India 1950
Directed by Gyan Mukherjee.

When Raje (Ashok Kumar) was born, his mother passed away, leaving his father, a police inspector, to raise him on his own. And he did, and spoiled him so thoroughly that he became something of a neighborhood scoundrel, even going so far as stealing his father's pistol and shooting a gambler who was cheating him. His father's best friend had a daughter, Munni (Nalini Jaywant), and even in childhood the two parents had their wedding plans in mind. Too bad Raje grows up into a rotten crook, who uses the alias Kunwar, and declares "leave love and marriage to the fools," and "I don't fear or believe in anyone."

"Spare the rod and spoil the child" has never been more firmly underscored than here. The adult Raje runs the Rainbow Hotel, a gambling den, in Lucknow, until he is betrayed by his business partner Pyarelal. Escaping from police, he finds shelter with a woman who nurses him back to health and turns out to be none other than his long lost Munni. He reunites with his father, and hopes to leave his old life behind, but of course it catches up quickly. The police are still looking for him, Pyarelal wants him dead, and his old prostitute girlfriend wants him back.

But make no mistake -- SANGRAM is not a story of redemption. It is a story of inevitable fate, of criminal acts finally catching up to one in the end. Raje has little time for apologies or regrets, "not my style," he explains. When jail becomes his second home, his father and Munni's father finally decide to marry her to someone else -- an honest police inspector. And right about then, Raje goes completely insane.

Ashok Kumar made the anti-hero his stock in trade for a period of time in the fifties, and SANGRAM is one of several of his most popular films from that period. His trademark was constant cigarette smoking, and does he ever -- even in a swimming scene, he swims with the cig dangling from his mouth. In a romantic moment, he puts out the cigarette and - I'm not kidding - draws a heart of the back of his beloved using ash.

Despite the occassional moments of levity, this is a dark movie of a man trapped in a world of his own making with no way out, desperation turning to dementia. SANGRAM is moody film noir from Bollywood's golden age.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on November 21, 2005.

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