Prabhat Studios has enormous importance in the history of Indian cinema. It was founded in Kohlapur in 1929 by a group who had worked at Baburao Painter’s Maharashtra Film Company and who then moved to Pune in 1933. It was famous for three genres: the devotional or ‘sant’ films about devotees (including Sant Tukaram) who practised the form of worship known as bhakti, or ‘loving devotion’; the historical; and the social problem film that dealt with a single issue. Shantaram directed films in all genres, but also social films such as this one, as well as Manoos/Admi (1939) and Shejari/Padosi (1941). These socials were made in two versions, one in Marathi and one in Hindi. DNM is known as Kunku (the kumkum or vermillion powder that a married woman wears) in Marathi. Shantaram founded his own studio in Bombay in 1942, where he made films such as Do aankhen baarah haath.
The orphaned Nirmala (Shanta Apte) is brought up by her uncle and aunt, who want to marry her off for a substantial amount of money. Nirmala thinks she is marrying a young man but at the wedding ceremony she realises that her future husband, the lawyer Kakasaheb (Keshavrao Date), is old enough to be her father. Nirmala refuses to sleep with him and her husband realises that he has made a fool of himself through this marriage. Nirmala has to deal with the unwanted attentions of her stepson (Raja Nene) (who gets a good thrashing) and the interference of her husband’s aunt (Vimala Vasishta), though she befriends the young girl in the house. However, she argues that suffering can be endured but injustice cannot. She makes friends with her stepdaughter, Sushila (Shakuntala Paranjpye), who is a widow and reformer. Kakasaheb repents his mistake as he comes to respect Nirmala and stops her from wearing her kumkum (as if she is a widow).
He leaves a suicide note for Nirmala, in which he tells her that she is free at last.
Narayan Hari Apte (1889-1971), adapted his novel, Na patnari goshta, for this film. The novel had created a great stir when it came out, the orthodox voice objecting strongly to the wife’s refusal to accept her husband. The eventual reconciliation between the couple looks as if it is going to lead to a happy ending but, although Nirmala is free at the end of the film, and Kakasaheb’s note, signed ‘From your father’, instructs her to remarry, she is still a widow in the home of her unpleasant stepson.
Shanta Apte, as the woman who crusades against the injustice of old men marrying young women, and Keshavrao Date as the old man who repents, give well-matched performances. The film is mostly realistic, even when it comes to music. The songs are always explained by the film’s text (festivals, singing to friends) and whenever Nirmala sings, she puts on a 78 for the backing music. The film has no background music, although animal noises are used to give realistic sound. One interesting feature is the inclusion of an English song, a version of ‘The Psalm of Life’ by H. W. Longfellow, which must be one of the first English songs in an Indian film.
The only break with realism is the heavy symbolism of the wall clock that is closely associated with Kakasaheb, and which he continually looks at when contemplating his mistake in marrying the young girl. Before he leaves the house for the last time, he removes the pendulum, which he uses as paperweight on his suicide note.
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 1937, Genre – Drama, Country – India, Language – Hindi, Producer – Prabhat Film Company, Director – V. Shantaram, Music Director – K. Bhole, Cast – Vimlabai, Shakuntala, Paranjpe, K. Date, Shanta Apte, Vasanti, Vashistha, Raja Nene, Chhotu, Gouri, Karmarkar