Padosi – 1941
With the change in the old guard (read government) in a Youngistan India, finally the procrastinated exercise of redefining the fault lines of ‘what is communal?’ is underway. Much before the constitution was written, the Indian filmmakers displayed an implicit understanding of the ground realities in harmonious co existence of various religious entities.
United in fighting a common enemy (the British), this delicate equilibrium got disrupted when the country’s map was redrawn in 1947. With successful scuttling attempts by various governments since, the common citizens still await the bridging of this trust deficit chasm. As the social geography of cityscape changed and tight ghettoized pockets sprung up, the divide enlarged even more.
In 1941 came a film which still holds a topical significance for the country after all these years, probably now more than ever.
Prabhat Studios ‘Padosi’ (“Shejari” in the Marathi version) did not just designate the message of communal harmony in an effective manner (story by Vishram Bedekar) but the entire film was a depiction of Hindus – Muslims living together as neighbors, as they actually did in the countless villages and towns. The Marathi version was even nearer to the existing reality, since it depicted Muslim characters speaking Marathi – an indication of the fact that most Muslims imbibed the language of the particular region in which they were born and bred.
It is to the great credit of the Prabhat partners and director V Shantaram that they could conceive and put over such an explosive theme in those days of political turmoil as well as censorship of the British rulers. More praiseworthy is the shape of an allegory given to the film that makes it premonitory as well as broad-based enough to apply even now, when the “neighbor” has become a neighboring country.
In ‘Padosi’, the Muslim Mirza and the Hindu Thakur (along with their families), became eloquent symbols of the two communities, showing the way to live peacefully, with mutual regard for each other’s religious feelings and general well-being.
There are lovable scenes of the two old men playing ‘shatranj’ (chess) or protecting each other’s children. The cause of the split between them (again revealing much foresight in retrospect) does not arise from within but is catalyzed by an external element creating mischief to serve its own ends. The neighbours, who for years lived like brothers, have to separate as enemies in one of the most tragic scenes of parting. The clash ends in final tragedy with the two men uniting forever in the bursting of a dam which was the bone of contention.
To tell the emblematic tale, much clever symbolism of ancillary objects like the chess-board was employed by Shantaram. The quarrel between the two men setting a bad example for the whole village and their death causing deep repentance left a telling enough message of peace and friendship.
The final scene of dam-bursting, done in a highly realistic way, was aided by the special effects work of Prahlad Dutt.
The idea of communal integration was applied even in the casting, with Jagirdar playing the Muslim and Mazhar Khan the Hindu, in a thoroughly believable manner.
Other roles were played by Anis Khatoon, Balwant Singh, Kashyab and the late Radhakrishen in a villainous role.
The songs, composed by veteran Krishnarao, did not fit in well with the subject and was probably the weakest element in an otherwise well-knit film.
In the present-day condition of communal tensions all over the country, the film medium would be rendering a great service if it gives up the song and dance spectacles for a time and reverts to making a few films like ‘Padosi’.
And, most important of all, would it be too much to expect a remake of ‘Padosi’ by bringing it up to date than alternative attempts at inane revivals like Agent Vinod and Himmatwala ?