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03 April 2012

Musafir (1957)

Directed by: Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Music by: Salil Choudhary
Starring: David, Suchitra Sen, Sekhar, Bipin Gupta, Durga Khote, Mohan Chhoti, Nirupa Roy, 
Nasir Hussain, Kishore Kumar, Usha Kiron, Paul Mahendra, Daisy Irani and Dilip Kumar
Encouraged by Dilip Kumar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, erstwhile film editor and one-time assistant to Bimal Roy, turned independent producer / director with this film.  He chose a rather unusual subject for his maiden venture. Like the other 40 films in his long and prolific career, Musafir too dealt with the joys and sorrows of the ordinary lives of the ordinary man and woman.

Lakh lakh makaan aur in mein rehnewala karodan insaan… Musafir teen kirayedaron ke jeevan chakron ki kahani hai jo ki ek ke baad ek is makaan mein rehne aate hai intones the narrator (Balraj Sahni), as the camera pans to an ordinary looking house in an ordinary suburb.
A landlord (David) brings a prospective tenant to inspect the house; the landlord is given two weeks’ rent in advance and the young man Ajay (Sekhar), is given the keys. It is night Ajay, brings his 'wife' home; in the light of a candle (Ajay forgets to buy bulbs), we see a woman dressed in bridal finery. From their conversation, we soon learn that the couple are not married. 
Shakuntala (Suchitra Sen) has run away with Ajay; her uncle had fixed her marriage with an old man, and she is afraid that he would be searching for her. Ajay and she go to sleep in separate rooms, but he is soon woken up by the sound of a violin. He gets up to investigate and finds Shakuntala crying softly on the balcony. She is worried about what will happen if his parents do not accept her. He promises her that he will write to his parents once they are married.
The next morning, he is woken up by a boy (Mohan Chhoti) who brings them tea from the nearby teashop. From him, Ajay learns that the violin was played by a man called Raja, whom they affectionately call pagla babu. After drinking the tea, Ajay goes off to get a priest to solemnise their wedding.

Soon after, Shakuntala begs Ajay to take her to his parents; he refuses. If they were to reject her, he wouldn't be able to bear it. She has waited so long, surely she can wait for a few more days? 
The next morning, she sows a seed in the garden; it had been given to her by a neighbour in her home town. The day the seed sprouts, her wishes will be granted. Ajay asks her to be realistic - it's not as if one's every wish is fulfilled. Shakuntala has only one wish - that she set up a happy home with Ajay. They have, he avers, but Shakuntala is sure that a home that is set up on the destruction of another is not a home at all.

She waits for a letter and for the seed to sprout with equal eagerness. Soon, Ajay's parents come; it is clear that they have not come to affect a rapprochement. He's come to disown his son, though the mother clearly wishes otherwise. But even he melts when he hears Shakuntala singing a bhajan inside the house (though he tries hard to hide it).
Shakuntala mistakes him for the landlord, and asks them to wait until her husband comes home from the market. The more they see of her, the more the father thaws, though he still pretends otherwise. It is only when Ajay comes back that Shakuntala realises they are his parents; despite his father's blustering, it is evident that he wants to take his son and daughter-in-law home. Shakuntala's dreams are realised; as she leaves for her real home, the seed she planted some days ago has just begun to sprout.  
The house is on the market again, and this time, it is a whole family - an old man (Nasir Hussain), his widowed and pregnant daughter-in-law (Nirupa Roy), and his younger son, Bhanu (Kishore Kumar). 
The household, which subsisted on the elder son's salary, is now dependent on Bhanu getting a job after graduation. That night, Bhanu is woken up by the sound of a violin playing. The morning tea is brought by the boy from the nearby tea stall, and from him, Bhanu too hears about the pagla babu. Bhanu works at keeping his bhabhi  in good spirits, even singing her silly songs to make her forget her grief for a while.  
Bhanu passes his examinations much to his father's relief. Now, all he needs is a job. He has applied for one, and is soon called for an interview. For the next couple of weeks, Bhanu assiduously appears for one interview after another. His bhabhi's small savings are soon depleted paying for his travel, yet there is no response from any company. Happy-go-lucky Bhanu is also beginning to fall into dark despair. 
When his father sees a cinema ticket in Bhanu's pocket, all his anger comes to the fore; Bhanu, at his wits' end leaves home, and his father is too angry to stop him.
The next morning brings them a telegram - it is Bhanu's appointment. He has to join immediately. At the same time that his father is reading it, the bhabhi is reading a letter; Bhanu's letter.
Just as they are mourning his death, he sits up bewildered. The poison he imbibed the previous night was adulterated. Soon they have two events to celebrate - the bhabhi gives birth.  And the seed that Shakuntala had planted bursts into bloom. 
As soon as they are able to travel, they too leave the house. However, the house doesn’t stand empty for long.
This, the third, and the longest episode of all, involves a young widow, her brother, her disabled son, and her unexpected encounter with her first lover. A lawyer, Suresh (Paul Mahendra), rents the house for a month. He moves in with his sister, Uma (Usha Kiron), and nephew, Raja (Daisy Irani). The little boy cannot walk, but he is remarkably cheerful. 
They have come so that Suresh’s friend, a doctor, can take a look at Raja’s legs. The next morning, Suresh has to leave for Ahmedabad on a case. Like the other tenants before them, they too hear the violin playing its mournful tune in the night. Unlike the other tenants, however, Raja insists on meeting pagla babu. He makes friends with the teashop boy who promises to bring the mystery man to the house.

