Sunday, November 21, 2010



By the time “Azaad” was in the offing, Dilip Kumar had become the undisputed icon of the Indian screen but also earned the epithet of “Tragedy King”.  These roles, however, took a toll on the psyche of Dilip Kumar to such an extent that he had no option but to visit a psychiatrist for counsel and treatment. When Guru Dutt's Pyaasa (1957) was offered to him, Dilip Kumar did not want it  since he felt that that the character of Vijay in Pyaasa was an extension of  Devdas, and a bit too morose.  Doctors had advised him to take up lighter or comic roles in future so that the tragic aspects of his reel life did not overshadow his personality in real life. Thus the clouds of freedom from tragic roles began looming over him quite fortuitously.

The curtain of our drama unfolds way back in 1945 when SM Sriramulu Naidu (1910-1976) started Pakshiraja Studios at Pullakulam. A decade later, Pakshiraj Studios produced multi-lingual movies, cutting across the language divides and geographical boundaries. The Studios produced Malai Kallan (1954) in Tamil, featuring M.G. Ramchandran and Banumathi; Aggi Ramudu (1955) in Telugu with N T Rama Rao and Banumathi; Bettada Kalla (1957) in Kannada; Taskaraveeran (1957) in Malayalam; Soorasena (1957) in Sinhala; and the hindi movie Azaad (1956) that had Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari. It is said that Mr. Naidu’s six-films phenomenon has not been repeated by anyone in the world.

How “Azaad” was finalized with Dilip Kumar is known comparatively to a very few persons in the Hindi film circle but the facts are gathered from the word of mouth of a person who was a witness to the entire meeting. It appears that Mr. Naidu happened to meet a personal friend of Dilip Kumar and told him that he intended to make comedy movie with Dilip Kumar. At the first blush, the proposition indeed appeared as a strange one: A South Indian Producer wanting to cast the Tragedy King of Bollywood as the hero of an adventurous comedy movie! However, it was not the first time that Mr. Naidu had had a brush with Hindi films. Earlier, he had dubbed the Madhubala-Premnath starrer Badal (1951) in Tamil (Puratchiveeran) and Malyalam (Desabhaktan) films. He requested him to let Dilip Kumar know about his plans. He requested that Dilip Kumar should meet him in his studio’s office. Mr. Naidu made it known that over and above his fees, all the sundry expenses including the to and fro airfare plus the hotel charges would be borne by him happily throughout the making of Azaad.  Dilip Kumar was not the one who could be swayed by just a lucrative offer. As he had once said, “Dilip Kumar is a precious commodity.” It has always been his principle throughout the life that he took up roles that he believed in and which would give him professional satisfaction.

For some reasons or the other nothing seemed to happen for some time. Mr. Naidu persistently pursued the common friend to persuade Dilip Kumar who, by this time, had already received a warning from his shrink that he should take a break from the tragic roles and venture into lighter roles. Now here was Mr. Naidu’s offer, a comedy role, that had come knocking at his door. So finally, Dilip Kumar relented and met him. He had a long list of conditions and demands. Mr. Naidu was a genius film-maker and go-getter who had done a thorough homework. As soon as Dilip Kumar would put a condition, Mr. Naidu would immediately agree to it one after the other. He left no scope for any disagreements. Mr. Naidu even agreed to willingly pay him a much higher fees than what Dilip Kumar usually charged for a movie. Even the signing amount and the contract were kept ready. Mr. Naidu had just one condition: and this was the time-frame within which the movie was to be completed. Since all his demands were accepted by Mr. Naidu, how could Dilip Kumar refuse the offer! The contract was signed on the spot.  Mr. Naidu took Dilip Kumar around many bungalows since there was not a single star-hotel in Coimbatore then. He also offered him the many rooms in his own  Pakshiraja Studio. The legend chose to sojourn in the studio. Meena Kumari followed suit. Azaad, the first Hindi movie in the region was shot in just three months in three schedules lasting 20 days each. Thus Dilip Kumar landed his first comedy role with a bang.

