Tuesday, January 16, 2018
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When Mela crowds turned ‘Tulsidas’ into a superhit film

Dear readers, today being the most important day of Mahakumbh--the Mauni Amavasya bathing day—my thought go back to 1954 when the first Kumbh took place in free India.,Today none of the cinema halls is showing any devotional, mythological film in the city. But in 1954 Ratnadeep’s low-budget film ‘Tulsidas’ was being screened at the local Ajanta Talkies then known as Prem Talkies. The film began with modest crowds.But when the Mela crowds started entering the city, the film that seemed to be a failure, suddenly [picked up and turned into a goldmine for the cinema owner, the distributor and the producers.  It was a Ratnadeep film which had Shahu Modak in the title role. Shyama enacted the role of Ratnavali.

The film   had an average run in many cities but   in Allahabad the Kumbh Mela transformed the movie into a super box-office hit.  Prem Talkies (Ajanta) is located in the heart of the city.  It thus attracted the Mela crowds who could be seen passing through Zero Road in torrents. This was so because in the 1954 Kumbh, there was no Kumbhnagar. So all pilgrims  were seen flocking in Allahabad city itself and not on the Sangam ghats because the arrangements for staying there were very inadequate. So lakhs and lakhs of pilgrims who came for the 1954 Kumb Mela entered the city. They had made their kitchens on the roadsides. Not a single road remained unaffected.  On roads in the city side vehicles could hardly move. The traffic cop at the crossings had to halt crowds coming from one side to enable those from the other sides to move. Prem Talkies, by virtue of being on the main Zero Road, was invaded by cinegoers who would come from the Mela and find bodily rest and spiritual contentment in watching the movie. For full one month that the Kumbh Mela lasted, Tulsidas ran to full houses in all the shows.

Tulsidas’ was a major hit because, apart from the story content and emotional dialogues, the film was very rich in music. The music Director was Chitragupta and the lyricist was Gopal Singh Nepali. The songs were romantic in nature too though the lyrics were cautiously written. The opening duet picturised on Shyama and Mahi Pal was `Radhaji ke kunwar kanhaiya  meri naiya ke kaun khiwaiya’ says Ratnavali. Tulsi das replies, `Ho teri naiya ke Ram khevaiya’. There was another lovely, enchanting romantic solo picturised in Rafi’s voice on Mahipal: `Rahun kaise main tum ko nihare bina re mera man hi na mane tumhare bina’. The audience would sing with Mahipal, `Mera man hi na mane tumhare bina’. And then there was a thrilling chous too about him bringing `kangana’ for her.

But it is the songs that he sings on getting enlightenment that captivated the Mela audience.  On Ratnavali rebuking him for his excessive love for her by saying, `If you had made so much of love to Lord Ram `tumhara berra paar ho jaata’, he gets a jolt and leaves the house for good. And then Rafi’s voice adds magic to Mahipal’s emotional appeal to Lord Rama: `Mujhe apni sharan mein lelo Ram, Lochan man mein jageh na ho to yugal charan mein le lo Ram’

There is a very touching scene in the movie. A man had died. His funeral procession was being taken through the streets. Tulsi was coming from the opposite direction, completely lost in his thoughts concentrating on Lord Ram. The dead man’s weeping widow falls at the feet of Tulsidas. He keeps his hands on her head and blesses her by saying, `Akhand subhagyawati raho’. The widow is startled. She tells the saint. `You have blessed me as `subhagyawati’. How can I be that when the corpse of my husband is right here?’  Tulsidas wakes up from his trance and says that he had uttered only that which the Lord commanded him to do’. `Then give me back my husband’, she cries. Tuklsidas sits on the ground in the street and starts singing,`Naam tumhara hum lete hain, maan bhakta ka tum rakhte ho, Aj bacha kar suhag sati ka, mera vachan nibha sakte ho”. These were the opening lines followed by the main song, `Kahan chhipe ho Raja Ram Deepak bujha jala ja Ram’.. The last stanza was a passionate cry: `Roko inhen nahin jaane do, apne ghar ko phir jaane do, do din to tum ithlaane do, teri daya pe itraane do, mera vachan nibha ja Ram aja Ram Deepak bujha jala ja Ram’. And lo and behold ! The dead man springs back into life. This song had great appeal.The Mela audience cheered and clapped.

Tulsidas goes to Kashi  with a copy of his `Ramayan’ written in intelligible language. But the Kashi conservative Pandas refuse to acknowdge Ramayan in Hindi unless it was signatured by Lord Shiva. It is then that Tulsidas stands  at the feet of the Shiva idol in the temple and sings another passionate song, `He Mahadev meri laaj rahe, meri laaj rahe tera Raj rahe’. The trishul comes down from the heavens so to speak and puts a mark on the Tulsi Ramayana. Loud cheers follow from the  jam-packed Mela crowds. Towards the end it is very touching. Tulsi the poet is by known the world over. His wife Ratnawali had wanted to see him that way. The mission having been completed, she requests him to return home. `How can I’ he says and adds that even a snake does not go back into the cast-away skin (kechul). He moves towards a destination unknown. And then in the background comes the last song before the film is over. The song was dedicated to Ratnavali: `Hai dhanya suhagan voh jisne Bharat ko Tulsidas diya’. He goes on, `Tum ne bhi kangan pehne the tum neb hi bajai thi payal, tum ne bhi kiya tha nainon se kuch din  to sanwaria ko ghayal, milne aye preetam tum ko to bhej Ram ke pas diya, hai dhanya  suhagan voh jis ne Bharat ko Tulsidas diya.’. Then in this very song, he compliments Tulsi by saying: `Sach mano Tulsi na hote to Hindi kahin parri hoti, us ke maathe pe Ramayan ki bindi nahin jarri hoti’ and then turning to Ratnavali the poet says, `Beeso Basant dekar jis ne badle mein bass chaumas liya, hai dhanya suhagan voh jis ne Bharat ko Tulsidas diya’ And then the final farewell: `Jao Kavi jab tak Ram amar, duniya mein tera naam amar, Duniya pooje gi Raghuvar ko, goonje ga tera swar ghar ghar, jeevan to diya Hari ko hum ko Hari leela ka itehas diya…” and then as we are shown Tulsi marching towards oblivion, the camera is focused again on Ratnavali `..hai dhanya suhagan voh jis ne Bharat ko Tulsidas diya’.

 How profound the impact of this film was can be gauged from the fact that I have remembered verses from these songs without looking into any book or diary. I might have seen the film umpteen times. And  mostly I found the House Full.

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