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Why you should check out Amiya Chakrabarty's Patita

On the filmmaker’s 60th death anniversary (6 March), we examine how he gave actress Usha Kiran her first big role, and hit, with the story of a 'fallen' woman in the landmark film.

Sonal Pandya

The 1950s and 1960s constituted an era in which actresses were able to find courageous and spirited characters which allowed them to showcase their talents. In many cases, they were the ones who led films, as Nargis in Mother India (1957), Mala Sinha in Dhool Ka Phool (1959) and Nutan in Sujata (1960).

Usha Kiran got her chance with Amiya Chakrabarty's Patita (1953) early on in her career. Starting out on the Marathi stage, Usha Kiran moved to acting in Marathi cinema. She made her Hindi debut in Uday Shankar's dance masterpiece Kalpana (1948) with a small role. Thereafter she appeared in several mythological films like Shri Krishna Darshan (1950) and Maya Machhindra (1951).

It was director Chakrabarty who saw her as a lead artiste and cast her in Gauna (1950). After the success of his multi-starrer Daag (1952) with Dilip Kumar made by his production company Mars & Movies, Chakrabarty brought her on board for his next, Patita, a woman-centric social drama. The film was a big win for the director and his leading lady, who were in a relationship at the time. Chakrabarty was already married when the affair began.

They parted ways in 1954. Usha Kiran married Dr Manohar Kher while Chakrabarty passed away a few years later at the age of 44 while working on Kath Putli (1957).

Usha Kiran with Krishnakant

With a story by Rajendra Shankar (brother of Ravi and Uday Shankar) and dialogues by Chandra Kant, Patita is the story of Radha, a young woman who cares for her ailing father by begging for alms. One day, she meets a kind mill-owner Nirmal who chastises her for begging and offers her a job in his mill. Nirmal and Radha grow close and he even proposes to her. Despite a steady job and the prospect of happiness ahead of her, Radha and her father are about to evicted by their landlord.

When she goes to plead her case with the wealthy landlord Manohar, he rapes her and then forgives her longstanding debt to him. Humiliated and dejected, Radha returns home, a shell of her former self. She stops going to work or meeting Nirmal and withdraws from social life. Her father finds out she is pregnant and dies of heartache. At this point, Radha decides that suicide is her only option.

Usha Kiran

But before she can kill herself, a saviour named Mast Ram takes her in, to his house Mast Mahal, where she is able to make a home for herself again. Radha delivers a baby boy named Chandu and goes back to work to earn money. There she is confronted by Nirmal who questions her about her disappearance. When he follows her home and learns the truth, he is ashamed and wants to take care of her and the child.

But all is not so simple for Radha. After marriage, her son Chandu is hidden from her mother-in-law, who distrusts her. A tragic car accident ends Nirmal's life and, suddenly, Radha has no allies. When Manohar tries to forces himself on her once more, she refuses to stand down and shoots him instead. Yet again, Radha has lost everything and stands trial for Manohar's murder. It takes a dramatic court sequence and an unbelievable reunion to make things right in Radha's world.

Dev Anand and Usha Kiran in Patita

The male lead in Patita was played by Dev Anand. Just two years earlier, he had become a star with Guru Dutt's directorial debut Baazi (1951). But Dev Anand virtually took a backseat to Usha Kiran in this film as his character remains absent from large portions of the story. The film belongs to Kiran's fallen woman and though Anand's character Nirmal is seen as Radha's salvation many times, it is Usha Kiran's character who perseveres despite being cast as a victim throughout.

It became the actress's first Hindi hit and she received many laurels for her performance. She was ably supported in the film by character actors who were her on-screen adversary and ally — Lalita Pawar, who played Nirmal's mother, and Agha, who played Mast Ram. Filmindia magazine editor Baburao Patel called Usha Kiran the “pièce de résistance of the whole show” and heaped praise on Chakrabarty, writing, “His quiet work has a screaming social purpose and… his pictures are bound to do good to our free people and help them build a good nation.”

The music of the film was composed by Shankar-Jaikishan, with lyrics by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri. Talat Mahmood, Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar all sang memorable numbers like 'Kisi Ne Apna Bana Ke Mujhko', 'Andhe Jahan Ke Andhe Raaste' and the evergreen romantic track 'Yaad Kiya Dilne Kahan Ho Tum'.

Though Patita (1953) was never put on a pedestal like Mother India, Sujata or Bandini (1963), it stands out as a milestone in the careers of Usha Kiran and Chakrabarty. After Patita, Chakrabarty directed Nutan and Balraj Sahni in another woman-orientated film Seema (1955) which won Nutan her first Filmfare Award for Best Actress. Chakrabarty, too, was honoured with the award for Best Story. Usha Kiran won the first Filmfare award for Best Supporting Actress for Baadbaan (1954). But her role in Patita was the boost her career needed.