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Rattan (1944)

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Rattan (1944)

Rattan (Hindi: रतन), released in 1944 was a landmark movie in more than one way. It brought in a new phase of film music where rhythmic beats of Indian folk percussion instruments like Dholak were introduced for the first time. Rattan also catapulted music director Naushad Ali to dizzy heights of fame. In my earlier post on Rattan (1944), I could but just post four of its songs. Here are some of the remaining.
Rattan or Ratan is a 1944 Indian Bollywood film starring Swaran Lata, Karan Dewan and Amir Banu. It was the highest grossing Indian film of 1944 and is cited as an “All Time Blockbuster”.[1] The film is noted as the film which made Naushad one of the top contributors to music in Indian films and enabled him to demand a fee of Rs 25000 a film.
The film Rattan, released in 1944 and starring Amir Banu, Karan Dewan and Swarnalata was a landmark movie in more than one way. First, it catapulted music maestro Naushad to the top and perhaps for the first time the use of folk percussion instruments like dholak etc. instilled a new sense of rhythm into film music which until then was more melody and less rhythm. Rattan was a huge success and it enabled Naushad to charge Rs 25,000 per film, a big amount those days. It also brought singers like Amirbai Karnataki and Zohrabai Ambalawali amongst the top-notch female singers of their time.
 Swaran Lata as Gauri
 Karan Dewan as Govind
 Amir Banu as Basant Kumar
 Azoorie
 Chanda
 Gulab[disambiguation needed]
 Manju[disambiguation needed]
 Badri Prasad
 Rajkumari Shukla
 Wasti

Rattan (1944)
In an interview, while reminiscing about his first few years in the Hindi cinema industry, Naushad mentioned how, after he had moved to Bombay and become a music director, his parents arranged his wedding. “We have told your future in-laws that you are a tailor,” his mother said. “If we’d said you were into music, you’d never have gotten married!” The irony of the whole thing was, recalled Naushad, that at the wedding, the band that came along was playing all the latest hits – all of which happened to be from Naushad’s first big score.
Which, as you’ve probably guessed by now, was from this film. Naushad came to Bombay from Lucknow in 1937, and though he did get some work over the next few years, it was not until Rattanthat he got a chance to compose the sort of music that catapulted him to the top.
The music of Rattan was the main reason I wanted to see this film. Other than that, I wasn’t especially keen on the film – not inimical to it, but not terribly enthusiastic about it, either.
A few minutes into the film, and I began liking it a lot. The acting is generally good, the dialogue and the story don’t feel dated, and there’s a lot about it that’s very likeable.
The two main characters of the film are Gauri (Swarnlata) and Govind (Karan Dewan). Gauri and Govind live in a village and have been playmates since they were children. Even now that they’ve grown up, they’re the best of friends, with Gauri constantly pulling Govind’s leg, gobbling up the parathas his mother’s made for him, and teasing him. It’s obvious that they’re in love, but not in the syrupy soppy way that seems to be so common in old Hindi films. (Point #1 scored in favour of Rattan!)
Point #2 comes soon after, with one of my favourite songs from this film, Akhiyaan milaake jiya bharmaake chale nahin jaana.
The entire village knows about Gauri and Govind’s romance, though except for a couple of interfering old hags, nobody seems to mind much. This, despite the fact that Govind is a bania while Gauri is a Rajput—in other words, they’re from different castes.
One of the interfering old hags is a woman called Gangu. Gangu has been telling Gauri’s mother (Amir Banu) that now that Gauri has grown up, it’s not seemly for her to be gallivanting around the village with Govind. Gauri’s mother, therefore, ticks Gauri off too.
Govind’s mother (?) is, similarly, not in favour of Govind harbouring any sort of affection for Gauri. She tries repeatedly to tell her husband (Badri Prasad) to check his son, but all to no avail. Govind’s father is a laidback man, who isn’t particularly perturbed by Govind’s friendship with Gauri, or by the fact that Govind, despite being now an adult, doesn’t do much to help his father with their small business.
One somewhat unusual relationship (at least for 40s’ Hindi cinema) here is that of Govind’s parents. He keeps teasing his wife that his marrying her broke the heart of a girl who had long been in love with him. His wife, when teased, immediately grabs her bundle of clothes and threatens to go off to stay with her brother. And whenever she makes that threat, her husband says that since she will leave his home, he will leave too and go off to spend the rest of his days on the banks of the Ganga, where he’ll die – and as soon as he mentions dying, she quickly bustles over, shutting him up, and they hug and make up. Rather cute.
Into this idyllic story Gangu (Who is this actress? I know I’ve seen an older version of her in a lot of films from the 50s and 60s, but I don’t know her name) now throws a spanner in the works. She comes to Gauri’s mother with a proposal for Gauri. The proposed groom is Gangu’s own brother Rattan (Wasti, whom, if you are more familiar with films from the 50s and 60s, you may have seen in Dil Deke Dekho and Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon). Rattan is an editor (with a publishing house, it appears). He is also a widower with a 10-month old baby daughter.
Gauri’s mother, far from consulting Gauri, doesn’t even inform her until it’s time for Gauri’s engagement. A wink and a blink, and before we know it (before even Gauri knows it), she’s married to Rattan and is being helped into the palki which will take her to her husband’s home. Poor Govind is devastated. He manages to smuggle a note to Gauri, and having read his declarations of undying love in the face of her faithlessness, Gauri is reduced to tears as she jolts along in the palki.
Rattan lives in a fashionable house in town, along with his college-going sister Manju (? Manju? Thank you, Mister Jinx, for identifying this actress! Mister Jinx also mentions that she and Karan Dewan met while filming Rattan, and later got married) and his widowed bhabhi (?). The bhabhi has no children of her own, so spends all her time poking her nose into matters that don’t concern her. She isn’t a bad soul, but a busybody who soon makes it her business to ensure that Rattan appreciates what a pretty wife he’s managed to get.

