Though Phir Subah Hogi is loosely based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, published in 1866, the film is actually more of an emotional plea for social justice in 'Nehruite' India.
The years following Indian Independence saw the entire socio-political system under stress and thousands of migrants poured into the cities to try and make a better life for themselves. The city became synonymous with jobs, wealth and excitement. But this was just one edge of the sword. The other edge was exploitation, crime, sleaze and slums as the poor and dispossessed struggled even with basic day-to-day living. This is the aspect of city life that Phir Subah Hogi looks at.
Phir Subah Hogi is one of those rare films that are able to successfully bring out not just the external conflicts but also more importantly the internal conflicts of its characters extremely convincingly. The film stays with its characters so we can see what they are going through. It is a fine study of the guilt and emotional turmoil that goes through the hero's mind following his accidental murder of another man. In fact, Raj Kapoor gives one of the best and most insightful performance of his career in Phir Subah Hogi. While physical acting is easier, it is much tougher to internalize oneself and portray the state of the mind and Raj Kapoor does exactly that perfectly. It is a marvelous performance of a man fighting with himself and his guilt and an attribute to his great skill as an actor.
Mala Sinha was on her way up following the success of Pyaasa (1957), where she had made a major impact, when she did Phir Subah Hogi. This is among the better performances of her career as she did have the tendency to go way, way over the top particularly in her weepy women pictures of the 1960s like Hariyali Aur Raasta (1962), Anpadh (1962) and Apne Hue Paraye (1964). Phir Subah Hogi is also one of three films she did with Raj Kapoor in the 1958-59 period the other two being Parvarish (1958) and Main Nashe Mein Hoon (1959) but Phir Subah Hogi remains their best and most in-depth film together.
Among the supporting cast, Rehman has a rather unusual and bindaas role of Rehman, Ram's benevolent friend who tries to help him out as much as he can and Rehman makes the most of it creating a character you cannot help but like and smile along with. Mubarak uses his strong screen presence to play the police officer trying to play on Ram's mental turmoil and to get him to confess to the murder even employing unorthodox methods if he has to. Well fleshed out, it is the scene-stealing role of the film. Nana Palsikar plays the suffering retired patriarch who cannot take care of his family and so drowns himself in alcohol while Leela Chitnis plays his long suffering wife. Here is an extremely interesting characterization of a woman who actually chides her husband and, unbelievably for a Hindi film, even expresses relief at his death after what he has put the family through.
Phir Subah Hogi has an absolutely brilliant musical score by Khayyam with telling lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi. Khayyam had worker with hit-music directors of the 1940s Husnlal Bhagatram and came to Bombay initially to be an actor but then worked in Lahore. Credited as Sharmaji for his first 4 films, he came into prominence with Zia Sarhadi's Footpath (1953) with the Talat Mahmood gem Shyam-e-gham ki Kasam. Khayyam worked traditionally in the ghazal format seen to particularly great effect in Footpath, Kabhi Kabhie (1976), Umrao Jaan (1981) and Razia Sultan (1983). His collaboration with Sahir Ludhianvi in Phir Subah Hogi is definitive of 1950s Hindi Cinema's engagement with existential realism.
The highlight of the musical score is the haunting Woh Subah Kabhi to Aayegi sung by Mukesh and Asha Bhosle. This beautiful melody of two lonely destitute people looking for a better world exemplifies Sahir's leftist leanings and is simply and evocatively picturised with just close ups and mid close ups of Raj Kapoor and Mala Sinha seaking solace in each other's arms. Today when one sees such songs one cannot but rue at the total loss of emotion in our songs today. Songs are picturised at some exotic location with 100 dancers doing pelvic thrusts. Woh Subah Kabhi to Aayegi shows how a well composed song with sensitive lyrics and simply picturised brings out human feelings so beautifully.
The other stand out song from the film is the Chino Arab Humara number by Mukesh where though brilliantly composed, admittedly here the lyricist Sahir is more prominent. The song looks at the disillusionment that had set in, in the decade following the euphoria of Indian Independence in 1947. Sahir strongly condemns the Nehru vision of a new India, which in his eyes, had totally failed. Actually Sahir had actually made this statement earlier on itself with Pyaasa with Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par Woh Kahan Hai and Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye To Kya Hai. Chino Arab Humara is but a reemphasis on the plight of the common man as he struggles with his day-to-day life. This song with the references of China and Arabia being references to Zhou En-Lai and Nasser is picturised at night at the Victoria Terminus where even today hundreds sleep on the pavement.
The other songs include Phir na Kije, Us Pyar Ka Tauba, Do Boondein Sawan ki, Aasman Mein hai Khuda Aur Zameen Mein Hum and the refrain modified from Woh Subah Kabhi To Aayegi at the end of the film - Woh Subah Hum Hi Layenge. Again, the last shows Sahir's inclinations of the people having to collectively bring about a change - This was also echoed earlier in Naya Daur (1957) with Saathi Haath Badana.
Incidentally, initially Raj Kapoor was most unhappy with Khayyam's choice as music director of the film as he wanted his old regulars Shankar-Jaikishen. He finally agreed to Khayyam on the condition that he would hear the tunes first before okaying them for the film. Khayyam thus composed multiple tunes for each song and presented them to Raj Kapoor. On hearing them, Raj Kapoor told Khayyam that each and every tune was so good that he couldn't choose one at the expense of the other and thereafter left the music department free to Khayyam to choose the tunes he thought best for each song.
Released in 1958, Phir Subah Hogi continues to be as relevant in today's time. The same problems of poverty, homelessness, exploitation of the poor, corruption plague the nation today in fact more so. In fact for millions even today it is a fact of life that Sone ko Ghar Nahin Hai Sara Jahan Humara. Today,, so many years after Independence one cannot help but still hope Woh Subah Kabhi to Aayegi...