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Article Hindi

Prakash Pictures’ Bharat Milap, a sincere adaptation of the Ramayana — 80th anniversary special

Released on 31 January 1942, the film foregrounded the love between two brothers and the virtues of doing one’s duty.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Helmed by Balwant Bhatt and Vijay Bhatt, Prakash Pictures made its foray into film production with stunt flicks but soon moved on to making mythological, social and period dramas.

Among these were Nai Duniya (1934), Poornima (1938), Ek Hi Bhool (1940), Narsi Bhagat (1940), Bharat Milap (1942), Ram Rajya (1943), Samaj Ko Badal Dalo (1947) and Usha Haran (1949). 

Bharat Milap was the first of their films based on the Ramayana, depicting the episode of Rama’s exile from Ayodhya and his subsequent return. The meticulously researched film cites both Valmiki’s Ramayana and Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas as its sources. Directed by Vijay Bhatt, the epic starred Prem Adib, but the Marathi version, Bharat Bhet, features Chandrakant in the role of Rama.

Prem Adib: The man who symbolized Ram for many devotees

The film unfolds in Ayodhya where prince Bharata (Shahu Modak) is celebrating his birthday. Rama (Prem Adib), Sita (Shobhana Samarth) and Lakshmana come to wish him and Rama’s mother, queen Kaushalya, gives Bharat a present which is misinterpreted by queen Kaikeyi’s maid, Manthara.

Poisoned by Manthara, queen Kaikeyi (Durga Khote) flies into a rage when she hears of Rama’s coronation, asking her husband to grant her the two wishes that he promised her. She asks for her son, Bharata, to be made the king and demands that Rama be exiled for 14 years. King Dasaratha is devastated and blames it all on a woman’s fickle temperament, while she reminds him of his honour and duty. 

Lakshmana is enraged when he hears of Kaikeyi’s decision but Rama reminds him of his duty, humbly folding his hands and accepting his fate. Even the populace demands that Rama be made king but Rama insists on fulfilling his father’s wishes. Meanwhile, Bharata is clueless about these developments and immediately sets out to find Rama when he finds out the truth.

The dramatic elements in the film are beautifully portrayed by the cast and the banishment of Rama, along with the reunion of the two brothers is especially emotional. Much emphasis is laid on the impact of Kaikeyi’s decision on Bharata, who is completely devastated and remains devoted to his brother.

Bharat Milap foregrounded the love between two brothers and the virtues of following one’s duty, exemplified also by Sita, who, being the model Hindu woman, follows her husband and accepts his fate unquestioningly. 

Despite being a mythological film, Bharat Milpa does not appear anachronistic, capturing the grandiosity of the epic while contemporizing it through its treatment and production. The architectural grandeur of Ayodhya is splendidly captured by the art director and painter Kanu Desai, who had also worked on the devotional film, Narsi Bhagat.

Desai mainly worked on mythological and historical films, winning the Filmfare Award for Best Art Direction for V Shantaram’s Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955). The magnificent costumes by Zaver Solanki and production design by Jagannath Mistri are the highlights of the film, along with Shankar Rao Vyas’s music.

Khote is spectacular as Kaikeyi and gets top billing in the film, being its biggest star. From the gentle, loving queen at the beginning, she is manipulated by her maid. Fuelled by jealousy, she throws a fit, demanding her right from her husband. As Dasaratha dissolves into sadness and crumbles at her demands, Kaikeyi is majestic and imposing, even admonishing the people of Ayodhya, and commanding them to obey the will of their king.

Durga Khote, the formidable trailblazer of Hindi and Marathi cinema: Anniversary special

Several luminaries were unequivocal in their praise of the film, with Sir S Radhakrishnan, enjoying the premiere of the film, and who was later quoted in The Bombay Chronicle, 8 February 1942, as saying, “It [the film] is a gorgeous picture which recaptures the spirit of ancient epic and conveys its lessons to the thousands who will see it.”

An advertisement for the film featured praise by politician and writer KM Munshi for Prakash that read, “In Bharat Milap, you have rendered an appealing episode from Ramayana with great art you have also succeeded in reproducing to an appreciable extent the atmosphere of the beautiful original.”

The success of Bharat Milap was followed by Ram Rajya, which takes up the episode of Rama’s return from Lanka. The film found immense success and is the only film that the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi ever watched. It is well-known that Gandhi had low regard for cinema but when asked to see just 40 minutes of the film, Bapu ended up watching it for double that duration! The film is also remembered as being the career-defining role of Samarth who played Sita.

However, despite the great success of the films, Vijay Bhatt’s attempts to make a film on the life of Gautama Buddha met with disapproval in Sri Lanka and the filmmaker could never fulfil his wish.

Bharat Milap was released 80 years ago on 31 January 1942.