Dhool Ka Phool: Yash Chopra’s poignant debut

For the 57th anniversary of Yash Chopra’s first directorial venture, we examine how the unconventional Dhool Ka Phool showcased illegitimacy and embraced secularism. 

Sonal Pandya

Legendary filmmaker Yash Chopra began his career assisting his elder brother, Baldev Raj (BR) Chopra, under his banner BR Films. BR gave his younger brother his first break with Dhool Ka Phool (1959). Yash Chopra’s early films are significantly different than his later trademark romances like Chandni (1989) and Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) for which he is famous for.

The emotional social drama was written by Pandit Mukhram Sharma and starred Rajendra Kumar, Mala Sinha, Ashok Kumar and Nanda. Kumar and Sinha’s performances in Dhool Ka Phool are considered one of their career's best. Kumar, in a role with negative shades, showed a different side to his usual self-sacrificing characters and Mala Sinha took on the challenge of playing an unwed mother who has the courage to move on in her life after it is upended.

Rajendra Kumar and Mala Sinha

Kumar and Sinha play Mahesh and Meena, a young couple in love. However, when Meena becomes pregnant, she asks Mahesh to marry her. He initially agrees but later succumbs to familial pressure and marries another young woman (Malti). After the baby’s birth, Mahesh cold-heartedly disowns his own child and a distraught Meena abandons the baby in a jungle.

A kind-hearted passerby, Abdul Rasheed (Manmohan Krishna) takes in the helpless infant and names him Roshan (Sushil Kumar). Not knowing anything about his past or his religion, Abdul and Roshan face countless taunts and questions from society, but still they soldier on.

Manmohan Krishna and Sushil Kumar

As the years pass, Meena and Mahesh have both moved on in their lives. Meena becomes a secretary to a prominent lawyer Jagdish (Ashok Kumar) and later marries him. Mahesh and Malti now have a son as well. And in a twist of fate that only happens in the movies, Mahesh’s other son Rakesh (Daisy Irani) and Roshan become friends. However, Roshan makes the wrong kind of friends and gets falsely accused of theft.

Things eventually come full circle for Roshan as his stepfather represents him in court and his real mother, Meena, comes to know who he is and testifies on his behalf. The judge presiding over his case is his own father, Mahesh, who finally admits to his earlier transgressions.

The film brought to light the stigma many unwed mothers face in society. In a pivotal scene, Meena’s maid, Gangu Bai (Leela Chitnis), prevents her from committing suicide and tells her not to give up. Meena should not have to face this alone and Mahesh should not have to wash his hands off his responsibility.

Dhool Ka Phool’s classic song ‘Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalman Banega’ written by Sahir Ludhianvi, was composed by N Datta and sung by Mohammed Rafi. The number is a plea for secularism and releasing just 12 years after Partition, it was a message of togetherness.

The film was well-received at the time and received four Filmfare nominations – Pandit Sharma for Best Story, Ludhianvi for Best Lyricist for ‘Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalman Banega’, Mala Sinha for Best Actress (her first nomination) and Manmohan Krishna for Best Supporting Actor. Krishna was the only one honoured with a win.   

In an online interview, Yash Chopra himself had said, “I started my directorial career with Dhool Ka Phool in 1959. It was a very bold and controversial subject about a child of an unwed mother. We presented a theme that ‘The parents are illegitimate, not the child!’ The film celebrated Silver Jubilee in 37 places. It was a big hit and that set the pace for my career.”