Jiban Maran (1938)
Director: Nitin Bose; Writer: Nitin Bose, Binoy Chatterjee, Sailajananda Mukhopadhyay; Cinematographer: Nitin Bose; Editor: Subodh Mitra; Cast: K.L. Saigal, Leela Desai, Devbala, Manorama, Elias Chowla, Boken Chattopadhyay, Bhanu Bandypadhyay, Indu Mukherjee, Naresh Bose, Sailen Choudhury, Nibhanani Devi, Satya Mukherjee, Amar Mullick
Duration: 01:48:25; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 46.967; Saturation: 0.001; Lightness: 0.288; Volume: 0.119; Cuts per Minute: 8.485; Words per Minute: 67.623
Summary: Mohan (Saigal), a radio singer, and Kedar (Najam)(Bijoy in the Bengali version played by Bhanu Bandyopadhyay), a doctor, both love Geeta (Desai). Mohan falls ill and makes way for Kedar, who eventually marries Geeta. After wandering in a delirium, Mohan is admitted to a sanatorium where he is cured of TB. He is then employed in the same institution. In a campaign to set up more sanatoria, Mohan agrees to sing on the radio (the film's hit song 'Pankhi aaj kon katha koi') to raise funds while Kedar persuades Geeta to give a dance recital. Geeta hears Mohan's broadcast and rushes to him followed by Kedar. To heighten the emotions for the climax of the story, Geeta has a bad accident and is admitted to the very sanatorium where Mohan works.
Release date: (Bengali) 14 October, 1939 (Chitra)
"Nitin Bose’s next film was Dushman (Hindi) and Jiban Maran (Bengali) which may in a sense be called a ‘command performance’. B. N. Sir car had received a message from Lady Linlithgow through his father N. N. Sircar to make a film to intensify the campaign for eradication of T.B. Nitin Bose was entrusted with the task and it was in this context that Dushman came to be made. Since it was a film intended to achieve specific results in a special field, Nitin Bose worked out the screenplay with meticulous care to obtain complete authenticity under the expert advice and guidance of the then eminent Tuberculosis Specialist, Dr. A. C. Ukil. The premiere of the film was held at Regal Cinema, Delhi in February, 1939 in aid of King George’s T. B. Fund under the distinguished presence of Lord Linlithgow, Viceroy of India and Chairman of the particular fund." - Nitin Bose: Flowering of a Humanist Filmmaker, Calcutta: Asian Film Foundation, 1986, Pg. 15-16
The narrative launches into its primary concerns right at the outset. Mohan and Geeta are in a relationship and due to Mohan's financial condition they must make every penny count before they can think of getting married. At the same time, Geeta refers to Mohan's health which, one learns, has not been very well. Both these factors would become the driving forces in their tale, lending to much of the central conflicts in the film.
Unlike Geeta's suspicions in the earlier scene, Mohan does manage to end up at the doctor's. The character of the doctor is interesting in 'Jiban Maran' precisely because of the two-fold function the character performs - firstly, as a contender for Geeta's affections and secondly as a mouthpiece for the awareness drive that inspired the film. In fact, this scene where he advices Mohan about the various health precautions he must adhere to has an uncanny resemblance to awareness pamphlets and campaigns run during the time against the onslaught of TB. At the same time, the friendly banter between him and Mohan underlines the nature of their friendship.
Geeta has obviously come to the doctor on behalf of Mohan. The fact that the doctor mistakes this as her own concerns ensures not only a comic interlude but also gestures at the complicated turn their relationship will take in the future. The fact that Mohan is a common factor within them will only come to light later.
The radio is an interesting component of 'Jiban Maran'. Mohan's character sings for the radio station, something which was relatable to Saigal himself. At the same time, within the larger drive against TB under the TB Eradication Fund, the radio as a new widely available mode of technology would play a crucial role. Besides, in the earlier scene the doctor has warned Mohan against over-using his voice, to which he had quipped that as his source of livelihood that would be impossible. With his financial situation already precarious, Mohan losing his voice or the ability to sing on radio because of TB would be one of the high points in the narrative of 'Jiban Maran'.
The mock fight between Mohan and his boss at the radio station, with the orchestra playing in the background is reminiscent of many such similar instances in the films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
The comic nature of the earlier scene with the mock fight is carried forward into the next with Mohan and the man who had been appointed as his replacement.
Saigal's status as a singer and actor was at its height during the time of 'Jiban Maran' and its Hindi version 'Dushman'.
