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80 years of Khazanchi: Landmark film that shaped contours of mainstream Hindi film music

Moti B Gidwani’s pre-Partition blockbuster, which was released on 5 April 1941, showcased the magic of Ghulam Haider.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

'With Khazanchi Punjab steps into the All-India competitive field in picture making,' announced Filmindia magazine in April 1941, commending the film for being the first from Lahore’s regional film industry to have made its mark countrywide. Not only did the film become a resounding success in Bombay, its music left an indelible imprint on Hindi film music.

Directed by Moti B Gidwani, Khazanchi (1941) was produced by Dalsukh M Pancholi’s Pancholi Art Pictures, which handled a dozen cinema halls in North India and controlled a wide film distribution network. Pancholi made a move towards production, making two Punjabi films, Gul-e-Bakavali (1939) and Yamla Jat (1940), the latter being Pran’s debut film.

With Khazanchi, he set his sights on Bombay, making a film in Hindustani for an all-India release. At the time, although Lahore had a robust film industry, the audience in Bombay was used to films by New Theatres (Calcutta), Prabhat Studios (Poona) and Bombay Talkies, which were superior in production values. By comparison, the industry in Lahore was regarded as one where 'business and its discipline are lax', according to Filmindia. Hence the production values and overall presentation of the film were highly appreciated. 

An adaptation of the Hollywood film The Way Of All Flesh (1940), Khazanchi tells the story of Shadilal (M Ismail), who is an upright khazanchi or cashier working for a bank. His son Kanwal (SD Narang) is attracted to Madhuri (Ramola Devi), the daughter of a wealthy man Durgadas (Durga Mota).

Madhuri’s stepmother is quite odd (she keeps shopping for herself and even takes away stuff that the daughter has bought!) and is unhappy at the doting attitude of the father towards the daughter. Moreover, she wants her to marry the money-grubbing Ramesh (Ajamal).

Shadilal is entrusted with the task of taking a large sum of money to Bombay. There he finds the wily actress Taramati, who sees him as easy pickings and tries to steal the cash from him. However, owing to certain complications created by her greedy gang members, she ends up dead and Shadilal finds himself accused of murder.

Ashamed of his carelessness and unable to think of a way of getting out of his predicament, Shadilal goes on the run. The second half then deals with a string of incidents that lead to him finding out the truth and proving his innocence. The murder investigation has several twists and turns and includes a short chase sequence (not involving cars but horse carriages, a chase sequence nonetheless!), along with a courtroom drama where Kanwal unknowingly prosecutes his own father. In the end, of course, the family is reunited and order restored.

Although the values of moral uprightness, honesty, tradition and family are foregrounded in the film, in many ways, it is also very modern in its outlook and conception. The opening sequence features the hero and heroine riding bicycles, there are scenes involving phones, the gramophone, a rather dapper looking hero, a fashionably dressed heroine and her seemingly shopaholic stepmother. In terms of attitudes, too, Durgadas does not make much of his daughter talking to her prospective beau or being out with friends on a picnic (though the stepmother, predictably, has objections). There is also the very entertaining shopping scene where packages get swapped and the hero finds himself with a lady’s underclothes instead of his exercise equipment!

Ramola Devi

The performances are commendable with Ramola Devi being the most notable. Charming in her effortless performance, she lights up the screen with her presence and is a delight to watch. Manorama, of the expressive eyes, whom we remember often playing the awful mother-in-law in later films, is a young woman here and, as Kanwal’s sister, is innocent and endearing. The thick Punjabi accents of many of the artistes, however, stand in sharp contrast to the chaste Hindustani that was heard in most films from Bombay at the time.

Khazanchi was received with much enthusiasm and a review in The Bombay Chronicle newspaper stated, 'The significance of Khazanchi itself is that it is highly entertaining though it is the first film to be produced in Hindustani in Lahore; and that it holds promise of a rising production industry in the Punjab.' Another rapturous review in July 1941 marvels at the film running to packed houses in its 16th weekend and reads, 'Khazanchi is not ‘lofty’: it is not ‘great’; it is not ‘a creation of art’ — except for the common sense view that  showmanship is itself an art... One sits back in one’s seat and smiles and is thrilled; and when the film is over, goes home pleased and refreshed, and in a mood to advise others also to go and enjoy themselves.'

The film’s exceptional music was seen as the central reason for its overwhelming success. It introduced Bombay to the music of Ghulam Haider, which created a template that melded Punjabi folk rhythms with a range of percussion instruments. It is believed that this was the first time that the Punjabi dholak (a kind of drum) was used in Hindi film songs. One cannot imagine the films of BR Chopra, or any filmi wedding songs for that matter, without the quintessential beat of the dholak!

The duet sung by Shamshad Begum and Haider himself, ‘Sawan Ke Nazare Hain’, was a colossal hit, along with 'Diwali Phir Aa Gayi Sajni', 'Laut Gayi Papan Adhiari' and 'Man Dheere Dheere Rona'. The lethal combination of the melody of folk songs that tug at the heartstrings, along with the trills incorporated in the tunes, became too hard to resist for the public who flocked to the halls to enjoy the songs again and again!

There is an interesting incident related to the huge success of this film. To celebrate the accomplishment, the producer organized a singing competition in Poona and a prize was announced for the best singer who would sing two songs from the film. The judges were music director Ghulam Haider and Datta Davjekar, who was also a music director. Lata Mangeshkar entered this competition as a 12 year-old and sang ‘Laut Gayi Papan Adhiari’ and ‘Nainon Ke Baan Ki Reet Anokhi,’ sung by Shamshad Begum in the film. Of course she won the first prize, which was the musical instrument dilruba! This incident introduced Haider to Mangeshkar and he went on to give the latter her first break in the movies.