Classic, Film, Hindi, Review

Do Bigha Zamin

In a small village in West Bengal, Shambhu, (Balraj Sahni) a small farmer, owns two acres of land. However, the landlord in the village plans to sell a large plot to a city contractor to build a factory and Shambhu’s two acres are cutting into the land. When Shambhu refuses to sell the land, the landlord threatens to forcibly occupy the land unless Shambhu pays up an old loan at once. Shambhu manages to get a stay order for three months and goes to the city to earn the extra money where he takes to pulling a rickshaw, and his son Kanhaiya becomes a shoeshine boy. They face many a hardship, and in desperation, Kanhaiya takes to stealing. Horrified, Shambhu disowns him. Shambhu’s wife (Nirupa Roy) decides to go to the city in search of her husband and son where she is hit by a car and badly injured. Shambhu finds her accidentally, and takes her to a hospital. Kanhaiya, believing it all to be his fault, tears up the money he had stolen, and is reconciled with his father. The family return to the village only to find an ugly factory rearing its head on Shambhu’s land…

The story of the dispossessed peasant and the moneylender/landlord had been told many times before but in Do Bigha Zamin, Bimal Roy with his innate reserve and good taste chooses a much wider context in which to place his narrative thus looking at rural poverty at one end and the brutalizing effects of city life at the other end. Do Bigha Zamin is a sad and moving tale, which Roy projects with much sympathy, understatement and simplicity, and gives us a sensitive film that is very, very human and has great emotional depth.

The film is strongly influenced by the Italian neo-realist Cinema and evokes De Sica’s masterpiece Bicycle Thieves (1948), particularly in the scenes of the father and son in the city. Like the neo-realists, the film was shot on a tight budget, mainly on location in Calcutta and using little known actors, barring the main roles.

Balraj Sahni plays perhaps his best-known role as the peasant Shambhu and gives a performance of a lifetime. His realistic portrayal stands out all the more particularly when one considers him in real life being well educated and westernized. It is said he actually rehearsed for the role by pushing a rickshaw on the streets of Calcutta and interacting with other rickshaw pullers who were convinced he was one of them! Nirupa Roy and Rattan Kumar as his wife and son respectively compliment Sahni perfectly. Meena Kumari, on seeing the rushes (she was working in Roy’s Parineeta (1953) then), insisted on being part of the film, no matter what the role. She shines in her small cameo, an early example of a star making a guest appearance in a  film.

The film is beautifully photographed by Kamal Bose and is further enhanced by the IPTA and leftist overtones in Salil Chowdhury’s music particularly the full-blooded choral composition celebrating peasant vitality – Hariyala Sawan. Chowdhury’s music called for cultural internationalism as opposed to regional fork traditions. Hence his influences in songs used to come from among others Mozart, Hanns Eichler and contemporary Latin American forms. Incidentally, Chowdhury is also credited with writing the film’s story.

A moderate commercial success, the film won Roy much critical acclaim and awards at the Cannes and Karlovy Vary festivals. To quote the News Chronicle on August 17, 1956 “Brilliantly directed by Bimal Roy, beautifully photographed by Kamal Bose, most touchingly acted by everybody, it is the saddest, most informative and most memorable film one has seen this year. No film has moved so much since Umberto D, whose plea was chiefly for the neglected old. Two Acres of Land pleads not only for the neglected but the exploited of all ages…”

The film also went on to win Best Film and Best Director awards at the inaugural Filmfare Awards. But perhaps the biggest compliment for the film was a comment made by another great, Raj Kapoor. On seeing Do Bigha Zamin and being much moved by the film, he had exclaimed, “How I wish I had made this film!”

Hindi, Drama, Black & White

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