The scene has obvious sexual undertones especially in the way the man is playfully chasing after the woman coaxing her into fulfilling some request of his, an oft-repeated array of images one would come to associate with such bracketed off romantic sequences especially in studio films such as these. The innuendo laden dialogues give way to the man's actual request however; he has asked her to dance for him. The arguments she presents against it, regarding shame and what people will think or say, seem deliberately a play on similar arguments posited against intimacies in public in the bhadralok worldview. That he compares the situation to instances from the love stories of Radha and Krishna underlines the subtle sexual charge of the scene. This sexual charge is then seemingly undercut by the bracketed off nature of the setting and the fact that they are not alone in that space. The mad man playing the violin is in fact then a necessary buffer in such a scene especially as Geeta (Leela Desai) begins to dance.
The romantic interlude is broken by a reminder of Mohan's failing health and Geeta repeats what the doctor had said in the earlier scene about what Mohan should eat. The sudden break in the scene, accompanied by the laughing mad violinist, is both ironic and portentious.
A certain amount of tension can be deduced between Geeta's relationship with her mother even though nothing of the sort is alluded to here. However, the mother's irate nature, especially regarding Geeta, makes this easily identifiable. That the cause of this could be Mohan is not too difficult to ascertain.
Geeta has obviously returned later than she is allowed to, hence the attempts at walking stealthily. The music, and the way the scene is shot through light and shadows, aids in this, making it both secretive and at the same time slightly comical. The latter bit is emphasised by Geeta's reactions when she is caught by her mother. The mother's anger in the earlier scene can easily be contextualised now, especially since Geeta seems hell-bent on evading her mother's questions.
Unlike her mother, however, Geeta's relationship with her father is far more friendly, demonstrated by his attempts to cover her in the face of the irate women of his household.
The women of the family are not as receptive of Geeta's relationship with Mohan as her father tacitly seems to. What is also striking is that these two women could have been just senex figures opposed to Geeta and Mohan's union if not for one crucial thing her mother says which brings the narrative into perspective - her comment that Mohan is someone who looks ill. Henceforth, the narrative of 'Jiban Maran' would traverse two extremes, the romantic melodrama that is its thematic source and the tuberculosis awareness drive that is its impetus. Both of these extremes find a common ground in the figure of the doctor, Bijoy, who is both Mohan's friend and doctor, and thus a part of both the romantic complication and the wider medical propaganda of the film.
The fact that Bijoy occupies such a complicated position in the narrative is driven home in the very next scene when Geeta's aunt comes to coerce him to get married. The fact that he becomes enamoured of her as soon as he sees her picture, firmly implicates him in the love triangle that is about to ensue.
The romantic complications are reflected by the technicalities of the ensuing scenes. Bijoy was seen standing and looking at Geeta's photo at the end of the earlier scene. The scene dissolves and immediately fades in to show Mohan standing in the exact same way contemplating his possible marriage to Geeta and how he is the one who has to make the move because of the lack of support from her family. Much like a lot of the scenes in the first act of the film, Mohan's rehearsal of his possible conversation with Geeta's father is both extremely comic and deeply ironic.
Geeta's entry immediately after, and her insistence that they include all possible scenarios regarding her mother's presence, underlines the tensions inherent in their relationship with respect to Mohan's health. She mentions her mother's words to him but doesn't tell him about their match-making attempts with Dr. Bijoy.
Dr. Bijoy, it seems, has already fallen for Geeta. The only one who has any idea about the complications about to ensue is Geeta but she has clearly mentioned nothing. Thus they attempt to drag each other to the same place, to the same woman and for the same purpose in a scene yet again rife with humour and irony.
Bijoy seemingly confirms the suspicions Geeta's mother harbours about Mohan's health though to a less fatalistic degree. It is obvious that Bijoy is being a tad bit evasive when Mohan asks him about the truth of his health.
Geeta perhaps had not expected Mohan's sudden arrival at their house with Bijoy but her reaction shows that she is rather pleased about the development. Unfortunely, the rest of the people in the scene don't share her sentiment, especially her aunt and her mother, and to some extent Mohan himself, though his reasons are entirely different.
The revelation of the complications serve to heighten the drama. Parallel shots of Mohan's realisation that Geeta is Bijoy's intended wife and Geeta's reactions when she hears Mohan acknowledge that she and Bijoy would make a great pair, serve to heighten the dramatic tension.
