Do aankhen baarah haath won many awards at international film festivals, including the Silver Bear in Berlin, and it remains the only Hindi mainstream film that has been screened at the London Film Festival to date. However, it was only post-1955 and the release of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955) that ‘art cinema’ emerged in India. In the 1950s many films were produced within the mainstream that would now be regarded as ‘middle class’ or more ‘realist’ than movies produced today. The genre of DABH, the social problem film (rather than the social), emerged in the 1930s as the coming of sound encouraged the growth of a more literary cinema, with increased emphasis on the word rather than the spectacle. Shantaram’s socials at Prabhat (including Duniya na mane) were outstanding examples of this genre. It flourished in the 1950s in the hands of film-makers such as Bimal Roy (Bandini, Devdas, Do bigha zamin and Madhumati) and B. R. Chopra (Naya daur and Nikaah) and is certainly the ancestor of the 1970s’ middle-class cinema of Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Abhimaan, Anand and Gol maal) and others.
V. Shantaram was one of the founders of Poona’s Prabhat Studios, but when he left Prabhat to found his own studio, Rajkamal Kalamandir, he continued to make films in this genre along with more mainstream colour films such as Jhanak jhanak payal baje (1955).
DABH argues that prisoners, even murderers, are human beings who can be redeemed if they are well treated, and is very different from B. R. Chopra’s Kanoon (1960), which directly opposes the death penalty. Shantaram’s father was a Jain, a member of a religious group known for its strict respect for all forms of life, and the character he plays in this film, Adinath, has a Jain name. Adinath is jailer who believes that prisoners are human beings too, and he takes six prisoners to his experimental farm, Azad Nagar (Freetown), where he demonstrates he can prompt them to reform by giving them trust and respect. He becomes their father figure, or Babuji, whose two eyes (do aankhen) watch their twelve hands (baarah haath), whose prints they give him in case he should need to report their escape, and which work the land in honest labour. His compassion and self-sacrifice are the qualities for which this film has been most celebrated. However, the film is not relentlessly preachy, and Sandhya, as the toy-seller, provides many lighthearted moments, although she is also the focus for discourses about sexuality and motherhood.
The film contains several haunting songs, notably ‘Ae malik tere bande hum’ (music by Vasant Desai and lyrics by Bharat Vyas), whose rendition by Lata Mangeshkar (picturised on Sandhya) at the death of Babuji is one of her most loved songs, and the catchy ‘Tak tak dhoom dhoom’ which is repeated several times. The black-and-white cinematography in an expressionist style that had been popular in earlier Indian cinema comes is outmoded by the 1960s, but this is a fine example of its last flourish.
Year – 1957, Genre – Crima/Drama, Country – India, Language – Hindi, Producer – Rajkamal, Director –V. Shantaram, Music Director – Vasant Desai, Cast – V. Shantaram, Sandhya, Ulhas, B. M. Vyas, Baburao Pendharkar, Paul Sharma, K. Date, S. K. Singh