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Neecha Nagar (1946) (Movies To See Before You Die - Drama) (Did You Know - 51)
19 May, 2013 | Did You Know! / Movies To See Before You Die / Drama

Neecha Nagar - Bobby Talks Cinema.com

Much has been written and discussed about Cannes Film Festival in the recent years and it’s further publicized to be a great achievement for a film to feature there in any form whatsoever quite loudly. The festival is said to be considering Indian films more seriously now with many path-breaking and innovative film-makers strongly making their presence felt like never before.
 
But not many know about a sparklingly proud fact that the Cannes Film Festival’s first year of existence witnessed a classic Indian Film not only participating but also winning their prestigious Grand Prix Award (later called The Palme d’Or/Golden Palm) for the BEST FILM in the year 1946 (along with a David Lean & Billy Wilder film) fighting a pretty tough competition with many world cinema maestros. So it was actually long before the other pioneer personalities of Indian Cinema, Satyajit Ray & Bimal Roy, impressed & won over the western film-makers, that an Indian Film went on to win such high-profile laurels in a reputed International Festival standing tall amongst the giant stalwarts of the World Cinema.
 
This proud shining Indian cinematic achievement discussed above was NEECHA NAGAR talking about the social divide in the country even before the independence and was also the debut film of one of the most gifted, visionary yet under-rated directors of India, fondly remembered by the name of CHETAN ANAND.
 
In those last years before the Indian Independence, there were several restrictions over the creative expression in films, especially on the ones talking about any social reform or revolt. But being an active member of IPTA (Indian People’s Theater Association) and owner of many revolutionary ideas, Chetan Anand went on to make this ‘true masterpiece’ with the help of his group of friends in a restricted budget only. And the reference of its initial days of conception is also there in renowned actor Balraj Sahni’s autobiography “Meri Filmi Aatamkatha” (as both Balraj & Chetan were good friends). Due to the government restrictions they even faced the shortage of raw stock but somehow managed to overcome the problem with mutual efforts.
 
Neecha Nagar - Bobby Talks Cinema.comWell-known actress Kamini Kaushal made her debut in it as the leading female character along with Rafiq Anwar, Uma Anand, Hameed Butt, Zohra Saigal and more. Since it was the era of music, songs and melodrama, the film also featured some songs and dance sequences which were very intelligently edited out selectively in the print sent to the festival (a slide also reveals that in the beginning of the film). But despite these songs & dances, it still remains one of the most progressive, realistic and visionary films made in India, which was rightly rated to be “Ahead of its times” by many critics. As an additional unknown fact, NEECHA NAGAR was also the first film for which world famous Sitarist Pt. Ravi Shankar scored the music, before composing for many trendsetting films of Satyajit Ray.
 
But as its always been the fate of such futuristic films, the authorities (before independence) did not allow it to be released officially in the country itself and the film kept waiting to reach its own audience for years. So a film which was constantly winning ‘a rare appreciation’ abroad was not available for its own countrymen unfortunately and with the passing years its prints too got damaged and then were even reported lost. Later after more than a decade, one of the prints was thankfully recovered, saving the country from a great loss and that print was only used to make the presently available (poor quality) video versions of the classic for the Indian audience.
 
Coming to the film itself, it is said to be inspired from the play “Lower Depths” by the Russian writer Maxim Gorky. But here the inspiration or similarity was more due to the similar social divide existing in most of the countries at that time, eventually leading to many identical conclusions. And it was this universal applicability of the film only which in turn proved it to be an important international project of those times and one of the most memorable works by an Indian director before the Independence.
 
Neecha Nagar - Bobby Talks Cinema.comSurprisingly and shamefully too, the story of NEECHA NAGAR openly reveals the so called progress made by India in the last seven decades, since one can easily relate to its basic plot, even today in the year 2013. In straight words, if I narrate to you a script which talks about a powerful rich landowner who through his strong political connections gets a sewage system approved, which cuts right through a village situated on a lower land, then you are not going to find anything outdated or alien in it at all. Because sadly, we still get to read many similar scams in our daily newspapers and many remote areas or even cities are still dealing with these same problems only in the present decade.
 
Now NEECHA NAGAR, thoughtfully talks about this particular subject, which further crosses all the moral boundaries, when the execution of the sewage plans results in a contaminated water supply to the village and there is an epidemic kind of situation leading to loss of life. But the authorities are ready to take advantage of this grave situation too as they hurriedly build up a hospital to take care of all the diseased ‘free of cost’, posing as their only human saviour to depend upon.   
 
With such a hard-hitting, socially relevant and realistic script depicting the actual ugly plight of poor Indian villagers, the film was bound to get noticed both in the country as well as abroad quite prominently. But apart from its burning subject, it also had the clear indications of a legendary director at work through his interesting use of images, creative montage and expressive shots, truly differentiating the film from many other being made all around the globe in the same genre. In fact the maturity with which Chetan Anand uses the camera movements, dialogues, silence and music in his various scenes, it’s actually hard to believe that this was the first film of the veteran director evidently.  
 
However, today it’s sure going to be a tough watch for the younger generation as it does require a great amount of patience and passion to grasp the real essence behind all those superbly directed sequences by the maestro. Yet for the ones who truly wish to experience such precious Indian Gems widely appreciated by the world over almost a decade before Ray’s PATHER PANCHALI, the film is capable of both surprising and impressing together, making a solid impact. And that is the reason why NEECHA NAGAR still continues to enjoy a hugely respected stature in the history of Indian cinema till date (though many friends not have even heard about it, honestly).
 
