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22 March 2014

Phir Subah Hogi (1958)

Directed by: Ramesh Saigal
Music: Khayyam
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Starring: Raj Kapoor, Mala Sinha, Rehman, 
Mubarak, Leela Chitnis, Nana Palsikar
Loosely based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment,  and adapted by actor Mubarak (who also plays a strong role in the film), Phir Subah Hogi deals with social injustice and inequality, unemployment and disillusionment, hope and despair. It makes a strong case for the average man who hoped for a better tomorrow after we attained our freedom from our colonial masters.

 Ram Mehra (Raj Kapoor) is a final year law student. Along with his friend, Rehman (Rehman), he attends the Government Law College, Bombay. He is an impecunious youth, who subsists on the money orders that his mother sends, and by pawning his personal belongings. When the movie begins, we see the principal of the college advising him to fill the form and hand in the registration fees so he can sit for his Bar Exam. Ram is a good student, says the principal, and he would be saddened if Ram didn't appear for his exams. Ram is sad as well, that despite being a good student, his lack of funds will derail not only his education but his career as well. Rehman, who has overheard the conversation, is furious with Ram for not having made arrangements for his fees and for not asking him for help. 

Ram, in fact, has not had the money to pay the rent for his room, and his landlady (Tun Tun) has had it sealed. The expected money order from his mother has not arrived. In order to pay off his debts and his examination fees, Ram decides to pawn a pocket watch. It is the only memento he has of his late father, and he had steadfastly refused to utilise it for funds before. This time, however, he has no choice. 

The moneylender is a canny businessman. He offers Ram Rs25. Ram is taken aback. He needs at least Rs300. But the moneylender is adamant - Rs25, or Ram can take his watch back. Back to the wall, Ram agrees. He is a jovial man, and prefers to look on the bright side. On his way back home, he sees an accident happen. A couple of kids, flying kites from the rooftops, slip, and one of them falls to the ground. Ram picks him up, and the neighbours direct him to the boy's house, where his sister Soni (Mala Sinha) and her mother (Leela Chitnis) are devastated to see the unconscious boy. A kindly neighbour brings a doctor; and Ram learns that the family is too poor to afford even two square meals a day. The woman who tells him of their circumstances excoriates him for calling the doctor; who is going to pay the doctor's fees? Soni is grateful to the stranger. She asks him for his name and address. Ram smiles. Why? Perhaps one day they may be able to repay him. By then he won't need the money. 

Rehman, passing by, has noticed Ram paying the doctor. He is furious. Has Ram's mother sent him money? No? Then why is he going around showering his largesse around? Ram has no answer, except that he couldn't watch those poor people suffer. Rehman is practical - so they are poor. And Ram is wealthy? Besides, his room has been sealed. Where is Ram going to sleep that night? At the Taj Mahal hotel, quips Ram. Yes, indeed. Though not in the hotel. He's soon chased away by a conscientious havaldar. Ram spends the night roaming the streets. He is broke, he doesn't have a roof over his head, but the world is his. The next morning sees a different Ram. His mother has not been able to send him money. When he goes to the moneylender to sell his watch, the man refuses. He cannot buy a pawned item. First, Ram has to give him the Rs25 that he borrowed against it. Once the watch is Ram's then he can sell it. Ram is desperate. He needs Rs100 so he can pay his fees, or he will lose a year. But the moneylender is obdurate and an angry Ram leaves him in despair.

He spends the day roaming the streets thinking of various ways in which to arrange for his fees. Towards the evening, he is reducing to asking perfect strangers for a loan. It is then that he runs into Gopal (Nana Palsikar), who is a drunkard. Ram is dragged unwillingly into a liquor den, where he realises that Gopal is indebted to the tune of hundreds of rupees to the owner, Harbanslal (Jagdish Sethi). He also discovers, during the course of the conversation (a monologue by Gopal) that Gopal is Soni's father. It is then that Soni arrives - to take her father home. And Gopal realises that Harbanslal has more than an avuncular interest in ensuring that Gopal gets his drinks on credit. Harbanslal even says as much - he will claim his dues at some point soon. Ram helps Soni take her father home. Once again, they are seen together by Rehman. He accosts Ram, who tries to get him to leave. But Rehman is not so easy to dislodge. He introduces himself to Soni, and requests her to inform Ram that his rent has been paid, and so has his examination fees. Ram can come back to college the next day. 

Rehman also makes it very clear that he knows that Ram and Soni are attracted to each other. When they finally get Gopal home, Soni's grateful mother asks Ram to step in and share their meagre meal. Afterwards, Ram spends some time telling Son's little brother and sister a bedtime story, one that Soni takes great interest in. His story allows Soni to dream, to hope, but reality, as always, intrudes in the form of Harbanslal, and their neighbours. Soni is not quite as quiet as she seems, and she tells him off. So does her mother. Only Harbanslal is not the sort of person who takes offence. Unless he wants to. 

