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Anokhi Raat – A Unique Look at the Bitter Truths

May 1, 2020 | By and

Asit Sen’s Anokhi Raat, true to its name was a unique film that told the story of an unusual stormy night – the storms being both within and outside. Sundeep Pahwa looks back at this film with some memories, observations and trivia. Monica Kar (in maroon font) ponders on the memorable songs of this film, which was the swan song of music director Roshan.

Asit Sen Film Director

Asit Sen

Upon being asked to write about a film that had stayed with me, I being a child born in the cradle wrapped by Screen (the newspaper about films) had a million dollar question to answer: Which Film? Why this film directed by Asit Sen and not one of any top 10 directors popularly named/asked in a poll?

My choice could have been Mamta, Khamoshi or Safar his three well known films.  Well, to be frank I wanted basically a hatke film!  It boiled down to either Anokhi Raat or Annadata.  Finally I zeroed down on Anokhi Raat released in 1969 for many reasons written below.

Since my school/college days I was fascinated by Bengali cinema/directors though I missed learning the language. Mamta formed an important part in shaping that view but it was in 1969 when I saw Anokhi Raat that firmed this opinion and then consolidated my view with Khamoshi. All three were directed by Asit Sen and it has been about five decades now that his name is figured in my list of top 10 Directors in Hindi Cinema.  ‘Am I the only one?’ is a point I may not be able to answer.

Roshan music director

Roshan (Pic: Google Image Search)

LB Films’ Anokhi Raat starts with the following words: ‘Dedicated to a Dear Friend & Colleague Roshan.’ Yes it was Roshan sahib’s last film and he died before the film was released. Made during a time when Colour Films were an accepted trend in Hindi, this film was made in two beautiful colours: Black &  White.

It starred Sanjeev Kumar as Baldev Singh, the name he had  in the iconic Sholay while Zahida was cast in the mature double roles of Gopa and Rama.  A young Aruna Irani played the bride of an older man.

It will be a futile exercise if I say that the film was worth watching for Sanjeev Kumar’s acting, whose character was a  Dak Bunglow guard turned into a dacoit  by circumstances.  One can say that ‘Yeh toh bahut saari filmon mein hota tha/ haiaur hota rahegaa hamesha/  yaani, revenge drama’.

Three things stand out, apart from Sen babu’s direction. One is Kamal Bose’s cinematography, which won the Filmfare Award.  Secondly, music by Roshan and thirdly the dialogues by Pt Anant Kumar, like the super ‘taqdeer saath deti hai toh marne waala hi bachaane lagtaa hai.’  Watch the film to hear some real gems.  Reminds me of the words written by Majrooh  – ‘aage hai qatil mera aur mein peeche peeche’! Needless to say, Anantji won a Filmfare Award for his work. It happens very rarely that  all the four nominations for the film win the award. The other two awards picked up were by Hrishikesh Mukherjee for Screenplay and Ajit Bandyopadhyay for Art Direction.

sanjeev kumar in anokhi raat

Sanjeev Kumar as Baldeva

I would not like to give the plot away but the gist of it is that it is the story of a  guard/caretaker named Baldeva who is in love with Gopa, a village belle played by Zahida. He wants to marry her. The rest of their story is in the flashback narrated later by Daku Baldev Singh.

The Anokhi Raat begins with a shot of a huge mansion where an auction is going to happen. In the mansion lives the owner, a crippled grandfather played by Badri Prasad, with  his granddaughter Rama, who is Zahida in a dual role and an old, faithful servant, Ramdass played by Anwar Hussain. Incidentally, Anwar Hussain is real life chacha (paternal uncle) to the leading lady, Zahida. Slowly the story unfolds, with characters like Tarun Bose, Brahm Bhardwaj, Aruna Irani, Amar, and Mukri joining in, not to miss that this was the debut film of Ajay Sahni, later known as Parikshit Sahni, the son of Balraj Sahni.

