Zindagi – The Great Indian Film Hunt
Dir: Promatesh Chandra Barua. Studio: New Theatres Ltd. IMDB entry
One of the highest grossing films of 1940, it starred Kundan Lal Saigal, Pahadi Sanyal, Ashalata, Jamuna, Shyam Laha, Nemo, Sitara Devi, Bikram Kapoor, Ragni Rani.
P K Nair writes in his article for Nick De Ocampo’s 2006 book ‘Lost Fims of Asia‘:
Marriage is still a sacred institution in the Indian society. An unmarried couple staying together could never be tolerated and considered to be taboo and filmmakers dare not attempt it. But this film broke the taboo and created quite a stir. A vagabond gambler (K L Saaigal) and an unhappy married woman (Jamuna) running away from her brute husband meet in a park and decide to start life together, taking up social service. Though they manage to get the goodwill of the society, soon they get disillusioned, as their questionable past catches up with them and become victims of social malice. They had to find salvation in another new life. The film is remembered for its melodious songs particularly the haunting Saigal piece: ‘Soja Rajakumari'(“Sleep, my princess”)
When the lights went down and the film began to unfold, I had a strange feeling. The sort one might have in a bar when, instead of a stiff whiskey one has been handed for some reason a sweet and sour soft drink instead. It cannot be returned or thrown away, because that’s not our culture. And so for two and a half hours I slowly sipped from this drink. Of course, if lots of ice is added to a soft drink it isn’t without its charms. ‘Zindagi’ is a good film. It had everything in it, except perhaps for life. It had a counterfeit two-anna coin, which only director Barua could have used. It had songs which only Saigal could have sung. It had lines only Jamuna could have delivered. It had philosophy which Jamil Ansari has explained. And it had the touch of an extinguished candle, a moment Khwaja Abbas has appreciated. On top of all this it had the scenes of telepathy that Miyan Kardar loved and which produced the magic at the box office. ‘Zindagi’ is a good film because PC Barua made it and New Theatres produced it. And because it stars Saigal and Jamuna.
[If only Manto had written more reviews, if this one is anything to go by…]