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Sunil Dutt, Vyjayanthimala in Sadhana

Dinesh Raheja

Veteran filmmaker B R Chopra scored a hat-trick of hits in the late 1950s --- Ek Hi Raasta (1956), Naya Daur (1957) and Sadhana (1958). But the feather in Chopra's overcrowded cap was the fact that all three films also dealt with relevant social issues.

Producer Director Music Director Stars
 BR Chopra  BR Chopra  N Dutta  Vyjayanthimala,
  Sunil Dutt

While his Ek Hi Raasta propagated widow remarriage, Naya Daur spoke about the conflict between industrialisation and tradition. And Sadhana, which was quite progressive in its approach, boldly dealt with a prostitute's love story with a literature professor. What is more, it dared to portray not just the often seen tragic trajectory of a prostitute's life and times, but a happy ending as well.

This award-winning story by Pandit Mukhram Sharma starts with a middle-class widow (Leela Chitnis) suffering a near-fatal accident. Since her dying wish is to see her son Mohan (Sunil Dutt), a professor of Hindi literature, married and settled, he seeks the counsel of their crafty neighbour Jeevan (played by Radhakishen who has a voice that sounds like a rusty drill). He suggests hiring a wife for a day so that Mohan's mother can breathe her last, comfortably. A hapless Mohan assents.

Jeevan employs the services of Champa (Vyjayanthimala), a brazen, money-minded courtesan. Presented as Rajni to the mother, Champa cleverly changes her swinging walk and takes on a demure persona. Both Mohan and his mother are enamoured by Champa.

She initially decides to string them along with the intention of usurping the jewellery. However, her disillusionment with her seedy patrons and her profession of ill-repute coupled with her growing fascination for an idyllic married life with Mohan makes Champa take a harsh second look at her life.

Mohan spurns her after he learns about her identity, but she wins him over by pointing out that her profession is not one of her choice. But she still has to contend with her piqued pimp (the benign-looking Manmohan Krishan miscast as a terror), and Mohan's orthodox mother.

While the pimp is keen to clip Champa's wings, lest the golden goose flies the coop, Mohan's mother is appalled at the thought of her son marrying a courtesan.

Mohan's plea --- Woh toh ek toota hua saaz hai, usse raag nahee cheekh nikalti hai (she is like a damaged musical instrument, she emanates a scream instead of musical notes) --- makes Mohan's mother reconsider her decision to reject Champa as her daughter-in-law.

Though Chopra's narrative style is conventional, he needs to be commended for attempting a reformist tale.

But the hero of the show is undoubtedly Sahir Ludhianvi. Each song penned by him fits the situation like a glove. His lacerating lyrics familiarise us with the terrain of Champa's mindscape.

Take Vyjayanthimala's introductory number, Kaho ji tum kya kya kharidoge for instance. She is dancing with gay abandon for an audience of note-throwing men. The song sounds risque on the first hearing. But then you realise it is a scathing attack on the men who treat women as commodities. Sahir illustrates his point further with Aaj kyon humse parda hai, where the regular visitors of Champa's kotha divulge their desires, mindless of the repercussions on their object of desire, Champa.

The enlightening bhajan Tora manwa kyon ghabraye re arrives like the much-needed balm after the sting of the earlier two numbers.

But Sahir's crowning glory is the hair-raising, Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko, mardon ne usse bazaar diya. Who can resist a lump in the throat when one hears Issmat is ke badle roti di, Aur usse bhi ehsaan kaha (men gave women bread in exchange of her self-respect, yet they made it seem like a favour).

Music director N Dutta suitably plays down the music in the song so that Lata Mangeshkar can scale new heights and pierce your soul with her voice.

The dialogue are functional and occasionally funny in the first half, but once the theme of the prostitute versus society gains momentum, Pandit Mukhram Sharma comes into his own. After Vyjayanthimala's change of garb from bejewelled to a simple sari evokes a reaction, she says, "Kapde nahin, dil badalke aayi hoon (I have changed my heart, not just clothes).

Sunil Dutt is convincing as the large-hearted lover. Radhakishen is a casting coup of sorts --- his laced-with-comedy villainy provides a perfect antidote to the otherwise sombre tone of the film.

But finally, the show belongs to Vyjayanthimala. Fetchingly frivolous in the first half, she is suitably serious in the second. She makes her need for acceptance palpable; her eyes emit twin lasers of anger and condemnation at those that exploit women.


* Surprisingly, after Sunil Dutt had played the famously rebellious Birju in Mother India, directors like B R Chopra and Bimal Roy visualised him in a dramatically different light --- a soft-spoken, progressive man in films like Sadhana and Sujata which were the actor's most important films in the years immediately after Mother India.

* Vyjayanthimala won a rare two nominations for Best Actress Filmfare Award in 1958 --- for Madhumati and Sadhana. After being upset about winning only the Best Supporting Actress Award for playing a tragic courtesan in Devdas earlier, she finally bagged the Best Actress trophy for playing another anguished courtesan in Sadhana.

* Nimmi was initially considered for the protagonist's role. When that did not work out, Vyjayanthimala, who was already working with B R Chopra in Naya Daur, entered the picture.

* Yash Chopra, who is B R Chopra's much-younger brother, was an assistant director during the making of Sadhna. Big brother gave him his break as a director the next year with Dhool Ka Phool.

Famous songs from Sadhana:
  Song  Singers
  Kahoji tum kya kya kharidoge  Lata Mangeshkar
  Aise waise thikano pe  Lata Mangeshkar
  Aaj kyon hamse parda hai  Mohammed Rafi, Balbir
  Tora manwa kyon ghabraye  Geeta
  Sambhal e dil  Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi
  Aurat ne janam diya  Lata Mangeshkar

The Music:
* Talented composer N Dutta may never have become the topmost music director, but he did some good work, especially in his B R Chopra trilogy --- Sadhana, Dhool Ka Phool and Dharamputra.

* Geeta Dutt, whose devotional songs in Jogan were already memorable, imbued the Sadhana bhajan, Tora manwa kyon ghabraye re with immense feeling and serenity.

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