Oh My God (2012) and PK (2014) were two innovative Hindi films, which raised several pertinent questions on superstitions, the existence of new-age gurus, and their interpretation of the supreme power. The films were indeed courageous attempts by the makers in the new millennium, but they were not the pioneer films to explore the subject with a much superior and worthy predecessor releasing in 1977.
Where the religious films have their history in Hindi cinema led by mega-hits like Jai Santoshi Maa, there also has been a religion-based fantasy genre, presenting enlightening stories in a light comic mood. This includes films like Pehli Tareekh, Jhuk Gaya Aasman, Lok Parlok, Kalyug Aur Ramayan, Taqdeerwala, and more. Taking inspiration from Western and Indian regional cinema, these films had their share of appreciation as well as criticism. At times, a few even had to change their title like Kalyug Aur Ramayan, that was earlier called Kalyug Ki Ramayan.
However, there is one film in this genre, Yehi Hai Zindagi (1977), that possesses the immense power to transform, and teach the viewers some life-lessons through its fictional drama. An official remake of Tamil hit Kaliyuga Kanna (1974), the film can ideally be called a rare ‘Spiritual Classic’ of our cinematic history as it features Lord Krishna [Vikram Gokhale] visiting the protagonist, Anand Narayan [Sanjeev Kumar], at regular intervals of life, granting him wishes.
Casually listening to the basic tenets of Gita about the cycle of Karma, Anand first treats the Lord as a ‘theatre artiste prankster’ appearing in his stage costume of Krishna. Even later, when he unwillingly has to accept the truth, he vaguely starts making ‘big wishes’ to test Lord’s powers, which Krishna goes on fulfilling at appropriate time. As a result, Anand becomes a wealthy industrialist in the span of just few years. But the sudden transformation brings along with it complexities of ego, family clashes, and issues related to health.
Directed by K S Sethumadhavan, the major highlight of the film is its witty and thoughtful interaction between Lord Krishna and Anand with many exceptional life-teaching dialogues written by Inder Raj Anand on the story by Vaali. This elaborate feature of the film was also the reason it was earlier reportedly titled Insaan Aur Bhagwan.
Amazingly, many still remember the film by one of its smartly penned conversations pointing towards the word ‘mycin’ prominently used in the names of many medicines. This is a sequence in which the Lord smilingly reminds Anand of ‘his sins’ with the reference of ‘mycin’, asking him the name of every medicine he is taking to maintain his ailing health. Such was the impact of its impressive dialogues that the official LP record of its soundtrack was released with its one side only having the eight episodes of Lord Krishna’s discourses with Anand. In addition, a fabulous song in the film strongly represented its theme, penned by Anand Bakshi and composed by Rajesh Roshan, soulfully sung by Kishore Kumar as “Pyaar ka badla mujhe dekho kaisa mila, Pyaar ke badley mujhko paisa mila!”
Focusing on the fake, destructive ego crushing Anand’s world of his loving family and friends, Yehi Hai Zindagi strongly makes the viewer think, but never goes into preachy or over-philosophical mode, maintaining the light, entertaining feel throughout. The fun element stays right till the end with the smiling Lord Krishna constantly warning Anand at his every new step headed towards the shallow monetary achievements with false pride.
Plus, it’s truly a treat watching the two veterans expressing it all with such innocent ease and effortless conviction.
Though Sanjeev Kumar got the Best Actor Filmfare nomination for his flawless act in the film as the egoistic Anand, it is the equally or even more absorbing act of Vikram Gokhale that stays in your mind for long. Vikram gives his career-best performance as Lord Krishna and his subtle pauses, voice modulations and mesmerising smile is nothing short of textbook material for students of theatre and cinema. Besides, you can also spot the actor and singer Lucky Ali in the film, playing a key role along with Utpal Dutt, David, Ramesh Deo, Neeta Mehta, Komila Virk, and more in the supporting cast.
Coming back to the present, it’s sad that the Hindi film industry tends to forget its path-breaking gems and doesn’t even care to re-store (digitalise) their deteriorating original prints for the next generations. Unfortunately, that remains the reason why everyone knows about the recent hits made on similar themes, but might not be aware of Yehi Hai Zindagi, deftly exploring the subject more than four decades back.
(The writer is a critic-columnist, an explorer of cinema and author of ‘Did You Know’ series on Hindi films also active at bobbytalkscinema.com)