Unfortunately for the bhabhi (and for Gangu, who had given Rattan to understand that the bride she has chosen for him is 28 years old, really long in the tooth and vegetating up there on the shelf!) – Rattan is shattered when he catches a glimpse of Gauri’s face. This is a beautiful young girl, he realises. A mere teenager, not a raggedy old spinster who’d never have got married if it hadn’t been for him.

And now he, Rattan, already a father and a widower more than double Gauri’s age, has tied her to him, ruining her life. He’s eaten up by remorse, and doesn’t know what to do. (A refreshingly un-MCPish attitude for that period and place). At any rate, he decides that he will not consummate the marriage. He can’t; he’ll feel too guilty about it.

Rattan’s resolve is further strengthened by the sudden arrival of an unsolicited manuscript which a writer has sent him. The book, which is named Pati-Patni (Husband-Wife), has been written from the point of view of a 16-year old girl married to a 55-year old man. As Rattan reads aloud through the book, the plight of the young bride – and, by extension, Gauri – becomes more and more heart-rending.
(Oddly enough, in real life Swarnlata fell in love with, and married, an actor named Nazir, who was 20 years older than her).
Meanwhile, back in the village, poor heart-broken Govind has been wandering around in a daze. One day, just before Diwali, Gauri’s mother happens to visit Govind’s father’s shop, to ask if there’s any chance of Govind going to the town to run any errands. When it emerges that Govind does have to go to town to buy some silver coins for the Diwali pooja, Gauri’s mother asks him for a favour: she gives him some money and requests him to buy sweets and drop them off at Gauri’s home.
Gauri’s mother is obviously not the most sensitive of people.

Govind, obedient young man that he is, does turn up at Gauri’s home on Diwali, carrying the sweets he’s bought on her mother’s behalf. His meeting with Gauri threatens to be very awkward, but Rattan’s bhabhi, completely oblivious to the undercurrents right before her very eyes, tides it over. She forces Govind to sit, to partake of some sweets, and to watch a song-and-dance performance that is being staged at their home.

Both Govind and Gauri are painfully aware of each other’s presence, and also of the fact that they shouldn’t be, what with Gauri being married to Rattan.
But the bhabhi hasn’t finished yet. It’s late at night, she says; Govind cannot possibly start out for the village so late; he must stay the night at their home.

In the middle of the night, Govind, unable to control his emotions any longer, comes to talk to Gauri, and to reassure her that he will always love her. A distressed Gauri begs him not to try and see her again; she is, after all, a married woman now.
It is all very upsetting, what with Gauri and Govind pining for each other, while Rattan is having a hard time staying away from his lawfully wedded wife. Where will this impasse end?