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When Bertrand Russell was Rajendra Kumar's guide

Mohan Kumar's film on world peace, Aman, had three very interesting members in its cast – a National award winner, a Padma Bhushan, and a Nobel laureate.

Shriram Iyengar

The 1960s were a strange time. The Cold War had divided the world into two clear camps. In India, films had evolved into the colour era. Madhubala was the reigning star while Raj Kapoor continued to enchant the world with his stories.

It was in this decade that the curious case of Sir Bertrand Russell's debut in Hindi cinema happened. Russell, one of the leading intellectuals of the 20th century, appeared briefly in Mohan Kumar's 1967 feature, Aman, alongside Rajendra Kumar, in a stirring example of the reach of Hindi cinema.

One of the few things Lord Russell, counted among the greatest philosophers, mathematicians and logicians of the 20th century, was not known for was acting. Russell was among the leading lights of the anti-war brigade in Britain. A firm pacifist, he led the chorus for nuclear disarmament at the height of the Cold War. It was Russell's influence that turned one of the greatest rock bands of all times, The Beatles, into peace crusaders. To this end, he would often agree to appear before the camera to give anti-war and anti-nuke messages.

Mohan Kumar's film had a similar message, as the title suggests. Aman (1967) was the story of an Indian medical student in London (Rajendra Kumar), who volunteers to go to Japan to help civilians suffering from the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Before he leaves on this life-changing mission, he receives an invitation from the man he has been pursuing for two years in London, Bertrand Russell.

The philosopher was 97 years old then, and had never appeared in a film. He hardly acts through the scene. When Rajendra Kumar's Dr Gautam approaches him to explain the reasons for his decision, Russell simply states his belief in pacifism and the need for peace in a volatile world. With an audience of more than half a billion (in those days), Hindi cinema offered Russell the strongest platform for the message. 

Though Russell is the most high-profile name to make an appearance in the film, he was not the only one. Aman also had ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh in a rare acting role. As one of Rajendra Kumar's friends in college, Singh, who was later awarded the Padma Bhushan for his contribution to music, is unrecognisable in his turbaned avatar. The only giveaway is that mellow voice. The singer's boisterous role and loud antics are a complete contrast from the sober, quiet persona that people remember him for. But then, acting was never Jagjit Singh's forte.

Apart from these two, there are a few more names that make this film such an interesting trivia treasure. Naseeruddin Shah, then a graduate student at Aligarh Muslim University, made his debut as an extra in Aman. His role was limited to being one of the mourners in the funeral procession of Dr Gautam. Shah later went on to win the National award for Best Actor. Chetan Anand was also in the film as the father of the doctor's fiance, Hiroka.
The world of Hindi cinema is a diverse one. Its audience is spread across classes, regions, and nations. In view of such universality, it is not surprising that a Hindi film managed to bring together such diversely talented and intelligent individuals.

Sadly, Aman never made a mark at the box office or with critics. It remains just another film that Rajendra Kumar starred in. But it is the only Hindi film that featured a Nobel laureate.