Ajai (Parikshit) Sahani

Ajai (Parikshit) Sahani in his debut

A storm rages outside in the town and also inside the house amongst all present. Throughout the film, the character Baldeva that Sanjeev Kumar plays , remains central to the story line. The director has used two flashbacks during the drama unfolding inside. The first one reveals how the simpleton Baldeva becomes Daku Baldev Singh and second one looks at how the  young Aruna Irani is forced by circumstances to marry an elderly man . In this tense situation you will see Asit Sen going for the age-old formula of bringing in a comic scene to lighten the  mood of the audience when the film becomes too heavy. Here Mukri plays that role.

Except for the two flashbacks, all the characters throughout the film have been shown wearing one dress, no change of clothes required. After all, the story is of one night!

I need not write about Sanjeev Kumar’s role. This was probably his first as a central character in a social film. Full marks to Zahida for playing Gopa and Rama. This became the best role in her entire career. I doubt if any established heroine of the late ‘60s would have played that role – that too, in a Black-and-White film! They would be busy shooting colour films in the picturesque Kashmir! That is purely a personal opinion though I admit I loved them, singing songs around the trees with some of my favourite leading men. 🙂

Oh re taal mile nadi ke jal mein – Indeevar / Mukesh

Anokhi Raat had five songs in all, composed by the gifted Roshan, mentioned with their lyricist and singer below:

Mehlon ka raaja mila/ Indeevar/Lata

2 Mile na phool toh kaanto/Kaifi Azmi/Rafi

3 Meri beri ke ber/Indeevar/Lata

4 Oh re taal mile nadi/ Indeevar/Mukesh

Dulhan se tumhara milan/Indeevar/Mukesh

Oh re taal mile was the immortal song in this movie – and sometimes, I wonder why that is. It provides no answers to the confusions of life, just declares a universal truth – koi jaane na to all of the subtle and not-so-subtle questions we have…must have been Mukesh’s voice that seemed to say, “it’s okay to not have all the answers…sometimes comfort lies in being able to voice your questions freely…”

Mehlon ka raaja mila is a song that grew with me. The younger me, still in the white-knight-taking-away-the-princess fairytale mode, heard it on one level but it took many life events, many emotional upheavals and an opening of the eyes to a whole generation’s way of looking at daughters to understand the irony and grief that song talked about so simply.

Mile na phool to kaanton se dosti kar li – Kaifi Azmi / Rafi

And this one? This one became a life philosophy very early in life. Oh, events happened that threw this philosophy out of the window many times, and the little spoilt child in me demanded my own bouquet – with stargazer lilies, freesias, daisies, the works! (koi aisa-vaisa bouquet nahi!) But a few moments, a few hours or a few days of that tantrum and I kept coming back solidly to

Mile na phool to kaanton se dosti kar li
Isi tarah se basar hum ne zindagi kar li…

The ‘thorns’ in this ghazal do bring a certain starkness to the words. But how beautifully Roshan and Rafi bring a pensive contrast with their lower notes here to Kaifi Azmi’s words…

Nazar mili bhi na thi aur unn ko dekh liya
Zubaan khuli bhi na thi…aur baat bhi kar li…

Eventually, I come back to the composer who infused such different songs with so much that was left unsaid, unanswered, but became so satisfying at many different levels. Roshan saahab _()_

Ajai Sahani and Tarun Bose

Ajai Sahani and Tarun Bose

Let me add some interesting trivia, thanks to a friend, Arun Deshmukh from Bombay.

There was an article in the Hindi magazine, Madhuri, dated 25th July 1969, written by now Late Mrs Ira Roshan, describing the last few moments of Roshan sahib‘s death.

Roshan was very happy that day, he was playing cards till 7pm. That night there were two parties: the first was to celebrate the success of Laat Saab by Producer Hari Valia and the second was the premiere party  of Navketan’s Jewel Thief. We went for the Laat Saab party. He was very happy and humming a song on the way. At the party, a Distributor said, “Roshan ji, I must talk to you.” Being the nervous type, Roshan suddenly got nervous, but to ease the situation he told a joke. Everybody started laughing. Iraji also laughed and went to the bathroom. Roshan then suddenly had a heart attack and before anyone could do anything, he dropped dead. A doctor present there declared him dead.

