Hi, it’s classic movie time and this week I’m recommending Gunga JumnaGunga Jumna was made in 1961. It stars Dilip Kumar and his real brother Nasir Khan as the brothers Gunga and Jumna. Dilip Kumar wrote the film and also produced it.

So why do you need to watch it?

Because Gunga Jumna features one of the great performances of Hindi cinema – Dilip Kumar as the robust, defiant, jovial Gunga who fights his tragic circumstances with heart-breaking nobility. The actor is largely credited with introducing method acting to the industry – and this is before Marlon Brando introduced it to Hollywood in the 1950s. Here he wholly transforms into Gunga, flawlessly speaking Awadhi. Amitabh Bachchan called it the ‘ultimate performance.’ He said – Gunga Jumna stayed with me all my life.

Gunga Jumna is directed by Nitin Bose who came to Mumbai from New Theatres – the legendary studios in Kolkata. The story, about two brothers, one a straight arrow and the other, morally upright but forced to become lawless, echoes Mother India. But Bose gave it a singular authenticity and vitality.

I was fascinated by the character of Dhanno, played superbly by Vyjayanthimala. Dhanno is fiercely spirited. Her and Gunga actually have physical fights like children. In one scene, she is struggling to extricate a bullet from his back. In pain, Gunga hits her. She runs away into the forest but he chases her and asks for forgiveness. The ferociousness in their relationship is unique.

Gunga Jumna has scale and emotional sweep. The film speaks eloquently for the dignity and humanity of common folk like Gunga and his family, who fight decades of oppression and whimsical cruelty at the hands of the upper classes. Gunga might be uneducated and occasionally boorish but his thoughts thr are progressive. So when the local priest tells him that he can’t marry Dhanno because she is a lower caste, he simply ignores it. Dhanno stood by him when he had no one and that’s all that matters.

Gunga Jumna was a blockbuster. It inspired generations of actors and filmmakers. Yash Chopra’s classic Deewar essentially reworks the same tropes. The film is about three hours long and some sequences haven’t dated well but what strikes you after all these years is the power of the storytelling and the emtion. Above all, the film is a testament to the genius that is Dilip Kumar. You can find it on YouTube.

All this month, Film Companion will celebrate the works of Dilip Kumar. You can follow our series FC Flashback which aims to reintroduce legendary actors, filmmakers and technicians to a young audience.

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