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75 years of Hum Ek Hain (1946): A parable of national integration which marked Dev Anand’s debut

Released on 8 June 1946, the film imparts the message of tolerance, oneness and unity.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Decades before Manmohan Desai made his classic hit Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), the message of unity and brotherhood was spread via the story of three brothers belonging to different religions — Shekhar, Yusuf and John —  in PL Santoshi’s social film Hum Ek Hain (1946). 

Produced by Prabhat Film Company, the shooting of the film took place in Poona, where the studio had moved in 1933 from its base in Kolhapur. Starring Durga Khote, Kamala Kotnis, Dev Anand in his debut film and Rehman, the film imparts the message of oneness and unity.

It opens with scenes of drought resulting in famine — dry arid land, bare trees, vultures circling over animal carcasses and people starving on the streets. As people struggle to stay alive, the shrewd, evil zamindar makes the most of the crisis and usurps the land of poor farmers, buying it for a pittance. In stark contrast, Zamindarin Ma (Durga Khote) distributes food amongst the starving populace and cares for orphaned children who have nowhere to go. She instructs her son Shankar to follow in his father’s footsteps and always take care of the less fortunate. 

She adopts three children — Yusuf, a Muslim boy; John, a Christian; and Durga, a Dalit girl. Together with Shankar, they all grow up in harmony despite differences of caste and religion. This religious diversity was seen off-screen as well, as the writing team comprised P Santoshi, S. Mohammad and Tony Lazarus!

As the boys grow up, Shankar (Dev Anand) falls in love with Vidya (Kamala Kotnis) but the zamindar’s son, Chhote Babu (Ram Singh), fancies her as well. She chooses Shankar over him and the jilted Chhote Babu vows revenge, seeking to create a rift between the brothers. 

He engineers a split between Shankar and John which escalates into the idea of a partitioning of the family property. With this, the family break-up is terminal and the mother is grief-stricken at her home being broken into pieces. But a misstep by Chhote Babu lays bare his evil machinations and the brothers unite, rushing to their mother’s aid. 

Although the narrative of national integration is obvious in the film, it is significant that the film’s progressive themes are not only seen in the fashioning of the nation but also in terms of gender. The union between Vidya and Shankar is seen as a meeting of the minds and Vidya’s father stresses his daughter’s right to choose her husband.

Hum Ek Hain also spends a considerable amount of time representing the world of the children, as they are growing up together. The song 'Kila Hai Buland Dekho' is particularly catchy and fun. The title of the film runs like a motto and even a salutation at times throughout the film and it is no coincidence that in India’s struggle for Independence, the rise of communal tensions prompted such a parable preaching brotherhood amongst all.

Sadly, the film sank without a trace but is remembered for marking the debut of one of the most illustrious stars of Hindi cinema, Dev Anand. It also significantly, introduced him to the film’s choreographer, Guru Dutt, which marked the beginning of a long friendship and professional collaboration between the two. 

Book excerpt: When Guru Dutt first met Dev Anand

Meeting on the sets of the film, the young men hit it off instantly. With starry eyes, they forged a pact that the day Anand would become a producer, he would take on Dutt as a director and when Dutt directed a film, he would take Anand as the lead actor. A few years later, when Anand launched Navketan with his brother Chetan Anand, Dutt made his directorial debut with Baazi (1951), starring Anand, Geeta Bali and Kalpana Kartik.

Together with Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar, Anand represented the triumvirate whose films have gone down in history as some of the landmark moments in Hindi cinema.