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Afsar (1950)

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Suraiya as the leading lady of Navketan's first production - Afsar (1950)
Suraiya as the leading lady of Navketan's first production - Afsar (1950)

Synopsis

The journalist Kapur (Dev Anand) comes to a village run by corrupt politicians led by the village tehsildar (Kanhaiyalal). They mistake him for a government inspector and treat him like a VIP. The expose of rural politics is intercut with a love story between Kapur and the tehsildar’s sister Bimala (Suraiya).

Review

Afsar, Navketan’s first film, was a comedy, a satire on corruption, probably the first in its genre. It was based on the Russian author Nikolai Gogol’s play The Inspector General, a satirical comedy which was a hit with the audience. The film substantially determined the style, and the key unit, characteristic of Navketan’s 50s productions.

According to Dev Anand in his book Romancing with Life, “Though the bane of corruption has always been there in society, it wasn’t so evident in India during the nascent years of our independence, but became a cancerous reality soon thereafter. The film was very well made, and established the new banner (Navketan). It enhanced the name of Chetan Anand (Dev Anand’s brother and director), reaffirmed my status as an actor, and brought into our fold a musical genius who was later to weave his magic spell in film after film, and become a strong pillar for Navketan—the one and only S.D. Burman. The audience enjoyed the film, and was in splits at some of its hilarious situations; but it failed to ring in the cash registers at the box-office.”

“Suraiya was signed for it, and was crowned the first leading lady of the production company the two brothers floated together, called Navketan, meaning ‘new banner’. The flag started to fly as the pundit put a red tikka on our foreheads at the muhurat. The name of the film was Afsar.

Cast and Production Credits

Year – 1950, Genre – Comedy, Country – India, Language – Hindi, Producer(s) – Navketan, Director – Chetan Anand, Music Director – S.D. Burman, Cast – Suraiya, Dev Anand, Zohra Sehgal Mohan Sehgal, Kanhaiyalal, Krishna Dhawan, Anand Pal, Manmohan Krishna

Trivia

According to Dev Anand,”Suraiya’s grandmother’s open resentment came to the fore one day, on the sets of Afsar. She started monitoring our movements on the set, making sure that the lovers did not get an opportunity to communicate with each other, except to speak and perform the lines required of them in the scenes. She also forbade any physical contact between us in any scene to be shot.

In an intimate scene, I had to kiss Suraiya on the eyes, a soft innocent kiss in praise of the eloquence of her eyes. Her granny, watching the goings-on with an eagle’s eye, got to know about this, and kicked up a ruckus. She would not allow it to happen. The lights had to be switched off for a long, long time, waiting for her temper to cool down. She was adamant, and did not move an inch from her position, sitting on the spot where the scene had to be enacted, glaring at the working unit that surrounded me and Suraiya, making sure the kissing moment did not happen. Ultimately, we had to devise a shrewd plan to cunningly whisk her away from the studio for a brief while, thanks to a member of the unit who was very friendly with her. And during that brief interlude, we hurriedly took the shot, to everybody’s delight and amusement.

To me, the whole exercise proved a point, that Suraiya had no say in her own life; its sole arbiter was her granny. But the more I was forbidden to meet her, the more my craving grew to have a union with her. The forbidden apple now seemed to be more desirable and most delicious, being out of my reach. It turned me mad. I felt lost, totally disinterested in anything, like a Romeo without his Juliet or a Majnu without his Laila. The only occasions when I could meet her were when we both were on the sets, and that too during our shots with arc-lamps on our faces, her granny and uncle sitting at hand scrutinizing every moment, along with some other people who now started joining them on the sets daily, as if to guard their `princess’ from the greatest ‘villain’ who had the evil intention of kidnapping her.” (Romancing with Life – Dev Anand)

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