Forever Films; Soul, not sex: Amar Prem

Though Amar Prem was a remake of Bengali film (Nishipadma) I feel our version of story was far superior. Honestly, I didn’t much care for Sabitri Chatterjee, who played Pushpa in Bengali film

 Forever Films; Soul, not sex: Amar Prem

Subhash K Jha

From its opening montage of a young rustic girl watching her callous husband bring home another wife, to the dying moments when the woman, now in her twilight years, is taken away to the relative comfort of her foster-son’s home as the festivities of Durga Puja break out on the streets of Kolkata… Amar Prem is a glorious homage to that favourite Bollywood archetype: the golden-hearted prostitute.

That Sharmila Tagore plays the woman whom men of all ages gravitate to in pursuit of some heavy-duty nurturing is a very happy situation for the screenplay. In the film a 7-year old boy and a 30-plus man, both desire the same kind of emotional attention from her. This prostitute is not about sex. She is about soul.

Sharmila brings to this timeless adaptation of Bibhutibushan Bandhopaddhyay’s story a kind of simpering beauty that levitates the lyricism of the tragic but uplifting tale to the level of a supremely seductive saga.

Shakti Samanta’s son Ashim speaks on Amar Prem: “My two alltime favourite films are Amar Prem and Anand. It’s just a coincidence that one of these happens to be directed by my father. I was 20 years old when my father made Amar Prem. I vividly remember the recordings of all the memorable songs. Pancham(R.D. Burman), Rajesh Khanna and my father were an unbreakable team.

Though Amar Prem was a remake of Bengali film (Nishipadma) I feel our version of the story was far superior. Honestly, I didn’t much care for the performance of the actress Sabitri Chatterjee, who played Pushpa in the Bengali film. What Sharmila did in Amar Prem was remarkable.She completely re-interpreted the character, whereas Rajesh Khanna was asked to model his performance on Uttam Kumar in Nishipadma, which he did and then added his own personality to it.

For its time Amar Prem was a daring experiment. It cast one of the most saleable pairs of the times as a man and tawaif. R.D. Burman’s music added a whole dimension to the drama. Do you know Amar Prem was the only film in which Pancham’s father Sachin Dev Burman sang his son’s composition? To this day listeners break down when they hear Burman Dada sing Doli mein bithaye ke kahaar.

I’ve to tell you something very interesting about the most popular song Chingari koi bhadke in Amar Prem. There was no situation for that song in the screenplay. One day my father and the lyricist Anand Bakshi Saab were sitting together, as they usually did in the evenings, when Bakshi Saab recited Chingari koi bhadke for my father. On hearing the words my father was stunned. ‘I’m using this song in my film,’ he declared. When Bakshi Saab protested that there was no situation for the number in the film, my father reassured him, ‘Leave it to me. I’ll find a place for it.’ And he did. There’s a unique quality of romance, drama and music in Amar Prem. The film never aged.”

Sharmila Tagore Speaks on Amar Prem: I had seen the original Bengali film beforedoing Amar Prem. Shakti-da had made both me and Kaka(Rajesh Khanna) see it. I quite liked the original film. It was more about the woman and her relationship with the child. I had recently become a mother, so it was relatively easy for me to do the motherly character. And Kaka’s role was to be done by Raj Kumar. But Kaka who had done Aradhana with me and Shakti Samanta, insisted on being a part of the film.Since Uttam Kumar had done such a fabulous job in the original, Shakti-da made Kaka model his performance on the original. This was one of those films that just turned out right. We were not looking at the boxoffice. We just felt emotionally connected to the characters.

The film became a hit and it continues to be liked by new generations. That’s the magic of the story. Also, I’d say a major reason for the film’s success was R.D Burman’s music and Anand Bakshi’s lyrics. The music and the words carried the story forward.

I remember the premier of Amar Prem was attended by Field Marshall Manickshaw. And the very next day after the premiere, the 1971 Indo-Pak war broke out.

Kaka and I did many films together. We really worked well together. I was pregnant with Saif during Aradhana and with Soha when Kaka and I did Choti Bahu. Kaka and I had two major problems. He came much too late on the sets and our best profile on camera was the same.So, when we were in the same frame together Kaka and I were always trying to get the cameraman to shoot our right profile!

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