May 11, 2013

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Movies Must Seee: Heer Raanjha (1970)

 

Heer Raanjha (1970)

Based on Waris Shah’s legendary Punjabi tale of immortal love, this was Chetan Anand’s first directorial venture in colour, and a bold one at that in the sense that this has been the only Indian film in which the dialogue is in verse. This was also, perhaps, the only film in which the director totally abandoned improvisation, and worked out every detail on paper – with his writer, cinematographer, sound engineer – including colour synchronisation in terms of costumes and backdrops.

Classic case!

It was as much a story of two embattled communities. As many as 52 actors had been deployed. But it was a classic case of miscasting. Raaj Kumar was too stylised, jumping like a frog amidst the green, and most awkward in song and dance situations. And Priya Rajvansh resembled varnished log of wood, her masculine vocals ill-suited to verse modulations besides the stiff body movements.

If there was a male actor of that generation who would have elegantly fitted the bill, it was the rising star Rajesh Khanna. And any replacement for Rajvansh would have been a worthier choice. The director himself was the moderator. There was a poetic cadence to Chetan Anand’s narrative style. Madan Mohan’s music contributed to the film achieving cult status. Each Kaifi Azmi lyric lifted to heightened perception. Each song a gem, the Lata numbers: “Do dil toote, do dil hare”, “Milo na tum to ham ghabraye mile to aankh churaiyen”, “Doli chadhe Heer”, “Meri duniya mein” (duet), and the Rafi renderings “Tere kooche mein tera”, “Yeh duniya yeh mehfil”, “Nache Ang Ve” (Shamshad Begum, Jagjit Kaur, etc), “Jo mama tera aajayega” (Bhupinder, Hemlata, Krishna Kale, Usha Timothy).

Surprisingly, that year Shankar Jaikishen went home with the Best Music trophy at Filmfare Awards for “Pehchaan”. Madan Mohan never won a Filmfare trophy, and the only big honour that came his way was the National Award for “Dastak” in 1971.

The plot

Deedho (Raaj Kumar), relishing his flute and calling himself Ranjha unwittingly joins marriage ceremony of friend in a neighbouring village, and encounters the beautiful Heer (Rajvansh). It is love at first sight. So after the ceremonies Ranjha starts living incognito in that village as a labourer in her father’s (Jayant) outhouse. But their love story does not remain hidden for long, especially after her uncle Kaeda (Pran) enters the scene, and sabotages everyone’s plans, even after Chaudhary succumbs to daughter Heer’s plea. Eventually to stop the marriage Heer is poisoned and so does Ranjha, unwilling to bear the pangs of separation.

Of the huge star cast of accomplished character artistes only Pran has a meaty role of Heer’s lame cunning uncle, Kaeda and he essays it to perfection. His eyes sparkle at the thought of every contemplated action, and the changing facial contours seem to speak directly to the audience.

Unfortunately others like Jayant, Kamini Kaushal, Ulhas, Ajit, Jeevan, and even the indomitable Prithviraj Kapoor are reduced to the junior artistes category. The superlative camerawork won Jal Mistry the Filmfare Best Cinematography Award. A 150 mm telephoto lens was used, apart from different normal ones, to generate an ‘out-focus’ effect. Green filters were deployed as backlights to enhance the colour projection.

Since it would have been a tough task to dub the spoken verses, sound recordist Mukul Bose used a sound proof cover on the Mitchell camera to muffle noises. Art direction by the ever-dependable Sudhendu Roy, choreography by Sudharshan Dhir and Gopi Krishna and editing by Jadav Rao were the major technical credits in the 142-minute classic.

 

SURESH KOHLI

(The Hindu)