The next evening, Ram comes to meet Soni. Their attraction for each other, unspoken though it is, seems to be mutually understood; much to Rehman's amusement. He is not one to let go of an opportunity, and much to Ram's and Soni's amused chagrin, decides to stay and play kabab mein haddi

Soni was on her way to deliver the clothes she spent the night stitching. Frolicking with Ram in the park makes her quite late. The man whom she delivers them to, is not beyond trying to take advantage of the naïve Soni. Luckily for her, she is rescued by Ram, who has no idea who she is, until after he's chased her attacker away. As he comforts her, a distraught Soni asks him whether the poor have no honour at all. Why did God have to create poor people? Ram has no answers but he attempts to assuage her grief nevertheless. He drops her home, and requests her mother not to let Soni go out alone any more. Unfortunately, Harbanslal is there, having escorted Gopal back home. And so are the neighbours, who delight in taunting Harbanslal at every given opportunity. Provoked, Harbanslal insists that Soni had better be married to him as quickly as possible. Soni's mother objects quite strongly, at which Harbanslal demands his money. Soni's mother remains firm - ask the man to whom he had lent the money. She doesn't owe him anything!

But Harbanslal has quite a few aces up his sleeve. The next morning, the neighbours, who also happen to be Soni's landlord, appear with the police. Gopal hasn't been able to pay the rent for many months; in lieu, the landlord is confiscating their property, including Soni's machine. The landlord's wife has a suggestion - why does Soni not marry Harbanslal? He will treat her like a queen. When Soni's mother says she would prefer to beg in the street, Harbanslal tries to get Gopal arrested for not repaying his debt. That doesn't work either, since Gopal's wife is quite happy to have him locked up for a couple of years. But the taunts of the landlord's wife compel Soni to acquiesce. Not one to refrain from striking while the iron is hot, Harbanslal makes sure that the wedding is a mere five days away. Ram, who walks in just then, is shocked to say the least.  

But Soni is not ready to be the complete martyr yet. She tells him the truth; that she is forced into this marriage because of their circumstances. Her eyes reveal her truth. In order to save Soni from the disastrous marriage, Ram decides to visit the moneylender. When he enters, he sees the moneylender being accosted by a man whose wife had pawned her mangalsutra, and had now come to redeem it. Because the date to redeem it had passed, the moneylender had sold the gold chain. The man leaves angrily, but not before threatening to kill the moneylender if he didn't return the gold chain by the evening. In the ensuing mêlée, Ram manages to steal the keys to the moneylender's locker and to make a copy before dropping the keys on the ground. 

That night, Ram is back. But it all goes horribly wrong when the moneylender comes back unexpectedly. Ram was only intent on escaping without being identified, but now the man is dead and there are people knocking at the door. He manages to escape however, and returns to his rooms without being noticed. It is only then that he realises the enormity of the crime that he has inadvertently committed. 

He has no one to turn to; in the battle between his guilt and his conscience, he finds that he cannot even confide in Rehman. Or in Soni, who comes to meet him in his room on the eve of her wedding. Ram's helplessness is evident, as is Soni's grief. Even as Ram's guilt weighs heavily on his mind, he finds he cannot summon the courage to confess to his crime. Days pass, the labourer who threatened to kill the moneylender if his wife's mangalsutra was not returned is arrested for the murder, Soni's marriage has been postponed due to her father's death, and Ram's mental state is slowly but steadily deteriorating. And in the meantime, someone has suspicions. 

Ramesh Saigal, whose earlier film Railway Platform also dealt with social justice, highlighted the problems of Nehruvian socialism in his new film, Phir Subah Hogi. Our cities were (are) over-run by migrant workers who left their homes seeking a better livelihood. There was employment available in the cities, and many came seeking the wealth they were always told existed - somewhere. It would be theirs, if only they made that transition. And so they came, in droves, looking for jobs, for the promised wealth, for a home for themselves. And they found jobs, yes, perhaps; but they definitely found exploitation, they found crime, they formed (and lived in) slums.

What I found most pleasing about a serious film (and don't tell me any film based on Russian literature can be anything other than dark and grey!) was the fact that it did not glorify the village and vilify the city. The city is there, because that is the context of the film. It could happen anywhere where a search for a better life conflicts with the exploitation of a marginalised and weaker section of the population. 