The doctor’s report is not very hopeful, and Uma is hard put to control herself; in fact, Raja knows that he will never be able to walk, but takes it in his stride. And then, pagla babu does come to the house. Uma recognises him as Raja (Dilip Kumar), the man she loved, and sends him away in distress, but little Raja calls him back. 
The little boy’s affection and his innocent statements bind the older Raja, but he is a little taken aback when he hears the child’s name.
Then next day, Uma asks Mohan (we hear the tea stall boy’s name for the first time in this episode) all about pagla babu. She is distressed when she hears that Raja is destitute, having no source of income, except his violin which he plays only when the mood suits him.  
When Raja comes back to pick up his violin, she persuades him to stay with them. He is hesitant, but finally agrees. That night, Uma is woken up by the strains of a familiar tune. It brings back memories and though she is initially upset, Raja and she remember the days when they were in love with each other.

The two Rajas spend all their time together; the older Raja is always playing the violin for the younger one, filling his life with love and laughter.
It does not last long. Raja is suffering from a debilitating illness, and soon, Suresh is back. He is livid when he hears that Uma has let Raja stay with them. After all, Raja had left her on the eve of her marriage, and the family had had to bear the resultant infamy.

She is distraught when Raja finally shows up, drunk. Afraid of what her brother would say, she manages to get Raja into his room. But as is his wont, Raja begins to play his violin. This wakes up Suresh, who breaks Raja’s violin in anger. Raja leaves the same night, walking out into the storm, leaving Uma behind again.
The next morning Uma goes in search of Raja, only to find him partially unconscious in a tin shed. She brings him back home but the doctor she gets to see Raja has no words of solace. All he can offer is that she make Raja comfortable. When Suresh returns with their tickets and finds Raja back, he warns Uma that if she doesn’t return with him, then their relationship must perforce be at an end. Raja overhears everything; leaving a letter for Uma, and bidding goodbye to little Raja who is sleeping, he leaves the house once again.

The seed that Shakuntala planted, once full of blossoms, now stands stark and denuded of even its leaves in the storm that lashed the night. 
Musafir  is a lovely, meandering film that takes us through the lives of three disparate sets of characters. Hrishida chose to shoot an episodic narrative, anchored - unusually -  by the house in which a marriage, a birth, and a death occur. Characters like the landlord (David), the gossipy neighbour, her daughter (Baby Naaz), the postman, the boy at the teashop (Mohan Chhoti), and last but not the least, the drunk violinist (as the unseen player in the first two episodes, and one of the protagonists in the third), waltz in and out of the three stories, giving them a foundation on which to rest. Certain dialogues (the landlord’s to each tenant) and certain scenes are replicated, heightening the commonalities between each episode.
Salil Choudhary provided the music, and Dilip Kumar lent his voice for the duet with Lata Mangeshkar. This is one of the films where a couple of the songs became well known, but the film itself did dismally at the box-office. But fortunately for us, the audience, Raj Kapoor, impressed with the film, insisted that Anari be given to Hrishida to direct. Anari won both critical and commercial acclaim, and Hrishida continued to woo us with simple stories about ordinary people.  

You can watch a clean print of this movie on Tom Daniel's YouTube Channel here.


  1. Anu, you wicked, wicked woman. WDGTT??!! I love most of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's work - and this one sounds so wonderfully poignant. And some of my favourite actors, too... oh, I want to see this. So much. :-(

  2. *Laughing* Make use of your insomnia as I do. Besides, (slyly) it's available on YouTube. :) And definitely worth watching!!