Friends, I am narrating this incident because just a few days later the song Mehlon ka raja mila was supposed to be recorded. Later, on the scheduled day, a grieving wife and an equally grief-strcken Lata Mangeshkar recorded the song with the help of the grieving musicians.

Mehelon ka raja mila –  Roshan / Indeevar / Lata Mangeshkar

Thus ended the life of Roshan whose swan album was Anokhi Raat.

I feel the only thing remembered about the film are these five songs and that was the reason for me to write and remind friends about an Anokhi Raat which got released in 1969 while I was in school but left a deep impression on a young mind.

zahida ajai sahani anokhi raat

That one shot conveyed how she accepts him as a lifelong support

To end this essay I would like to share with you the last scene of the film as a shot shows Zahida clinging to the shoulders of Ajay Sahni while the police escort Daku Baldev Singh away. That one shot was Asit Sen’s mastery of the subject. It presented to Indian cinema/cinegoers what romanticism is, or should I say, was in the late ‘60s!

That one shot conveyed how she accepts him as a lifelong support.

Indeed the whole film was a look at the bitter truth of society.

Thanks, Asit Sen, for making this film as you wanted. Today if you would have been alive, it would have been very difficult, in fact impossible, to find the actors and the technical team to work on this Anokhi Raat!

More to read on Asit Sen

Asit Sen’s Bengali Films: A New Paradigm in Pathbreaking Narratives

Asit Sen: Sensitive, Women-Centric Films in a Class of their Own

Deep Jele Jai: Representation Of The Physically And Mentally Challenged

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Film and music enthusiast Sundeep Pahwa has a wealth of knowledge and information on movies, especially of the Golden Era. He belongs to a family which was closely connected with the film industry and had produced two films Bahu (1955) and Bombay Race Course (1965). Sundeep is an active member of several movies and music groups and foundations which are striving towards reviving and preserving our film heritage. He is known for his tireless efforts towards helping other film enthusiasts and writers access authentic and accurate information of movies and music.
All Posts of Sundeep Pahwa
Monica Kar has her BA in English Literature from the University of Delhi. She now lives in St. Charles, Missouri, USA, where she wears many hats. While she has worked in Publishing, Retail, Education and Construction in various roles, she has been a free-lance editor since 1987, and is currently part time editor with Learning and Creativity-Silhouette Magazine. In 2015 she started writing about her first passion - Hindi film songs of the Golden Age for an online music group. She welcomes suggestions and critiques on her writing as it makes her learn and grow as a writer.
All Posts of Monica Kar

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4 thoughts on “Anokhi Raat – A Unique Look at the Bitter Truths

  • Rahul Muli

    A very comprehensive analysis of a film which almost has gone into oblivion.
    Some films remain with you even if you do not understand them.
    I first saw Anokhi Raat in 70-71 in my native village.
    Old print, one machine & my age added to the woes of enjoying it. But very recently I saw it on Tata sky classic. Despite the handicap of the size we were mesmerized by the film.
    Sundeepji asks’ am I the only one?’ Answer is definitely not.
    For me added bonus is 2 of my personal favorite songs oh re taal and mehelon ka raja are from the film.

  • Raunak Joy

    A lovely take on a beautiful and understated film, which is unfortunately also under-stated in popular and critical discourses of Indian cinema. Yet anyone of us – who have watched the film, will wholeheartedly agree that this film is indeed ‘Anokhi’!!

    And, no Sir, you aren’t the only one. Asit Sen is indeed a fabulous director and one of our absolute best – a view which only gets reinforced with greater conviction when one sees his Bangla work. I hope that one day, popular media does a proper analysis of this man’s body of work and give him his due. But I doubt, that will ever happen, as some of his great movies like Panchatapa, Jonakir Alo, Swayambara & Trishna are apparently lost or untraceable. The pain of this loss is probably as strong, if not more, than the pain that Asit Babu’s characters in Anokhi Raat, Khamoshi and Safar go through. Maybe, a film hides somewhere in the life and times of Asit Sen too.

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