An invaluable realization at that age, which, along with love of Lego (think connectedness, not architecture) and sport (collaboration!), influenced my career aspirations, what I studied, what I taught while in graduate school, and what I practice professionally today. As a technologist and aspiring futurist, I consider myself an advocate for the development and application of technology to enhance human processes, not to replace them. (My experience has been that that balancing act of adopting the new while holding on to the old is extremely tricky, although I relish being at the intersection of the debate.) This almost begins to summarize a small but important part of the paradox of progress. And this is why Naya Daur (1957) has fast become one of those films I am excited to discuss, but am rather embarrassed to admit I saw just recently.
I'd first seen Naya Daur a couple of weeks before it was screened at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, which added much to the viewing experience. The Festival program included the synopsis of the B. R. Chopra-directed film, which you can read by clicking on the image to the right.
It's a remarkable cinematic package, especially when placed in context of the era in which it was released. Like the other biggies of 1957 (and what a year for film it was) -- Pyaasa and Mother India -- its message remains relevant. Unlike its counterparts, it is the closest to being a pure entertainer.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can shower it with is that I think Lagaan (2001) drew inspiration in quite beautifully paying tribute to the film, with the period of time the villagers were given to prepare for the contest!
By now, if there's one thing you know about me, it's more than likely that I rather enjoy films involving villagers in some sort of contest for dignity and survival, and love stories that underlie such contests ;)
The premise behind it is noble. Naya Daur begins with a quote from the Mahatma Gandhi (like Swades (2004) did), but in many ways also addresses Aristotelian ethics -- that it is incumbent upon us to try to fulfill the potential we have in innate nobility. The manner in which an honest portrayal of this is accomplished in the film is fun and engaging, with a beautifully crafted narrative arc that is absorbing, albeit predictable.
While the role of the media in advertising the villagers' challenges to the country at large is positively portrayed, courtesy photographer and journalist Anjana (Johnny Walker), the role of government is simply ignored. Possibly an admission of their reactive tendencies not aligning well with the objectives of the message of film? I kept waiting unsuccessfully for specific references to whether the writer (Akhtar Mirza) thought the kinds of progress proposed by the antagonist would eventually lead the country to inflation or stagflation (assuming scalability across rural India). Any related commentary would have only made the argument more substantive.
Not something I hold against the film, though. That balancing act applies just as much to creating a film such as this with the intent of maximizing likelihood of acceptance among the masses. There are only so many who would be interested in correlating the free market economy to federal economic policy.
Aside from the cast (Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Jeevan, Ajit, and Walker are all excellent, that we know) and brilliant art direction (enhanced by the film being re-released in color in 2007), the music is the clear front-runner for best complement. It's hardly a surprise given it's O. P. Nayyar collaborating with lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi.
There's Saathi Haath Badhana which speaks to collectivism. Is Desh Ka Yaaron Kya Kehna bleeds patriotism. When it's not the mischievous Ude Jab Jab Zulfein Teri, it's the romantic Maang Ke Saath Tumhara (a fantastic duet by Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhosle), or the pivotal and beautifully integrated and lyrically superior song in praise of God in Aana Hai To Aa Rah Mein, also by Rafi. This song (please skip the last two minutes if you haven't seen the film) follows a typically but not uniquely Gandhian philosophy on the unity of religions.
Of course, Johnny Walker gets yet another good fun song by Rafi in Main Bambai Ka Babu. And there's a fantastic song part of a play staged at the village in Reshmi Shalwar Kurta Jaali Ka, with vocals by Shamshad Begum and Bhosle, and featuring the lovely Kumkum (left) and Minoo Mumtaz!
It's easy to want to keep discussing a film like Naya Daur, and it's easy to acknowledge its significance to Hindi cinema. If you haven't seen it, you must, if only to appreciate that the film is, from start to finish, aware of the position of its audience within the progress paradox. Now, more than ever, its message stands out loud and clear.
Movie/Music rating: 4.75/5 (Fantastic)
'Classic' is the appropriate word. The colorized version is excellent, so if you haven't seen it, definitely consider.
Naya Daur at the Bollywood Food Club.
Colorized version -- official website (with trailers):
This is not something Naya Daur argues in favor of or against, but it's relevant here. Something to think about, and much more complex than it appears at the surface. What are advancement and success after all? From the November 12, 1931 issue of Young India, by M. K. Gandhi:
Industrialism is, I am afraid, going to be a curse for mankind. Exploitation of one nation by another cannot go on for all time. Industrialism depends entirely on your capacity to exploit, on foreign markets' being open to you and on the absence of competition. ... And why should I think of industrializing India to exploit other nations?
Don't you see the tragedy of the situation -- that we can find work for our three hundred millions unemployed but England can find none for its three millions and is faced with a problem that baffles the greatest intellects of England. The future of industrialization is dark. ... And if the future of industrialism is dark for the West, would it not be darker still for India?