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Significance of 'Namak Haraam'? Hardcore tycoons can turn and side with workers

By Harsh Thakor* 

Last year, Bollywood commemorated the 50th anniversary of the movie Namak Haraam. This film portrayed the tussles or antagonism between the industrialist and workers in that era and is based in the scenario of the massive urban unrest of the 1970s, amidst the economic crisis. The story is based the escalation of unions in the scenario of Bombay's textile mills and inflation in the early 1970s. The film deals with the subject of worker-establishment relations, the age-old conflict between rich and poor, of dignified existence.
One of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s most creative portrayals, Namak Haraam dwells the endeavours of Somu (Rajesh Khanna), who pretends to be a worker to avenge his beloved friend Vicky (Amitabh Bachchan). Somu aims to topple and replace the union leader in Vicky’s father’s factory.
However being a first hand witness of the hunger and poverty his heart melts , he is departs from bewildered Vicky’s world and flings himself in the thickest skin of the workers struggles. Characters like Vicky’s socialist friend (Simi Garewal), the union leader (AK Hangal), and the despairing alcoholic poet (Raza Murad) manifest the crusade against inequality and injustice.
The movie unfolds as Vikram Maharaj (Amitabh Bachchan) is being released after finishing a long prison sentence for murder. Waiting to take him home are Bipinlal (AK Hangal) and Nisha (Simi Garewal). At his home Vicky in meditative posture gazes at a garlanded photo and is lost in a trance.
In a most balanced and nuanced treatment of the antagonism between labourers versus management issue, Somu (Rajesh Khanna) and Vicky (Amitabh Bachchan) are forced to go on either side of the class divide despite their lifelong friendship. The flux in their relationship manifests the class conflict between the workers and industrialists.
The movie in very sensitive and subtle manner projects the grievances of the working class, and how social situations or unrest condition their behaviour or interaction. It illustrates the psychology of a cross section of characters or contending forces. Scenes are well scissored and dialogues finely grafted. Most craftily the film blends humour with pathos or anger with reconciliation.
Very probing or crafty projection of Damodar, the factory owner, in the manner he guides his son to confront or keep the workers at bay, and his stealthy or precautionary steps in anticipation of the danger of making Sonu impersonate a union leader.
The most heart touching scene is when Vicky compensates for his father’s crime in orchestrating the murder of Sonu, by claiming he was the murderer. Most artistically and craftily Hrishikesh Mukherjee carves a theme of plot of a unique chemistry of bonding between two friends, belonging to completely different backgrounds.
The song, “Diye jalte hain phool khilte hain” truly signifies their bonding, both drawing strength in each other's company. Things change when Vicky rushes to see his ailing father, a wealthy industrialist Damodar Maharaj, played superbly by Om Shivpuri.
The movie elevates the very pulse of an audience with it’s heart touching scenes of emotional outbreaks, ebb and flow, and transformation of the two major characters in Vicky and Sonu, at the very core of the soul.
In a very simplistic manner it projects the grave conditions and bitter antagonism of the working class as well as the corresponding hatred of the industrialist class. It illustrates how social events transform the orientation of a human being.
There is very probing or crafty projection of Damodar, the factory owner, in the manner he guides his son to confront or keep the workers at bay, and his stealthy or precautionary steps towards the danger of making Sonu impersonate a union leader. The most heart touching scene is when Vicky compensates for his father’s crime in orchestrating the murder of Sonu, by claiming he was the murderer.
The movie unfolds as Vikram Maharaj (Amitabh Bachchan) is being released after finishing a long prison sentence for murder. Waiting to take him home are Bipinlal (AK Hangal) and Nisha (Simi Garewal). At his home Vicky in meditative posture gazes at a garlanded photo and is lost in a trance.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee blended socioeconomic conflict with communal existence in a film that fed aspirations of commercial cinegoers
It may be idealist today to make re-make of the film in the age of globalisation, but it is noteworthy that today the condition of the industrial workers is graver, with it’s organisational backbone of trade unions shattered and labour virtually sold like a commodity, at the mercy of the corporates.
A very significant feature of this movie was how Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachhan were on the verge of inter-changing roles, and how this film was the turning point in Amitabh replacing Rajesh Khanna as the superstar of the age.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee wished to convey how to Sonu's moral virtues of defending justice were more valuable than his friendship with Vicky. He conveys how even the heart of an industrialist like Vicky can melt to make him stand by the feet of justice. This manifested that love is above everything.
At the end Vicky is simply redemption personified, overshadowing Sonu, who falls a martyr of the working class. It is very ironic that Amitabh Bachhan as Vicky wins the adoration of the public more than Rajesh Khanna as Sonu. The film finally glorifies the moral transformation of Vicky in walking into jail on his own will more than that of the martyrdom of Sonu.
Surgically, Hrishikesh Mukherjee blended socioeconomic conflict with communal existence in a film that fed the aspirations commercial cinegoers. Namak Haraam is socially conscious and doesn't exclude the perils of ignorance, ego, and greed that poison humans before they establish their identity. Even though it had a conventional hero, you don't start rooting for him right from the beginning. Nor do you aspire for the virtuous model of your anti-hero before the appropriate time.
There are clear flaws here and there and some exaggerated performances. A flaw of the film is viewers are given an illusion in the conclusion that hard core industrialists can transform to turn on the side of the workers.
---
*Freelance journalist

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