This movie is quite a treat at times. To start with, outside of Bindiya, I can’t think of another movie that featured such beautiful women playing construction laborers. In addition, Insaan Jaag Utha is just a fun, well-put-together crime drama combined with romance combined with message film about ethics and Indian patriotism. And, I guess I should add, also a semi-film-noir piece, which is not surprising, given that it was directed by Shakti Samanta, the guy who’d just done Howrah Bridge a year earlier.
The film does have many of the usual elements of noir crime drama in the plot, especially near the beginning. It begins when the hero/anti-hero, Ranjit, played by Sunil Dutt, gets out of jail and heads back to the village where this movie takes place in order to dig up some gold that he buried. But though he may be kind of a criminal, that’s only because of one “misstep” he took, and even that crime was mostly inadvertent. (Although he is obviously continuing on the path of the crime now, but even that might change. A few things change, and are revealed, in connection with why this gold was buried and where it might be going, but there’s no need to get more into that here since I don’t like writing spoilers.)
In many parts, Sunil Dutt’s character reminded me of a few old Dev Anand roles. Maybe it’s because he is somewhat the same type – an actually very good guy looked upon by some people as a bad guy. Or maybe it’s because he does some of those typical Dev character good deeds for his fellow human beings – like when he briefly becomes a workers’ champion, speaking up for laborers who have been cheated. It could be because, on top of all that, he gets to romance Madhubala.
Or, is it just because of the way that he dresses?
No matter… Sunil does still contribute his own unique touch to this role. To me, he – or Ranjit, as Sunil plays him – seems to be a bit softer and less edgy right from the start than even the nicest of the not-really criminals in those other movies. Of course, it helps that almost the first person Ranjit sees in town is this very righteous woman – who also happens to be beautiful – who lives in a house right near the spot where the gold is buried.
Madhubala is great – as you would expect – playing the good girl whose love reforms the hero. But her character, Gauri, is not just a good woman on a personal level; she can be the ideal citizen, encouraging everyone around her to work hard to build up their community and their country. And the first song in which she does that is encouraging, indeed. Once you listen to this song, with that really upbeat music by S.D. Burman and those triumphant-sounding vocals by Asha Bhosle (not to mention the glorious entry in the latter part by Mohammed Rafi), it’s going to be difficult not to play it again a couple of times. And if you’re slacking off when you should be working, maybe it’s just the song to get you up and moving.
Admittedly, sometimes, you might just have to suspend a little contemporary cynicism in order to get fully into the spirit of the movie. Moreover, the project championed in this movie as the great savior of the people would probably not be looked upon in such a fond light – at least not unanimously – in the present day. They are building a big dam, after all. If they were building this dam today, there would probably be plenty of critics talking about how it will wreck many communites. Arundhati Roy would be writing a bunch of articles on it and I would probably be very convinced by them. But this dam is being built back in 1959, and it works great in the plot, so I don’t think any viewers should have a problem with it.
Anyway, all that praise of honest, hard work was OK with me, especially when I knew that Ranjit would stand up for the workers when they were being cheated. (That part of the plot actually goes by a bit too fast, and I found it confusing at first, but this is what I gathered: The workers are cheated by a contractor who’s involved with the villains of the film. He accuses the workers of not cutting enough stones and deducts money from their pay because of it, but actually, some stones are being smuggled away and sold at night. Ranjit exposes the scheme, the contractor is booted, and the contract goes to the government.)
I did find Insaan Jaag Utha a little heavy-handed with the patriotism; it almost made those patriotic moments in Raj Kappor’s old movies look subtle by comparison. But even though I’m the sort of person who recoils somewhat at nationalism of any kind, I make extra allowances for these movies made in India right after the nation’s hard-fought independence. Besides, as people who’ve been visiting this blog must know by now, I enjoy these ’50s Indian movies for other political elements. And Insaan Jaag Utha certainly doesn’t fall short in sticking up for the proletariat.
