Millennials Review Classics: Rise of the Machines In ‘Naya Daur’
Dilip Kumar’s ‘Naya Daur’ makes you realise that we’re still fighting the same battles.
(Mansi Dua, 24, watched Naya Daur (1957) for the first time this year. Read her review here.)
It has taken me quite a while to finally sit down to write this review.
I struggled to put my thoughts and emotions into words; and when I failed, I procrastinated. No matter how hard I tried, I felt like I could never do justice to the brilliance of BR Chopra’s Naya Daur. But for the sake of feeble attempts, here we go.
They don't make movies like this anymore – films that are relatable even 50 years after they first hit the screen.
Naya Daur is almost three hours long, but I couldn’t look away even for a second. The plot and the timeless Man vs Machine theme had me hooked till the very end.
Naya Daur and the Price of Progress
Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala-starrer Naya Daur is set in a small, remote village, the residents of which are mostly kaarkhanewaale (factory workers) or tangawaale (drivers of horse-drawn carriages). Shankar (Dilip Kumar) is a tangewala who lives with his mother and sister. The villagers lead happy lives under their kind-hearted landlord. Things start going downhill when the landlord goes to Kashi for a pilgrimage and his son, Kundan (Jeevan) returns from the city to take his place as the head of the village.
Along with the shehri babu, comes all the shehri thoughts. He wants to 'develop' the village and bring in machines, not realising that these machines will put the villagers out of jobs. Kundan has caught the urbanisation fever and he wants to capitalise the village for his own good.
It is ironic that this Naya Daur (new era) makes the villagers suffer by hampering their progress instead of helping them progress.
Bros Before H*es?
Shankar shares a deep bond with his best friend Krishna (Ajit Khan). But what happens when both friends fall for the same girl?
After Shankar and Krishna realise that they both have feelings for Rajni (Vyjayanthimala), Shankar is ready to sacrifice his love for his best friend, he doesn’t tell Krishna that he was about to get married to Rajni. When finally, the time comes to decide which man she “should go to”, Shankar decides to leave this decision to God. Umm, what?
Shankar knows Rajni loves him, but he refuses to tell his friend. Chalo, I’ll accept that. But instead of letting God decide their fate, couldn't he have just asked her what she wants? But that would have solved everything and left the film without a sub plot.
The mess doesn’t end here. Krishna misunderstands the game of fate, and accuses Shankar of cheating him to win Rajni over. Shankar takes out his frustration on Rajni and says "tere kaaran mera dost chin gaya mujhse". When Rajini asks him how she is to be blamed, he ignores her. Again... WHAT?
Krishna soon realises that Rajni has feelings for Shankar, this which makes him jealous and vengeful. He conspires with Kundan, the shehri babu, against Shankar and the entire taangewala tribe so as to put them out of work.
Meanwhile, Kundan is doing everything he can to modernise the village. First, he brings in a machine, forcing the factory workers out of their jobs. Next, he brings in a bus – effectively rendering the taangewalas unemployed.
The film then becomes a two-pronged tale, one about Krishna’s attempts to destroy Shankar, and the other about Shankar’s determination to fight against the machines for himself and his village.
The Righteous and Moralistic Hero
As always, the legendary Dilip Kumar does not disappoint. He plays the righteous and moralistic Shankar to a tee, making the viewers fall in love with him.
Despite being wronged and hated for no fault of his, Shankar remains a righteous man. The villagers turn against him but he does not lose hope. In fact, Rajni is the only one who supports Shankar when the entire village leaves him alone. Undeterred, he fights for the rights of the villagers and stands up to Kundan.
Shankar knows about the misunderstanding that has turned Krishna against him, but he refuses to think ill of him. Unlike Krishna, Shankar doesn’t even think about conspiring against him instead, he distances himself from Rajni. Too good to be true.
Women Empowerment and Religious Superstitions
Naya Daur is not only true to its era, but is also ahead of its time. One cannot help but notice that when Shankar challenges Kundan for a race between a bus and tanga, everyone helps him build the road – including women and children.
Women step out of their homes to work with men in the fields even though there were several other restrictions on them.
Another aspect of the society that Naya Daur deals with is how religion is manipulated for political gain. Shankar and the villagers find the statue of a goddess as they are building the road. Immediately, they stop construction – because well, the place is now a devi ka sthan. This is just a ploy to stop the villagers from building the road, but the tussle over religion is as relevant today as it was when the film released.
Man vs Machine - The Ultimate Winner?
Machines were made to help humans, but problems begin when they start to replace them. The best thing about Naya Daur is the fact that the new era, which is apparently the present, is not as new as it seems. It seems as though Shankar’s time is no different from ours.
The dependence on machines and the fight against capitalism, mixed with the struggle to leave our mark on this world – all of this had me thinking about how our lives may be more of a ‘purana daur’ than a 'naya daur’. We’re still fighting the same battles, albeit under different names and shades. For eg. Artificial Intelligence, anyone?
Naya Daur leaves viewers with an important thought. Yes, we need machines and urbanisation. But where do we draw the line between necessity and greed? The battle between man and machine can only be won once we learn to differentiate between the two.
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