From the start it’s a different sort of film to most of those shown in Channel 4’s Movie Mahal season last year. In colour, with outside location shots, more than anything it struck me as a comparatively modern film.
This was reinforced by its coreographed dances which, though shot outside and without today’s MTV values, seemed recognisably ‘Bollywood’.
Yet the 1961 film’s setting is one of the archetypes of Indian stories – the village with the cruel landowner/moneylender/headman, and in this it’s a film in the mould of Mother India, released just four years earlier, as well as countless others.
Gunga Jumna’s variation on this spins a tale of brothers divided, one (Jumna, played by Nasir Khan) overcoming adversity and joining the police, the other (Dilip Kumar’s Gungaram) pushed by circumstances into the arms of dacoits (bandits).
The film progresses at quick pace. Within the first 25 minutes the sense of melodrama has been swiftly ramped up – when an unfounded theft accusation leads to the death of the boys’ mother. By then the film’s plot and central characters have all been effectively established.
Later on there is a genuine sense of excitement during a cross-country chase when Gunga is pursued by police and villagers.
It’s a thought provoking film in the vein of Raj Kapoor’s Awaara, another enjoyable mediatation on why people take the paths in life they do and how good people can be tranformed for the worse by society’s actions.