an inspiration for a new social order. Drawing on Victor Turner’s notions about the journey of transportation between different times,Statuses and places, Benedict Anderson has outlined the way in which different types of journey, Such as the religious pilgrimage or the movement of the Absolutist functionaries, afforded Members of an imagined community a sense of the reality of its contours and it’s extent (Anderson 1982) tried to prove in my discussion technological advancement and new transportation means were the confrontation of the characters, even, some of the films characters are fascinated by them and experience them. In my analysis, I would like to conclude that film narrative of 1950’s confronts modernity and nationhood with a broader approach, personal suffering, lost ultimately paves the way for a modern and national society. I would admit that for this project we need to understand other narratives like regional to get into the idea of nationhood and modernity with great and more detail.