How the films Jagriti and Bedari, mirroring each other, underline India and Pakistan’s shared culture

As elucidated by the two films, Indians and Pakistanis are far more alike than some of us would want to admit, and one can pass off for the other without too much effort.

Karthik Venkatesh August 15, 2020 09:27:46 IST
How the films Jagriti and Bedari, mirroring each other, underline India and Pakistan’s shared culture

The ideal way to begin this essay is by stating the obvious.

14 and 15 August comprise that obviously apparent time of the year, when two nations, joined at the hip, celebrate the arrival of their freedom — 73 years this time around. The years have passed and attempts to underline their common past notwithstanding, the nations have blown mostly cold with each other. The perceived and loudly stated differences have largely kept hidden what they clearly share. But it is good to persist in this attempt to underline the commonalities. Eventually, more will perceive it or so we would like to believe. As the shaayar put it, "Dil ko khush rakhne ko ye khayal accha hai!"

This is another stab at it.

In 1956, the Urdu film Bedari, was released in Pakistani theatres. A tear-jerker that revolved around the exploits of two boys in boarding school, the film and its songs, most of which were woven around a patriotic theme, were smash hits.

Within a few months, the backstory of the film emerged. It turned out that the Pakistani film was an exact copy of an Indian-Hindi film, Jagriti, released in 1954. For starters, both the terms, Bedari and Jagriti, mean ‘awakening’. However, that was merely the beginning. At every step of the cinematic process, Bedari had chosen to be ‘inspired’ by Jagriti.

How the films Jagriti and Bedari mirroring each other underline India and Pakistans shared culture

Poster of Jagriti (1954)

Scene for scene

Jagriti’s Ajay (meaning the unconquered) and Bedari’s Zafar (meaning the victor) are both fatherless brats painting their villages red by raiding mango orchards and playing cruel and mean tricks on the working folk. The hassled grandfather, in both instances, seeks to tame them by sending them off to a boarding school, hoping that the discipline of the school will straighten them out.

At school, they befriend a handicapped classmate – Shakti/Sabir – who sets an example through his gentle ways and transforms them. Also at school, an idealistic young teacher is instrumental in motivating the boys to turn a new leaf. The teacher spares the rod, befriends the boys, and instils in them a patriotic fervour in order that the boys are made aware of the task of nation-building that lies ahead of them. Shakti/Sabir's death in an accident results in the final decisive transformation.

The plot, with the exception of the names, is a match, scene for scene.

Song for song

And then there are the songs; three patriotic ones and one emotional eulogy by Shakti/Sabir to his mother are all mirror images, albeit with some important differences (especially with regard to the patriotic references).

'Sabarmati Ke Sant tune kar diya kamaal' morphs into 'Aey Quaid-e-Azam tera ehsan hai'. Mahatma Gandhi is replaced by Muhammad Ali Jinnah both in the lyrics and in the photo on the wall/bust in the hall that the songs are addressed to. Gandhi is flanked by Subhash Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru, and Jinnah by Mohammad Iqbal Shedai and Liaqat Ali Khan, addressed as 'Quaid-e-Millat' (leader of the nation). They are the heroes who have breathed life into the nation at the cost of their own lives. Gandhi, the song states, fought the ‘dushman’ (the enemy, termed as ‘firangi’ – the British are not mentioned explicitly). Jinnah too fought the unnamed dushman, and in his case, the foe is identified by a clever interpolation of newsreel footage of Gandhi, when the line containing the word is sung, not once but twice, perhaps to underline the fact. The firangi, however, is noticeably absent.

'Aao bachcho tumhe dikhaye jhanki Hindustan ki' is suitably modified into 'Aao bacho sair karain tum ko Pakistan ki', even as the songs are both sung in the course of train journeys through the respective nations.

The Indian chorus of ‘Bande Mataram’ (it is clearly Bande in the song and not the current Vande; the Bengali pronunciation had not yet then been overridden by the Hindi one) becomes ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in the opposite number. The Indian song defines its terrain rather self-confidently. The Himalayas, the Indian Ocean, the Ganga and Yamuna, Rajputana (and Maharana Pratap), Maratha territory (Shivaji’s battle with the Mughals is invoked), Jallianwala Bagh and Bengal all merit mention in the song with lyrics evoking sacrifice and heroism. In contrast, the Pakistani song is relatively timid and subdued. Sindh, where the Hindu Raja Dahir was overthrown by Muhammad bin Qasim is invoked first. Punjab, that Iqbal supposedly ‘awoke’ ('jagaaya') is next. There is then a cryptic, undefined reference to Kashmir, and an equally unclear reference to the ‘sarhad’ (border), with Pathans standing guard. And then the song peters out without attempting to go any further.

