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Classic half-century

V Shantaram's Do Aankhen Barah Haath, an inspirational film endorsing prison reforms, continues to inspire even after 50 years, writes Arnab Banerjee.

entertainment Updated: Sep 25, 2007 19:27 IST

In a cinema-crazy nation like India, how many films from India do people remember as truly greats? Or masterpieces that have stood the test of time? Globally? Few and far between really. But history has it that a few of the rare Indian films have been bestowed with rare honor too – that of international recognition and awards.


It happened fifty years ago – a critically acclaimed film from India that made filmgoers from across the world sit up and take note of the enormous talent that emerged out of the Asian region – that of director V Shantaram’s with his magnum opus,

Do Aankhen Barah Haath

(Two Eyes Twelve Hands ), a 1957 classic that portrays a progressive jail warden who transforms six deadly prisoners into persons of virtue.



An inspirational film endorsing prison reform and propounding the philosophy that even the most hardened, seemingly soul dead criminal can be softened, rectified, amended, and thus rehabilitated. In the storyline, a jailer, played by V. Shantaram, vows to reform six hardened outlaws charged with brutal murders. Turning them into sensitive humans, the jailor sets an example even the likes of Kiran Bedi tried to emulate years later.



“The spirit of the movie is still the road less traveled. Hence it is a path to walk so that one day it becomes a highway. In fact, presently, it’s becoming a world of transactional delivery rather than a missionary service,” believes Bedi.



“Hence, the movie is of perennial value and relevance. The soft skills expressed so naturally in the movie, are being currently taught in business schools at a huge cost to limited results. Hence the movie will continue to inspire and live long,” avers Bedi.



Mainstream filmmaker Kunal Kohli too expresses his fascination for the film, “V Shantaram was a path breaking filmmaker. His films had strong social messages and at the same time, had grand visuals. His larger than life sets and visuals were his trademark. Every film had a different theme that made one think about so many issues.

Do Ankhen Barah Haath

in particular was truly revolutionary as it spoke about so a never touched before issue of prisoners’ reforms. Shantaramji was one of his kind.”



Interestingly, at a time when some of the Gandhian principles are finding their way back into people’s lives - thanks to Bollywood’s obsession with the Mahatma in recent times -

Do Ankhen..

was the first to incorporate the non-violence philosophy into its theme and won accolades worldwide.



The film’s stupendous success then becomes all the more relevant to examine today, at a time when the Indian media goes agog with excitement even when a

Lagaan

or a

Rang De Basanti

or even a

Munnabhai

(with no offence meant to the filmmakers or the films) fails to elicit any response from any international jury, few would remember some of the universally acknowledged film made in the 40s and the 50s - Chetan Anand’s

Neecha Nagar

and Satyajit Ray’s

Pather Panchali

and Amit Mitra-Sombhu Mitra directed

Jagte Raho.


“Initially my father rejected his writer-friend G D Madgulkar’s idea for a film based on a real-life incident involving prisoners and their getting released on parole to get reformed, but he loved its emotional content and rewrote the script making it more humanitarian at all levels,” reminisces, V Shantaram’s daughter, Madhura Jasraj.



“Later he got so involved that he would spend two days and nights at the shoot and even lost his vision temporarily while battling with a bull during a stint,” recollects Jasraj.



Since his earlier film

Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje

was a huge hit and everyone expected him to make another musical,

Do Aankhen…

was departure from his usual style and took everyone with surprise.



“And everyone from the film fraternity who attended the premiere in Opera Theatre in Mumbai, disappeared quietly after the film got over, without even saying a word,” rues Jasraj.



But the film had its own destined journey that shook the world. “Many filmmakers felt a film like

DABH

, could inspire many societies then, when the world was beginning to consolidate,” feels actor Anupam Kher. “It is one of my favorite films, neither preachy, nor boring, but extremely inspiring,” says Kher.



The film won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and was commended by the Hollywood Press Association too, received a Special Award as The Best Film of the Year in 1958 known as the Catholic Award by a jury headed by the legendary Charlie Chaplin, besides the President's Gold Medal in 1957 in India. It ran for 65 weeks in Mumbai and celebrated golden jubilee in many cities across the country. Unfortunately none of the cast or the crew is alive today to see its reemergence. But the spirit of the film’s message continues to command significance. And space in our lives.