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31 January 2016

Faraar (1955)

Directed by: Phani Majumdar,
Music: Anil Biswas
Lyrics: Prem Dhawan, Ali Sardar Jafri
Starring: Dev Anand, Geeta Bali, Poonam,
 Shrawan Kumar, Manmohan Krishna, 
Krishnakant, Balbir, Anand Pal
I'd heard of this film for a long time now, but never got around to watching it. For some obscure reason, the film was referred to as Dev Anand in Goa, and that put me off. Apparently, it was released as Faraar, but by the time the censor certificate came up for reissue, three other films with the same name had hit the marquee, so they re-registered it as Dev Anand in Goa. (Curiously, the film's credits say 'Dev Anand in Goa' with 'Faraar' in brackets, suggesting that that was the original title.) But when looking up songs for my post on songs defining oneself, I came across a peppy Geeta Dutt number picturised on a vivacious Geeta Bali, I decided I had to watch the film soon. It was only when the opening credits rolled that I realised that it was co-written (with Krishen Chander) and directed by Phani Majumdar - it couldn't be bad, then. 

 The film opens with a bunch of young men skulking through the undergrowth by the side of a railway track. It turns out they are up to no good.
The next day's headlines are full of the news of the disaster. Gora (Dev Anand) is part of a group of revolutionaries who set the bomb the previous night. The police are searching for him, but Gora manages to reach the headquarters. There, Panditji, the group's leader, warns them not to be over-confident. The police are not fools - if Gora is caught, then it won't be long before the police trace the revolutionaries' bomb factory. He asks two others, Bipin (Anand Pal) and Anjali (?) to hide Gora for awhile.
They disperse, and Gora promises to meet Bipin and Anjali later that night. It turns out that Bipin is tired of the life they are leading; he would like to give it up and return to his village, where he and Anjali can begin to enjoy their married life. Anjali stops him - she had told him of her revolutionary activities before they were married. She cannot desert her friends now.
They make their way to the little restaurant where they had all planned to meet. But something goes wrong - the police have surrounded the restaurant and there's no way to leave, unseen. Bipin offers to flee; the police will chase after him, and Anjali can take Gora away to a safe place. At any cost, they have to keep him safe.
But Bipin is caught. And the news is that he has turned state's witness. Even though he may have done so under duress, the tide of opinion is that he needs to be killed before he can betray them all. Anjali is shaken, but stands firm - her country, first and foremost.

Gora is given his orders - Bipin must not be allowed to betray them. Gora and his friends infiltrate the court hearing. There, Bipin is misleading the prosecutor (though he admits to having set off the bomb that derailed the train) with regard to his accomplices' names, when he turns and spots Gora. Without meaning to, Gora's name slips out, and Gora shoots him. In the ensuing confusion, Gora and his friends make their escape, though Gora is wounded by a police bullet.

Soon, they are on the run, travelling by train, and then by sea to Goa (then under Portuguese occupation). Gora's friends manage to get him safely to Goa, where they take him to Dr Pillai's (Manmohan Krishna) hospital.
There, at gunpoint, Dr Pillai extracts the bullet, but that is not enough. While Gora's friends want to take him away to a safe house, Dr Pillai demurs. Gora has lost a lot of blood. He needs rest and to be taken care of, if he's not to die. Not having another option, the revolutionaries agree, provided no one leaves the hospital while Gora is there.
Days pass, and Gora slowly recovers his strength. He's taken care of by the nurse, Meenakshi (Poonam), while Ajay stands guard outside the hospital. One day, a police inspector arrives to enquire about the two strangers from Hindustan. Dr Pillai lets him meet them, but introduces them as Meenakshi's relatives.
Ajay is curious. Why would the doctor save them? It turns out that Dr Pillai was once a freedom fighter himself. A famous one, in fact, one whose revolutionary activities had made his name a byword in his country.

Gora is now well enough to travel; he had been asked by Panditji to meet a man, a Mr Debussy. He's a Frenchman, who can help them obtain firearms, and materials to make bombs. Mr Debussy loves Hindustan so much, he claims, he's willing to bring them whatever they ask for - at a price. 40% commission.
The deal is struck. Half the money to be paid when the ship leaves France; the other half, when it reaches Goa. The ammunition will be delivered within a month, promises Debussy.

Gora leaves him, and goes to a nearby hotel for a cup of tea. There, he makes the acquaintance of the hotel's dancer (Geeta Bali), who flirts harmlessly with him. 
But when the song ends, and a man tries to abduct her, Gora springs to the rescue. (Though all that consists of is misleading the kidnapper about her whereabouts; she's already escaped from him.) She asks him to drop her home. He reluctantly agrees.

On the way, he congratulates her on her singing and dancing. But is that enough, he asks. What does this life give her? Money, she replies. That's it? Well, no, but for him to understand why she does what she does, he has to understand her, understand her life.
That's difficult, he says. She smiles. Everyone says the same thing.

As they walk along, she finds herself more and more intrigued by her reluctant companion - he has no name, he tells her; names are for those who possess something of their own. All that's his, including his name, belongs to his country. What does he do? He awakens people from their sleep - it's almost impossible to awaken people who have been asleep for nearly two centuries, but he is going to try. She finds herself alternately amused and exasperated by him.
Kitty (for that's her name) has an alcoholic gambler for a father (Krishnakant), who not only takes her money, but lectures her on 'honour'.