'Hum laye hain toofan se kashti nikaal ke' goes the third song common to both films. The first line stays the same in both, with ‘desh’ in the Indian one being replaced with ‘mulk’ in the other — 'Iss desh/mulk ko rakhna, mere bacchon, sambhaal ke'. The Indian song mentions the arms race and the nuclear powder-keg the world is perched on, and extols youngsters to reach for the sky.

India was striving to be something of a moralistic world leader, influenced as it was by the non-violent philosophy of its ‘Sabarmati ke sant’. The Pakistani song identifies a narrower objective – Kashmir – which has to be claimed for the nation. In this song, the Pakistani adopts a more strident stance.

The young teacher is on his way out at this point in the movie. He has been called upon by higher authorities to implement his progressive educational scheme in other schools. But before he departs, he leaves behind his to-do list in the song.

All three songs are broadly similar, with Urdu words trumping Hindi ones in the Pakistani songs, though the odd Hindi words (‘amrit’, for instance) do appear in the Pakistani numbers as well. Kavi Pradeep, the Indian lyricist, was known for his use of Hindi, but given the exigencies of rhyme and meter, he did use Urdu words on several occasions in the songs.

Actor for actor

Even as the Pakistani film is by now creaking with the burden of sameness, there is one more important commonality. As circumstances would have it, the same actor featured in a prominent role in both films. Ratan Kumar, — born Syed Nazir Ali Rizvi in 1941 in Ajmer — the child-actor in Baiju Bawra (1952), Do Bigha Zameen (1953) and Boot Polish (1954), starred in both films.

Introduced into cinema by his father’s friend, Urdu writer Krishan Chander, Ratan had a successful career as a child-actor, and seemed poised for big things in Bombay. The family then left India for Pakistan, and soon, Ratan’s brother, Wazir Ali, made Bedari starring his younger sibling.

Interestingly, in Bedari, Ratan chose to go with his Hindu screen-name, and did not opt to use his original one. Not only Ratan, but his co-star Santosh Kumar (Syed Musa Raza) who plays the teacher (played by Abhi Bhattacharya in Jagriti) also went by his Hindu name. Santosh, it appears, never changed his name on-screen all through his career. A third prominent name in the Pakistani credits is a Hindu-sounding Ragini.

How the films Jagriti and Bedari mirroring each other underline India and Pakistans shared culture

Poster of Bedari (1956)

Ratan attempted in later years to graduate into becoming an adult actor, but never made the cut. After an indifferent cinematic career, he went to Germany in the mid-70s to study hotel management and by late 1979, had migrated with his family to California, where he passed away in 2016. Newspaper reports on him suggest that he never again returned to Pakistan, not even for a visit. His disillusionment in part seems to have been the result of the death of his four-year-old daughter in tragic circumstances, which prompted his move out of the country in the first place.

And the twists — lessons, perhaps!

Given that Bedari was an unabashed copy, the temptation is to take potshots at the film, the industry, and perhaps, even the nation that took to this imitation. But the twists that remain should prompt one to think otherwise. The music of Bedari was ‘composed’ by Fateh Ali Khan. Several decades later, his son, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s work would be lifted wholesale by many Indian music directors. Think of Bedari then as a tribute — a backdated 'gurudakshina' of sorts, since Nusrat learnt all his music from his father.

Bedari also has one more twist that has gone unmentioned so far. In Jagriti, Ajay and Shakti are played by different actors with Ratan Kumar playing Shakti. For reasons unexplained, Ratan Kumar decided to play both characters in Bedari. Zafar and Sabir are look-alikes, something that is briefly mentioned early in the film, with Sabir’s distinguishing feature being his crutch (owing to his limp), and spectacles à la Clark Kent.

How the films Jagriti and Bedari mirroring each other underline India and Pakistans shared culture

Ratan Kumar in Do Bigha Zameen (1953), with Balraj Sahni, Nirupa Roy and Nana Palsikar. Wikimedia Commons.

At the end of the film, Zafar, in an inexplicable action, becomes Sabir, opting to use his crutch and walking away with Sabir’s mother forsaking his own waiting grandfather. This look-alike trope is perhaps a parable for the larger narrative of the sub-continent. Indians and Pakistanis are far more alike than some of us would want to admit, and one can pass off for the other without too much effort.

Given how 2020 has reminded the world of all its human frailties, the crutch that we carry to balance the national identity on our sagging shoulders needs rethinking.

From Ajay to Zafar, – or from 'A to Z', quite literally – our commonalities are more apparent than our differences.

All images via Facebook, except where indicated otherwise

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