Indian Cinema and Labour

Labourers, their daily struggle and their socio-political struggles has been an inspiration for film makers the world over since the beginning of cinema.

Indian cinema is a great example of cinema as the mirror to the changing society. In the early years, it experimented with nationalistic themes to help the ongoing independence struggle against the British. Later, as the country became independent, it took the lead in depicting themes that were part of the great Nehruvian dream.

Workers were the foundation of this great Nehruvian dream and a number of film makers in their movies focused on bringing to life this great socialist dream. Right from the beginning, cinema experimented with the themes focused on the lives and woes of workers – from the films like Do Bheega Zameen to Raj Kapoor’s movies that gave a new meaning to the industrial homeless tramp and remained focus on socialist Nehruvian dream.

It is interesting to see how Indian Cinema has captured labour issues with changing times. Films like Naya daur, Paigham, Mazdoor, Deewar, Namak haram, Coolie, Kaala Pathhar, Koyla etc kept the changing face of labour and its changing political undertones alive and made it reach out to a larger audience.

Do Bigha Zamin is 1953 Hindi film, directed by Bengali film  directorBimal Roy and stars Balraj Sahni andin lead roles. The film is known for its socialist theme, and is an important film in the early parallel cinema of India and is considered to be a trend setter. It captures the compulsions of poor farmer who is forced to migrate and earn in a new city, which is cruel to him. With a moving narration complemented by excellent acting, it brings out vividly the host of problems a new worker in a city faces.

The movie is about the story of a small farmer –Shambhu Meheto (Balraj Sahani) and his family with a small plot of land. The land is under threat of being taken away by a Zamindar, to who Balraj Sahani owes money. Based in Bengal, the story is about the poor farmer’s struggle to save his land. In the movie, Balraj Sahani migrates to Calcutta and becomes a rickshaw puller. During those days, rickshaw pullers used to carry people on foot, there was no cycle rickshaw.

One of the most well known and touching scenes in the movie is where a rich man asks Shambhu to race with another rickshaw carrying his girl friend, only to impress her. Shambu is pushed to run with the rickshaw fast for more money. But. In this race to earn more money, Shambhu loses a wheel and meets with an accident.

In the end, he also ends up spending all his savings on his wife’s health and loses his land.

In order to prepare for the role and keep things realistic, Balraj Sahni rehearsed by pulling a rickshaw on the streets of Calcutta. He interacted with many rickshaw pullers and some of them were facing the same tough situation as portrayed in the movie.

This film was India’s nomination for the Academy Awards.

[Information and text for this piece has been drawn from several sources from the internet including Wikipedia and IMDB]

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