The film looks at the havoc caused in a village by a cheque for Rs 5 lakh sent to the postmaster (Nazir Hussain) by Sir JC Roy to be given to the most honest man in the village to improve the village. Not knowing what to do, the postmaster calls a meeting of the 5 so called prominent men in the village – the zamindar, Thandav Tarafdar (Jayant), who rules with an iron thumb, the doctor, Hari (Rashid Khan), who only treats those who can pay him, the contractor, Bhans (Asit Sen), the head priest, Tarkalekar (Kanhaiyalal), who misuses religion, and the honest village schoolmaster, Rajat (Basanta Choudhury), who is love with Seema (Sadhana), the postmaster’s daughter. Unable to decide among themselves who should get the cheque, they decide on having an election. The peaceful life in the village is turned inside out as the 4, apart from the schoolmaster, do everything to ensure their popularity. In a complete turn about, the zamindar forgives what is due to him from the farmers, the doctor starts to give the people free treatment, the contractor has hand pumps and walls dug, the pandit organizes a pooja where the goddess Lakhsmi appears. To get the schoolmaster out of the way, rumours are spread about him and Seema. On the day of election, the zamindar and his men resort to booth-capturing but the postmaster’s lame assistant, Haradhan (Motilal), reveals himself to be Sir JC Roy and exposes the others for what they were and decides that the most honest man in the village is the postmaster as he could have kept the cheque if he wanted to. He also reunites Seema and Rajat in the process.
Following the super success of entertainers Madhumati and Yahudi in 1958 and then the sensitive love story Sujata in 1959, Bimal Roy surprised all when his next film was a small little satirical film with no big stars. But Bimal Roy was vindicated when the film opened to great critical acclaim. The film, Parakh, proves that a small well-made film can be equally good if not better than the big budget film with big stars because it is the content that ultimately counts. It is a shame that a small gem like this is often never considered or brought into discussions on Bimal Roy’s cinema because Parakh is a fine film in its own right and is in fact a film extremely relevant for today’s mercenary times.
Parakh yet again establishes what a fine and sensitive filmmaker Bimal Roy was. Few filmmakers could explore social injustice as empathically as him. The film sees Bimal Roy venture into satire territory, something not really associated with the realistic filmmaker of Do Bigha Zamin (1953), Sujata and Bandini (1963). However, Parakh is a witty, perceptive film and looks at how greed and money affect the behaviour of people. The film finds Bimal Roy truly enjoying himself as he blows the lid off so called respectable people and shows to what levels people can stoop to for money. The film is also a stinging attack on caste, class, superstition and misuse of religious beliefs. Unusually for a film, the music department is in charge of the writing of this film. The film is based on a story by Salil Chowdhury with dialogues by Shailendra and dialogue direction by Paul Mahindra.
In terms of the cast, the film is more of an ensemble piece with well-sketched out characters rather than lead roles and supporting roles. Sadhana gives perhaps her best ever performance in just the third film of her career. She plays a simple girl in the film a far cry from the glamour of Love in Simla, her first film as leading lady, released earlier the same year. Bimal Roy, while taking Sadhana in the film, said she reminded him of a young Nutan, who, incidentally, was Sadhana’s favourite actress. Ironically, after Love in Simla, when Sadhana reported for the shooting of Parakh, Bimalda almost dropped her as he now found her too glamorous. Sadhana pushed back her fringe, sprayed gel on it to make it stay and convinced Bimalda she could look simple as well. Shorn of her glamour and trademark fringe, Sadhana lets the focus be on her performance and gives a sincere, simple, nuanced and understated performance. It is one of life’s biggest tragedies that Sadhana, the first real fashion icon among filmstars with her fringe-like ‘Sadhana-cut’ and churidar kurtas, was known as the epitome of glamour of the swinging ’60s whereas Parakh and some of her other early films like Hum Dono (1961), Asli Naqli (1962) and Man Mauji (1962) reveal an actress of considerable depth and substance. Sadly for her, post Mere Mehboob (1963), only the glamour side of her was exploited by our filmmakers.
Motilal is his usual ebullient self and genuinely enjoys himself as as the postmaster’s assistant Haradhan, who is actually the great Sir JC Roy. He comes up with yet another impeccable and thoroughly natural performance winning the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor for the same. The rest of the supporting cast do full justice to their roles. However, Basanta Choudhury (billed here as Vasant Choudhury) as the idealist schoolmaster is just about adequate at best.
While the music department took over the writing of the film, they still did their respective work in the music department as well. Parakh sees at least two extraordinary numbers both rendered by Lata Mangeshkar, both filmed on Sadhana. The first of these is the Mila Hai Kisika Jhumka. In this beautifully picturized scene, the village post-master’s daughter, who is waiting by the riverside for the arrival of the village schoolmaster, picks up a hibiscus flower under a neem tree and imagines it to be someone’s jhumkaa. But the icing on the cake really is that all time great – O Sajna Barkha Bahar Aayi, a song which even Lata Mangeshkar rates as among her best ever. The song is also most poetically picturised by Bimalda with Sadhana inside the hut and the rain falling outside. It is said that Salil Chowdhury got the inspitarion for the song while driving his car in the rain as he listen to the swish of the wipers and the patter of the raindrops on his windshield. Salilda makes splendid use of sounds and orchestrates the song beautifully with the sitar pieces enhancing Lata Mangeshkar’s brilliant singing. The song was equally popular in its Bengali avtaar as well as Na Jeo Na. The other songs are more situational and go well with the mood of the film be it Kya Hawa Chali Rut Badli – extremely well written by Shailendra, Yeh Bansi Kyon Gaye, Teri Leela Sabse Pyari Lakshmi Maiya or Mere Man ke Diye.
Released in 1960, Parakh went on to win for Bimal Roy yet another Filmfare Award for Best Director, making it a hat-trick following Madhumati and Sujata the previous two years.
Hindi, Comedy, Drama, Black & White