Ram (Raj Kapoor), an impoverished law student, is dependent on money orders from his mother. If the money orders are late, he often pawns his things to the local moneylender to get by. Once, he saves a little boy and pays the doctor’s fee with all the money he has since the boy’s family is even more impoverished than him. As he visits the family more often he falls in love with the boy’s sister, Sohni (Mala Sinha). Sohni manages to make ends meet by stitching clothes for the neighbours. The wily Harbhanslal (Jagdish Sethi) keeps supplying Sohni’s alcoholic father, Gopal (Nana Palsikar), with liquor on credit in order to get him to marry Sohni to him. Sohni’s marriage is fixed to Harbanslal. Sohni asks Ram to save her. He goes to the moneylender to rob his safe but the robbery goes drastically wrong and Ram kills the moneylender by accident. Gopal dies due to his alcoholim while Ram’s college friend, Rehman (Rehman), doesn’t let Sohni’s wedding to Harbanslal take place. Ram, while being eaten up by his guilt, is pursued by a police officer (Mubarak) who suspects Ram to be guilty and tries to get him to give himself up. Another man is finally caught for the crime but as he is about to be sentenced in court, Ram’s conscience catches up with him and he admits to his crime while making a fervent plea on behalf of the dispossesseds’ rights to defend themselves against the real villains in society. Seeing the situation, he is given a sentence of 3 years. Sohni says she will wait for him…
Though Phir Subha 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 Subha Hogi is well-directed by Ramesh Saigal and is one of those rare films that is 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 Subha Hogi. While physical acting is easier, it is much tougher to internalize oneself and portray the state of the mind and Raj Kapoor does that perfectly. It is a marvelous performance of a man fighting with his conscience and an attribute to his great skill as an actor.
The film also sees one of Mala Sinha’s best ever performances. It 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 Subha 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 effectively plays the suffering retired patriarch who cannot take care of his family and so drowns himself in alcohol while Leela Chitnis is fine in the customary role of his long suffering wife. Here is an extremely interesting characterization of a woman who actually chides her alcoholic husband and, unbelievably for a Hindi film, even expresses relief at his death after what he has put the family through.
Phir Subha Hogi has an absolutely brilliant musical score by Khayyam with telling lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi. Incidentally, initially Raj Kapoor was most unhappy with Khayyam’s choice as music director of the film as he wanted his old regulars Shanker-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.
The highlight of the musical score is the haunting Woh Subha 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.
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 and around 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 Subha Kabhi To Aayegi at the end of the film – Woh Subha 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 by Sahir in Naya Daur (1957) as well with Saathi Haath Badana.
Released in 1958, Phir Subha 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 harsh reality in their lives that Sone Ko Ghar Nahin Hai, Sara Jahan Humara. Today, so many years after Independence one still cannot help but still fervently hope that yes, Woh Subha Kabhi to Aayegi…
Hindi, Drama, Black & White