Jagte Raho, Pyassa, Do Beegha Zameen; A vantage point for critiquing the 'nationalist project' in post independent India

Critique and Disillusionment with the ‘nationalist project’ from the standpoint of the protagonists of the movies; ‘Jagte Raho’, ‘Do Beegha Zameen’ and ‘Pyassa’.

This piece of my observation will address the issues that surround the idea of ‘Nationalist Project’ in the post independent India. These issues will be reflected in the form of critique and disillusionment, which is very delicately and clearly shown through the movies; ‘Jagte Raho’, ‘Do Beegha Zameen’ and ‘Pyasa’. These movies become a subject matter for the vibrant and critical understanding of the society that was carried under ‘Nationalist Project’. More specifically the central protagonists of these movies develop as a voice that constantly critiques the society and the ‘Mentality’ that was getting nurtured by the people of the society. The protagonists from these three movies provide different perspective and situation but an almost identical problem faced by all of them. The protagonists of these movies are not only an individual persona that is facing the problem because of that social model, rather these protagonists become the ‘metaphoric representation’ of the community that had become the victim of ‘Nationalist Project’. Individually these movies chose different narration with heightened melodrama but all these techniques used in order to depict the agony of the protagonist become an essential part of the story.

Beginning with the movie ‘Jagte Raho’ which was directed by Mehto brothers in the year 1956, we see in the opening scene the cities with lots of vehicles moving on roads, a tram passing by, big residential apartments, and the society that reflects the apparent awareness and alertness towards something threatening. The scene announces the story of the city, of the society and of the pace that life has in these spaces. The title of the movie ‘Jagte Raho’ carries within several questions that become the central issue and critique of the whole system. Why is it needed to say ‘jagte raho’ in a loud voice by the security guards of the society? Does this phrase not carry the metaphoric intent of social satire in a witty manner? Is Jagte Raho a statement of the Filmmaker to make the society become aware towards the corruption, deceit, and inhumanity of the residents in the society? What does ‘Jagte Raho’ mean in particular…….. Beginning with all these questions, which emerged while watching the movie, I see them getting addressed in the movie as the chase sequence moves on.

The shallowness of the apparent intent is visible in the very first scene where one of the security guards is almost sleepy but is shown saying ‘jagte rahooooo’.This shows how much are the security guards concerned with their jobs. On the contrary They are vigilant about a person who is trying to get some water from a bore well. Raj kapoor is in the role of the nameless and homeless character who is shown trying to get some water to quench the thirst. All through the movie, we do not know about his name, his family, his occupation and how and why he came to the city. The little but essential thing about the ‘unnamed character’ is known only in the concluding part of the ‘Exhaustive and torturous chase sequence’.

                  A still of  Raj Kapoor as the central character while looking at the dripping water 

When the security guard scolds him without even knowing why he is there, what he is trying to do and then saying ‘jagte raho’ it becomes clear what the director would have meant through the scene. It becomes a prophetic note to address the sleeping and corrupting soul within. This phrase ‘jagte raho’ is meant to awaken the inner self and make a transformation. we witness the initial phase, where inhumanity is imposed by the city. This imposition is carried on two levels. In the first place, The guard is imposing the distorted rationality of the rules upon himself. This imposition upon himself is done because of the blind rationality of the society, which does not allow to engage or examine the nature of any incident. On the second place, the imposition is shifted towards the protagonist of the film. In this case, he is using his shallow authority to impose the legal structure of the rule. It says that no stranger should be wandering in the premise of the ‘civilized society’ and if he/she is found in the premise, he/she will be labeled as ‘Thief’ and as the movie progresses, we see the idea getting embodied. This imposition is so subtle that the people do not even feel the need to address and amend the rules, which causes problems that constantly drip down to the helpless and poor person of the society. A rupture is shown arising because of this lack of consciousness towards the problems and why it is coming again and again in the same way. A mockery of the impotent nature of the system is framed at the same time. What happens in the frame is that a drunkard man is shown walking through the lanes of the society and also insisting the homeless sleeping on the footpath and the protagonist to have a sip of wine instead of water. The security guards are not shown in the frame. In my opinion The filmmaker very beautifully shows the agency of the guards without bringing them in the frame. This exclusion of the security guard metaphorically represents the state of ‘no agency’ for the Security Guards in context of the people who is a member/resident of the ‘civilized society’.

