Films that are 50

Films that are 50: A Dilip Kumar double treat in ‘Ram Aur Shyam’

The thespian proves that comedy is as easy as tragedy in the 1967 hit comedy.

Several 1967 releases were top grossers, including Jewel Thief, An Evening in Paris, Upkar, and Ram Aur Shyam, which featured two Dilip Kumars for the price of one.

Ram Aur Shyam was the remake of the popular Telugu film Ramudu Bheemudu, which in turn was loosely based on Alexander Dumas’s The Corsican Brothers. It is not always easy for an actor to convincingly portray more than one character. The triple roles by Dilip Kumar in Bairaag (1976) and Amitabh Bachchan in Mahaan (1983) didn’t impress audiences. Shah Rukh Khan’s dismal performance in Duplicate (1998) proved that a snarl here and a growl there isn’t enough to distinguish an evil character from a good one.

The success of Ram aur Shyam, directed by Tapi Chanakya, must be credited to two great actors – Dilip Kumar and Pran. These two fine performers had previously complemented each other in Madhumati (1958) and Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966). In both these films, Pran played Dilip Kumar’s nemesis to perfection.

Pran and Dilip Kumar in Ram Aur Shyam (1967).
Pran and Dilip Kumar in Ram Aur Shyam (1967).

Ram, meek heir to great property, is regularly tortured and humiliated by his evil brother-in-law Gajendra (Pran), who has no qualms about whipping Ram from time to time to break his spirit – until Shyam, the twin, takes Ram’s place by accident and sets out to deliver justice.

Ram aur Shyam has two stand-out scenes. In the first one, Shyam (pretending to be Ram) takes Gajendra to task for having been mean to his wife Sulakshna (Nirupa Roy) and their daughter. The second is the scene in which Shyam slaps and whips Gajendra until Sulakshna begs him to stop.

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Shyam slaps Gajendra.

The other enjoyable scenes from Ram Aur Shyam are the ones that exploit Dilip Kumar’s comic talent, especially the sequence in which Shyam, a farmer, auditions as a swashbuckling Zorro-like character in order to fulfill his dream of becoming an actor. Shyam beats up the sidekicks for real during the shoot. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t get the role. He is duly chastised for his acting adventure by his adopted mother Ganga (Leela Mishra), who locks him up to exorcise the “acting ka bhoot” that has possessed him.

Dilip Kumar’s exaggerated mannerisms, playful body language and funny dialogue as he addresses his mother as “Mummah” and urges her to let him make his mark in filmdom, are a delight to watch even a half a century later.

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Ganga ticks off Shyam.

The scenes of Dilip Kumar as the flamboyant Shyam are in sharp contrast to those of the timid Ram, who is so terrified of Gajendra that he dare not look him in the eye. Dilip Kumar has said in interviews that the scenes were very well written and gave him ample opportunities to demonstrate the stark differences between the twins.

It is obvious that Dilip Kumar really enjoyed working on Ram Aur Shyam, which was a break from the tragic roles with which he had come to be associated. Dilip Kumar signed Ram Aur Shyam after he was advised to lighten up by his psychiatrist. The thespian’s bonhomie with his co-stars Waheeda Rehman and Mumtaz is apparent, leading to relaxed and memorable performances from all concerned, especially in the comic scenes.

The music by Naushad, with lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni, adds to the movie’s charm. One of the best songs is Aaj Ki Raat Mere Dil Ki Salaami Le Le, in which Shyam bids farewell to Rehman before abandoning his fake identity as Ram. The other is the birthday song Aayi Hain Baharein, in which Shyam dispels the pall of gloom in the house by organising a birthday party for his niece. The song marks a departure from despair. The viewer feels assured that henceforth, all will be well in this household and that the evil Gajendra will soon get his just desserts – which literally happens when Shyam forces him to eat cake at the end of the song.

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Aaj Ki Raat Mere Dil Ki Salaami Le Le.

The roles of the twins were reprised by Hema Malini in Seeta Aur Geeta (1972) and Sridevi in Chaalbaaz (1989) to critical and commercial acclaim. It is not easy to pull off a double act. The body language must go hand in hand with facial expressions, dialogue delivery and voice modulation. Viewers should be convinced that they are watching two separate and dissimilar characters. Only a truly fine actor like Dilip Kumar could have done pulled off the double act so convincingly, making Ram Aur Shyam a lasting treat for Hindi film buffs.

Nirupama Kotru is a civil servant. The views expressed here are her own.

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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.