Hindi Features

Pikchar with Rita: A Nehruvian Hero of the 1950s

In Didi (1959), students say to their teacher that they found very little that was common between what they were taught in class about India and what they observed. “We had heard that there was only one India and that it was the best in the world, however, when we examined closely we found maps changed, customs different, and no one group is like any other. Dharm juda hai, jaat juda hai, religions and castes are different. So, what you taught us is not what we found in reality.”


The 1950s is one of India’s most defining decades, in that it documents the dreams and aspirations of a new nation in the face of continuous challenges to that very idea of the nation. Pedagogy is the site where this pressure is experienced.

However, the teacher attributes the differences to a colonial history and its divisive politics, and also glosses over the question students ask: Why must such factions continue now that we are free? Why is one a Brahmin and one a Harijan?

The song Humne Suna Tha Ek Hai Bharat is from the film Didi and penned, not surprisingly, by Sahir Ludhianvi. On the face of it, what could be common between this song and another one from the same film, Tum mujhe bhul bhi jao toh yeh haq hai tumko, meri baat aur hai, maine toh mohabbat ki hai?

The latter is a conversation between lovers. In Sudha Malhotra’s voice, the woman says to her lover that he would well within his rights to forget her. As for her, it’s a different matter for she has loved. The implicit charge that he has not loved her is communicated tenderly as if to make, but not assert such distinctions and take them to a point of rupture.

We realise that the question is not whether the man loves or does not, but thinks there are challenges of poverty and unemployment, starvation and inequality that need attention and hence romantic love would have to wait for its moment.

To quote Ludhianvi again, and in Mukesh’s voice, “Zindagi sirf mohabbat naheen kuchh aur bhi hai, zulf-o-rukhsaar ki Jannat naheen kuchh aur bhi hai.” (Life has more to it than love, the heaven does not lie merely in the shade of thick tresses but also in other things.) Who is this lover and what are his compulsions, considering, as the children said, we are now in an independent nation?


Didi shows Gopal (Sunil Dutt) as a committed Nehruvian hero, who teaches scientific thinking to his students, gives away all his money to a friend who wishes to produce stainless steel and hopes to build a modern future. We are familiar with the nation as a mother whose sons wage wars for her, who make sacrifices for her and who remain attached to the idea of motherland at the cost of love and romance.

However, the decades after independence also witnessed cinema in which young men were not wedded to the feminine idea of the nation, but a watan (homeland) that had no time for fissiparous tendencies, that struggled to come up with new innovations and scientific discoveries. Didi, although apparently about a relationship between a brother and a sister, couches in the familial, the new shift of romancing the Nehruvian nation, under the shadow of partition.