 A very beautiful scene comes in the initial part of the movie. This scene captures the harmony and a higher-esteem of the protagonist. Neither is he an educated person, nor is he a ‘civilized and social person’ from the standpoint of the Security guard and the residents of the colony but he knows the worth of a life. In the scene he shares the little food he had with a stray dog. This sharing and concern towards each and every fellow being reflects the ideas that Tagore had towards the nationalist ideas. The protagonist is figuratively showing an alternative to the non-functional and exclusive vision of ‘nationalist project’. This section of the movie creates a strong and critical narrative that questions the blindness and corrupted nature of the ‘Nationalist project’ and the fake pride that people were taking out of this idea. When the protagonist asks the drunkard man to give him some water, he offers him wine which the protagonist has never used in his life. Does not this situation show the ‘mentality’ of the society towards a fellow human being who is in need.

All through the movie ‘water’ is shown as a recurring theme. Craving for water not only reflects the thirst of the protagonist, but also shows the possessive attitude of the ‘civilized society’ upon the most basic need of every living beings. Every time he sees water and tries to get close to it or drink it, some trouble is created. The trouble does not become a mere part of ‘heightened melodrama’. It becomes the exhibition of the real nature of the society in different color and texture. In one of the chase sequences where he gets trapped among the residents of the apartment in the room, he starts finding a way to escape from them. He succeeds in doing so and gets out of the room very easily. He devices ways that can deceit them and their methods to catch the ‘thief’ quite easily. The whole effort and the fear towards the ‘thief’ is in some sense an excuse to peep into other’s private space as well. The projected idea of catching a thief becomes a propaganda that is used to entitle oneself the agency and authority to do what so ever they want to do. They use coercive measures to break into anyone’s house and create a chaos in the private space. This rupture and chaos in the everyday life become a synonym of the violence and riots that were happening in the independent India. These people with their volunteer groups become the nationalist leaders of Independent India. They reflect similarities with the national leaders in their action, thinking pattern and the vested self in every step. These leaders made the people believe in every decision they were making for the society, but It becomes visible through some of the shots that the project of ‘Catching the thief’ is certainly not the central concern of them. Using this created issue of ‘Catching the Thief’ as an excuse to do their evil and vicious actions in the apartment.

     Nargis in the frame with Raj Kapoor and quenching the symbolic thirst of the central protagonist

The condition of women is very critically portrayed in between the chase sequences. The drunkard is shown exploiting his wife. He finds ways to humiliate her in public gatherings and pose challenges like drinking, dancing in public place and spend time with strangers. She shows her disagreement with his opinions but is helpless. The reason being that she has no agency in that space and is treated as a material possession. She is not seen as a human being that also feels like every other person. It certainly becomes a commentary upon the situation of that society. In sociology, power describes the ability of an individual or group to fulfill its desire and implement its decisions and ideas. It also involves the ability to influence as well as control the behavior of others even against their will. The same is happening in the movie with the protagonist, with the wife of the drunkard and with the people who live on the margins of the society. In two of the scenes from the concluding section of the movie, we see the full grown statement made by the filmmaker. The first scene is the static framing of Christ crucified framed through the broken window pane. When Raj Kapoor is balancing his body with the help of the water pipe, he becomes the figure that resembles Christ, that can free these people from their sins. He is taking all the blame, deceit, wickedness and hypocrisy upon himself. Another scene is upon the roof where the residents gather and try to kill him, but he attacks a gunman and starts voicing his pain, agony, suffering and repressed emotion. He says that he had entered their apartments only for the quenching his thirst for water. He continues, he had seen their black soul, their wickedness, their greed and barbarism towards one another. The scene extends to his meeting a small girl who seems to liberate him from the imposed identity of ‘Thief’ and give him a new and liberated life. Finally he drinks the water in the temple premise. A worshiper played by the actress Nargis comes to offer him water. The end scene takes us to the thought that it is not the rigid law that can transform the situation of society, rather it is the human heart and its grandness that can create magic even in worst situations.

 Moving to the the movies Do Beegha Zameen and Pyaasa, I will continue earlier argument in context of these two movies. Beginning with the movie ‘Do Beegha Zameen’ I will take some of the specific scenes that are thematically essential and powerful section of the story and critique. Unlike the movie Jagte raho, Do Beegha Zameen has the opening scene, which captures the soil and tree but both of these elements are barren and dead respectively. The camera capture these two figurative elements and a voice-over accompanies the scene with a narration. The opening scene becomes important here because it tells us that it is the story of an Indian village. The critique and disillusionment from the project of modernization of village is narrated from the standpoint of the villagers. As the story progresses we see the development of the reason that would become the cause for the disillusionment from the idea of transforming the villages. When the farmers are working in the field a car is shown rushing in the frame. This becomes the significant part of the ‘rupture’ that will be caused due to the forceful intervention of the people who want to make an industry in the village.

