T. it.: Due ettari di terra. T. int.: Two Acres of Land. Sog.: Salil Choudhury. Scen.: Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Dial.: Paul Mahendra. F.: Kamal Bose. M.: Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Scgf.: Gonesh Basak. Mus.: Salil Choudhury. Canzoni: Shailendra. Int.: Balraj Sahni (Shambu Maheto), Nirupa Roy (Parvati Maheto), Ratan Kumar (Kanhaiya Maheto), Murad (Thakur Harnam Singh), Nana Palsikar (Dhangu Maheto), Nasir Hussain (conducente di risciò). Prod.: Bimal Roy per Bimal Roy Productions
DCP. D.: 122′. Bn.
Originally a director in Bengali films, Bimal Roy brought the humanism and social concerns of his tradition to Hindi cinema. A screening of De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves inspired him to create Do Bigha Zameen, the grittily dramatic tale of a poor farmer’s struggle to save his land from the clutches of a rapacious landlord. Do Bigha Zameen won its director and its lead actor Balraj Sahni several awards, besides featuring in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 1954, where it received a special mention.
The Ring of Truth
It was less than a decade after India gained independence from British rule that Bimal Roy’s film Do Bigha Zameen was released. Audiences around the country greeted it with stunned silence. There was no boisterous acclaim, none of the celebratory music that follows the news of a film becoming a box-office success. It was an acknowledgement that a new kind of cinema had emerged: a cinema in the popular mode, with the ring of truth.
The film had bridged the gap between fiction and reality. Yes, it was overly melodramatic at times, and yes, the story line did have avoidable coincidences. But somewhere in all of this, there was an incredible honesty that could not be ignored. The film had touched the core of a nation’s dilemma, as it attempted to free itself from its feudal past and move towards a modern, industrial future.
The dilemma was about land. Eightyfive percent of the population lived in rural and semi-rural areas. Of this, the vast majority were small, marginal farmers and landless labourers who worked on the fields of the big feudal landlords. In urban areas too, there was a large population of landless labourers who had escaped serfdom and migrated there in search of work.
This was the central idea of Do Bigha Zameen. It is the story of a marginal farmer who is given a short time of three months to pay back a debt or forfeit his small piece of land. The film is about his battle to save the dignity and honour of his family. Bimal Roy slowly builds up the tension in the film, as the farmer and his young son move from their rural environs to the city of Kolkata in order to earn that crucial amount of money that can redeem their lives. The tension begins to mount as the farmer becomes a human carriage ferrying people across the city. As the deadline approaches, his son begins to work as a shoeshine boy and his pregnant wife also joins a village workforce.
The film now revolves around the family fighting frenziedly against the odds to save their land. In the midst of all of this, Bimal Roy also reveals the underbelly of the city, where the poor congregate to live and work, and to make something of their lives. It is here that the viewer finds a camaraderie that celebrates the human spirit of compassion and understanding. But Bimal Roy reveals he has other concerns on his mind. He had two choices on how to end the film: Would he allow the characters to emerge triumphant from their ordeal, or would he rather predict the course the country would take in the future? He chose the latter. That is why his film has the ring of truth even today.