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HomeFeaturesReel TakeDev Anand’s Prem Pujari spoke about patriotism like no other Bollywood film

Dev Anand’s Prem Pujari spoke about patriotism like no other Bollywood film

With great music on one hand, but problematic representation on the other, Dev Anand’s directorial debut is an interesting watch.

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New Delhi: A unique story, witty one-liners, excellent music and that signature swagger and head bob — Prem Pujari (1970), Dev Anand’s directorial debut, had him written all over it. Like every Bollywood superstar, Anand made a niche for himself as the tragic, romantic hero, with ample shades of grey.

While he will always be known first as an actor, he did direct and produce some of the most iconic films in Bollywood. On his 96th birth anniversary, ThePrint rewinds to Prem Pujari.

Starring himself, Waheeda Rehman and Zaheeda, Prem Pujari is a story set in the 60s, on the brink of the India-China War. Anand plays Ramdev, a pacifist soldier who is forced to flee upon being court-martialed. While on the run, he comes across Rani (Zaheeda), who happens to be a spy for China. Ramdev initially helps her out, not knowing her actual identity, but is inadvertently sucked into a dangerous game of espionage.

Rani likes Ramdev, but is also committed to her cause, and is torn between the two. When he realises what Rani and her fellow agents are planning to do, instead of running away like he usually does, he decides to beat them at their own game.

This film cleverly talks about patriotism and the Army — two of Bollywood’s favourite subjects. It is not an overtly pro-military and pro-country narrative (think the sacrificial and patriotic soldiers in Border), but sends its message subtly.

Anand’s Ramdev, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, is forced into the military by his father, a retired officer. The first hour of the film shows Ramdev debating the cons of war, the loss of life and unnecessary violence. But he always undercuts his argument by lamenting that his inability to engage in violence makes him less of a man. When he finally does spy for his country and eventually is drafted again to fight the 1965 war, he is much more of a ‘man’ and understands the need to appreciate the defence forces and war.

In a way, the film progressively takes you from being anti-war to pro-war by not only making you sympathise with the protagonist, but also villainising the other side.

One of the ways in which the film villanises the other side — the Chinese — is by expanding on the worst, most racist stereotypes about them. The Chinese characters, who are all clearly Indian, talk in racist rubbish, with eyes plastered to the sides of their faces.

When Ramdev and Rani pretend to be Tibetan, everything from their costumes to their fake accents and makeup is simply grotesque and overdone. Now, understandably this was made during a time when political correctness and awareness, in general, were practically non-existent in Bollywood. So that argument can be made that it was done out of ignorance and need for pandering. But, these stereotypes did fuel the patriotic feeling.

Anand is his usual indomitable self in the film. His direction, too, is snappy (sometimes a little too much in places). Direction was something he clearly had a knack for, as this film shows. Waheeda Rehman is as talented and beautiful as ever, but is still only used as a romantic interest. Zaheeda, on the other hand, has a much meatier role as the antagonist and performs the conflicting character well.

The music is another highlight of the film. Composed by S.D. Burman and written by Gopaldas Neeraj, the songs were (and still are) a bigger hit than the film, which actually flopped at the box office. Songs like Shokhiyon Mein Ghola Jaye, Rangeela Re Tere Rang Mein and Phoolon Ke Rang Se, sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar are evergreen tunes.

Prem Pujari showcased Anand’s acting and directorial skills, it talked about something the whole country would get behind and it had great musical hits. For these reasons, it is probably one of the defining movies of his career.

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  1. Good movie. Fine acting. Great music. Not given due justice by Indian viewers. The music of song Taqat Watan Ki humse hain was inspired by the marching tune in The bridge on the river quai.

  2. My born was hare rama hare krishna movie days,,because i attracted dev saheb songs since middle 80’s my puc studies time with bhu bisre geeth(my immitatate dev sahb style way of nature behavier walking talking sitting how to manners with ladies tremondus body langauge&attitude dev sahb

  3. Devanand’s directorial skills might be a problem so far as his self directorial movies also but his stories & ideas are always at height, actually when Devanand & Vijayanand were together they created classics not one or two but dozens.Devanand’s Hare Ram Hare krishan, Des pardes & Hum Nowjawan no doubt proves his directorial skills.
    Devanands personality ,styles , the dialogue delivery, the charms in songs their was never before never then .

  4. The songs were nice, esp kam se door lagaya, sometimes it loses its grip, it was a bold film. Ahead of times, anyway I am his great fan, he has style, waheeda was so beautiful esp in that rang ke la rey song,

  5. Despite being Dev’s 1st directional movie it’s not a bad movie. The man was fully dedicated to hindi cinema and deserves to be applauded for it. May not be a very good actor but no one is close to him as far as his looks were concerned. I do not consider any past or present actor anywhere close to Dev Anand in this respect.

  6. Great musical hits by Sachin Dev Burman. Every song is melodious, soothing and refreshing till date. The film had awful script. Dev excelled as ever in romantic role. He was far from convincing as a soldier.
    Less said the better about directorial skills in this movie. His best directorial venture, however came much later through Hare Rama Hare Krishna.

  7. Interesting movie showing the hero as someone who detests violence associated with war. Great songs. Waheeda Rehman looked gorgeous. Direction was disjointed and climax very superficial. However, the movie prompts a question: Can someone, with deep aversion to violence, transform into an effective soldier when provoked by the idea of patriotism?

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