Thinking back about the 100 years of Indian cinema, the mind is flooded with great films, directors, actors, technicians and it becomes increasingly difficult to pin down ‘greatness’ – the numbers of memorable movies is too long!
So, I started thinking of images that have stayed with me and I realised that most of the images I could think about involved – Hands!
So here are the seven most unforge-ttable images of ‘hands’ in Indian Cinema:
1. Mother India – A dying Birju reveals his mother’s bangles.
Mother India, directed by Mehboob Khan, is based in a rural setting, where within a social structure, caste and the zamindari system, a mother decides to end the evil (her son Birju) that she feels has been created by her, because of her failure in bringing up her wayward son.
And all along, Birju keeps doing everything for his mother. As a child he has seen the oppression of his mother, including a poignant scene in which her gold bangles are pawned away and he decides that one day he will do something about it.
So, when in the end, his mother shoots him, he is shocked. As she runs to him and embraces him, he rests his chin on her shoulder, still reeling from the shock and opens his fists, unknown to her, to reveal the pair of gold bangles in his hand – the very bangles that were taken away from his mother. It’s heart wrenching!
2. Upkar – Bharat holding the soil in his hand.
Upkar is a tragic story of Bharat, a farmer, who under dire circumstances is forced to lay down his plough and pick up the gun and become a soldier. The film brought forward the slogan of ‘Jai Jawaan Jai Kisaan’ of Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri. This is a rare example of nationalism and patriotism blended together in one film.
When Bharat is told the sad news that his hand is going to be amputated he has one last wish - to feel the soil! He tries to confine the memory of touching mother earth, one last time. This last shot of the film is one of the most powerful images of Indian cinema.
3. Amar Akbar Anthony – Three hands donating blood.
Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony is the greatest national-integration film ever made.
According to Desai, the film was inspired by a news item about an alcoholic who regularly beat up his wife. One day, the distraught woman abandoned her three small children and disappeared. This gave Desai the idea to show each one growing up in three religious households – Hindu, Muslim and Christian. From this germ of an idea, the film grew into an incredibly implausible yet highly absorbing tale.
The mother, injured in an accident, is brought to the hospital. Profusely bleeding, she needs urgent blood transfusion. In walk three donors, all strangers to each other and the mother. All three lie on the donor bed and are syringed and their blood is transfused to the mother simultaneously.
The shot of the camera panning across the three hands to the mother’s hand is unforgettable, even today, for the director’s ability to successfully carry off even the most illogical situation convincingly.
4. Pather Panchali – Durga’s fingers opening Apu’s eyes.
Much has been said about Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955) and the one thing that hit me most was its solitude. The quietness in that village, in the family, and of course, the little boy Apu and his sister Durga.
What is unforgettable is the intro- duction of Apu. Durga tries to wake him up. He is asleep under a very ragged and tattered quilt. She finds a hole in the quilt near his face and through that her hand reaches his eye and pries the eyelids open. Instantly we know that Apu was faking it. This one shot establishes the relation between the two, and also shows their innocent ignorance to the poverty in their life.
5. Deewaar – Vijay shows his forearm with ‘mera baap chor hai’ written on it.
The scene between the two brothers Ravi and Vijay, discussing worldly possessions and morals has become the identity of struggle between good and bad. The mother’s love is torn between the good and the bad son! The dialogue ‘mere paas maa hai’ is easily the most popular dialogue in Hindi cinema.
When Ravi asks Vijay to sign on the surrender document, he torridly tells Ravi, ‘pehle uska sign leke aao, jisne mere haath pe yeh likh diya tha!’ and shows his forearm tattooed with the line ‘mera baap chor hai’, from which Vijay’s mind is forever scarred. And mine too (in a good way) – by the sheer power of the conception of these scenes.
6. Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam – Chhoti Bahu’s skeletal arm with the bangle intact.
Based on Bimal Mitra’s novel, Abrar Alvi made a fascinating movie about a complex and spirited wife of a zamindar who rebels at the bonds that chain her. A small-town youth, Bhootnath arrives in Kolkata and finds accommodation in the palatial haveli. The film is about the relationship that develops between Bhootnath and the wife, known as Chhoti Bahu.
The film begins with an archaeological excavation, wherein Bhootnath discovers a skeletal arm and a gold bangle intact around it, which belonged to the missing Chhoti Bahu – this discovery ends the mystery about whatever happened to Chhoti Bahu. A tragic and chilling image!
7. Do Ankhen Barah Haath – Cluster of hands
In Do Ankhen Barah Haath, made by V. Shantaram in 1957. Six criminals are reformed during the course of this film. The film’s message is that wrongdoers should be given an opportunity to redeem themselves. Each one of us has that chance – to redeem ourselves from the mistakes we’ve made – which I think is a fantastic theme and no other film has explored the theme so well. This film has used the hands beautifully throughout the film. There is a great graphic use right at the start of the film where we see six pairs of hands in a cluster – a very unusual and forceful image indeed.