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25 June 2018

Jogan (1950)

Directed by: Kidar Sharma
Music: Bulo C Rani
Lyrics: Kabir (bhajan), 
Meera Bai (bhajans), 
Pandit Indra, Butaram Sharma, 
Himmat Rai Sharma
Starring: Nargis, Dilip Kumar, 
Baby Tabassum, 
Protima Devi, Poornima, 
Rajendra Kumar
My Nargis retrospective continues with one of the finest films made during the period. Kidar Sharma’s Jogan. Based on a one-line idea told to him by producer Chandulal Shah (who had been inspired  by an English film in which a man falls in love with a nun), Kidar Sharma took on the challenge of shooting the entire film in 29 days with stars like Nargis and Dilip Kumar. This was one of Nargis’s finest roles, and she – as usual – rose to the occasion.

Vijay (Dilip Kumar) is in his hometown to dispose of some ancestral property. One day, his attention is caught by a mellifluous bhajan from the temple – an atheist, Vijay listens, from outside the temple doors (though he’s internally amused by the irony). A glimpse of the mendican't face – its beauty and tranquillity – attract him, and he’s disturbed by the fact. She’s someone who instils a feeling of spirituality in people; why is he lusting after her?
His aunt, a loving soul, wonders why he should want to sell his patrimony; if the house remains, then perhaps he will have an excuse to return. It’s not certain whether it’s her sage advice or his mounting attraction for the jogan that causes him to change his mind. Vijay is also amused by a young girl, Mangu (Baby Tabassum), who delivers milk; she’s a non-stop chatterbox, and seemingly, quite capable, at least in her own estimation.
His aunt tells him that she’s going to listen to Meera Devi's religious discourse, but she’s sure he won’t care – after all, he’s an atheist. He’s not that devout an atheist, Vijay tells his aunt; if he met the right spiritual guide, perhaps he would change. That afternoon, Vijay hangs around until the discourse ends, just so he can meet Meera Devi (Nargis). She’s not very welcoming – men aren’t allowed at the afternoon discourse. Why has he come? To meet her, says Vijay. 
He’s curious why she embraced asceticism in her youth. She found the world worthless, she replies. Vijay’s response is to point to the pain he sees in her eyes. Meera Devi cuts him off curtly and shuts the doors to her room. Vijay is forced to leave. That evening, he runs into Mangu again; the little girl is entranced by Meera Devi's voice and demands that Vijay come and listen to her that night. Nothing loth, Vijay acquiesces. 
After the evening’s discourse is over, Meera Devi requests Vijay not to come to the temple. His presence disturbs her; today, for the first time, she’d looked up while singing. Vijay is open about the fact that he comes only to look at her, but promises not to return if his presence bothers her.
Disturbed, Meera Devi goes into her room. She cannot understand these nascent feelings. Soon, Vijay learns from Mangu that Meera Devi is sick. While Vijay convinces his aunt to call the vaid, Mangu has innocently informed Meera Devi about her conversation with Vijay. Each morning, Vijay places a rose at Meera Devi's doorstep.
One night, Vijay runs into Meera Devi at the river bank – she asks him why he has been making a floral offering to her every day. Why is she carrying the flowers around, he counters. To immerse them in the river, is her quelling reply.
But a moment later, she asks him why he hasn’t been to meet her these past few days; he was obeying her wishes, says Vijay. Meera Devi confesses that his proximity has disturbed her peace of mind; she doesn’t know why she feels like talking to him all the time.
Is it a sin for two people to talk? Vijay asks. It is, for her, replies Meera Devi. They aren’t conversing about religious scriptures. Sensing her inclination to talk, Vijay presses her for her reasons for giving up the world. It’s a thought that has been tormenting him night and day. Thus persuaded, ‘Meera Devi’ narrates her story.
She was originally ‘Surabhi’, the only daughter of a land owner. Her father was steeped in debt, while her brother was a drunkard. Surabhi’s only escape from her dreary life lay in her poetry and her music, which she used to weave a dream world in which she found eternal love.
Unfortunately, her brother fixed her marriage with an old man, in return for a substantial amount of money. As her father helplessly threw up his hands, Surabhi had run away from home, and sought refuge in a monastery. 
There, the Mother Superior (Protima Devi) had given in to her pleas and initiated her into the order. Now, she’s suppressed her desires, killed her heart – that’s only on the outside, Vijay interrupts. On the inside, the embers still blaze under the pile of ashes that are her broken dreams.

