12 February 2012

JOGAN (Dir. Kidar Sharma, 1950, India)


Director Kidar Sharma is a name I stumbled upon repeatedly during my research and his 1950 Hindi film Jogan is one of his most popular works. Sharma is yet another key figure in the evolution of classical Hindi cinema and his output in the 1940s and 1950s offers some distinguished melodramas. What makes Jogan an extraordinary melodrama is the way in which Sharma constructs narrative largely through the soundtrack. This may seem like an obvious point to make about a Hindi melodrama made in the 1950s especially one with major stars but Jogan is not merely another film with the so called narrative interruptions. A Bhajan is a devotional song and many Hindi films especially ones with a strong religious theme used bhajans as a way of telling the story. Jogan uses fourteen different songs, mostly bhajans, to advance the narrative. This means that although dialogue is still important, all filmic elements are subordinate to the soundtrack. The story of Jogan revolves around the relationship between an ascetic or mendicant called Surabhi (Nargis) and an atheist, Vijay (Dilip Kumar). The religious figure of Surabhi has origins in the real life mystical singer Meerabai who has been a source of inspiration for numerous films, literature, songs and paintings in Hindi culture. Vijay’s atheism is challenged when he hears Surabhi singing a bhajan. The attraction is instantaneous and Vijay’s pursuit of Surabhi results him repeatedly returning to the temple to hear her sing. We discover that Surabhi has escaped an arranged marriage that would have ruined her and that rejection of worldly pleasures is necessary if she is to be successful at renouncing her life and embracing greater religious ideals. In a way, Vijay is envious of Surabhi’s unflinching level of devotion to an ideological cause and way of thinking. Given the prolific nature of the soundtrack, the scenes between Vijay and Surabhi are admittedly scarce and this means the songs articulate levels of emotions that would have not been possibly with traditional storytelling techniques. Even though songs dominate, Sharma’s visual style and approach is somewhat understated and conveys a realism which seems at odds with the melodramatic form. Additionally, the theological dimension, with the emphasis on the conflict between atheism and asceticism, transforms the melodramatic form into something more sophisticated, radical and unexpected from a mainstream Hindi film. The understated approach is echoed in the low key performances by Nargis and Dilip Kumar who are shot largely in close ups as a means of ensuring the limited time afforded to their exchanges are foregrounded and not lost in the overwhelming soundtrack.

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