On Kishore Kumar’s birth anniversary, August 4, looking back at the first film he directed:
Kishore Kumar is fondly remembered as a singer, a comic actor and a famed Bollywood eccentric. Who would have thought that the first film he chose to direct, would be a serious one called Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein (1964).
Set in a picturesque rural area, the film’s inspiration, Satyajit Ray’s immortal Pather Panchali seems obvious. It is now a well-known fact that Kishore Kumar had helped finance that iconic Bengali film. He also happened to be related to Ray by marriage; his first wife Ruma Guha Thakurta was Ray’s niece. The plot of the film was, however, copied from Michael Curtiz’s The Proud Rebel (1958).
After doing a row of hit comedies, for Kishore Kumar it was a challenge to write and direct a gentle take on the relationship between a father and a son, in which he cast his son Amit Kumar (credited as Amit Ganguly). The film opens with humble thanks to “All workers big or small whose efforts made the creation of this motion picture possible,” which was a nice gesture on the part of Kishore Kumar. The credits roll over painted backdrops depicting scenes from the film and Hemant Kumar’s mellifluous voice singing the title track.
In a picturesque village, a little boy called Ramu, clad in a rural costume of dhoti-bandi and accompanied by a white dog, is walking past a group of boys playing kabaddi. “Will you play with us?” one of the kids asks. Ramu eagerly nods his head. “How can you play, you are mute,” is the cruel riposte.
Ramu looks out at the river sadly, waiting for his father to return. He writes a letter on his slate to his absent father, pleading for him to come back quickly. One day, the boat deposits his father Shankar (Kishore Kumar) on the shore, dressed in a soldier’s uniform, walking impatiently towards his home, hoping to surprise his family by his sudden appearance. He is told by his kindly uncle, who has been looking after Ramu, that his house had burnt down killing his father and wife; the shock of the incident has left Ramu unable to speak. Father and son have a joyous reunion, tinged by grief at the tragedy that befell the family. Shankar sees the burnt shell of his home, with the heartbreaking Koi lauta de mere beete hue din playing on the soundtrack in Kishore’s voice. He also composed the superb music for the film, set to Shailendra’s evocative lyrics.
Shankar tries to exhort Ramu to speak, to call him “Bapu” like he used to; the boy shakes his head vehemently and collapses in his father’s arms. The next day, Shankar sets out towards the city, with Ramu and his inseparable dog Shera, determined to get his son treated.
On the way, he gets into a scrap with a Thakur (Raj Mehra) and his two nasty sons (Iftekhar and Sajjan). He is wounded and left bleeding on the road. Meena (one of the few Hindi films done by Supriya Chowdhury of Meghe Dhaka Tara fame), passing by in her cart, picks him up and takes him home. She is the other big landowner in the village, and the Thakur has his eye on her property. He wants his older son to marry her, so that he can usurp her lands, but she has been resisting his advances and threats.
She lives by herself, with her caring staff and is loved by everyone around for her generosity. She shelters Ramu and Shankar till he recovers and is able to move. Ramu gets attached to her, and Shankar is attracted too, but unable to articulate his feelings. Besides, he is focussed on Ramu’s treatment.
While Shankar is at the mansion, he helps around with repairs and maintenance, making himself indispensable to Meena’s household. The Thakur and his sons grind their teeth and come up with ways to get Shankar out of the way—dirty tricks that involve getting a ferocious bandit (Hiralal) to frighten him away, and arranging to have him shot dead; the first plan is foiled by a Shankar fighting for himself, and the second by Ramu who spots the sniper.
All Shankar’s rounds of various doctors fail to cure Ramu—there is nothing wrong with the boy they all say, he just won’t speak. Shankar and Ramu return to the village dejected, but the Thakur and his sons have not given up. From attempting to rape Meena to kidnapping Shera, they don’t spare any ruse to get rid of their enemy.
Ramu comes to save his dog with the help of a beggar he had befriended (Nana Palshikar) and gets captured himself. Now It’s Shera’s turn to fetch Shankar and during his fight with the villains, when he is about to be attacked from the back, Ramu shouts out to save him.
The child recovers his vocal chords, Shankar and Meena accept their love for each other and the film has a happy ending.
Kishore Kumar made a few more films, including the weirdly titled Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi (1974), none as accomplished as Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein.
(This is an edited version of a chapter from my book, Take 2: Fifty Films That Deserve A New Audience, published by Hay House in 2015)