Some movies and some characters are marked permanentlyin the minds of film lovers. Those characters melt in minds in such an integrated waythat time cannot make it old nor can break that image. The character of Shambhu Mahato played by Balraj Sahani in film Do Bigha Jameen by renowned Bengali director Bimal Roy is such a role that made special place in mind. Every frame in the movie and look of Balraj Sahani in it is still remembered. He acted with a pain on face in complete movie.
He has to get his small piece of land in mortgage from the clutches of cruel landlord (Sapru) and for this the amount of around two hundred and thirty-five rupees ordered by the court to deposit in three months looks like a mountain to him. He comes to Calcutta and runs rikshaw to collect the amount. The tragedy of deprived section of society is presented by Balraj with great strength of his acting.
This poor helpless farmer gets shocked after hearing the amount of fine declared by court. Starts too much hard work and cries his heart out over his small land and says, ‘when I have not even seen such an amount, how would I pay it?’ With this heart touching dialogue Balraj Sahani won the hearts of all film appreciators. The film industry did not value the amazing acting of Balraj Sahani, it is unfortunate for Balraj and more for us. Acting of Balraj was much ahead of his contemporary actors.
The books published on occasion of centenary of films have reassessed acting of Balraj with new perspectives. This proves the strength of his acting. Let’s visit the memories of acting of Balraj Sahani on his centenary birth anniversary.
Though we have so many examples of quality acting of Balraj Sahani, he did never get sufficient and justifiable appreciation and popularity that he deserved. There was no loudness in his acting that people expect as he was an artist of under play acting. So, his every character was complete and flawless. (This legacy of under play was then continued ahead by Sanjeev Kumar and Om Puri)
That’s why many variety roles came to him. Personality of Balraj was suitable for his quality acting. I always feel, if he would have gone to Hollywood, he would have been more successful. Of course, he was much successful here also. Every role was acceptable to him. He was more appreciated in character roles. He looked very impressive with his face cuts, confidence, dark eyes, sharp nose and broad chin and that famous mole.
His role in the film, Kabuliwala by Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore is still before eyes. His role of Pathani Kabuliwala, a dry fruit seller, starving for affection of a small innocent girl is still remembered. She calls him ….O Kabuliwala..! This innocent friendship gets into dark and police arrest Kabuliwala. The small girl fails to understand the situation. She pushes the days with great difficulty. Bimal Da gave all justice to this story by Gurudevwith heart touching presentation. The stout but softhearted Kabuliwala played by Balraj sings, “Ey Mere PyareVatan, Tuz Pe Dil Kurban” and makes eyes wet. Like Shambhu Mahato, this role was also glorified by the Midas touch of Bimal Da.
It was surprising that a highly educated person like Balraj came to film industry. After completing M. A. in English, he was engaged in journalism for some time. He was born in Rawalpindi on 1st May 1913. It was a co – incidence that, he was born on Labours’ Day and was supporter of leftist ideology in his life. In his communist journey he was a part of many social movements and activities. After journalism he also worked as a professor in Shanti Niketan at Kolkata, the then Calcutta.
During this period, he participated in the freedom movement with Mahatma Gandhi Ji. Then during 1940 he worked at BBC as a news reader for four years. He also acted in some plays there. He had a good opportunity to study global theatre. He realised the strength of theatre and media. Then after England he returned home and joined IPTA.
With such a rich foundation, obviously the building of Balraj’s acting became a skyscraper. He broke the typical image of hero. It was not at all in his nature to wander around trees and singing songs running after heroine. His every role was polished. I’ll have to write a lot if his acting in each film is to be described one by one. However, some of his roles have to be mentioned.
The role of a doctor by Balraj in Hrishikesh Mukharjee’s film ‘Anuradha’ with amazing song ‘Jaane Kaise Sapane Me Kho Gayi Akhiyan, Saanware Saanware’, is unparalleled. Doctor Nirmal Chaudhary inadvertently neglects his wife due to his commitments towards patients. He is aware about this fact; but becomes helpless considering the social situation, commitment for medical service, etc. While convincing wife he says, “If I had not cared about you, see I’ve not cared about me also. Do we both have separate existence?” Balraj has taken the helplessness of a duty committed husband to great level.
He presented an ordinary postal clerk in Garm Coat so nicely who is unable to purchase a woollen coat in cold of North India due to poor financial condition. He performed amazingly while playing elder brother Shyam in Bhabhi Ki Chudiya, a husband in Devar Bhabhi who is mad withhaving doubts on character of wife, the farmer with self-respect in Heera Moti based on story by Premchand, a sacrificing servant in Aulad who gives his own child to childless wife of his master. His Marathi folk artist in Pardesi produced in co – operative bond of India and Russia was also amazing.
There was Nutan with him in Sone Ki Chidiya by Ismat Chugtai. Nutan played a renowned film actress and he became a successful poet in it. After friendship between them once when he goes to the shooting location, his attention is dragged by junior artists rather than glamour. He just forgets love etc and says, “When people don’t have right even to live life, how can I get the right to make love?”
There are many popular roles of Balraj Sahani. Director of Women’s Orphanage Babuji in film Seema by Amiya Chakravorty who sings ‘Tu Pyar Ka Sagar Hai’ still brings goosebumps. Balraj presented grief of fathers of all brides in film Neelkamal with the famous song, ‘Babul Ki Duwaaye Leti Ja, Ja Tuz Ko Sukhi Sansar Mile’. His song ‘Tuze Suraj KahuYa Chanda’ while playing with an illegitimate child in film Ek Phool Do Mali of Sadhana is so natural.
He was opposite Dilip Kumar in Sangharsh. His Thakur with passion of revenge was very strong. His stout major in Haqeeqat, Hindusthan Ki Kasam by Chetan Da is unforgettable. Lala in Waqt by B. R. Chopra (O Meri Johara jabi) and inspector in Hamraz was just amazing.
Commitment, loyalty, thoughtful behaviour based on principles, high level thinking capacity, considering the strength of media and own limitations, allsuch qualitieswere there in this single person which can be exceptionally seen in professionals in his field. His last film GarmHawa created history. In that he played Mirza who represents the psychology of patriot Muslims during the period of partition.
Balraj is alive in memories from his films like Lajwant, Hamlog, Hasate Jakhm, Paraya Dhan, Do Raste, Naunihal, Chhoti Bahu, Kathputali, Raahi, Bhabhi, Anpadh, Naya Rasa, Talash, Mai Bhi Ladki Hu, Pavitra Papi, Tangewala, Do Roti, Taksal and many more.
On 13th April 1973 Balraj died of a heart attack. As if, probably he had some idea about his death, because on earlier day he completed dubbing for GarmHawawith some stubbornness. I can see assured optimism in the eyes of Balraj Sahani. His eyes asking to love life taught us to love films.
This article, on the occasion of birth anniversary of Balraj Sahani, aims to attract attention of film appreciators and those who study films towards his acting and films.