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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., 1924

A Holiday to Matheran

As we left our holiday cottage, to return home in the city, my wife said, "Look over your shoulder before you leave so that we come back again." Read about our recent trip to Matheran, the forest on the head, and the smallest hill station in India, at B+ve.

November 6, 2012

FILM REVIEW

Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957) 
or Two Eyes, Twelve Hands

This Tuesday, for Overlooked Films & Television at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom, I’m going to get off the Hollywood bus and hop on to the Bollywood bandwagon and write about an award-winning black-and-white classic Hindi film. Don’t forget to check the other entries over at Todd’s blog. 

The “two eyes” belong to a kind jail warden and the “twelve hands” belong to six dreaded convicts.

The jailer, Adinath (V. Shantaram), takes the dirty (half) dozen under his wing in a valiant effort to make virtuous
men out of monsters and rehabilitate them in civil society. The police officer takes the paroled men to an old farmhouse in the countryside and orders them to work on the fields and do odd jobs around the place. Adinath joins them in hard labour and together they produce a rich harvest. 


Do Ankhen (two eyes) Barah Haath (twelve hands) is the touching story of one man’s belief in, and compassion for, six convicted murderers. The jailer is aware that the odds of reforming the prisoners are high and so are the costs of failure. He is undaunted and determined to succeed because he knows what he is doing is right. 


The men are shabby, unkempt and unruly and look like they are straight out of a medieval horror film. They appear mentally unstable and in one scene even beat up the jailer. The twelve hands don’t have even a modicum of decency as they appear to lust after Champa (Sandhya), a street vendor who sings her way from one village to another, and exhibit traits of anger and greed that is common to their lot. The men even try to escape but return to their ramshackle dwelling because the jailer has finally made his way into their hearts and they in turn have learned to respect him.

Do Aankhen Barah Haath, directed by V. Shantaram, who was one of India’s renowned directors, ends on a tragic note. By then, however, the jailer has succeeded in his mission. 

Actress Sandhya as Champa in the film. 

Shantaram, who, in real life, married his co-star Sandhya, kept the moral of the story simple—man is inherently good and even if he strays, owing to adverse circumstances, it’s never too late to bring him back on the path of righteousness and make a new man out of him.

The story, screenplay and dialogue are by G.D. Madgulkar, a noted Marathi poet, lyricist, writer and actor. Marathi is the official language of the western state of Maharashtra of which Bombay (Mumbai) is the capital city, and home to Bollywood. 

Adinath (Shantaram) gets a shave from one of the convicts.

Typically, the film also has some good songs, with music and lyrics by Vasant Desai and Bharat Vyas, both well known names in the film industry. The most popular song is Aye Maalik Tere Bande Hum, which loosely translates into Oh master, we’re your servants, sung by the Indian nightingale Lata Mangeshkar. The song, rendered by Champa in the film, is actually a paean to the love and respect that she and the six men have for jailer Adinath.

One of the noteworthy elements of Do Aankhen Barah Haath is the cinematography by G. Balkrishna who has shot portions of the black-and-white film against a stark backdrop, a sweeping landscape. If I remember correctly, in one scene, the convicts are making their way through barren land and there is absolutely nothing around them except for the dilapidated house. The filmmakers didn't bother too much with the lighting as many of the scenes are in contrasting shades of black and white. It gives the impression that Shantaram made his film only with a camera, seven actors, and a rundown house in the middle of nowhere.
 

The film's pre-release in 1957, apparently, received a “cold response” from Bollywood stalwarts but as Usha Prabhatkumar, Shantaram's daughter-in-law, was quoted by The Times of India as saying, “Do Aankhein Barah Haath touched the nation's chord as it revolved round the universal concepts of love and brotherhood.”

Fifty-five years later, the Indian cinemagoer still feels a deep kinship with V. Shantaram’s classic.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for this Prashant - this is an area of cinema I know nothing about (I've really only seen films by Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray from this era), which I suppose were the only ones being exported on the arthouse circuit internationally at the time.

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    1. You're welcome, Sergio. There have been some excellent films in various Indian languages and especially in Hindi and Bengali where Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray have produced and directed aware-winning movies that are watched to this day. Art films or parallel cinema, as we call them here, as opposed to commercial cinema, were very popular in the 1960s, 1970s & 1980s. A lot of films released by Bollywood today could pass off as art films so to that extent the line between the two categories of films has blurred somewhat.

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  2. A shave from a convict. I'd say there was trust there.

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    1. Charles, V. Shantaram's character trusts the six men throughout the film and he refuses to lose hope even though he is at their receiving end initially. There's a lot of human psychology at play in this film.

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  3. Sad to say I have seen only a few Indian movies. Like Sergio only ones on the arthouse circuit get attention here despite a fairly large Indian population in the area.

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    1. Patti, Indian films are more popular internationally than ever before. In fact, many of the big-budget films coming out of Bollywood these days are aimed at Indians settled abroad, particularly in the UK, the US and Canada. There is also a concerted effort to make films with an eye on the "Foreign Films" category at the Academy and Golden Globe, though it's a long way before we get there.

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