Naya Daur: The Coming of a New Era
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “We are all leaves of a majestic tree whose trunk cannot be shaken off its roots which are deep down in the bowels of the earth. In this, there is no room for machines that would displace human labour and that would concentrate power in a few hands. Labour has its unique place in the cultured human family… Dead machinery must not be pitted against the millions of living machines represented by the villagers scattered in the seven hundred thousand villages of India… The present use of machinery tends more and more to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few.”
Writing about BR Chopra’s Naya Daur is not an easy task even if you have watched it a hundred times before. As the title of the film, ‘Naya Daur’ suggests, it is all about the coming of the new era, the age of Industrialization in the nation, and that is met with a disagreement and led to a race between the bus and Tonga (horsecart) used metaphorically to show the race between Industrialization and Labour. Arguably B.R. Chopra’s finest creation, the 1957 release Naya Daur is a gem in the annals of the Indian Cinema. Starring Evergreen stars like Dilip Kumar, Vaijyantimala Bali, Ajit, Johnny Walker, and Jeevan, it is a strong commentary on the debate on ‘Arms vs Machine’. The movie depicted certain Gandhian values which are the foundations of Modern India.
1957 was decorated with movies like Guru Dutt’s masterpiece Pyaasa, Mehboob’s Khan Oscar Entry Mother India, V. Shantaram’s Do Ankhen Barah Haanth, and even in such tough competition at the Filmfare Awards, Dilip Kumar bagged his fourth Filmfare Award for Best Actor, Akhtar Mirza for Best Story and OP Nayyar for Best Music Director. Naya Daur was the second highest-grossing film of 1957, after Mother India. This film can be considered to be one of the first Dilip Kumar's 'not-tragic' tales after films like Devdas.
It was BR’s good friend Ashok Kumar who suggested Dilip Kumar for the film and put in a word with him to hear out the story. Dilip Kumar listened to the story and finally agreed to be a part of the film. Dilip Kumar playsed the role of a Tongawallah who involves in a race with a landlord, played by Jeevan, who drives a bus with a story commenting on the people against profit, evoking familiar human struggles and the very debate of ‘Arms vs Machine’. Madhubala was the real choice of the filmmaker for the role of Rajni, she even did a 15-day shoot for the film. But B.R. Chopra, the director, wanted the unit to travel to Bhopal and Ataullah Khan, the father of Madhubala, objected. Madhubala did not go against her father and BR Chopra sued Madhubala for the cash advance she received. She was later replaced with Vyjayanthimala Bali. Dilip Kumar writes in his autobiography, 'Madhubala's father, in a bid to show me his authority; got her entangled in a lawsuit with producer-director B.R. Chopra by suddenly making a fuss about the long outdoor work scheduled for Naya Daur giving her heart condition as a reason for her withdrawal from the film. He came up with an excuse about his daughter's inability to work at the outdoor locations in Bhopal and Poona for the film after some reels were canned.'
The Print reports, “At a time when humankind is beginning to look into the ‘moral’ side and the perils of artificial intelligence, BR Chopra’s Naya Daur posed a similar puzzle by pitting human labor (tonga-pullers) against the use of a machine (bus).” According to Live Mint, Naya Daur is salted with several absorbing sub-stories, it is the heart-in-the-right-place classic, which questions the human cost of progress.
Naya Daur is often remembered for the songs like Yeh Desh Hai Veer Jawano ka, Reshmi Salwar Kurta Jaali ka, Maang Ke Saath Tumhara, and the very famous and essential song Main Bambai ka Babu of Johnny Walker are some of the most iconic songs of the Hindi Cinema. All the songs were composed by O. P. Nayyar and the lyrics were penned by one of the leading lyricists of that time Sahir Ludhianvi. One cannot miss the amazing performance by Minoo Mumtaz and Kumkum on Reshmi Salwar Kurta Jaali Ka. I remember my grandfather singing and enjoying Ude Jab Jab Zulfen Teri, reminiscing his good old days. Songs of today might not have the impact 10 years from now, but tunes of yesteryear are evergreen and they never fade away from memories and I also remember reciting Sahir's Saathi Haanth Badhana just like the OP Nayyar compositing in class 6th.
Shankar is a happy-go-lucky tongawallah who steps up when his lifestyle and the employment of his people is threatened by Kundan (Jeevan), the zamindar’s son who has recently returned from the big city. Kundan, who came from the city, wants to set up a bus service to replace the tongawallahs in the village. He introduces modernity to the small village by bringing a car and adding an electronic saw at the mill, effectively taking away jobs from the long-time workers. Naya Daur reminds us to raise questions on the increasing corporate control over people’s lives and livelihoods.
Quoting The Print, "The film is a classic for many reasons. It perfectly captures the sentiment of the lower-income groups during the 1950s and thereafter — not completely anti-machine, but just wary enough. It also stressed the fact that for a poor person, the bottom line always was to ensure two meals a day for survival."
The debate goes on. Are we over-dependent on machines? Now, when we talk about Artificial Intelligence managing our lives, this film is, undoubtedly, as contemporary as it was when my grandfather saw it way back in 1957. It leaves us with food for thought for us and for the youth of the nation, to think where we are heading? We cannot ignore industrialization and urbanization or even westernization but what we need is to limit our dependence and I often say, the future lies in the collaboration with the new and the old. So, B.R. Chopra's Naya Daur is in its truest sense, the coming of a New Era.
The Substance and the Shadow: An Autobiography by Dilip Kumar
Housefull: The Golden Age of Hindi Cinema, Edited by Ziya Us Salam