Meanwhile, Nurse Meenakshi (Poonam), has a long-time admirer, John (?). To get rid of him, she introduces Gora as her husband. Gora plays along, asking Meenakshi to get ready to leave for Calcutta. But why? pleads John. Because there's no place in Goa where he can set up a factory, claims Gora. Poor John - he offers them his building, so Meenakshi won't leave.
Things are falling into place - a building for his factory, a deal with Debussy... Dr Pillai cautions him about trusting Debussy. The man's a clever opportunist. No matter, says Gora, casually. Once the ship carrying the ammunition docks, Debussy will be killed. But why? No real reason, but that they cannot afford betrayal. Debussy could be potentially dangerous.

Dr Pillai is the voice of experience - Debussy is merely a cog in the invaders' machinery. Remove him, and another will take his place. If Gora wants to uproot the British rule, then the revolutionaries need the strength of the common people. The voice of his experience wars with the chorus of their idealism.
Kitty finds herself strangely drawn to the stranger she met the previous night - she has no idea who he is, what he does, where he stays... her mother is sympathetic, but cautions her about falling in love with someone she doesn't know.

Meanwhile, back in India, Bipin has escaped prison. Panditji warns Anjali to change her residence; Bipin will no doubt come there to harass her. He is right - Anjali finds Bipin hiding in their bathroom. When Anjali excoriates him for having betrayed them, Bipin insists that he did it for her, for them... he's tired of living a life in hiding. Anjali is grieved - she's now known as the wife of a traitor; his betrayal has given her nothing but a life of ignominy. Furious at what he considers her bartering her love for her comrades' freedom, Bipin leaves in a huff - it is she, and they, his erstwhile comrades, who have betrayed him. And they will pay!
In Goa, Gora and Ajay have begun work on their 'factory'. They are ostensibly setting up a chemical factory, but it is just a front for making bombs. While they are thus engrossed, Gora runs into Kitty again; the hotel she works in, is just opposite John's bungalow. While their first meeting leads to Kitty walking off in a huff, she soon comes back the next day, to haul Gora off to take part in their festivities. It's also when she confesses to her love for him, but Gora, though attracted to her, is clear - their paths do not meet. 

Neither does his path merge with Poonam's, even though they are both fighting on the same side. His single-minded focus is on attaining freedom - for himself, for his countrymen, for his country. And for that, he needs to ensure he has the money on hand to pay for the ammunition. Anjali arrives just in time with the necessary funds. 

On the same ferry, in disguise, arrives Bipin. And a police inspector (Krishan Dhawan). They stay in Kitty's hotel. And from the balcony of his room, Bipin spots Anjali, Gora and Ajay. His reaction makes Kitty suspicious, and when the inspector (in civilian dress) returns with the local police officer, she eavesdrops on their conversation.
When she accosts Gora about his reality, and offers him her love in exchange for her silence, he laughs. Kitty is only half joking, but it is clear that while Gora has his own dreams; the light of his idealism, of his quest for the country's independence is greater than his need to realise them. He cannot afford to love someone, to have someone love him.
The moment passes, so does the night. And now, Debussy's ship has docked outside the port. It is time to act. 

But. What about Bipin? He's itching for revenge. But the Goa police have already searched the chemical factory and found nothing suspicious. What will he do now?
And Debussy? Can Gora and his comrades trust him? What about Poonam, for whom the charade had become reality all too soon? Is her love destined to remain as unrequited as Kitty's appears to be?
Does Gora succeed in his endeavours? Will they escape, after all? And, is there a 'chhota kona' in his heart for love, not just for his country? And how much will Kitty take to heart Gora's axiom that Zindagi sirf milne ka naam nahin hai; zindagi kuch khone ka naam bhi hai?

What made Faraar interesting was the interplay between all these characters, and their motivations for doing what they were doing. Bipin is a man driven by his need for revenge; it's an intensity that matches Gora's fight for freedom. The inspector is a man driven by his duty, Kitty is changed by the intensity of her love for a stranger - freedom fighter or terrorist? It is a question that her conscience has to answer. Anjali's focus is single-minded - her country above all else, and that sets into motion a chain of events that ends in personal tragedy. 
Dev Anand is extremely restrained in his role as the idealistic freedom fighter. He's single-minded, focused only on his goal, callous even, at the thoughts of the lives he needs to take on the path to achieving it. The good of many versus the lives of a few - he seems to weigh that in balance and make his choice. Once taken, he doesn't swerve from his mission.  

His dedication to his cause makes him blind to softer emotions such as love, or moral issues about taking innocent lives. This focus is what makes it necessary for him to tie up lose ends when he has lost all. It is films like these that make me wish that Dev had had more such roles; perhaps if this film had succeeded at the box-office, we may have had them?
He also doesn't get a single song; there's precious little romance to clutter up the narrative even. (And what little is there, is very quiet, very restrained and very touching.) Yet, his scenes with Geeta Bali - one of his favourite heroines (he called her 'a sport') - crackles with the chemistry between them.   

Geeta Bali is ebullient and a delight to watch; one realises just how fine an actress she really was in the film's emotional scenes, that are pitched just right. She's a natural, and her performance reflects that trait. She had a tough role - one which required her to play the 'fallen woman' (she's a hotel dancer), a woman whose love is repeatedly rejected, yet whose love for a man makes her choose a dangerous path, with no thoughts of her own safety.
Krishan Dewan has a relatively short role, but he is a fine actor, and comes into his own in the last half an hour of the film. So does Anjali. Meenakshi's arc was the only one that confused me. 

Also, the last reels seem rather disjointed. I'm not sure if it's because the film is cut to less than two hours on YouTube. Despite that, I still found the film rather engrossing. 

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