In fact, 'conflict' is at the centre of the film: both external  - unemployment, poverty, crime - and internal  - guilt vs. conscience. Krishen Saigal's camera lovingly and patiently follows the characters through both sets of conflict. Shot with shadows and light emphasising every emotional curve and arc that the characters go through, Phir Subah Hogi is the visualisation of an ideology and its pros and cons, on celluloid. As a psychological study of crime and punishment, Phir Subah Hogi  was extremely insightful.

The acting was top-notch, Raj Kapoor delivering one of his career-best performances as the man tormented by guilt. Having come to terms with his external conflicts with poverty, it is now imperative that he comes to terms with his actions and their consequences. What does it mean to be a human being who has made such a tragic mistake? Can he live with himself, knowing the truth? And Raj Kapoor's acting internalised that struggle. Devoid of the usual mannerisms of which he is often accused, Kapoor's Ram was that most flawed of all humans - one who commits a crime in order to do good. When he finds out that the means do not justify the end, and that somewhere, someone has to pay the consequences of his actions, Ram is caught at the crossroads of his own conscience. What is interesting is that it is not the police or justice that give him nightmares though they frighten him, but his own personal idea of right and wrong. Even while he falls apart, the temptation to keep himself safe is always there; will it win against his principles of doing what is right? 

Mala Sinha is not one of my favourite actresses. I find her irritatingly over the top in the weep-fests that she usually starred in. But here, she was fresh out of the success of Pyaasa, and remarkably restrained in her role as Soni.  She made the most of her role of a woman who is forced to support her family, but is undermined by her father's addiction and his debt to an unscrupulous businessman. Her quiet support for Ram's agony, and her desire to be there for a man who had gambled everything to support her was effectively brought out without resorting to too much drama. It was a performance that was a worthy successor to her opportunistic turn in Pyaasa. Her chemistry with Raj Kapoor is as visible here as it was in Parvarish. (Both were released in 1958 - I'm not sure which came first.) Only here, it is a very shy and endearing beginning, but again without any resort to the usual coyness on the heroine's part. The declaration of love is rather forthright, and her response is equally frank.  

As the police inspector who suspects Ram of being the murderer, Mubarak was brilliant. He suspects, but has no evidence. His psychological cat-and-mouse game with Ram, his willingness to do just about anything to get a confession, his stoic ability to focus on his duty to save an innocent man from the gallows - Mubarak invested his commanding screen presence to present a well-etched character portrait of an upright policeman. As he tells Ram, "You've committed one murder inadvertently; don't commit another deliberately. You will not be able to live with the weight of two murders on your soul."

Rehman is the friend who is unconditionally loyal. Even when he does not understand what Ram is going through, even when he is frustrated at Ram's silence, he is there, a quiet pillar of support. It was not a great role, but a supporting one, and Rehman put in a decent performance. He provided the few rays of sunshine in the film with his quiet humour and likeable personality. Nana Palsikar and Leela Chitnis played the role of Soni's parents, the latter departing from her usual morose (and lachrymose) avatars to play a more pragmatic and objective character. Refreshing indeed!

One cannot talk about Phir Subah Hogi without mentioning its music. Its stellar musical score was composed by Khayyam with extremely hard-hitting lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi. How Khayyam came to compose for a film in which RK was the hero is part of film lore. When Ramesh Saigal, the producer-director, came to Sahir and asked him to write the lyrics for his adaptation of Crime and Punishment, Sahir wanted to know who the music director would be. Saigal said that since he had signed Raj Kapoor as the hero, the music directors would obviously be Shankar-Jaikishen. In a later interview, Khayyam would relate how Sahir had told Saigal that he was making a classic, not a crime thriller. He, Sahir, would write the lyrics only if the music was composed by someone who had not only read the book but understood it. It was he who mentioned Khayyam's name.

Accompanied by Khayyam and Sahir, Saigal went to meet Raj Kapoor. Raj Kapoor was not very happy initially at having Khayyam compose the music. He agreed reluctantly but on the condition that he would okay the tunes. "Raj Kapoor was a clever man," says Khayyam, in that interview. "He understood music. He pointed to a tanpura that had been gifted to him by Lataji. I composed the first tune, and then composed five others for the same song." According to Khayyam, Raj Kapoor was so pleased with the tunes Khayyam composed that he hugged the composer and confessed he couldn't choose one tune over the others.  Khayyam should compose what he wanted to, and choose the tune he thought best. The score that Khayyam came up with vindicated not only his own talent but also Sahir's belief in his ability to deliver. Sahir's Marxist sympathies came into full play in songs such as Chino Arab hamara, and Aasman pe hai  khuda, while his sense of optimism shone through in the duet, Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi. (It had a sad version as well, which was vintage Sahir - bitter and cynical.) Ramesh Saigal handled the song picturisations with great sensitivity, and his deft direction was complemented by Krishen Saigal's effective camera work.

