Now that Naya Daur (1957, director B.R. Chopra) is being released in colour, the question everyone is asking is: “Will it work?” The codicil question is, “Sure, Mughal-E-Azam worked because it had colour and spectacle, but will Naya Daur?”
This is the wrong question, but the answer can be found in the minds of two other stalwarts of Mumbai’s Hindi film industry. Javed Akhtar tells Nasreen Munni Kabir in Talking Films: Conversations on Hindi Cinema with Javed Akhtar: “Akbar was born in Sind and brought up in Northern India. So, he most probably spoke Haryanvi and Bhojpuri. Now, if you make a movie like Mughal-E-Azam with Akbar the Great speaking Haryanvi or Bhojpuri you will destroy so many myths.”
Naya Daur is about one of the greatest myths of India; it is about the resilience of the villages. It is about the power of the worker. If Saathi haath badhaana is now a metaphor in the everyday speech of Hindustani-speaking India, you can see why.
Hum mehenatwaalon ne jab bhi milkar kadam badhaaya Saagar ne rasta chhoda, parbat ne sheesh jhukaaya
Faulaadi hai seenein apne, faulaadi hai baahein Hum chaahe to paida kar de chattaanon mein raahein
Yes, you want to say, and punch the air, even if the unions are dead and their powers eroded.
But that was not what everyone thought about the film B.R. Chopra was to make. In Follywood Flashback, Bunny Reubens says that Mehboob Khan turned up on the sets of Naya Daur and asked, “Ay Chopra, marna hai kya? Woh taangewaale ki koi story hai, jo tumne khareedi hai?”
But it was a story that punched so many buttons that it worked, and worked brilliantly. Revisiting it now offers many joys. One of these is the bhangra Dilip Kumar executes with Sujit Kumar in Yeh desh hai veer jawaanon ka, another metaphor. Another is Vyjayanthimala as Rajni, a visitor to Karanpur, a village that is obviously intended to represent all the villages of India, or even India itself. When the zamindar (Jeevan) decides that he will mechanize the timber operations, the people are left without jobs. Buses begin to run, pushing the taangewala Shankar (Dilip Kumar) out of a job. But the taangewala strikes back and a race is run between the bus and the horse.
After that, the taangewala became a powerful figure, his harnessed horse a symbol of his potency, reaching its apotheosis in the figure of Bachchan as Mard Taangewala.
Now that we have dismissed the wrong question, here is the right question: Do we need colour to make films work?
It is not about the artistic integrity of the work being compromised. In a post-Baudrillard world, we know that the artwork is subject to infinite variations. And cinema, created for replication, offers no original, only an original experience. That is already imperilled with the death of the single-screen cinema.
The original experience, technically, should be available, but we know how Darwinian the entertainment industry can be. The remix is always more freely available than the original. The coloured version will usurp the space on shelves—and retail space is now at a premium—that was once reserved for the old B’n’W films.
The standard argument is that colourizing a film brings it to a new audience which would otherwise be reluctant to see it. This means young people. Retail India Inc. is now very interested in the acne rupee and will do what it takes to attract it.
Only, young people don’t want to see Naya Daur. They want to see tomorrow’s films today because that gives them cachet. It is the middle-aged who value history because they want to know where they came from.
Instead of colourizing films, how about putting out all of Saigal on DVD? How about cleaning a film, restoring it a little, clearing up the scratch marks and dropout lines on the print, remastering it, putting in decent subtitles? How about a little love for cinema?
That would work.
Naya Daur released on 3 August.
Write to lounge@ livemint.com