The scene is interesting for the fact that except Bijoy everyone else here is aware of the complicated nature of the situation. In fact, when Mohan asks Bijoy not to stop him because it might lead to some sort of disaster, he means it literally.
Whatever her aunt and her mother might have hoped, the accidental get-together has clearly not managed to drive a wedge between Geeta and Mohan.
Despite his earlier conversation with Geeta, Bijoy's involvement in the whole affair has clearly not sat well with Mohan who scoffs at the station manager's suggestion that he get married.
The first time tuberculosis is mentioned in the film. The conversation that ensues is striking because of two aspects - it works both as a concerned father testing out his future son-in-law and at the same time work as a visual pamphlet, so to speak, of essential information on tuberculosis.
Bijoy has recognised Geeta from her earlier visit to his chamber and asks about her fictitious relative, without the slightest inkling that she had gone for Mohan. The fact that we hear Mohan's voice immediately over the radio, that too cryptically talking about deception and the three of them, foregrounds this.
Mohan's voice over the radio, singing, is like a silent presence throughout the scene making conversation impossible for Geeta. The radio as an intrusive and yet startlingly assertive medium is a leitmotif we will come back to. The song he sings is about forgetting, a sign that he has probably realised that he has tuberculosis, and is thus prepapring himself for eventual separation from Geeta. In this case, the radio and Mohan's voice over it work as chastising, melancholy and yet redemptive, rebuking Geeta, bidding goodbye and at the same time creating a private intimate space for the two of them despite Bijoy's presence. Geeta's reaction shots, mostly close-ups, underline this.
The scene immediately fades out to the figure of the vagabond violinist, someone who had been both a sinister figure as well as a buffer as we had seen in the earlier scene by the lake. The fact that he stops playing in exasperation seems to come across as a sign of things beginning to go wrong, which explains why Geeta gets so agitated. Her insistence that he play exactly like the previous day is telling - it is a bracketed off romantic idyll, one she wishes to sustain just the way it is, while probably being aware that doing so is no longer possible. The violin's string breaks, breaking the note being played, cutting across the hitherto idyllic nature of their relationship.
Mohan it seems is aware that he is not well, which prompts him to attempt to break things off with Geeta. Geeta, on the other hand, thinks it is because he is angry with her over Bijoy. Her desperate plea with the violinist to play one more time is her way of trying to make things right.
Bijoy refers to Mohan's earlier song reaffirming what has become increasingly clear over the past two scenes - that Mohan has tuberculosis. While in the earlier scene Mohan had attempted to separate himself from Geeta, here he is very obviously trying to encourage Bijoy to marry her.
The song he sings in praise of Geeta's beauty is both an expression of his own feelings as well as his attempt to push Bijoy further towards her.
This is the first time that Mohan has admitted that he is not well.
Geeta on the other hand is frantic with worry over his behaviour, especially after she hears that he is ill. For the first time, her natural insouciance fails her and she gives in to her mother.
The removal of the telephone is a comic interlude for the father and the mother and a mock-fight, perhaps over the recent incidents. Geeta's father, however, true to what we have seen of him so far, gives in too.
Mohan's medical reports reveal that he has tuberculosis, probably in an advanced state. Bijoy, obviously uncomfortable that he has to carry the bad news, suggests Mohan go off to a tuberculosis sanetorium for some time. This is a crucial scene that signals the end of the first act of 'Jiban Maran' so to speak, pushing Mohan, Geeta and Bijoy off in different directions. Mohan removes his picture with Bijoy and replaces it with Geeta's, an act that mimics both the severed relationships. The fact that he visibly gets unwell for the first time is especially important then as it anticipates what is to folloow.
While Mohan is banished, so to speak, Geeta has been confined to her home, in a scene that is starkly reminiscent of the mythologicals that dominated the early years of Bengali cinema. This is especially true given the transformation of the mother and the aunt into forces that would seek to restrain her.
Mohan acknowledges this feeling of banishment too after the concerned radio station manager insists he take a long leave of absence. Since the radio had come to be closely associated with Mohan, his exile from this world is then deeply symbolic.
The first of two very important scenes, the scene at the sanatorium uses shadows and the enclosed space in which it is shot, to convey a sense of foreboding and dread. The camera tracks Mohan talking to the attendant against two series of windows through which only the shadows of the people, presumably other patients, can be seen. The final frame, with the solitary shadow sitting inside after Mohan too has been dragged in, is a definitive end of the first act.
