A good film doesn’t need stars. If the content of the film is rich it overrides everything. Nothing proved this idiom better than Filmistan’s Jagriti, a small little film with no stars and set predominantly in a hostel of a boy’s school. However such was the impact of this little gem that not only did it take the box-office by storm but also went on to win the Filmfare Award for Best film and Best Supporting Actor for Abhi Bhattacharya.
Jagriti is a reworking of Satyen Bose’s earlier Bengali film, Paribartan, made in 1949 and works on a simple humane level and is at once simplistic, sensitive, thought-provoking, humorous and engrossing. Bose recreates a Bengali ambiance, paying attention to detail and filling the film with small emotional touches that make for rich viewing.
The film is a throwback to the idealistic 1950s following the euphoria of Indian Independence as it invokes gratitude to Gandhiji, Nehru, Subash Chandra Bose and the Indian freedom struggle. More importantly, the film looks at juvenile delinquency and is perhaps one of the earliest Hindi films to do so. The track of the unorthodox teacher winning over his ‘problematic’ students is more in the mould of Hollywood classics such as Goodbye Mr. Chips and The Blackboard Jungle and has always proved popular even in later versions such as To Sir with Love or in Hindi films itself with Imtihan (1974).
In Jagriti, Bose reaffirms the flair he has in dealing with children as what really strikes one is the naturalness in the performances of the children of the hostel at times reminding one of Jean Vigo’s brilliant Zero for Conduct. The two central performances of the boys give Jagriti much of its innate strength. Raj Kumar Gupta ably carries the film on his slender shoulders with a smoldering performance as the ‘angry young boy’. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the angry young boy’s screen name was ‘Ajay’ and the angry young man of the 1970s was mostly called ‘Vijay’, both to do with notions of victory. Gupta is perfectly complimented by Rattan Kumar playing the cripple Shakti. But then Rattan Kumar was already an established child star known best for his role in Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin (1953) and Raj Kapoor’s Boot Polish (1954). Ajay and Shakti’s scenes together at the school swing are warm and enduring. And later on in the film when Ajay comes to the swing following Shakti’s death one cannot help but be moved by him as he misses his friend. Incidentally, Rattan Kumar later migrated to Pakistan where he enjoyed a career as leading man! Besides Jagriti, Satyen Bose also had much success dealing with children in films like Bandish, Masoom and Mere Lal even if he is remembered more for one of Indian Cinema’s finest comedies Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958) starring the three Ganguly Brothers – Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar and Anoop Kumar with Madhubala.
Coming back to the performances in Jagriti, Abhi Bhattacharya perfectly fits the character of the kindly new superintendent, playing his part faultlessly never trying to upstage the children at any stage but rather complimenting them with understanding, compassion and yes even punishment if need be. He is also well aided by well-written dialogues, which get their point across without appearing too preachy. Thus you listen with interest to what he says which is a major strength for the film to get its message across to the viewer. Pronoti Ghosh does full justice to her little cameo as Shakti’s mother.
The music of Jagriti was extremely well integrated into the film and is in fact a highlight of the film. The film thankfully concentrates on the story and doesn’t let the music intrude. In fact the film has just 4 songs, which for the 1950s was a major risk since songs were essential to the Bollywood film idiom. But then Jagriti is a classic example of quality over quantity. Each of the songs is a minor masterpiece - Chalo Chalein Ma, Dedi Humein Azadi , Hum Layein Hain Toofan and that evergreen song by Pandit Pradeep – Aao Bachon Tumhein Dikhayein Jhanki Hindustan ki. Jagriti represents one of the best scores of Hemant Kumar’s career but then remember it was Filmistan that gave Hemant Kumar a break as music director with Anandmath (1952) and it was for Filmistan that Hemant Kumar composed his most popular score - Nagin (1954).
It is indeed to Filmistan’s credit to produce a strong purposeful film like Jagriti considering they were known more for their frothy, formulaic films where you mix romance, villany, violence, sex appeal with popular stars and catchy music. And today when one critically analyses their repertoire of work it is films like Jagriti that stand out rather than Munimjee (1955) and Paying Guest (1957), popular though they were.
Jagriti released in 1954 and proved to be the sleeper hit of the year. Today when the nation has all but lost its values it is films like Jagriti, which need to be made and seen to waken the good inside us that seems to have got lost.