India became a federal republic on January 26, 1950. The decade that followed was one of heady optimism and Nehruvian socialism. It was a time of breaking free of the burdens of the Raj, building unity, teaching children, as well as working towards guaranteeing the rights of every citizen. This period also saw the birth of Hindi cinema.
They say cinema is a celluloid expression of a country’s joys, sorrows, triumphs, defeats, loves, tragedies, challenges and triumphs. It is a graph of human progress, preserved in time. Incidents are creatively captured on film and presented on screen to be lived, enjoyed and pondered over by the viewer.
True to this dictum, the cinema of the decade of the 1950s was a faithful reflection of the era. The work of every film producer, director and writer of that time reflected a strong sense of nationalism, as they experimented with subjects, music and actors. They all showcased the aspirations of the common woman and man.
Of course, things were different in the first three years after Independence with the country still in great turmoil after Partition. Political leaders tried to discover their own relevance and find a firmer foothold. Hardly five or six films hit the screen annually in those years.
Then came 1950 and things changed dramatically. With India becoming a republic, the film industry was infused by a new zeal. They took upon itself the task of giving Indians the picture of a positive tomorrow and a new vision for themselves.
The overriding themes were that of freedom, education, village life, the impact of industrialisation, and equal rights for every citizen.
What helped these films touch a chord with the masses was that the people who made them or penned their stories had themselves either participated in the freedom struggle, were witnesses to British oppression or had first-hand experience of the struggles that ensued with the political transformation of that time. Many of them had worked with leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose and others.
The films also had great star casts like Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Balraj Sahni, Pradeep Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Kishore Kumar, Abhi Bhattachrya, Dev Anand. Many of these stars owed their later super star status to these fantastic films. The female stars of the era should also not be forgotten. They got to play some of the most powerful characters that Hindi cinema has seen.
A well-written screenplay combined with outstanding cinematography in black-and-white was the backbone of these hits.
Little wonder then that the decade from 1950-1960 is known as the “Golden Era” in Hindi cinema. No films have been made with more commitment and no messages have been delivered as effectively, as the ones that were generated during those magical years. Truly these films were the ‘Paigham’ (message) of the ‘Naya Daur’ (new era).