The sense of dread generated in the earlier scene is sustained by the figure of the stern doctor, the looming attendants and the final ominous frame with the closed door of the examination room to which Mohan has been taken.
'Jiban Maran' has to traverse that fine balance between a narrative in its own right while at the same time keeping within the tuberculosis awareness campaign that engendered it. Horrifying myths about the nature of sanatoria and the treatment of patients were commonplace during the time. Thus while the last two scenes have deftly played with the urban legends and fear regarding the tuberculosis sanetorium, this scene is an exposition on what the awareness drive would like to posit as the truth. Consequently, the figure of the doctor becomes important. His kindness and his strictness work as a perfect foil to the dread that the dark looming sanatorium had inspired. The fact that the role of the doctor is played by an established actor like Sailen Chowdhury would obviously lend credibility to any such act of myth-busting. However, besides the historical context, even within the logic of the narrative the character of the doctor is crucial. Mohan's persistant feeling of rejection is immediately dissipated by the reassuring yet stern presence of the doctor who promises to cure him, providing him with a refuge of sorts in a time of exile.
Time in the second act passes quickly, what with six months having passed. While Mohan is in the sanatorium, the rest of the characters too are seen dealing with the ravage of tuberculosis in their own way. Esepecially important is the All-India TB Organisation whose mention foregrounds the tuberculosis awareness and prevention programme for the first time in the film, moving it out of the domain of the personal, like in the case of Mohan, to the public.
Consequently, the radio emerges as a key player in this drive. Henceforth the radio emerges as a major catalyst not only for the awareness programme as represented in the film but also for the denoument of the human drama that surrounds it.
Both Bijoy and the radio station manager have always been concerned about Mohan. Their discussion here emphasizes that despite what he might believe, Mohan has not been soundly rejected by everyone around him.
This is reinforced when we see Mohan in the very next scene, now completely healthy. Mohan's cure brings two things to perspective: one, the curability of the disease, and two, the abject financial conditions of the sanatoria that make any such effective cure nearly impossible. The doctor, especially, embodies both aspects of this problem, with his passionate dedication to the research against tuberculosis and the insults he is subjected to because of it.
The letter brings the news of the radio and the All-India Tuberculosis association coming together for the eradication programme. What is also noteworthy is that the upcoming radio programme would provide the best possible opportunity for Mohan to emerge from his exile.
Geeta, it is revealed, has taken the separation from Mohan very badly though she tries her best to conceal the fact from those around her, especially her perceptive father.
For the first time, Geeta's father is seen taking on a more authoritative stance when it comes to Geeta and Bijoy's wedding as he warns his wife and sister of the consequences of forcing Geeta to marry against her will.
Geeta's song reaffirms what her father has been trying to warn, that she will never forget Mohan, foregrounded by the parallel cuts of her father, mother and aunt hearing her sing, their reactions and the way the two women immediately look towards the father.
There have been stray references earlier to Geeta being a dancer. She initially turns Bijoy down but on hearing it is for the tuberculosis awareness programme, she is reminded of Mohan and immediately agrees.
The news of Bijoy and Geeta's engagement has been published in the newspaper. Geeta, who has perhaps given up hope of Mohan's return, is resigned to what everyone thinks would be good for her.
Bijoy is still unaware of Geeta and Mohan's relationship. Thus, he does not understand or recognise Geeta's anguish when he talks about the photos Mohan had changed.
It is revealed that Bijoy had published the news of the engagement to draw out Mohan from his exile. It will be interesting to note that ultimately the ploy works but not in the way Bijoy had intended.
The ring Bijoy presents to Geeta indicates very clearly that he has become enamoured of her. For Geeta, though, the reminder of Mohan and his photo has only caused agitation and grief, something that is compounded by the ring. She had been desperately trying to come to terms with her impending marriage and a life without Mohan. However, a series of reminders of her past compels her to request Bijoy to go to the one place she had shared with Mohan, the secluded sopt by the lake.
The spot by the lake, as Geeta mentions, has changed completely from how beautiful it used to be. While her impulse in coming here had probably been the reminder of Mohan and her time spent here, the fact that she asks Bijoy to put the ring on her is testament to her desperate attempts to let go of those memories. The reappearance of the vagabond violinist is thus crucial. The last time he had been unable to play the tune but this time he does manage to play it, immediately sending Geeta tumbling into despair. The scene begins by deliberately mimicking earlier scenes with Mohan and Geeta to point out the futility of the latter's efforts to forget. Geeta's song at the end of the scene acknowledges this very fact.
