Akhtar Mirza (father of the directors Saeed and Aziz Mirza) wrote the story for Naya daur (‘New Era’). In a village, whose main economy depends on a sawmill, many workers face unemployment when the ruthless Kundan (Jeevan) modernises his mill with the introduction of electricity. Two drivers of tongas (horse-drawn taxis), Shankar (Dilip Kumar) and Krishna (Ajit), are rivals for the love of Rajni (Vyjayanthimala). They decide that, according to the flowers she chooses for the temple, one will give up his pursuit. Shankar’s sister Manju (Chand Usmani), who loves Krishna, changes the flowers and Krishna is convinced that Shankar made her. They fall out and Krishna sides with Kundan, who buys a bus that threatens the livelihood of the tongawallas. Kundan agrees to withdraw the bus if a tonga can beat the bus in a race. The villagers, led by Shankar, build a road along which the race can be held …
The story argues for a new humanism over both modernity and feudalism and for a collectivist approach to the new technology. Mehboob Khan, S. Mukherji and S. S. Vasan had all rejected this story, claiming that it would make a good documentary but not a feature film. When B. R. Chopra went to discuss the story with Dilip Kumar, he refused even to listen to him, let alone sign up for it. B. R. then approached Ashok Kumar, who felt that he looked too urbane for the role of a villager, but did speak to Dilip Kumar on B. R.’s behalf. Dilip Kumar was eventually persuaded to take the role but, by doing so, inadvertently contributed to the film’s great notoriety.
After shooting for a couple of weeks at Kardar Studios, the unit, comprising several hundred people, was preparing to leave for a two-month location shoot near Bhopal, when Madhubala’s father refused to allow his daughter to go. Apparently, he disapproved of the alleged relationship that had developed between his daughter and Dilip Kumar. The Chopras took Madhubala and her father to court, arguing that the film needed to be shot outdoors, which was still not always the practice in Bombay films of the 1950s. Dilip Kumar supported the Chopras, even appearing in court as a witness, where he had to declare his love for Madhubala. The Chopras won the case, but asked for it to be withdrawn so that Madhubala would not face criminal charges. Madhubala was replaced with Vyjayanthimala.
The film’s songs are still played today, with hits like ‘Ude jab jab zulfein teri’ (Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle), ‘Reshmi salwaar’ (Shamshad Begum and Asha Bhosle) and socialist numbers like ‘Saathi haath badhaana’ and the song that sounds like a tonga trotting, ‘Maang ke saath tumhara’ (Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle). This is an example of a film with a very Punjabi soundtrack. Lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi worked with the brothers, B. R. and Yash Chopra, until his death in 1981.
B. R. Chopra (1912—) is a director and producer whose work is not as well known today as that of some of his contemporaries, even though his films were very popular for about four decades. It may be that the issue-based nature of his work is no longer so attractive or that he is now known to the younger generation as the producer of the television series, The Mahabharata (1989), which ran for nearly a hundred weeks to the largest audiences ever seen. He still produces hit films like Baghban (2004).
B. R. Chopra is highly esteemed in the film industry. Mehboob Khan kindly gave ten weeks he had booked at Liberty Cinema for Mother India, whose release was late, to what he called B. R.’s ‘Taangewaala ki kahaani/Story of a tonga-driver’. He was worried that B. R. would lose money, so advised him to book this prestigious cinema for just five weeks. When the film had its Silver Jubilee (that is, ran for twenty-five weeks), he telephoned B. R. and asked if he could be the chief guest at the celebrations.
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 1957, Genre – Drama, Country – India, Language – Hindi, Producer – B.R. Chopra, Director – B.R. Chopra, Music Director – O.P. Nayyar, Cast – Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Ajit, Chand Usmani, Jeevan, Nazir Hussain, Manmohan Krishna, Leela Chitnis, S. N. Banerjee, Pratima Devi, Daisy Irani, Nazir Kashmiri, Radha Krishnan, Johnny Walker, Guest Appearance – Kum Kum, Minoo Mumtaz