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Vijay Bhatt and his ambitious Ram Rajya remake

For the filmmaker’s 23rd death anniversary today (17 October), we turn the clock back on one of his lavish remakes of his own 1943 hit, Ram Rajya.

Sonal Pandya

Prakash Pictures was launched in early 1934 by Shankerbhai Bhatt, his younger brother Vijay and Bhalchandra Shuckla, a former booking assistant in a film agency. Their first film was Bamabai Ki Mohini (1934) and they began making films in both Hindi and Gujarati. Slowly, Vijay started emerging as director, as well with his first feature behind the cameras with Khwab Ki Duniya (1937).

The studio was widely known for its devotional features like Bharat Milap (1942), Ram Rajya (1943) and historicals like Vikramaditya (1945). Twenty-four years after the release of Ram Rajya (1943), the colour remake of the Ramayan in 1967 was an attempt by producer Vijay to create a “bigger, better and a more spectacular one in magnificent eastman colour.” The 1943 film is considered a classic (it ran for 88 weeks) and remains the only film that Mahatma Gandhi ever saw.

Ram Rajya follows Seeta during her exile from Ayodhaya. She finds refuge with the sage Valmiki where she gives birth to and raises her twin sons, Luv and Kush. Ram is advised to go through an Ashwamegh Yagna (horse sacrifice) and when the horse is paraded through the country, Luv manages to stop the horse. Ram, unaware of his progeny, decides to battle those who oppose him.

In the film booklet distributed at the time of release, Bhatt spoke of his reasons for remaking his black and white classic:

The story of Ramayan has, perhaps exercised the most formative influence on the lives of the Indian people. Today, this epic is widely known in every nook and corner of India to the literate and illiterate alike, still as fresh as ever like deep footprints in the sands of time. The heroes of the epics are still held up as models, and the influence they exercise on man’s conduct is immense.

The Ramayan projects the ideal man and king, faithful to his wife, devoted to his subjects, unflinching in war and generous to his enemies. Above all, he is a true democrat, bowing to the will of his people though all-powerful, as evinced in the banishment of his wife Seeta by Rama at the behest of just one of his meanest subjects.

Rama the hero of the epic, is held up as the embodiment of these eminently desirable qualities, whose only concern is the welfare of his people, and in whose land milk and honey flow.

Modern India, torn asunder by conflicting interests of political groups and individuals, driven by the lust for power, greed, internal unrest and extra territorial loyalties, stands to gain with the emphasis on the Ram Rajya of ancient days. Unity is the crying need of the day. The epic fulfilled that need with this exhortation: “Ek patni”, “Ek vachani”, “Ek bani” monogamy, fulfilment of promise, killing with a single arrow and not torturing.

It is just these ideals will help India lead a movement to cleanse the dross which has corrupted the social, and moral life of man.

It is with this object in view that Shri Prakash Pictures decided to launch on the re-making of the earlier black-and-white version of Ram Rajya.

This spectacular colour re-make vividly brings to callous and jaded minds the ideals and ethics of conduct for mankind.
The filmmakers left no stone unturned for this larger-than-life reimagining of the Ramayan. Bhatt’s son Pravin Bhatt, fresh off the success of the Filmfare Award-winning best film Himalaya Ki Godmein, was the young cinematographer of the film. Life-size statues of Lord Ram’s ancestors were used in the ‘Pratima Mandir’ sets, as were elaborate jewellery and headgears for the cast.

The lavish sets of the film

Great attention to detail was evident in the costumes and sets of Ram Rajya. Keeping in mind that the higher classes did not wear sewn garments, ornaments were used as part of the richly designed costumes. The palace was reproduced as faithfully as possible by art director Kanu Desai, with intricate carvings and lavish water features and furniture. The music was composed by Vasant Desai while the screenplay was written by Bharat Vyas.

Kumar Sen and Bina Rai

Bina Rai played Seeta, while Kumar Sen was Ram. Twins, Jay and Vijay, were chosen for the roles of Luv and Kush. It was their big screen debut. Famed dancer and choreographer Gopi Krishna also had a part as a Nartak in the film.

Ram Rajya did not enjoy the success of its predecessor; the black and white feature still looms large in the minds of audiences. The film was the last Bhatt made in the 1960s, he would go on to make only three films in the 1970s before retiring from films completely in 1977.

Here are some rare images from the 1967 booklet: