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Towards Democracy
Jan 22, 2006 11:59 PM 2759 Views
(Updated Jan 22, 2006 11:59 PM)

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All men were created equal … at least till some among them decided that they were more equal than the others. Thus began the process of man’s rule over man…. fueling the need for weapons and weaponry to advance the notion of superiority and the birth of monarchy and despotism. It’s indeed difficult now to go back into the genesis of the birth of slavery but one thing is clear – all slaveries are a function of the power of the sword and the dictum that the law of the land is often the law of the sword. Every monarchy is in itself the most potent face of slavery today for what else can you term a system wherein a few rule on birth, people who would outrank them in merit.


A life spent in humiliation and subjugation is worse than a death embraced in an attempt to salvage one’s pride, honour and dignity. No man can consider himself alive if he fails to respect his own dignity and those of his kith and kin, his near and dear ones. For what is life sans honour? Still the battle for dignity is often not won without sacrificing the self. The irony of life lies in the fact that often honour in life is achieved on the altar of death. And what can define this best than the unceasing battle for supremacy between the aspirations of the masses and the ambitions of the elite.


Aan is an attempt by the great Mehboob to juxtapose this ancient wisdom in the face of the battle for supremacy among the ruling elite and the oppressed masses. Each and every character in this timeless classic is busy fighting a battle to preserve his own honour, his own dignity and to carry forward his own version of the truth. Timeless as it is, the movie assumes significance because this movie was released about the time when India had just incorporated the princely states and a party of past rulers and renegades was mounting pressure on the government to reconsider its decisions. Keeping an eye on this background, Aan comes forth as one of the best-made movies of the times that effortlessly blend traditional concepts of chivalry with the overwhelming forces of modernism.


Aan is not a movie; it’s a social statement made in the garb of commercial interests; it’s the retelling of the age-old cliché of ‘Janata Janardhan’ using the garb of fantasy and action – the best fantasy ever attempted in Hindi Cinema. Everything about the movie is on an epic scale, right from Faridoon Irani’s brilliant cinematography to the excellent sword duels in the movie – incidentally among the best sword duels in Hindi Cinema.


Dilip Kumar sets the celluloid ablaze with his exceptional portrayal of the commoner Jai who refuses to let regal arrogance crush his dignity and honour. In a role, miles away from his traditional tragedy roles, the thespian proves his mettle and carries the entire movie on his able shoulders. As the swashbuckling Jai, the thespian has no equals and is effortlessly perfect in his first attempt at action. From the frolicking scenes with Mukri and Nimmi in the beginning to his harmless flirtations and almost obsessive streak of courtship with Nadira to his sense of anger and revenge on the establishment and rebellious stand towards autocracy, every nuance is flawless.


Nadira in her role as the haughty aristocrat, Rajeshwari fits into the groove effortlessly. This was her maiden performance and the actress was all of 15 when she appraised this role but after watching her perform, none can miss the talent and spunk in the debutante. Sadly, the crowd would not and did not think so and an actress of the calibre of Nadira was ever forced to joust for space in the ever-teeming world of second leads and vamps.


Nimmi on the other hand plays the role of the oppressed maiden to the galleries. Incidentally, the actress although brilliant at times fails to keep the tempo constant and hams quite a bit when she should have been restrained. However, you are tempted to forgive her these tidbits considering that her confrontations with both Jai and Shamsher are dynamite and the actress does exude a rare attitude.


Prem Nath is tyranny personified. As Shamsher Singh, the votary of the Charles I school of thought, the actor is completely in form and effortlessly treads the path of an anti-hero at a time when being an anti-hero was considered hara-kiri. His arrogance is well-documented and his penchant for the sword as the arbiter of all issues is so minutely perfected that the audience can not but help marvel at an actor who could go against the grain and essay a role on the opposite sides of the spectrum at a time when he was at his zenith and the populace unforgiving of such transgressions. Such is his impact that not only does he match Dilip stride to stride, but also manages to leave a strong impact of his own.


Among the supporting cast Amir Banu as Jai’s mother who values her honour to her son’s life; Mukri, Murad and Cuckoo play their roles with effortless ease; such is the level of performance that you feel drawn into the vertex of their ambitions and aspirations.


Naushad wields the baton as efficiently as a general marshalling his troops. As was his forte, he has used the pristine voices of Rafi, Lata and Shamshad Begum to perfection. So while we marvel at Shamshad giving her rustic voice to ‘Mohabbat Chume Jinke Haath’ or singing with gusto ‘Aag Lagi Tan Man Mein’ one also takes delight in her duel with Lata in ‘Gao Tarane Man Ke’. Lata on the other hand sings the angst filled ‘Tujhe Kho Diya’ with a depth that sears your heart while ‘Aaj Mere Man Mein’ is a harbinger of every woman’s ultimate wishes. Rafi also adds to the party with the frolicking ‘Dil Mein Chupake’, the emotional ‘Takra Gaya Tumse’ and the mischievous ‘Maan Mera Ehsaan” All in all, an album that conquers the spirit of Rajasthan while also paying full attention to modern rules of orchestration. In fact this was the first time an entire orchestra ensemble was used in Hindi Cinema and to what brilliant effect!


Mehboob was one director who always wore his convictions on his sleeve. As a man of communist leanings, all his films stood upto the convictions he held in life but at the same time he was also shrewd enough to add on emotional sentiments to keep them commercial and well in the running for popularity. Never before and never since Mehboob has Indian cinema seen a director who could effortlessly marry off art and commerce to bring forth a movie of exceptional brilliance. Aan is similarly a magnum opus… a simple story told in an exceptionally appetizing format with the best-assorted supports (script, dialogue, music, editing and cinematography), a strong line-up of actors and a competent director at the helm. Although the dream sequence in Aan was delayed due to the colouring aspects (It was India’s first 70 mm film), it is still considered one of the definitive dream sequences in Indian Film Industry.


A movie that not only talks about Aan but also defines Aan with élan.


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