Azaad was a huge success and broke all box-office records. It was a breakaway movie for the Tragedy King Dilip Kumar where he played various roles of Kumar, Abdul Rahim Khan and that of the adventurous Robin-Hood of a Azaad where he sings KITNA HASEEN HAI MAUSAM to his lady love Shobha (Meena Kumari) in the wilderness after saving her from the kidnapper  Chander (Pran). The respectable but fun-filled role of Khan Sahaab who keeps a tab on the police and uses the information to his advantage and the way he as the bearded Khan Sahaab professes his love to the incredulous and shocked Shobha is a treat to watch. Hunting with the hounds and running with the hares seems to be the subtle underlying motif of this comedy called Azaad. Dilip Kumar’s costumes and his fighting sequences are a natural delight. Just observe how he rapidly swings his boxing fists at the villain, Pran. I daresay that such a professional style I have hardly seen in any movie unless it happens to portray the character of a martial artists. How Azaad triumphs over evil and how he as Khan Sahaab causes many a confusion to the characters around him are the stuff of comedies in this movie. The cine public were not used to see Dilip Kumar in such a role and therefore the movie made great waves at that time.   In 1957 he won the Filmfare Award in the Best Actor’s  category for his role again after Devdas. 

In passing, C.R. Ramchandra had given a melodious music and all the songs were great hits. I remember how a classmate of mine, named Mukta Jaitley, sang RADHA NAA BOLE NA BOLE RE in the inter-class competition and won the award as the best female singer in the school. JAA RI JAA RI O KAARI BADARIYA and DEKHO JI BAHAAR AAYI are other foot-tapping numbers. As for the qawwali, MARNA BHI MOHABBAT MEIN KISI KAAM NAA AAYAA is especially watchable for the tantrums of the Khan Sahaab. As for the song, APLAM CHAPLAM, which is a Lata-Usha duet, there is an interesting anecdote about how the lyrics of APLAM CHAPLAM came to be written. It seems that the lyricist, Rajinder Krishan was at his wit’s end hunting for words to suit the tune of that song. Pressed for time, C. Ramchandra was growing impatient with him as days passed by. One day, Rajinder Krishan left his home for the recording studio when his young daughter who could hardly speak told him to bring her “apam chapam”. She meant that she wanted Chappals or slippers. At once those words struck Rajinder Krishan as heaven-sent. He got what he had been seeking for days on end. Excitedly he went to C. Ramchandra and narrated the lyrics: APLAM CHAPLAM CHAPLAYI RE DUNIYA KO CHHO.D TEREE GALEE AAYEE RE AAYEE RE AAYEE RE.... The music director was pleased as a punch. The picturisation of the song was equally brilliant. The scintillating dance performance by the Sisters Subbulaxmi and Sai against that song is still fresh in the minds of cinegoers who went wild as soon as the song hit the screen. In her live performance, Lata Mangeshkar alway made it a point to sing that number to please her “elder brother” Dilip Kumar who graced such occasions. Even a couple of months back, while judging a certain dance competition, Jeetendra made it known to the competitors about those magical steps involved in the ‘aplam chaplam’ song. He, too, still remembers! A mention may also be made that the movie was first offered to Naushad for music compositions.  However, the conditions of haste were not acceptable to Naushad and he declined the offer.  It was then that C. Ramchandra was roped in since he was ready to churn out the numbers well in time but at the cost that the producers had first offered to Naushad. 

 Years later,  in an interview, Meena Kumari recalled how when shooting for the movie AZAAD Dilip Kumar had rescued her and himself from the jaws of death.  That happened during the scene where Dilip Kumar after saving her from the clutches of Pran's henchmen and kidnappers, tries to reach her home.  He takes her by a rope-trolley which navigates from one side of a mountain to the other at the height of some 300 to 400 feet above the valley.  Both she and Dilip Kumar sat in one trolley while in another trolley sat the Director and the Cameraman to capture the scene.  When her trolley reached midway, she felt a jerk as the rope began to give way because of the load of two trolleys carrying four people.  Sensing that the rope would break any time, Meena Kumari got panicky and she created lots of commotions.  However, Dilip Kumar’s calmness and solace gave her strength to remain calm and composed.  Finally, they reached the other end and were thus out of danger.   Meena Kumari could not forget that Dilip Kumar’s sheer presence of mind and calmness during such a disastrous situation had saved the day for them all!  

As a kid, I happened to watch Azaad in 1956 at Bombay’s Minerva Cinema where it was premiered. I remember that Azaad ran to full houses for all the shows (3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.) for some 38 weeks at the Minerva Cinema and left an indelible mark in the annals of the golden era of Hindi Cinema as the first comedy attempt and a successful one at that, by the Tragedy King, Dilip Kumar.


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