Bollywood Rewind | Naya Daur: From the new era that will always be intimidating
In this weekly column, we revisit the nuggets of the golden years of Hindi cinema. This week we revisit BR Chopra’s 1957 film Naya Daur.
Naya Daur, literally translated as ‘the new era’, is the story of a village that stands on the precipice of the promise of development but in the midst of the assurance of a supposedly better future, the villagers wonder why these promises of future wealth take away “to do waqt ki roti” Nowadays.
Released in 1957, BR Chopra’s Naya Daur talks about the disturbing victims of the rampant industrialization that is projected as the wave of the future. Naya Daur opens with a quote from Mahatama Gandhi that best sums up his central message. “Dead machines are not to be contrasted with the millions of living machines represented by the villagers scattered across the 700,000 villages of India,” part of the quote reads. The film questions this loss of employment in these “seven hundred thousand villages of India”.
Naya Daur takes place in an almost utopian village where everyone is employed – either as a mill worker or as a tonga shooter. The owner of the factory, played by Nazir Hussain, treats his employees as equals and vehemently believes that the relationship between an employer and an employee is horizontal, not vertical. Things take an abrupt turn when he goes on a pilgrimage and his city-raised son Kundan, played by Jeevan, takes his place. This is where the conflict between modern India and rural India begins to take shape as Kundan can see the value of his father’s business, but cannot see the value of his loyal workforce. .
The introduction of a machine in the mill leaves half of the population unemployed. The protagonist of the film Shankar, played by Dilip Kumar, takes it upon himself to negotiate with Kundan. Tonga shooter Shankar realizes the importance of unity and is keenly aware that if a domino falls in this peaceful temple of a village, chaos will ensue. Soon after, Kundan introduced a truck for tourists, in place of the centuries-old Tonga. This threatens the employment of the other half of the village, which makes the villagers fear even more the extraordinary power of the machines.
Naya Daur captures the spirit of a young country that does its best to keep its head above water. A country that believes that moving with the times is the golden path to a better future but doesn’t really know what to do with its workforce that has been its backbone for all these years. Watching this movie in 2021, you realize that in many ways we’re still struggling with the same issues, albeit with different titles. The main struggle of the film is the huge disparity between the haves and have-nots. In Naya Daur, the conflict between man and machine does not pit one against the other but encourages society to take a middle course. In an important scene from the film, Dilip Kumar’s Shankar points out that neither he nor the villagers have anything against the machines. They just want educated people to find a way for them not to lose their jobs.
The film’s final act turns into a direct competition between hard labor and modern machinery, a race between the humble Tonga and the truck. It is in this part that the film emphasizes the power of unity which can create a revolution. The whole village comes together to build a new road and a bridge chanting “Saathi Haath Badhana” which is nothing less than a war cry. Naya Daur is a 64-year-old movie, but a streak in this part rings so true even in 2021 that it feels like we haven’t missed a day. The villain of the film gets a statue of God buried in the ground just for the villagers to take it for “devi maa ka sthaan” and stop building the new road. The manipulation of the villagers, in the name of God, is a small episode here but is probably the most relevant piece. Politicization in the name of God is nothing new to us Indians but seeing that not much has changed in our country leaves you a little disappointed.
Naya Daur raises a relevant question, how to run forward in the era of revolution while keeping your citizens employed and well fed? While he doesn’t offer a straightforward resolution, he encourages us to find a middle way, which we are still trying to find, 64 years later.
The film is surely one of the best works of BR Chopra with brilliant performances from its actors – Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Ajit and Jeevan. With songs like “Yeh Desh Hai Veer Jawano Ka”, which has continued to be part of our cultural zeitgeist, thanks to bandwallahs, and romantic numbers like “Maang Ke Sath Tumhara” and “Ude Jab Jab Zulfe Teri”, the music of Naya Daur by OP Nayyar, with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi has stood the test of time. The film was written by Akhtar Mirza and is a master class in capturing the nerve of the nation, but doing so without being judgmental and a relevant example of the same is the introduction of the love triangle in the film. The love triangle sets off the main conflict here, but it is obvious that it is only used as a tool to access the main story.
Naya Daur is the story of the coming era, the premonition of a change that may shake the foundations of society, and although the company has undergone many revisions since 1957, the threat of the next step is just as disconcerting.
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Naya Daur is streaming on YouTube and ShemarooMe (black and white) and Prime Video (color).
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