 An interesting dialogue takes place between the landlord and the farmer Shambhu Mehto regarding the idea of making an industry in the village. Shambhu responds to the Landlord’s idea of giving the land for the sake of establishing a mill by saying that Land is the mother of a farmer, how can I barter her?Landlord replies back that once the mill is established the mother will be transformed to become ‘the father’. The underlying voice of disillusionment and critique of the project comes here in the nuanced dialogue between two set of mentalities and values. Shambhu certainly reflects the idea that the promises of the landlord are as shallow as his patriarchal attitude. He measures the consequences he will have to face in case he gives his seven generation land to the landlord. The immediate consequence is shown in the courtroom scene. Shambhu’s action gets addressed by the court but it carries the cruelty of the law towards a helpless and poor farmer. Court announces the decision in the favor of the landlord by saying that Shambhu has to pay all the debts within a time frame of three months and failing which his land will be handed over to the landlord. In the concluding section it is shown that Shambhu succumbs to the tyrannical law and system. The story and struggle of that dissenting voice is shown in between these two scenes. He sees a hope in the city of Calcutta. His displacement from village to the city is not just a geographical displacement. This displacement becomes a metaphor for the whole community that was facing such issues- which were an extension of the project to transform villages -in their villages and were forced to move towards the more exploitative and cruel space for the villagers and farmers who were not aware of the fast pace and hypocrisy of the city. City certainly arises hope for the villagers and appears them a pain reliever. This illusory space engulfs them completely.

 Shambhu decides to move to the city because he thinks that city will help him come out of the grave problem in the life. In the train, he listens some people saying we should live in villages. Villages are the soul of the country. Does not this opinion of the people tell us that how villages are romanticized for the sake of talking only. The very first glance of the real color of city is shown to Shambhu when he asks people for work but they scold him as if he is saying something abusive. He even makes his first critique of the city by saying So good of Calcutta city where people do not even talk properly if I ask for work. It is the form of disillusionment that Shambhu reflect in that sentence. A binary between the values and character of the village and city is created in his thinking pattern. City seems to be embodying itself as the torturous character of landlord. It disrobes him from his luggage and makes him feel vulnerable. The life of Shambhu is encircled by the harsh life of city and at the same time the life of his father and wife is made tough by the wickedness of landlord’s accountant. On the other side the city is insisting Kanhaiya to work so that he can also contribute to the savings for saving the land. Kanhaiya becomes a witness to all the cruelty and harshness that the city can offer him. All these experiences take back the years of child innocence and enjoyment from his life. His life becomes mechanized because he is left with only one goal in his life now. Kanhaiya learns all ways to earn money. He learns how to pickpocket, how to lie and how to work as well. It is not his intention to get involved in all these domain but he has no other ways left. These points tell us what is the capability of the project to urbanize the rural side without thinking about all aspects of the rural life and values.

 There is a very relevant incident that happened with Balraj sahni while he was on set. He went in the get up of the farmer to buy a cigarette from a shop. The shopkeeper saw him very suspiciously because according the shopkeeper that farmer can not afford to buy a cigarette and if he is buying it then he certainly has stole or pick-pocketed the money for the cigarette. Sahni makes a very critical commentry on this attitude of the people in the society. He says in the interview that what sort of a person we are becoming in this modern world. How can we claim to be a human being if we can not respect the existence of a fellow human being. Sahni’s critique actually points towards the wave that the ‘nationalist project’ is bringing to the society. It has mechanically transformed the attitude of the people. The incident becomes important to cite here because the vision and statement that the filmmakers were trying to say through their movies were taken from the social condition of that space and time. It addresses the attitude of the city people towards the villagers who would migrate to city in hope of money and better life. The character of Shambhu Mehto is not just an individual but a metaphoric representation of the whole internally migrated communities to cities. He shows the plight of these simple people.

 In the concluding section we see that the land has been handed over to the landlord. Shambhu’s father is shown saying ‘Auction the land happily, that home was very small for us to live in. Now we have the whole world to live in and the blue sky will be the roof for us.’ This approach of his father shows a higher pedestal. They transcend the geographical boundaries of the people. Mehto’s soul is murdered in the darkness of the society. 

