Article Hindi

Revisiting Do Ankhen Barah Haath – V Shantaram death anniversary special


On the legendary filmmaker’s 27th death anniversary, we look back at the social drama, which was released 60 years ago, and revolved around the interesting, modern premise that even hardened criminals can be reformed.

Sonal Pandya

After the superhit Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje (1955), made in glorious Technicolor, filmmaker V Shantaram switched things entirely with his next production — the black and white classic Do Ankhen Barah Haath (1957).

The idea of an ‘open-prison’ experiment (in Aundh) was given to Shantaram by GD Madgulkar, the Marathi writer-poet. The rulers of the princely state tried out prison reforms for convicts and the filmmaker was interested to capture the controversial concept on screen.

Idealistic jailor Adinath (Shantaram) believes in second chances. After much persuasion, he is reluctantly given an opportunity by his superintendent (Baburao Pendharkar) to try a radical experiment away from the traditional jail he manages. Adinath is to take six prisoners, serving sentences for murder, to a plot of waste land, called Azad Nagar, and turn them into model citizens. Adinath has great faith and incredible trust in the chosen men to begin his ambitious plan.

The burly men, however, are not so sure about this second attempt at life. When they finally arrive at Adinath’s property, they scare away the cook and, on the first night in the big house, the men sleep with heavy farm tools and ropes around their feet as a substitute for the shackles they have become used to.

Adinath, called ‘Babuji’ by the men, gets them to work around the place — doing chores and preparing the land for farming. The prisoners are reluctant to do so, finding this labour tougher than life in prison, but slowly get into the rhythm of the house and the land. On certain days, a pretty but feisty toy-seller Champa (Sandhya) passes by and gives them company. Later, when convict Kishen’s two children (he had murdered their mother) join the house, Champa steps in as substitute mother to the kids, as well as the men.

Sandhya

However, this idyllic state cannot last for long. The rest of the men grow jealous of Kishen having his children over to stay at the house and plot to harm Adinath and escape. However, Jalia Nai (BM Vyas), who is supposed to make the fateful cut with his barber’s blade, cannot in good conscience do the dastardly deed.

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Adinath sends out the men to sell the vegetables they have produced at the weekly village market for a cheaper price. The main agent who runs the market feels threatened. He first tries to win over Adinath’s men by intoxicating them. When this doesn’t work, they end the competition by setting fire to the convicts' harvested crops and letting loose a herd of cattle in the fields.

While trying to prevent the destruction and taming a wayward bull charging towards his men, Adinath is seriously injured and loses his life. But his faith in the men was not unfounded. They honour his legacy even after his death. Adinath’s eyes are shown watching over them as their conscience and the six men raise their hands (barah haath) towards him in tribute and decide to dedicate their lives to his cause even after they are pardoned by the state.

The prayer from this film, ‘Ae Malik Tere Bande Hum’, sung by Lata Mangeshkar, was made famous across the country in schools, colleges and even jails. But the poignant song, written by Bharat Vyas and composed by Shantaram stalwart Vasant Desai, is sung by Adinath throughout the film. After his death, Champa and the men gather around to sing the song as tribute to his legacy and noble effort.

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It is hard to believe that Shantaram was 56 when he made this film. He looks absolutely fit and ready for combat with men half his age. In fact, during the tough sequence with the bull, he was actually grievously injured and at one point the doctors thought he might lose his eyesight. Shantaram not only recovered from an operation but also bounced back with Navrang (1959), which he felt literally opened his eyes to the colour around him in the world.

V Shantaram

Do Ankhen Barah Haath ran for 60 weeks at Bombay’s Opera House and gained national and international acclaim for Shantaram and his team. It won the National awards for Best Feature Film and Best Feature Film in Hindi. Abroad, it won the Samuel Goldwyn International Film Award (known today as the Golden Globe) for Best Foreign Motion Picture of 1958 and Best Picture at International Film Festival in Berlin.

Back in India, when the film was first screened, the reaction was not rapturous. Shantaram recalled in his autobiography that the audience at the film’s premiere was subdued. "None of them stayed behind to congratulate me. Only Vijaybhai Bhatt [of Prakash Pictures] said I had offered 'something new' to the film industry.”

Today, these prestigious awards stand in a place of honour in a vast trophy cabinet at the Rajkamal Kalamandir studio in Parel. and even seeing them up behind the glass, as I have, gives you goosebumps thinking of the legacy they speak of.