The Golden Fifties

The Golden Fifties

Fifties saw the rise of great directors like Mehboob, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor who changed the fate of Indian cinema. These directors entered the film industry during the 1930s and ’40s, which were traumatic years for the Indian people. The fight for independence, famines, changing social mores, global fight against fascism all contributed to the ethos in which the directors grew up.



Mehboob made his films down to earth, dramatic, even melodramatic. Roti made in the early 1940s inspired by the German Expressionism, is a real critique of Indian society with prophetic insight. It deals with two models – one of a millionaire, possessed by money and power in an industrial civilisation, the other of a tribal couple living in a primeval state of nature. The millionaire is saved by the couple after an air crash, the tribal couple emigrate to the city, do not find happiness and return. The millionaire is ruined in the city, tries futilely to find salvation among the tribal.

Mehboob remade his film Aurat (1940) in colour and with drastically different imagery as Mother India (1957), which was a massive success and later even acquired an epic status. The story revolves around Radha, played by Nargis, one of the strongest woman characters of Indian cinema. Her husband having lost both arms in an accident leaves her. Alone, she raises her children while fending off the financial as well as the sexual pressure from a moneylender. One of her sons, Birju becomes a rebel and the other one Ramu remains a dutiful son. In the end the long suffering mother kills her rebel son, as his blood fertilises the soil.

Highly successful and critically acclaimed, Mehboob’s films often derive from clash between pre-capitalist ruralism and an increasingly modernised state with its commercial-industrial practices and values.


Bimal Roy

Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Bimal Roy entered the field of cinema as a camera assistant. His directorial debut was with Udayer Pathey (1944). He introduced a new era of post World War romantic-realist melodramas that was an integration of the Bengal School style with that of De Sica.

Do Bigha Zamin (1953) and Sujata were two of the most notable films of Bimal Roy, who basically was a reformist, a humanist liberal. Do Bigha Zamin was one of the Indian first films to chart mass migration of rural people to cities and their degradation in urban slums. Though the situation was tragic, Roy sought to relieve the starkness by brave and hopeful songs and dances. Sujata dealt with the disturbances created to a lost soul from the world of untouchable underclass who escaped accidentally to the world of the urban middle class.


Guru Dutt

Born in Bangalore and educated in Calcutta, Guru Dutt entered into the Hindi film industry as an actor. He took up the job of choreographer and assistant director before his directorial debut Baazi. His earlier films were entertainers like Aar Paar (1954), Mr and Mrs 55 (1955) and C I D (1956). With the darkly romantic Pyaasa (1957) Duttt launched a cycle of films that have remained India’s most spectacular achievements in melodrama. Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) the first Indian film made in Cinemascope was autobiographical in nature. It tells in flashback the story of a famous film director, his disastrous marriage, the entry of an actress into his life that leads to gossiping, his failure as a director and eventually his death. His work encapsulated with great intensity the emotional and social complexities affecting the artist at a time when the reformism associated with Nehruite nationalism disintegrated under the pressure of industrialism and urbanisation. The commercial failure of Kaagaz Ke Phoolresulted in a real life repetition of the plot of his film when Guru Dutt committed suicide in 1964.


Raj Kapoor

Born in Peshwar, now in Pakistan as son of Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor acted the role of a megastar, successful producer and a director. He started as a clapper-boy in the Hindi film industry and latter became one of the most successful directors of the industry. He set up the R K Films in 1948 and made his first directorial venture Aag. His earlier films Awara (1951) and Shri 420 (1955) evince a sentimental approach to social reforms, presenting political Independence as a loss of innocence in exchange of stability. Later he made sexually explicit films like Bobby (1973) and Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978), which became huge hits, after the commercial failure of his most ambitious project Mera Naam Joker (1970).


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