  3. I saw this on DD years back and loved it. Funnily enough I had totally forgotten the first episode and also the details of the third. maybe the fact that I also was to finish my graduation soon, effected my memory.
    Lovely film!
    And to think that Dilip Kumar rejected Pyaasa one year earlier that it was similar to the roles he played till then. Abrar Alvi gives a different reason though.

  4. harvey, do find time to watch it again; it's really worth it.

    I liked Abrar Alvis' book. It cleared up a lot of misconceptions about so many things.

  5. I wish I could make use of my insomnia that way, Anu - but my doctor has advised me to just keep lying in bed, no matter if I can't sleep. Getting up and watching/reading something will exacerbate the condition, and only lead to more problems. :-(


  6. Meh. I'm not supposed to be walking around either, but I disturb my husband because I cannot lie still. :( So I get up and read, or watch a movie, or don't go to bed at all until exhaustion makes me crash. I'm sure I'm making my condition worse, but... :(

  7. Haven't seen it but reads like a poignant drama that is definitely worth viewing - ofcourse, a Hrishikesh Mukherjee movie is worth watching any day. But I'm curious what the relevance is of multiple stories in a movie that are not linked  to each other - they may as well have been three different films. Is there any common thread (not story wise)something that connects the 3 plots other than the house or is a set of stories that shows life at different stages as you suggest? Or maybe just an experimental narrative...

  8. Pradeep, it is an experimental narrative. Because the only thing common to the three stories really is the house. And the people who live in that community, who weave in and out of the narrative. Other than that, the stories are quite independent of each other, and illustrate three different stages.

  9. I saw this on DD years ago, and remember the happiness I felt, in the first two stories at least, when things worked out for the families.  The third was sad, but atleast Usha Kiron gets closure of some sort. Like Harvey I remembered the 2nd the most, because of raunki ram Kishore Kumar :D

  10. I knew that the third one was going to end in tragedy :( but I was still waiting for them to live happily-ever-after. (Call me a diehard optimist, or delusionary - both work!)

  11. This is a nice film. Each part is well done. I think it was not only the house, but also the plant that showed continuity. It's stages of germination, blossom, and finally shedding it's leaves etc was very very symbolic. I think it's one of the best symbolisms I've come across.

    The three families who were the 'Musafirs' in that house, all had their own destinies, and problems - and happiness in life, though in the last family the three didn't seem to have anything to be happy about, inspite of the child's cheerfullness which was perhaps meant as a lesson to the adults on how to bear their burdens.

  12. I actually didn't like the symbolism of the plant; I thought it was too obvious. And besides, (curse my logic) there is no way in ---- that the plant would have grown as big as it did in the two months from the time Shankuntala leaves. At that point of time it had just sprouted. :(

    About the three being musafirs, I agree. It's a rented house after all, and the initial voice over makes it very clear that this is the story of three people at three different stages in life.

  13. The story I liked the most was the marriage one. Suchitra Sen was just so awesome. Her concern for her in-laws is just mind blowing. I watched this movie as a 12/13 year old and the sentiment remains with me till date.

    Dilip Kumar was good too in his episode, but I thought with Devdas, Jogan and other tragic roles, this just became that "another role". Same for Kishore Kumar too in his episode.

    I should catch up on this movie once again.

  14. The first episode was also the least emotional, no? Suchitra Sen was gorgeous in that episode, and I really liked the quiet, even tone of the whole episode.

    Kishore was good in his part; not fully crackpot as he usually is (Hrishida must have reined him in), and he did the serious part well, too.

    I liked Dilip Kumar's episode too - simply because they did not dwell too much on his drinking, and he was usually smiling, especially when he was with the child, instead of brooding and melancholic.

  15. Hmmm. I must refresh my memory and see it for Dilip and Kishore Kumar.

  16. Oh, please do. It's worth it. It was nice to see a happy, drunk Dilip. : - ) And I liked the way the relationships were drawn - so gently, so maturely.

  17. I found a song from this movie a couple of weeks ago, because I was looking for something that had a duet between Manna Dey and Shamshad Begum.  I posted that song today, then I recalled that I'd seen a review of Musafir fairly recently, and I decided to go back to that.  So, here I am.  And from your writeup, this sounds great to me.  I'm going to have to look for it.

  18. Richard,

    The film's available on YouTube - do watch. I think it will be right up your alley.


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