A Journey Seeking a Past
Film and music enthusiast Sundeep Pahwa belongs to a family which was closely connected with the film industry and had produced a couple of films in the ’50s and ’60s. In this personal essay, he recounts his visit to the National Film Archives of India (NFAI), Pune, and an exciting journey of discovering memorabilia of Bahu (1955) and Bombay Race Course (1965), produced by the Pahwa brothers. His father, the youngest of the three Pahwa brothers was introduced as Basant Kumar in Bahu, a film that marked the directorial debut of legendary film director Shakti Samanta.
It is a question I was asked often:
‘Tumhe filmein dekhne ka shouq kab se hua?’
And my reply would always be:
Hosh sambhalte hee apne pairon par khada hogaya thha!
My fascination for films started when I learnt to slip away alone, riding my cycle to watch on the big screen our shining stars, film directors in action and those amazing songs created by our legendary music composers, lyricists and singers.
The movie bug that bit me hard in the early 60s owed its origin to my family which was into the making of feature films in Hindi in the 50s. Two films Bahu (1955) and Race Course which was later retitled as Bombay Race Course (1965) had been produced by my family with active involvement of several family members in various capacities and roles including my father who acted in Bahu. However, other than the music and some memorabilia such as the film booklets and posters, we did not have anything preserved of those productions.
Five decades went by and honestly, I never thought of reliving my past. The family remembered the heritage proudly but thought it would be a futile exercise to search for more information. Finally, in June this year, I planned a trip to Pune to visit the National Film Archives of India (NFAI).
I landed in Pune on 31st July in the hope of exploring whatever small trivia I could find of Bahu and Bombay Race Course. The next day I was at the gates at 10am and walked into the Director Mr Prakash Magdum’s room carrying an introduction letter from a friend based in Bombay. I was under the impression that this might help me in getting information of the films.
It is only when I was welcomed so warmly by Prakashji and his colleagues that I realized they everyone who visits this place seeking an exploration of vintage cinema receives all the support he needs. The entire staff of NFAI extended all help to me in my quest of rediscovering treasures of my past.
While searching for records of the film Bahu (1955) I remembered that in Pran’s biography ‘And Pran’ by Bunny Reuben on Page no. 79, there was a mention of a review of Bahu in a Filmfare magazine. It took me an hour and 40 minutes to finally locate the review in Filmfare, which I found in the issue dated Dec 23rd 1955. My joy knew no bounds!
About Bahu and Shakti Samanta
Bahu is the debut film of legendary film director Shakti Samanta and I found that the film had released at Liberty Cinema in Bombay on 18th Nov 1955.
Starting as an assistant in Sunehere Din in 1948, with director, Satish Nigam, Shakti Samanta assisted Phani Majumdar before becoming an independent director with Bahu in 1955, starring Usha Kiran with Karan Diwan. His brother, Girija Samanta was almost his right hand helping him in all his productions.
Bahu was produced by Bikram Pahwa the eldest of the three Pahwa Brothers. The youngest brother was introduced in the film as Basant Kumar (my father) as seen in the poster. Bahu was to be directed by writer Vijender Gaur. But a small problem arose as he had been signed for his first directorial venture Kasturi starring Nimmi and was under a contract that he cannot sign any other film before Kasturi’s release
Shakti Samanta a young Bengali assistant to Phani Majumdar was Basant Kumar’s neighbour at Trivedi House 14th Road, Khar, Bombay. He was a Hindi teacher earlier and had joined Phanida as his assistant to translate Bengali dialogues to Hindi. By a stroke of destiny he was signed as a Director for his debut film Bahu. Vijender Gaur wrote only the dialogues in the film. Luck favoured Shakti Samanta in his professional life. He got his debut film Bahu on the rebound and during the making of the film, the Nadiadwalas signed him for Inspector.
The Music of Bahu
Hemant Kumar had composed the music for Bahu. As Shakti Samanta had recounted in an interview to Peeyush Sharma, “Music is an important ingredient in our cinema and I was comfortable with Hemanta da as I knew him from before during my apprenticeship with Phani da (Phani Mazumdar). Particularly during Baadbaan days. Very early in my life in cinemas, I had learnt that music was a huge selling factor for a film.”
When asked who selected the tunes, songs and singers, Shakti da had said, “You see in those days radio was the main source and if any song got liked people would rush to theatre to watch that film. At first and mostly always, it was team work, a joint effort. The lyricist would bring the lyrics as the situation demanded and we would all sit to select a tune. Hemanta da would sing and play some tunes and we would choose. The song situation in the film (Bahu, 1955), the character on screen, all these were important factors. Singer was mostly the choice of the music director. Hemant da himself was such an accomplished singer, his tunes were relaxed in nature, serene and peaceful.”
Thandi hawaon mein taron ki chhaonn mein (Bahu, 1955) – Hemant Kumar / Shamshul Huda (S H) Bihari / Geeta Dutt and Talat Mahmood. This song was picturised on my father Basant Kumar and actress Manju as mentioned in the Film Booklet of Bahu
Rediscovering Bombay Race Course (1965)
The poster section of NFAI is headed by Aarti Kharnikkas, an extremely helpful lady who guided me in my one hour search to locate the poster of Race Course. Finally, I could get my hands on a copy of Bombay Race Course print, which had been deposited at NFAI on 17th Nov 1976 by the Assistant Collector Customs Bombay. Unfortunately, the present status of the film’s print is not known. Someday I will return to search the print.
Interestingly, the Assistant Collector Customs has provided prints of some films to the NFAI. It is also known that some films have found their way to NFAI with the Indian Railways playing an unwitting archivist. According to Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, often, after a film had had its run at the box office, producers found themselves with several prints in hand. Not knowing what to do with them, they put them onto trains with no destination marked on them. They knew that if the prints were unclaimed, it would be the Indian Railways’ legal responsibility to deal with them. This is how thousands of cans have found their way to the NFAI, courtesy of the railways.
Le gaya zalim ghadi samajh ke (Bombay Race Course, 1965) – Madan Mohan / Rajinder Krishen / Mohd Rafi
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