It is said that Upkar. the movie was inspired by no less than the Prime Minister of India at that time Shri Laal Bahadur Shastri, in a meeting with the film fraternity being impressed by film Shahid’s special screening, a story of Bhagat Singh’s exploits in the Indian freedom struggle. He had given the slogan of Jai Jawaan Jai Kisaan due to the prevailing circumstances in India which had just come out of the 1965 war with Pakistan on one side and dearth of food grains on the other.
This underlying motto within the slogan was picked up by Manoj Kumar and he wrote the storyline on the train while returning from Delhi to Bombay. This was the advent of Manoj Kumar as Bharat on the silver screen. Upkar was his first film as director and also this led the way for him to go on to direct and act in many movies with patriotism as it’s central theme. Manoj Kumar was the person who realised the acting prowess of Pran for positive roles, who had hetherto been a villain hated by one and all so much so that no one named their child Pran. Manoj thus gave him the iconic role of the wise malang, paving the way for an innings for many a positive character actor roles henceforth for him and also earning him the best supporting actor’s Filmfare award for Upkar, he has also been given some memorable dialogues in the movie.
The movie also changed lead actress Asha Parekh’s on screen persona of a dancing star to that of a more mature actress as she played a doctor who promotes family planning. Rajesh Khanna was signed for the role of Bharat’s younger brother which ultimately went to Prem Chopra as Khanna won the Filmfare talent competition in the meantime. This was the movie which advocated Indian values vis-a-vis western sensibilities, which was fully elaborated by Manoj in his 1970 film Purab aur Paschim.
Upkar is replete with philosophy and patriotism. It was the highest grosser of 1967. Manoj’s brand of patriotism was eagerly lapped up by the teeming audience of the young nation.
It is a tale of two brothers Bharat (Manoj Kumar) who is a village bumpkin though being educated. he tills his lands as he has to put in his sacrifice to educate his brother Puran (Prem Chopra) who has gone abroad for further studies. Puran returns – educated and selfish and demands his share in property. Bharat being a guy with heart of gold transfers the whole property in Puran’s child’s name so that he cannot sell it. War breaks out and Bharat joins the army (thus playing the characters of both jawaan and kisaan), here Puran gets embroiled in illegal activities brainwashed by uncle Charandas (Madan Puri). Bharat returns a war hero sans arms, on being caught Puran repents and wants to be Bharat’s support and the movie ends on a positive note with the now quintessential Mere desh ki dharti playing in the background.
Upkar was shot in Ghogha village in Narela near Delhi. The song ‘Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle’ sung by Mahendra Kapoor (who won the National award for best playback singer) was a chartbuster which still gives goosebumps whenever played. Manna Dey’s ‘Kasme vaade pyar wafa, sab baate hai’ picturised on Pran has an interesting story, as the music director duo Kalyanji-Anandji did not want it to be picturised on Pran and they felt that the song would be wasted as Pran’s image was that of a villain but Manoj Kumar insisted and rest is history. The song ‘aayi jhoomke basant’ was Shamshad Begum’s last song. And it also has ‘Deewano se ye mat pucho, Deewano pe kya gujri hai’ rendered by Mukesh. The movie also won the Best Movie, Best director, Best dialogue and Best story at the Filmfare awards for Manoj Kumar. A must see movie for the contemporary nationalists who can learn a thing or two about patriotism.
– Revisited by PAWAN GUPTA