Chetan Anand - Neecha NagarInterestingly, it showcases another creative idea introduced by Chetan Anand (in 1946) wherein he didn’t use the word ‘Director’ in the credits of the film, but wrote ‘Film Creation’ along with his name, rightly indicating towards the history he was going to create in the later years of his career through many worth watching gems.

Ending with a different kind of sad praise for this important classic, NEECHA NAGAR can easily be called a priceless masterpiece which could not get released in its own country in the year of its making and still remains a lesser known or forgotten gem in a nation which is known to cherish cinema more than any other country in the entire globe.
 
As a matter of fact, such is the ignorance towards this rare classic that there was no poster available all over the net at the time of writing this article, apart from the one made by its home video company as their VCD Inlay. And that inspired me to design a new well deserved one for the film myself, which has been posted along at the top.

With a hope that we will soon realize the importance of saving and restoring our own rich heritage for the coming generations, may this article inspire few friends to find the time & courage to watch this timeless classic and witness the excellence achieved by our own Indian Cinema way back in 1946.
 
Directed by Chetan Anand
Written by Hayatulla Ansari
Starring : Rafiq Anwar, Uma Anand, Kamini Kaushal, Hameed Butt, Zohra Saigal and more.
Music by Pt. Ravi Shankar

Tags : Neecha Nagar (1946), Movies To See Before You Die Drama, Did You Know Facts of Hindi Cinema, Unknown Bollywood Trivia, Not To Be Missed Hind Films List, The first Indian Film at Cannes, Must See Movies List at bobbytalkscinema.com by bobby sing, Interesting Bollywood Trivia by Bobby Sing
19 May 2013 / Comment ( 2 )
raunak

Neecha Nagar is a gem of a film no doubt and that's why it was internationally appreciated. But Even Neecha Nagar isn't the first indian film to be awarded or appreciated internationally.
The first Indian Film to be appreciated worldwide was Maestro Debaki Basu' 1934 film Seeta, which was awarded at The Venice film festival. The next film to be awarded was Damle and Fatehlal's great 1937 film Sant Tukaram,which too was awarded at the Venice Film Festival. By the way, Venice film festival is the most respected of all film festivals across the world.

Neecha Nagar was the third Indian film to gain international recognition, followed by Do Bigha Zameen,which made an improvement as unlike the three above mentioned films, it won not one but two awards at two different film festivals i.e. Cannes n Karlovy vary.

But nothing beats what Pather Panchali or infact the whole Apu trilogy did for indian cinema. Indeed even before Pather panchali, there were indian films which won accolades worldwide, but the kind of impact Pather Panchali and Ray made is unparalleled. To say it in short, while Seeta, Sant Tukaram, Neecha Nagar, Do Bigha Zameen are great films, Pather Panchali ranks among the greatest of the greatest films ever made.. No list of 100 greatest films ever made anywhere in the world is complete without a mention of 'Apu Trilogy'.. To cut it short, just like A.R.Rahman is the greatest film composer India Has ever seen, Satyajit Ray is the greatest film maker India has ever seen and his Pather Panchali the greatest Indian film ever. But of course that does not mean that other greats are not to be hailed but just like in Indian cricket, Sachin is no.1, in Indian cinema,Ray is no.1.

Bobby Sing

Hi Raunak,
I think you are taking the whole article in a wrong way somehow whereas the article is not written from that angle at all.

1. Actually the article specifically mentions the Cannes festival as it is presently the most talked about one in Bollywood, quoted with a kind of questioanble pride. So the article was actually written with the point of view that in its first year of existence only the Festival awarded an Indian film which many may not be aware of and its not only now that we are being recoganised in that festival.

2. Secondly the other useful information about SEETA and SANT TUKARAM further proves the point that our films have been receiving appreciation from the West since the beginning decades only and we proved our worth to everyone even in those starting decades of film-making and not just now.

3. However, lastly I strongly disagree & oppose to your terms used as "A.R.Rahman is the greatest film composer India has ever seen" OR "Satyajit Ray is the greatest film maker India has ever seen" OR "Pather Panchali is  the greatest Indian film ever" OR "Like in Indian cricket, Sachin is no.1, in Indian cinema,Ray is no.1"

In fact frankly after reading so many enlightening comments from your goodself in the past, I really didnt expect these lines and was quite disappointed too while reading them.

In my opinion every ART FORM is an evolving concept and in other words is an imperfect concept, beauty of which remains in the fact that the pefection is never achieved. And if somebody says that he has done what could be done in that particular art form, then the person is DEAD from that very moment and has failed to understand the term ARTISTIC EXPRESSION from any angle.

So the beauty of ART lies in its IMPERFECTION as then there remains work to be done by the coming generations, otherwise for what the coming generations are being born...........for doing nothing & just praising the past?????

Further every era of few decades has a particular feel, understanding, form of expression, technology and its own genius masters too. And there can be no comaprison between the masters of 1930s & 1960s OR 1970s & 2010s.

Hence in my opinion all we can say is that ""A.R.Rahman is ONE OF THE greatest film composer India has ever seen" OR "Satyajit Ray is the ONE OF THE greatest film maker India has ever seen" OR "Pather Panchali is ONE OF THE the greatest Indian film ever" OR " Sachin is ONE OF THE greatest cricketers India has ever produced" OR "Ray is ONE OF THE greatest directors of Indian Cinema"

In other words, staright away saying that this is no.1 and this is the best will be just like saying that "APPLE is the best fruit ever produced" or "PEACOCK is the most beautiful bird, mother nature has ever made".
 
I hope I was able to explain myself humbly.
Cheers!
HIS BLESSINGS

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