“Do Bigha Zameen” released in 1953 and is considered as one of the early movies in the parallel cinema genre in Indian Cinema. Bimal Roy got so impressed after watching Vittorio De Sica’s, 1948 classic “Bicycle Thieves” that he also decided to make a neo-realistic cinema and that is how “Do Bigha Zameen” was conceptualized. Based on the problems of farmers and their struggle to survive “Do Bigha Zameen” became a cult classic.
The casting of the movie was also unique, Balraj Sahani who was a handsome polished guy and so was his image in Indian cinema, Bimal Roy cast him as the poor farmer Shambhu Mahato. Nirupa Roy who only played Goddess in every movie was chosen to play the poor farmer’s wife Parvati, a complete change in the image that Nirupa Roy had. It is said that to get his act of a Rickshaw Puller Balraj Sahani actually practiced pulling a rickshaw in the city of Calcutta and interacted with the local rickshaw pullers to get the body language correct, he even lost weight to look authentic as a starving farmer.
It had a story of a farmer Shambhu Mahato (Balraj Sahani) who due to famine had to mortgage his land to the Zamindar Thakur Harnam Singh (Murad) in lieu of money. Harnam Singh wants to start a factory on the agricultural lands of the village and Shambhu’s land poses a problem since it is in the middle of the plan of the factory, in order to confiscate his land the Thakur wants his money knowing that Shambhu cannot pay. But Shambu as a last attempt to save his land goes to Calcutta to earn money to pay back the Thakur. He becomes a rickshaw puller, and how he and his wife Parvati (Nirupa Roy) struggle to save money forms the rest of the story.
The movie had Jagdeep as a child artist playing the role of a polish boy; it had Mehmood as a background artist or extra playing candy vendor and Meena Kumari in a cameo as a Thakurian. Though it was a realistic movie but still Bimal Roy gave songs and the music was composed by Salil Choudhury and it had some memorable songs like, “Dharti Kahe Pukar ke” sung by Manna De and the famous lullaby sung beautifully by Lata Mangheshkar “Aaja ri Aa nidya tu aa”.
Bimal Roy had shot the climax wherein the farmer’s wife Parvati dies at the end and Shambhu gets back his land. But after watching the preview Bimal Roy’s wife thought that the climax was too brutal and morose and the audience will not accept the end, so Bimal Roy reshot the climax wherein Parvati recovers from the accident and Shambhu loses the land.
The movie was a moderate success but critically acclaimed. It won many awards like the Filmfare Award for best film and Best Director and the National Award for Best Film. Internationally it won the Prix International Award for Best Film in Cannes Film Festival making it the second Indian Film to win an award in Cannes Film Festival after Neecha Nagar.
Though the movie was released in 1953 which is 61 years back, but the subject still has relevance in today’s India what with village youth migrating from villages to city to earn and farmers committing suicide as they are unable to pay the debts due to famine and the farmers are still dependant on rains for their crops.
This is one of Bimal Roy’s best work, and the performances by both Balraj Sahani and Nirupa Roy is to watch out for. “Do Bigha Zameen” is definitely a must watch for a true movie buff.