Bollywood is known for its larger-than-life stories, but every once in a while, it throws up a real epic — with a long, complicated storyline, full of melodrama, music, and legendary dialogue. One such epic is Sangam, released in 1964, starring Raj Kapoor, Vyjayanthimala, and Rajendra Kumar. It has what may be considered one of the most iconic love triangles Bollywood has seen. In the wake of a missing IAF AN-32 aircraft somewhere in Assam, ThePrint takes a look at the story of one of the most famous pilots we’ve seen on the silver screen.
Directed, written, and edited by Raj Kapoor, Sangam follows the journey of Flight Lt. Sunder Khanna (Raj Kapoor), who grows up with his rich friends Magistrate Gopal Verma (Rajendra Kumar) and Radha (Vyjayanthimala). Khanna obsessively loves Radha, pursuing her doggedly, oblivious to the fact that Gopal and she have always been in love. When Khanna, who also worships Gopal as family, confesses his love for her, the latter sacrifices his love for Radha. However, she rejects Sunder Khanna – who then vows to make something of himself and joins the Indian Air Force. He is a brave and patriotic pilot who volunteers to go on a suicide mission, knowing the cost of it all. “Apne liye maut lekin apne fauji bhaiyon ke liye zindagi,” he declares before he flies off. Soon, he goes MIA and is presumed dead.
Gopal and Radha resume their relationship, and look forward to getting married. In a plot twist, Khanna returns and, once again, his friend steps back, letting him marry Radha. Radha’s parents are more than happy for her as she marries a national hero. A few months into the marriage, Khanna finds a love letter written by Gopal to his wife, and goes into a jealous tirade trying to wheedle out the truth between the two.
The film, which was originally four-hours long with two intervals (long even by Bollywood standards at the time), was hailed as Raj Kapoor’s magnum opus and his finest performance.
Kapoor plays a cheerful, innocent character, whose naivete borders on the dangerous. He refuses to acknowledge the other person’s feelings and thoughts, especially those of Radha, who constantly rejects his approaches. Khanna holds his good guy persona over their heads, forcing others to bend to his will, and is hurt and affronted when they don’t. Radha, meanwhile, is a woman who knows exactly what she wants but struggles to ask for it. Rajendra Kumar plays a man who has everything in life, but is held hostage by his own warped principles. This grey characterisation of all the leads is rarely seen in early mainstream films, and makes for an interesting study in script writing.
The music in Sangam is a key character in the film, forming an integral part of the plot. Unlike most films, where the songs are used as a reprieve from the drama, here, the songs are used as dialogue, to further the plot. Bol Radha Bol is Raj Kapoor asking Vyjayantimala if she loves him back, while Yeh Mera Prem Patra is Rajendra Kumar’s love letter to Vyjayantimala. The famous Dost Dost Na Raha is used as a recurring theme of friendship, love and betrayal in the film. Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega is an ode to all kinds of love, including unrequited love. Composed by Shankar Jaikishan and sung by Mukesh, Mahendra Kapoor, and Lata Mangeshkar, these songs have stood the test of time and are still considered iconic.
Sangam is also considered a landmark film for other reasons — it was Raj Kapoor’s first colour film and did supremely well in the box office. It was also one of the first films to be shot in multiple foreign locales, including Paris, London, and Switzerland, thus kicking off the popular trend in Hindi cinema. Sangam saw Vyjayanthimala reinvent the Bollywood heroine, by wearing supposedly ‘scandalous’ costumes like a bathing suit, western clothes, and sheer sarees. Despite its long run-time, and perhaps because of it, Sangam still stands as a Bollywood film to be remembered even 50 years later, thanks to its excellent writing and music.