A series of posters announcing the activities of the All India Tuberculosis Organisation and calling the people to contribute and help, yet again in an arrangement that resembles a publicity pamphlet. Given the socio-political context of the time, this is probably the most deliberate and explicit reference to the tuberculosis awareness drive. At the same time, the last poster is crucial because it deftly brings the narrative back from the somewhat extra-diegetic reference to the sequence of events about to transpire.
A radio-set has been set up as promised at the Raghunathpur sanatorium to ensure the people there can speak to the public on this occasion.
Geeta's mother and her aunt are against her dancing in the programme. This would be an expected reaction among the bhadralok during the time regarding a bhadramahila dancing on stage, as suggested by the drawing of the curtain at the end of the shot.
The various patients of the sanatorium who have recovered provide testimony to the fact that with care the disease can be combatted.
The parallel cuts of the patients of the sanatorium talking about the love and care they have received and the closed, oppressive atmosphere at Geeta's home are pitted starkly against each other to foreground the difficulty that the awareness programmes had had to face during the time.
Geeta's torment about being unable to go to the programme reaches its zenith when the pamphlets are carelessly tossed outside. The rapid cuts, the staccato beat of the music, the hard-close ups, the loud ring of the telephone, and Geeta's constant movements suggest her anguish. Mohan's voice over the radio comes at such a charged juncture and serves to provide the final push for her to defy her mother's dictumns and rush out. As pointed out before, the radio is here both an intrusive as well as an extremely assertive medium, bringing both the narrative and ideological impulses behind 'Jiban Maran' into a dialogue.
Mohan's song is an expression of his anguish - he has seen the engagement announcement in the newspaper - while at the same time serving as a sort of call for Geeta to break out of her confines. The parallel cuts of the car rushing towards the venue adds to the heightened drama of the sequence.
A new idiom of modern dance, shorn of traditional forms of most dance aesthetics had already begun to emerge in the public sphere of the time, borne especially by cinema. Mostly a bhadralok invention, this new idiom found patronage among the bhadramahila especially and went on to define film dance in Bengali cinema till the 50s. The oppostion that Geeta had to face for her dance mimics the actual career of this modern form of dance which faced various hurdles, especially centered around morals and decency, before it could establish itself. The fact that Leela Desai, herself a dancer during the time, is the woman dancing in the film adds to the complex layers of subtexts in this scene. For Geeta this scene is about breaking out of her boundaries. At the same time it is a climactic moment in the lives of the protagonists of the film. Bijoy gets to know about Geeta and Mohan and the final curtain that definitively falls is a sure signal that the romantic melodrama that lends itself to the theme of the film will now take precedence over the actual historical pretext in the final moments.
The incidents that have transpired have had a series of repercussions. While Bijoy it seems has decided to step aside and bring Mohan back, the father directly accuses the mother and the aunt for whatever has come to pass.
Meanwhile, Bijoy and the radio station manager have rushed to Raghunathpur to bring Mohan back only to find that he is gone. The fact that Mohan is now completely cured and can now go back into society, including getting married, is emphasized.
The earlier scene dissolves immediately into the next - Geeta and Bijoy's are getting married since Mohan has gone missing again. The climax of the preceding Hindi version of 'Jiban Maran', 'Dushman', had been different with Geeta meeting with an accident while rushing to meet Mohan. However, in the Bengali version, Nitin Bose eschews the deliberately dramatic ending for a more staid one where Mohan has come to the wedding instread, disguised as a waiter. The fact that Bijoy is as reluctant about the wedding is abundantly clear.
The discovery that Mohan is an imposter and his labelling as a thief is intercut with scenes of Geeta's father blessing her that she be as happy as Savitri, an epitome of wifely duty, love and purity in Indian mythology. Savitri had famously followed Yama, the god of death, to force him to return her husband's life. Geeta sees Mohan being roughed up as a thief soon after and she rushes out to him in an almost ironic retelling of the very same myth - Mohan has come back from the jaws of death so to speak and true to her father's blessings she rushes out to him.
With Mohan and Geeta back together, the final shots of all the players in this story are a series of snapshots taken by the wedding photographers. The only people who are not part of the snapshots are the mother and the aunt whose plans have been foiled, leaving them out of the pageant of happy memories.
Bijoy's words are an exact reversal of Mohan's when the latter had replaced his picture beside Bijoy with Geeta's photo - a symbolic acknowledgement that order has been restored.