When Hrishikesh Mukherjee was teaching “Jeena isi ka naam hai”: Anari | Bollywood rewind
In this weekly column, we revisit the nuggets of the golden years of Hindi cinema. This week, we’re revisiting the 1959 version of Anari.
After revisiting many popular 1950s films through the Bollywood Rewind series, it is evident that the filmmakers of the time were strongly focused on the growing gap between rich and poor. Another recurring element that we see in many of these films is that a person’s economic position and moral values are often presented as inversely proportional – if one goes down, the other goes up. This element of money and morality becomes the main conflict in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1959 film Anari.
Along with Raj Kapoor, Nutan, Lalita Pawar and Motilal, Anari was the second directorial endeavor of famous filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who was already an established editor in Hindi films at the time. Raj plays Rajkumar, an extension of his character from Awara and Shree 420. He is lost in life, unemployed and disappointed in the unfair world that favors the rich. Rajkumar loses a job in a restaurant because he thinks customers shouldn’t eat food containing insects, his manager thinks otherwise.
When Raj luckily gets Rs 1000 for painting a portrait, his hands start to shake. The scene where he strokes the note and looks at her with wide eyes makes you appreciate his humility and when seconds later he gives this bill to Nutan’s character believing she needs it more than him, it just tears you apart, just a little. Even though he hasn’t kept that money to himself, he has a leap in his walk because for the first time in centuries, he’s had the chance to be nice to someone else. As he sings “Kisi ka dard mil sake à le udhaar, Jeena isi ka naam hai,” it forces you to re-evaluate your priorities in life.
Anari’s initial conflict begins as a comedy of errors. As Rajkumar and Aarti, played by the charming Nutan, fall in love, she tells him about her struggle against poverty, which could not be further from the truth. Aarti de Nutan is the niece of a wealthy pharmaceutical businessman who also happens to be Rajkumar’s boss. When Raj finds out the truth he feels cheated and as he sings the lines “Sab kuch seekha humne, na seekhi hoshiyari. Sach hai duniyavalo ki hum hain anari ”. He realizes the extent of his naivety and his place in a world where the rich never tire of their stratagems.
The film’s moral dilemma is oddly timely. The world here is in the midst of an influenza epidemic that could be fatal if left untreated. So when Seth Ramnath’s (Motilal) company decides to increase the production of the drug, it is with the hope that the disease will spread widely. These scenes seem a little tasteless, and not just because of their content, but also because of their unabashed approach to trying to satanize the rich.
When Raj has to pay the price for Seth Ramnath’s immoral actions, the film enters familiar territory of Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Seth Ramnath is the closest thing to the movie’s villain here, so when Aarti accuses him of being dishonest due to his financial situation, he quickly says it wasn’t the money that changed his morality, but rather his love for her which compromised her honesty. This scene is probably one of the few from this era to add some nuance to the generalization “the rich have no morals” that was frequently seen in movies at the time.
Anari was one of the biggest hits of the year. The film rests on the shoulders of Raj Kapoor and Nutan. Raj, at that point, was quite used to playing such characters, so we don’t see anything that we haven’t seen before. For Nutan, it brings a kind of freshness that uplifts Anari. Motilal’s performance is noteworthy here because his character goes from white to black to gray so quickly that it is difficult to put him in a box.
Anari was one of those musical successes where an entire album can be enjoyed at one time and 62 years later it continues to have the same effect. Besides “Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai” and “Hum Hain Anari”, other evergreen gems on the album include “Woh Chand Khila Woh Tare Hanse”, “Dil Ki Nazar”, “Ban Ke Panchhi Gaaye Pyar Ka Tarana” , “Tera Jaana” – all musical masterpieces composed by Shankar Jaikishan, with lyrics by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri.
Anari doesn’t work as efficiently as it did six decades ago. The film’s moral conundrum still raises some interesting questions, but watching it in 2021 it all seems a bit too simplistic.
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Anari is broadcast on YouTube, ZEE5.
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