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Thursday, 25 March 2010

Delightful democracy (Parakh)

Kanhaiyalal, a well-known character artist in the Hindi films during the 50s and 60s, was kind of typecast. He always played cunning old men striving to fatten their own coffers. In Bimal Roy's Parakh, the delightful actor is at his petty best as the village priest. He camouflages his selfishness and greed with religiosity. He uses God for his own benefit. Everytime he sneaks up behind a tree to sleuth about two lovers, eavesdrops into a private conversation, plots with the village moneylender or fools God-fearing villagers, you clap and wait for his next serve. I'm not even going into the way he mouths "Narayana, narayana". Simply rollicking!!
Money talks. And, in 1960's Parakh, it makes the villagers play a dirty game of politics, greed and power. But here, the master director sheds his signature gloomy touch with a satirical brush to depict Indian democracy in its early years. The 1960 film is frothy and effective. And laughter inducing. Peppered with superb performances (I've never seen a better supporting cast), fantastic story (didn't know Salil Chowdhury had such a gifted writer in him) and melodious songs, the film is a perfect Sunday afternoon watch. Yes, you can skip your siesta for this, I guarantee.

The plot revolves around a village postmaster, neck-deep in debt, who suddenly receives a cheque of a Rs 5 lakh from some Sir J.C. Roy (there is a history behind it). He is entrusted with the duty of presenting this sum to the most deserving person in the village. The postmaster, an honest old man, consults village heads to decide on the worthy candidate. The end result is a month-end election, the run-up to which is full of twists, turns and ribtickling situations. While the mean priest sheds his overt discriminatory syndrome and seeks God's guidance to feed his greed, the landlord tries to win over the villagers by forfeiting taxes. The moneylender, who thrives on leering at village belles, announces a gift of 100 tube wells in the village. The doctor (who looks extremely unhealthy himself!) offers free medication and diagnosis. Soon, mere backbiting transforms into a cheap war using muscle power, resulting in pandemonium.
The good part is that while the air is fraught with negativity, tender love blooms between Seema and Rajat, the idealistic schoolmaster. Seema (an innocent Sadhna in a role tailormade for her) is the postmaster's daughter. Rajat, who brooks no nonsense, (a confident Basant Chowdhury, considering he was more famous for his work in Bengali films) can do anything for her and the betterment of the village.

In a nutshell, Parakh evokes an earthy smell, a rustic charm that rivets to this day. Couple that with fabulous music. If you consider Pyaar hua ikraar hua from Shree 420 to be the ultimate rain song, try Oh Saajna, barkha bahar ai. Its subtlety is magical, its romance spiritual. Lata Mangeshkar's mellifluous voice breathes life into the thoughtful lyrics. When you hear a beautifully simple Seema singing, "Tujh ko pukaarey mere man ka papihara, meethey meethey angni mein jaley mora jiyara" you start believing in the divinity of love all over again. As rain drops cascade down on lotus leaves and rooftops, you know that a storm of sweet pain and passion is raging in Rajat's heart. Goosebumps, for sure...
The playful Jhumka is picturised on Seema, the quintessential village girl lost in love. The satirical Kya hawa chali is a witty sermon on cheap politics. Bansi again is superlative...

Roy's body of work has regaled movie-goers for long. But, while most of his films are a serious comment on society (read Do Bigha Zameen, Sujata, Devdas and Bandini) Parakh is a humourous take. The digs at the atrocities meted out by the powerful are clothed in a funny light. This film, hardly as talked about as the director's other masterpieces, is neat. Or should I say, a tidy little gem? I'll be waiting for your answer...


  1. In Parakh, Bimal Roy proves to be the master of ease. The story is simple and so is the narration. The camera moves in a languid manner and the music is uncomplicated, yet haunting. The actors slip into the roles of villagers with no fuss. Even the building tension and the climax aren’t the edge-of-your-seat types. In short, the film betrays the simplicity and predictability (the mean doctor, landlord and moneylender are a stereotype and hence predictable) rural Bengal (the landscape couldn’t be of anywhere else) still had in the early Sixties before Naxalbari happened.
    Good post and nice observations.

  2. Thank you for the appreciation. I see that you are also falling in love with good films...Great observations on your part, too. :)

  3. Haven't watched this one so can't really comment...but will try to catch it on TV...btw, nice post, I must say ur developing into a great movie critic with a keen eye for the finer details...Keep it up!! :-)

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  5. Must say, your post adds charm to this not-so popular classic. Aha!!! Very well-written and balanced view, much like Bimal Roy's repertoire. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Seemed like I was watching the movie once again and this time, the camera movement was guided by you...and i was seeing it through your words. Tried and tested.

  6. @Shilpi: Thank you Shilpi for the lavish praise :)