In the movie Pyassa, we see in the opening scene that A young man -played by Guru Dutt – lying in the garden and reciting a najma upon the nature. The scene meets that young man in the dress and talking the owner of the magazine. He says him how he liked the Ghazals that he had submitted. The owner insults his creation and says that it is a complete rubbish. The whole scene is quite important here because it depicts the orientation of the society that is only seeking meaning and productivity from the perspective of a ‘passive consumers’. They do not take part in the process of creating something but are well versed in making the created work an insignificant stuff. Even his brothers think that those Najms are a complete garbage and they sell that to the pawnshop.

 Another incident happens with him when he is sitting on a bench and hears a woman singing his Najms. The woman thinks that he is a potential costumer. She sings his Najms and lures him to her place. Is not it a beautiful coincidence here that he meets his lost works when he is not looking for it. Several things are happening there. From one point of view it is his ‘useless Najms’ in the opinion of Vijay’s brother and the owner of the Magazine that become a means to lure a customer. Does not his works give an agency to the character Gulabo. She uses that agency to enliven his works which do not have a value and respect in the society. She is not only using that piece of work for herself only. She understands the emotion and the sentiments that the author of that piece had and can arise those feelings in any people who want to live them. She enhances the magic of those words by performing it. She becomes an extension of that artist Vijay. It arises lots of questions; who in the society can understand and respect such an art that does not fit in the exploitative domain of the consumerist society? Does not a socially stigmatized and marginalized figure like Gulabo stands to voice those concerns and feelings that are portrayed in Vijay’s poetry? Where is this productivity oriented society placing the art and opinions that are life affirming amidst the chaos and hustle of the life in city? Is not the figure of Vijay reduced to be a ‘coolie’ which we see in one of the proceeding scenes? Finally I see that it is none other than Gulabo who always stands for Vijay. In the restaurant when Vijay pays the Owner coin. Owner reveals that it is a useless coin and takes the food away from his table. Gulabo comes and him the money for Vijay and engages in a very beautiful conversation with Vijay. Gulabo transcends all the physical and social boundaries of her stigmatized identity and status. She becomes the divine entity in the presence of Vijay. She forgets everything about her torturing life and becomes a human being.

 The real and naked nature of the society gets revealed when it is known that Vijay is no more in the world except his creations. The people who did not think about his Najmas were now fighting to get them published and make money out of it. Meena, whom Vijaya loved all through his life seems to be the person who never had those sentiments and emotion. Vijay wrote all her Najmas for her but she never was that person. She negotiates that love for the societal security and comfort. Even though she has the reputable image in the social circles but her heart can not be betrayed because of the superficial and material facilities. A heart and the soul do not categorize the grandeur of love and compassion towards a human being. It does not abandon a man in need of love and compassion.

 All the people which include his selfish brothers, husband of Meena and Meena herself are now interested in his Najmas and the money. How inhuman the society becomes in those moments when they celebrate the death anniversary of Vijay and start blaming one another for the cause of Vijay's death. It is a well composed and fully developed critique and disillusionment from the fake and baseless idea of nationalist project. The critique is made in the form of poetry, Najmas and conversations. Vijay’s standpoint seems to be that of a Baul singer who are not philosophers but are the mystic poets. They do not make effort in understanding the mysteries and chaos rather they embrace it and create something new that the world can never imagine. They create a world that is not based upon the material and social barriers. Just as Vijay says that he is going ‘somewhere far’ which in my opinion is that world which is his own.This world is a transcendental space for nurturing his tormented soul. He will find a solace in that space. He transcends his assigned and imposed identity in the society. Like Bauls of Bengal he knows to think without mind, walk without legs, and fly without wings.


 1. Jagte Raho
 2. Do Beegha Zameen
 3. Pyaasa


  1. Didn't summarise Pyassa as I had thought while reading the article....

    1. Will look into the writing again so that I can recollect the ideas that are missing and must be added to make it a comprehensive one....thanks for the review...

  2. "Do bigha zamin"I think this movie is the ground reality of our society. where the poor bear lots of pain due to the higher class .as always it shows that the rich people oppressed the poor in each and every field. till now this disease adheres with our society. the barbaric treatment has put them in their place by reminding them you are poor and you must know your place.

    1. Certainly, your way of looking the issue ere is apt and appropriate in the context but I would rather say that it is not the rich people who exploit the poor people of the society but a sick and vicious mentality and rationality that exploits the innocent and profoundly beautiful mentality.........I would recommend you to watch the other two movies ...


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