There’s also a lot of charming interaction among some of the characters. It is a lot of fun, for instance, to watch the mutual teasing between Gauri and her freind and co-worker Muniya, who is played by Minoo Mumtaz. The object of the teasing is simple enough – Muniya knows about Gauri’s developing romance and Gauri kind of knows about Muniya’s romance, too. But they still both get a lot of mileage out of this. The song “Janu Janu Re Chhupke Kaun Aaya” marks the peak of that banter between them, with sweet and funny lines being sung by Asha Bhosle and Geeta Dutt. [Note: Unfortunately, you won’t see English subtitles in the clips in this post now as you could originally, but you can find them if you watch the songs within the whole film. See my P.S. below for more information about that.]
I might add that I love the visuals in this scene. I think I’ve mentioned already (when I posted this song once before) how much I appreciated the contrast between these women in their traditionally feminine garb and that big, ugly industrial equipment behind them. Additionally, I appreciate all the playful touches in the lighting. For instance, it’s great how in the beginning Minoo Mumtaz is kept completely in the shadow. (At first I imagined this as a sort of answer to the famous scene from Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (“screen-capped” in the present image header) in which Minoo Mumtaz is in the light and her chorus of dancers are in shadow. But then I realized that Insaan Jaag Utha came out a few years earlier – which is also kind of interesting…)
And in case anybody hasn’t guessed this yet, let me add that I’ve really fallen for Minoo. I think she’s up there in my top five or so… She’s got to be the most underrated dancer/actress from the Golden Age, at least in Hindi movies. I mean, how come you can’t even find information about her on the Internet except for some reference in a post about her brother, Mehmood? As far as I’m concerned, if we can get good info about only one of those siblings, then it should be the other way around.
Minoo Mumtaz has a pleasingly substantial role in this movie, but she does sort of fade out during the second half. A good chunk of the latter part of the movie is devoted directly to the romancing between Ranjit and Gauri, which is perfectly OK – especially when it’s time for a song, because in addition to getting Sunil Dutt and Madhubala, we get Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle.
Then there is a lot of time devoted to this group of bad people who are after the gold (and therefore after Ranjit). I found the bad guys in the movie to be a bit dull and predictable (no memorable villiains here!). The only time things get interesting with them is when they recruit the assistance of an old acquaintance (of theirs, Ranjit’s and lots of people’s) who is sort of a bad woman – though not really that bad a woman. This woman is a dancer, by the way (played by Nishi), so she also contributes some pretty good cabaret scenes.
Unfortunately, the final stretch of the movie, with its extended chase and fight scenes, didn’t grab me much. (It’s just not like the fantastic final chase in Howrah Bridge.) If there is one thing I do like in this final stretch, it’s the major part taken by the old man Laxmandas (Nasir Hussain), who is Gauri’s father. He’s an old independence fighter who fought pretty hard and did some time himself, and maybe that’s why he’s able to give a couple of the villains a good whacking with his cane without completely keeling over. In fact, I was quite happy that for once I got to see an old Hindi crime drama in which the secondary character who happens to be an old guy doesn’t meet a tragic end. On the other hand, it’s too bad about the not-so-bad woman who’s a cabaret dancer. And I don’t think I spoiled something there, given that that outcome is all too predictable.
Overall, as I said, this movie is quite a treat, at least sometimes…if not always. I do think the first two thirds or so are better than the final part. And as with many of these movies, the general movie, with its plot, etc., may not be as good as the songs that it features. But that’s because the songs are very, very good. And the performers in these songs – as in much of the rest of the movie – are just a joy to watch.
Probably, I don’t even need to add this but… Especially Madhubala and Minoo Mumtaz.
P.S. [11 years and one month later]: I have finally been able to replace the song clips that disappeared from this post a while ago, because Tommydan has been able to put them up again – thanks mainly to the fact that enough time has lapsed since the film first appeared for everything to be in the public domain. Tom posted a new copy of the whole film on YouTube also; you can watch it here (with or without English subtitles).