If you haven't seen this wonderful film already, do watch it.


  1. Itna busy kyun ho, bhai? You don't seem to have time to breathe. Take a chill pill, as they used to say back in the 90s. :)

    I too read Crime and Punishment in my college days. It was a punishment for no crime at all, if you ask me!

  2. Oh Gosh... I love the songs of the film so so so so much. Esp Chino Arab Hamara, which is a classic in its own right. I love EVERYTHING about that song, Raj Kapoor's acting, the picturisation, the music, the singing and above all, the lyrics. And now, you recommend the movie so highly.

    I should really watch it. Really, really,

  3. Ha ha Anu. I read the book in my school days and loved it. I used to read a lot of Russian literature. You certainly need patience to go through so many words.

  4. Yes, ava, you should watch it. Really, really. :)

  5. Yes, ava. This is in retrospect. *grin* It can't have been much of a punishment if I read it through completely. :) I also read Anna Karenina after this, so it can't have put me off all Russian literature. But oh, they wrote and wrote and wrote, didn't htey?

  6. Great review! A must watch for me because of Raj-Mala Sinha pair.Hope everything turns up well at the end! Is that Raj Kapoor does not kill the moneylender but knock him off unconsious instead and the culprit is someone else? Rehman......Hmmmmm.Now I must watch it!

  7. I watched Phir Subah Hogi when I was a child - good old DD, of course - and, to be honest, found it far too sad for my liking. But the one thing that really stayed with me - and which has endured - is the music. So very, very good. And your review tempts me to give it another try, Anu (especially if RK is without his usual mannerisms!) - will do, someday soon.

  8. Arjun Narayanan24 March 2014 at 06:46

    I loved the review and want to watch this film. I think Raj Kapoor, having played out the moral battles of Nehruvian India in Awara and Shree 420, happened to be an obvious choice to play this character. As for the track Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi, it never fails to fill hope in me

  9. Arjun Narayanan24 March 2014 at 06:55

    Hi Anu,

    Loved this review. Have you seen the tv series that came on DD, starring Pankaj Dheer as Bimbisara and Hema Malini as Amrapali? I loved that as well.

    Do read my take on this film in the link below:


  10. I didn't find it 'sad', Madhu, as much as 'tense'. Yes, there is an underlying sense of desolation, but there is hope, and the focus is on people who are willing to live by that hope. Do watch if you can find the time.

  11. Hi Arjun,
    No, I haven't seen the TV serial. Didn't know there was one, actually. By the time Hema Malini made her foray into television, I had left India. Perhaps I can source it somewhere.

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on this film.

  12. Oh, do watch already, Arjun. It is sad that this film is not as viewed as it should be. It's a small gem of a film.

  13. After reading your review I confess to feeling a bit sheepish, I always thought this movie was one those boring films, yes I did like the songs but I just assumed the film would not interest me. I guess now I have to take a look at the film, because when Raj Kapoor decides to do away with his haan ji, main kya boloonji acting then he can captivate the audience. On and off I still see portions of Jagte Raho both the Bengali and Hindi versions on You Tube, just to feast my eyes on Kapoor's superb portrayal. What is most important was he delivered the Bengali dialogues like a true native of Bengal.

  14. By the way you will see an update here but do not bother to visit my blog right now, as usual my cursor jumped and hit publish, I am still in the process of posting Anupama

  15. It is absolutely *not* boring! Oh, Shilpi, Shilpi, et tu Shilpi?
    What is most important was he delivered the Bengali dialogues like a true native of Bengal.
    Well, he lived there for a time, didn't he? He began his career in Calcutta, acting in his father's theatre troupe. One assumes he learnt to speak the language there.

  16. I'm glad you warned me. I saw the update on my blogroll and was so excited. :)

  17. I have published it now Anu.

  18. Thanks, Shilpi. Will pop over.

  19. I really hope your readers do watch this one.. though it's awfully hard to grab a copy. The print available is even more awful!

  20. What is most important was he delivered the Bengali dialogues like a true native of Bengal.

    When did this happen? Please enlighten me!

  21. That's true. The print on YouTube was so grainy that I couldn't take my usual screenshots at all.I wonder if there is a DVD available. I guess not.

  22. Rohit, I think Shilpi is talking about the Bengali version of Jagte Raho. It was made in both languages, remember?

  23. Arre i bought DVD, VCD everything. they are all the same. If you remember, I asked you an year ago if you know someplace I could get a better quality print from

  24. That I know.. but I was under the impression that it was a Bengali film with Bengali actors, and then it was remade in Hindi with Bombay wallah actors. Had no clue that Raj Kapoor had anything to do with the Bengali version


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