Year – 1953
Language – Hindi
Country – India
Producer – Naya Sansar
Director – K. A. Abbas
Music Director – Anil Biswas
Box-Office Status –
Cast – Habib Tanvir, Nalini Jaywant, Balraj Sahni, Kate Sethi, Manmohan Krishnan, Achla Sachdev, S. Michael, Rasheed, Shaukat Hashmi, Dev Anand, David Abraham
Miscellaneous Information – Not Available.
BASED upon a novel by Mulk Raj Anand depicting life among the workers in the tea-gardens of Assam during the British regime in this country and drawing somewhat luridly the brutal hardships and humiliations they suffered at the hands of their foreign masters and their own toadying countrymen, Naya Sansar’s “Raahi,” produced and directed by K. Ahmad Abbas, is a trenchant indictment of British imperialism in India, imbued with an almost hysterical passion of patriotic indignation and fervor for freedom from the detested yoke of the satanic English. To the extent that it is all this, “Raahi” is considerably out-of-date and suffers from that fact in its more strident passages.
It is a plain, straightforward tale. A young Indian, bitter with frustration, is hired by a tough tea-garden boss of the no-nonsense “Koihai” breed to drive his plantation coolies in the manner of the negro supervisors in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” He falls in love with a girl coolie whose indomitable spirit and vibrant humanity shame his conscience and make him sick of his job. When, in the final encounter between the coolies driven to revolt by sheer desperation, he finds his manhood and takes his place beside his sweetheart, the boss shoots her down.
That is the end of the picture. It leaves one with a feeling of frustration and incompleteness and futility. The supervisor is shown once again on the road—Rahi—and as he turns to the muted strain of the theme song to ask his sweetheart’s spirit: “What? Are you following me again?”, one wonders what happened to the plantation coolies who braved their bosses’ guns to fight for their rights.
The amateurish touch evident in that feeble flicker of fantasy in the disappointing conclusion is sufficiently pronounced in the treatment to call for criticism. The title role to which this belated prominence is given at the very end of the picture is relegated through all its preceding length to a subsidiary, almost incidental, position. From the moment the coolie girl Ganga appears on the scene, it is not the supervisor but she who dominates the picture. And she does it to the end. Even in the final frame, it is her voice and her song that hold attention and sympathy, not the Rahi wandering off into the blue. This is a serious directional error, since it is contrary to the dramatic balance and build-up of the picture, the main stress of which (as set by the title) should be the supervisor.
In the result it becomes Nalini’s picture. Very much so, both by virtue of her highly sympathetic role, round which the plot revolves, as well as by the strong, purposeful and alluring portrayal she gives to it, dominating the film with a performance which sparkles from beginning to end. This must rank among her very best portrayals.
Dev Anand, in a role which is poorly written and directed, manages by sheer good acting and a naturally pleasing personality to make the part effective. His portrayal of the young man with a split ego, drowning his healthy, normal instincts beneath a show of bullying brutality and succumbing finally to the exhilarating influence of the indomitable coolie girl whom he comes to love, is good.
The supporting portrayals are superb. Between them and the performances of the two leads, they rescue the picture from all the lapses and lacks of the direction and lift it to the highest level of screen entertainment. Balraj Sahni as the doctor, Michael as the domineering, callous plantation boss, Walker, and Kate Sethi as his sister are each excellent and contribute powerfully with their finely etched portrayals to the picture’s impression of living reality. Every other character shares this quality of excellence, from Manmohan Krishna as Ganga’s toddy-crazed father and the toadying Kalloo of David and his comrade in subservience, Rashid’s Babu, to the poor demented mother hugging her pathetic rag doll and the smallest bit part.
Embroidering that beauty of truth is Anil Biswas’s literally splendid music score enriched with the alluring rhythms and delightful melodies of the folk motifs which he has woven with a caftsman’s brilliant cunning into the theme and texture of the story, a model indeed to the music makers of our films. And also, of course, the dances, exquisite of grace and design, performed with the jolly zest and robust gaiety of folk people enjoying themselves in the age-old fashions and forms of their ancestors.
Made in English as well as Hindi, “Rahi” is equally entertaining in both versions. The English dialogue, stilted at times, is quite well spoken by those members of the cast who play the English characters. The others speak as one might expect, the whole effect being good.