60 years of Nasir Husain’s Tumsa Nahin Dekha

On the filmmaker’s 86th birth anniversary today (3 February), a look at his directorial debut film, which turns 60 this year.

Nasir Husain photo courtesy: NH Films/Nuzhat Khan

Sonal Pandya

Nasir Husain was already a successful screenwriter and dialogue writer at Filmistan when he thought about directing his own film. He began writing the script of what would become Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957) and went to Tolaram Jalan, the producer at Filmistan. His main collaborator and mentor, the co-founder of Filmistan, S Mukerji was out of India and Husain couldn’t turn to him.

Jalan approved the film’s story and asked Husain to begin work on the film. However, author Akshay Manwani writes in the book, Music Masti Modernity: The Cinema of Nasir Husain that, “Although Jalan had given his approval, he did not have faith in Husain. He gave Husain a shoestring budget for the film. At times, Jalan would force Husain to shoot on sets when the paint on them hadn’t even dried.”

Husain’s nephew, superstar Aamir Khan, confirmed the tough conditions Husain worked in during the book’s launch at the 18th Mumbai Film Festival last year. He said that Husain was given only three days to shoot all the outdoor scenes. “Somehow he used to manage and make the film," Aamir said. Aamir is the son of Husain's younger brother Tahir.

Making the film was an uphill task yet Husain persevered. His first setback occurred when the actor he thought to cast as the lead hero passed on the project. Dev Anand, who had worked in films written by Husain – Munimji (1955) and Paying Guest (1957) – was reluctant to star opposite the actress Ameeta who had appeared as the second lead in Munimji.

Husain had little say in the casting of the lead actress as producer Jalan was quite insistent on pushing the Filmistan discovery, Ameeta, in their films. Ameeta, who had stuck by the studio when their previous film Hum Sab Chor Hai (1956) didn’t do well, was rewarded with an opportunity to be the heroine in Husain’s Tumsa Nahin Dekha.

Mukerji’s recommendation for a hero was a vote for Shammi Kapoor, then mostly known as the son of Prithviraj and brother of Raj Kapoor. Though hesitant, Husain cast Shammi in the film. Tumsa Nahin Dekha gave Shammi his much-needed hit after 19 films that failed to work at the box-office and with audiences.

In an interview with Filmfare magazine, Shammi had said, “The success that came with Nasir Hussain’s Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957) remains one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I achieved it against all odds. I was not only the brother of Raj Kapoor, I was also the son of Prithviraj Kapoor and the husband of Geeta Bali. Also, there was a huge wall created by Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar. To break through this and create a distinct identity was an achievement in itself.”

Shammi changed his look in the film, by removing his pencil-thin moustache, getting a haircut and acquiring a carefree, confident image that became associated with him as his stardom grew after Tumsa Nahin Dekha. Aamir said at the event, “The character we know of Shammi [Kapoor], the image we carry in our heads, which is [of] a debonair, charming guy is actually the image Nasir saheb had written; it became hand-and-glove with his personality. For the first time, Shammi uncle actually performed in the film.”

The film’s plot was convoluted, but it involved a rich man Sardar Rajpal (BM Vyas) separated from his wife and son as he is on the lam trying to escape a murder charge. While he has assumed a new identity, he puts a discreet advertisement in the newspaper, hoping to reunite with his wife and son Shankar.

Unfortunately, Sohan (Pran), the son of the man Rajpal murdered sees the ad and decides to take revenge by pretending to be the long-lost son. However, when two men show up claiming to be Shankar, Rajpal hires them both to seek out the truth. Along the way, the real Shankar (Shammi) falls in love with Rajpal’s adopted daughter Meena (Ameeta).

With a stellar soundtrack by OP Nayyar, Tumsa Nahin Dekha was quite different to the serious social cinema of the 1950s. The film was very much a romantic comedy in a lighter vein. Songs like ‘Chhupnewale Saamane Aa’, ‘Sar Par Topi’ and the title song helped make Shammi even more popular. Author Manwani notes in Music Masti Modernity that the Husain hero “portrayed a delightful impishness, a joie de vivre rarely seen in the Hindi film hero, heightened by his sharp-wittedness and sense of humour”. He also observes that Husain’s screenplay and dialogue seemed to be influenced by the works of Shafiq-ur-Rahman, the Pakistani humourist and writer.

Aamir narrated a story of how his uncle knew the film and its star were a hit. Tumsa Nahin Dekha had a premiere on the day of the release. Nasir Husain and his wife arrived at the grand Naaz theatre at Bombay's Lamington Road with Shammi and his wife Geeta Bali. They were seated in the balcony, while the public was watching from the stalls.

“When the film began, there were noises from the stall [below] and Shammi uncle kept asking him, ‘Are they booing the film?’ because he was so used to his films not being liked. He couldn’t believe it. The film was very loved and that first show itself became huge. Chacha jaan [uncle] said that day Shammi uncle became a star. ‘When I came out of the theatre, I couldn’t find Shammi anywhere!’ Chachi jaan [aunt] and he had to go home in a tonga,” he told the audience at the book launch.

Although Husain continued writing screenplays for Ek Shola (1958) and Love Marriage (1959) after Tumsa Nahin Dekha, the success of Tumsa Nahin Dekha at age 26 proved to him that his filmmaking instincts weren’t wrong. His second film Dil Deke Dekho (1959) proved his debut was no fluke and his successful streak continued all the way to the 1970s.