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Revisiting Aadmi: Dilip Kumar’s riveting exploration of the human psyche

On its 50th anniversary today (the film was released on 26 July 1968), we take a look at this unique love triangle.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

A remake of the hit Tamil film Aalayamani (1962), starring Sivaji Ganesan, B Saroja Devi and SS Rajendran, A Bhimsingh’s Aadmi (1968) was an unusual exploration of the human psyche.

Featuring a love triangle, a common storyline that appeared in several films of the 1960s — Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960), Sangam (1964), Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969), to name a few — Aadmi goes beyond tracing the predictable path strewn with the hearts of jilted lovers and their anguish and offers a complex and distinct protagonist who is plagued by an event in the past that haunts his every move.

Rajesh aka Raja Saheb (Dilip Kumar) is a generous, rich and philanthropic landowner whose best friend Shekhar (Manoj Kumar) is indebted to him for the many kind deeds done to him in the past. Shekhar is in love with Meena (Waheeda Rehman), daughter of one of Raja Saheb’s estate managers. As love triangles go, Rajesh also, quite predictably, falls for the winsome Meena and wishes to marry her.

Both Shekhar and Meena are indebted to Raja Saheb for various reasons and decide to keep their feelings for each other hidden and to forget their time together. But Rajesh is fighting his own deadly demons that threaten to overpower his rationality. Fuelled by the machinations of his conniving accountant (Pran), jealous thoughts take up residence in his mind. The bonds of friendship and loyalty are tested as Shekhar and Meena must prove themselves above reproach. 

The melancholic Rajesh is tormented by feelings of possessiveness and guilt, which frighten him. He evaluates his every move and judges his actions through a fine mesh of morality and righteousness. As his dearest friend Dr Shekhar remarks, there isn’t another who analyses his actions and its consequences as much as Raja Saheb does.

The internal recesses of the mind of Raja Saheb, captured effectively through the cinematography of Faredoon A Irani, made for the most fascinating part of this otherwise predictable narrative. As Raja Saheb’s home becomes a cavernous space where he is afraid of being alone with his thoughts, the trick photography personifies the mind as it seeks to overpower sensibility. 

Manoj Kumar and Dilip Kumar in a still from the film

By the time of the film's release, Dilip Kumar’s acting prowess was no secret, his place in Hindi cinema had been cemented, and he was universally acknowledged for his string of successful films and an astounding seven Filmfare awards. Incidentally, he was recipient of the first Filmfare Best Actor award.

With his career-defining films behind him, Dilip Kumar portrayed the complexity of the character with restraint, making the anguish of Raja Saheb achingly palpable as he portrayed a tormented character unable to break out of the feelings of guilt and possessiveness that bind him.

Interestingly, the complete immersion of Dilip Kumar in his role was described by his co-star Waheeda Rehman, who recounted her experience of working with him on the film in the book titled Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow. Waheeda Rehman said, “It was a mystery to me why Dilip Saheb did not give his name as director in the film credits when all the hard work behind the camera was being done by him, motivating both the technicians and artistes to give their best. If the artistes working with him are seen to be performing way better than they usually perform, it is because he challenges them with his own level of performance and the unrelenting effort he puts into his work.”

The film’s music by Naushad was, on the whole, passable, but there was an intriguing anecdote relating to the maestro Talat Mahmood. Aadmi featured a duet, 'Kaisee Haseen Aaj Baharon Ki Raat Hai' by Mohammed Rafi and Talat, singing for Dilip Kumar and Manoj Kumar, respectively. But it seems Manoj Kumar, already nervous about acting opposite the legendary thespian, wanted a voice that could match Rafi's.

Giving in to the actor’s demands, Naushad brought in Mahendra Kapoor and re-recorded the song. In Raju Bharatan’s book, Naushadnama: The Life and Music of Naushad, Talat Mahmood recalled the moment, saying, “If a stalwart like Naushad was not prepared to stand by me after having let that Aadmi disc record of my 'Kaisee Haseen' duet hit the market, there was little to be done. I accepted it philosophically as the approaching end of my film singing career.”

Incidentally, both versions of the song exist today, so one is free to decide which sounds better.