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The Anand brothers, S.D. Burman, Guru Dutt, Madan Puri, Uma Anand and others who would gather at 41 Pali Hill

Reviewed by Maleeha Hamid Siddiqui

IF you find yourself in the vicinity of Government College, Lahore, (now Government College University) stop for a moment to contemplate its contribution to the Indian film industry. For here is an institution that produced the likes of Anand brothers (Chetan Anand and Dev Anand) who set up Navketan, the production house that redefined urban India at a time when it was depicted as mostly populated with the immoral rich. The Anand brothers viewed urban India from the perspective of entertainment rather than the ideological idiom that was prevalent in the 1950s. It was the pioneer of the Bombay noir genre characterised by a distinct Indian identity that comprised songs, comedy tracks and emotions. Moreover, the femme fatale, the apparently respectable crime boss and the anti-hero personified by Dev Anand established certain stylistic devices that are even today referenced by filmmakers.

Dev Anand, a graduate of Government College (GC), aspired to become a movie star like his screen idol Ashok Kumar and for that purpose landed in Bombay where his elder brother Chetan, also a GC alumnus, was trying his luck in the film business as a writer and director. Soon their youngest brother Vijay Anand, or Goldie, aged 12, followed them to 41 Pali Hill where they all resided. The house became a hub of artistic pursuits attracting creative and intellectual individuals. The brothers established their presence in the film industry producing several blockbusters.

In the able hands of journalist Sidharth Bhatia, Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story is also a blockbuster of sorts. Bhatia researched the book for more than two years and illustrated it with marvelous visuals not seen for 60 years. The result is a fascinating and virtually un-put-downable book, clearly a labour of love. Cinema buffs will love reading anecdotes about some of Navketan’s finest films — Taxi Driver, Kala Pani, Hum Dono, Nau Do Gyarah, Tere Ghar Ke Samne and Guide. Credibly, Bhatia does not shy away from discussing the shortcomings of the Anand brothers and their eventual falling out which led to the decline of Navketan and its production of commercial disasters in later years.

The House of Navketan, Bhatia informs us, introduced many talented people in the Indian film industry. Sahir Ludhianvi, a left-leaning poet, wrote some of the finest lyrics for Navketan films such as Baazi, Taxi Driver, Funtoosh and Hum Dono. Badruddin, a bus conductor discovered by writer-actor Balraj Sahni, a friend of the Anand brothers, was often given roles of a drunkard and hence got the moniker Johnny Walker. Navketan also launched Guru Dutt, director and pioneer of the Bombay noir genre in the film Baazi. The film also re-introduced music director S.D. Burman who was packing his bags to return to Calcutta. And Jaidev, a long-time assistant to S.D. Burman, was launched as a music director in Hum Dono, in 1960.

Kalpana Karthik became a successful actress although she cut her career short after marrying Dev Anand. Zohra Sehgal, a classical dancer/actress was the dance choreographer for Baazi and Nau Do Gyarah. She is well-known to the younger generation for her appearances in movies such as Dil Se and Cheeni Kum. Ali Akbar Khan was music composer for Aandhiyan, one of Navketan’s earliest films. He became famous worldwide for his sarod playing. Raj Khosla was initially hired as an assistant director to Guru Dutt in Navketan’s Baazi and later directed Kala Pani for the production house. (Dev Anand got his first Filmfare award for best actor for his performance in Kala Pani). These names are just the tip of the iceberg as the Navketan banner has introduced several more talented artists.

Navketan will also be remembered for some of the most melodic music written for films during the 1950s and 1960s. “Tadbeer se Bigdi Hui Taqdeer Bana Le” (Baazi), “Jayen toh Jayen Kahan” (Taxi Driver) and “Teri Duniya Mein Jeene Se” (House No 44) were the result of the superb combination of Sahir Ludhianvi and S.D. Burman. However, this pairing did not last due to their creative differences and Ludhianvi opted out of the Navketan banner. Fortunately for Navketan though, they were able to bring in the highly talented Majrooh Sultanpuri whose partnership with S.D. Burman clicked and they went on to create memorable music: “Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke”, “Aaj Panchi Akela Hai” (Nau Do Gyarah), “Hum Bekhudi Mein Tumko”, “Nazar Lagi Raja” and “Accha Jee Main Hari” (Kala Pani). Films such as Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, Guide and Jewel Thief are remembered for the innovative picturisation of songs that were painstakingly directed by the genius prodigy, Goldie, who is best known for his direction of the magnum opus Guide, a film which, according to Bhatia, broke all the rules of Hindi cinema.

Reading the book made me want to go back and watch some of the best of the Navketan films. Hence, I did just that while revisiting some of the behind-the-scene stories narrated in the book, appreciating Navketan all the more. And I felt as Dev Anand does in Hum Dono: “Abhi Na Jaao Chod Kar Kay Dil Abhi Bhi Bhara Nahin”.

The reviewer is a staffer at the monthly Herald

Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story


By Sidharth Bhatia

HarperCollins, India

ISBN 978-93-5029-096-5

165pp. Price not listed