Dev Anand’s best-known ‘proletarian’ performance as a taxi driver in a story inspired by film noir. Mangal (DevAnand) rescues Mala (Kalpana Kartik) from some hoodlums. This act of chivalry leads to a series of encounters with a violent criminal gang who, later in the film, steal Mangal’s cab to commit a bank robbery. Mala, who has ambitions of becoming a singer in the movies, finds shelter in Mangal’s room, which also forces her, in the most dramatic part of the film involving a mysterious sister-in-law who appears and equally suddenly exits from the story, to cut her hair and to masquerade as a man. Mangal teaches her the foul-mouthed habits of the city’s proletariat, their swaggering gait and their way of lighting a cigarette. Much of the film’s action takes place in a nightclub where an Anglo-Indian cabaret dancer, Sylvie (Sheila Ramani), works and who is in love with Mangal. The film climaxes with a shoot-out in the club between the gang, aided by a bunch of film-industry types, and Mangal’s friends. The film’s explicit invocation of Hollywood is particularly well realized in the character of the flaxen-haired Anglo-Indian drummer in Sylvia’s band, Tony (Corke). He also washes cabs, helps to save Mangal’s life and, in a remarkable shot, lies resplendent on the roof of Mangal’s taxi in the background during a drunken chat between Mangal and his comic sidekick (Walker). Most of the songs were Sheila Ramani’s cabaret numbers with a few additions: the upbeat ‘socialist- realist’ taxi drivers’ number Chahe koi khush ho chahe gait’ yan bazaar de sung by Kishore Kumar and the tragic Jaye to jaye kahan sung by Talat Mahmood.
According to Dev Anand, “Taxi Driver remains very close to my heart as it was an objective film with subtle nuances and because the entire Anand family worked in it. I got married to the film’s female protagonist, Kalpana Kartik during the shooting of Taxi Driver.”
Chetan Anand once said while speaking of “Taxi Driver”, “It was a neorealist film to a certain extent. The city of Mumbai was an important character of the film. All the characters were realistic and viewers identified with them. In “Taxi Driver”, I could mould Dev according to the character as it suited his style ideally. The way he lipped ‘Jayen To Jayen Kahan’ for Talat Mahmood was a trend-setter in song sequences in Indian cinema.”
Very true. The dashing Dev Anand dressed in half-sleeved jersey with loose fitting trousers looked every inch a taxi driver. The petite, doe-eyed Kalpana Kartik was vivacious, bursting with emotions and an ideal foil for the hero. As she rendered the Lata version of “Jayen To Jayen Kahan”, she made countless viewers cry. Sheila Ramani was spontaneous, sans inhibitions and effortless as any Chetan Anand discovery is. The biggest surprise of the film was Johny Walker as Mastana, a drunk taxi driver who is the hero’s comrade.
Speaking about the script of the film, Vijay Anand said, “I never was able to write another screenplay like “Taxi Driver” which was original and portrayed the working class of Mumbai with real dignity.” Uma Anand, Chetan’s wife who collaborated with Vijay for the script says: “The film set various trends. It was humorous as well as an emotionally satisfying venture. For the first time the impact of the mafia on the film industry was shown in Taxi Driver.”
In a rare statement, Kalpana Kartik says: “During the shooting, Dev Anand needed to pluck my hair to give me a male disguise. He did it so realistically that Chetan conceived and picturised the scene very effectively. A highly imaginative and sensitive director that he was, he never made me feel like a newcomer on the sets.” Cinematographer V. Ratra and music director S.D. Burman gave their best to the film.
Just as Ratra’s light and shade work in black and white created screen magic, the Sahir Ludhianvi-S.D. Burman team composed some immortal numbers “Jayen To Jayen Kahan”, “Aye Meri Zindagi” and “Chahe Koi Khush Ho Jaye” for the film.
A super hit “Taxi Driver” is still remembered five and a half decades after it was released as much for the Navketan family as also for the original jazz band of Vernon Corke, Betty Corke and their sons Noel and Alan who lit the screen with their cameo performances and performed during the dance numbers of Sheila Ramani.
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 1954, Genre – Crime, Country – India, Language – Urdu/Hindi, Producer – Navketan International Films, Director – Chetan Anand, Music Director – S.D. Burman, Cast – Dev Anand, Sheila Ramani, Kalpana Kartik, Johnny Walker