Disquieted, Meera Devi leaves abruptly. Their continued interactions discompose her and render her unable to concentrate. Long-suppressed hopes begin to flame, and Meera Devi is unable to resolve her inner conflict.
She has a choice to make, and she does – does it bring her happiness? 

Jogan is a complex love story, the denouement of which the viewer realises from the beginning. In fact, it is this unrealised passion that defines the tale of an atheist who falls in love with a mendicant. As initial attraction turns into obsession, his passions test her will and commitment to the path on which she is journeying forth.
It is interesting to see the irony that underlies the basic premise – Vijay is an avowed atheist whose attention is first caught by a mellifluous Kabir bhajan wafting through the air. He still does not enter the temple, but a single glimpse of the face behind the voice is enough to shake his equilibrium, while his persistent presence discomfits her peace of mind.

What’s interesting about the film is that it does not weigh in on who is morally superior – believer or atheist. Vijay’s discussions with the jogan explore their separate choices and if neither of them can understand the other’s choice, they still respect them. Similarly, when Vijay meets a holy man, their discussion is about different ways to God – ‘I search for him in the hearts of the poor,’ says the holy man, ‘you search for him in a courtesan’s company. Someday, god will find a place in your heart.’ Vijay is amused but is brought to a reluctant respect of this spiritual man who engages with him and declares him a secular humanist.
When Surabhi, broken and wounded, seeks refuge in the monastery, the head of the mutth advises her that being a jogan is not a way to run away from the world. Watch 'Meera Devi' trying to still her doubts by chanting the shanti mantra – the film gently underlines the fact that the peace one seeks must come from within.
‘Love at first sight’ is a cliched idea, but Dilip Kumar’s intensity and Nargis’s tremulousness make us believe in his obsession and her restlessness. The sensuality that Dilip Kumar could depict is in full force here, even if he doesn’t quite scorch the screen as he could (and did, with Madhubala). His Vijay is marked by unusual restraint. Devoid of mannerisms, he uses his eyes, face, and even hands to depict a man burning with love yet manfully holding it back. 
To me, Jogan was Nargis’s career-best performance. Even better than Raat aur Din, and definitely head and shoulders above Mother India. (It was also Nargis's favourite among her performances.) Whether as the melancholy jogan trying to still her heart made restless by the attentions of a handsome young man, or as the chirpy, incurably romantic Surabhi, who once dreamed of an eternal love, Nargis’s remarkable control over her craft holds her in good stead. 
As her heart begins to feel emotions she had worked hard to suppress, her restlessness can be seen, not just in her eyes, but also in her body language.
Also worthy of mention is the sprightly Baby Tabassum, who plays maid and general helper to the ‘Deviji’. She’s such a delight (and I’ve always liked the adult Tabassum as well) and her scenes with Vijay and his aunt bring smiles that break the solemnity of the film. There's a cute anecdote about this film that Tabassum narrates in her inimitable style here. 

One cannot speak of Jogan without speaking about its music. Composed by the under-rated Bulo C Rani, the film has a whopping 15 songs, with most of them being sung by Geeta Roy (as she was then). Shamshad Begum gets two songs and Talat Mahmood gets one. Kidar Sharma not only had an ear for music, he knew how to use them to further the narrative as well.

Like Barsaat, Jogan too defines love by its refusal to succumb to man’s basest instincts. In one scene with his friend, Raj (quite a good-looking Rajendra Kumar in his debut), Vijay tells him: “Aurat aur mard ke talukat hamesha wohi nahi hote jo tum log sochte ho. Kuch aur baatein bhi aisi hoti hain jinmein kashish hoti hai.(A man-woman relationship is not always what people think it to be. Sometimes, it is a matter of a lingering attraction.
Here, as in Barsaat, love is about making choices; it's about a connection between souls, sacred and solemn, sanctified by sacrifice.

If you haven’t watched this yet, please do so. I cannot recommend it enough.

*A clean, remastered, sub-titled print is available on Tom Daniel’s channel, here.

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