indian cinema heritage foundation

Prem Pujari Revisited: Spotlighting the Hand-written Script of Dev Anand’s Directorial Debut

04 Sep, 2023 | Long Features by Cinemaazi Team Member Nichola Pais
Waheeda hits the hay for "Prem Pujari" under cinematographer Fali Mistry's watchful eye... and maybe a lullaby from Dev Anand. Image from Cinemaazi archive.

“I write in my own handwriting. I write my scripts in English, I switch over to Hindi at times but most of my thinking is in English. When I start writing, the words just flow.” - Dev Anand

These original, rare hand-written sheets of the script of Prem Pujari (1970) are part of the Cinemaazi archives. 
An image of scene no. 19 of the original script of the film.

Though Dev Anand started writing the story of Prem Pujari while on location during the making of Jewel Thief (1967), the film had already rolled in his mind. The descriptive flourishes and detailed instructions of the scenes with dialogues provide a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the legendary actor-writer-director.
As we read scene no.19 from the script and watch it in the film, it gives a detailed context to the scene shot at a location near Darjeeling. 

For the convenience of our readers, one of the various scenes in the script is transcribed here - 
A scene from the film showing Dev Anand.
“Camera steady - revealing a road up-hill climb – Ram is coming up exhausted, feels like resting, sits down against a stone – (an old suitcase in his hand) – Takes his water-bottle to drink water; there is nothing in it – except two drops.” Point (a) of the same scene gives an instruction regarding the shot taking, “Go to his close – he starts to drink; there is no water; he reacts and then reacts skywards, hearing the drone of an engine and then with a serious expression gets up to go outframe.

“(b) Cuts of aeroplane – and its crashing into the fields.”
Aeroplane  crashing into the fields.
Scene 21 with characters Jung and Billy describes a location in the hills with timber in the background – “long shot toppish as if from Jung’s point of view – Billy sitting, summer clothes – newspaper in his hand – the ‘Statesman’ or some Calcutta English daily – He looks up at Jung and watches, cigarette in his mouth.”
An image of scene no. 21 of the original script of the film.
Screenshoots showing Billy (Prem Chopra) and Jung (Madan Puri).

This detailed point-wise shot-taking description is present in all the scenes penned. In this way, the successive sheets narrate the action, including camera angles, dummy dialogues in Hindi, characters, sets and scenarios. 
Mainstream Hindi cinema has not been particularly known for its complete and bound scripts. Screenplays were often penned on set itself with the dialogues filled in by another writer; here Anand’s fine attention to description is refreshingly evident.
The desire to direct
Achieving fame and fortune as an actor was not enough for Dev Anand; already a well-established star at the time, he found himself experiencing a certain restlessness, a yearning for more. In a later interview, he would point out that he could have owned half of Bombay, and continued playing the roles other people wanted him to play. The sense of his ennui comes through strongly, at having to “do the same things in the same way, to move, to act, to speak to someone else’s direction.” As he would emphasise, if you are not creative, you remain a star and then, as stars do, you fade away.
‘Fading away’ was clearly not a term that featured in his lexicon; brimming with creativity, he was determined to go beyond what it is to be a star. Recognising the essence of film as a director’s medium, he also discovered his own talent for writing. Realising that he knew enough about the mechanics of filmmaking to be able to watch an idea grow into a film, he was eager to be able to control everything, from the songs to the dances to the fights to the drama to the dialogues. “Filmmaking involves every single art form from music to choreography, from poetry to prose, from dramaturgy to story-telling. I felt I could do it. I did,” he would sum up.  

Scripting sense & sensibility
He took the plunge into direction with penning the script of his directorial debut Prem Pujari which translates as Worshipper of Love. Known for his strong and informed political and world views, the theme was obviously close to his heart. “I see cinema in incidents,” he would maintain, revealing that the idea was sparked by the 1965 Indo-Pak conflict. The 1960s were a time of war for India; there was also the 1962 Sino-Indian war which India lost, which recurred in 1967. Internationally as well, the decade was dominated by the Vietnam War and the Cold War, among others. Anti-war sentiment was growing, as increasing numbers of people questioned the necessity and destruction of war.

Speaking about scripting Prem Pujari, he would reveal, “It took a year and a half’s labour to get all the writing done. There is a process of communication in writing. The closer you get to the subject, the greater the warmth you get out of it. Eventually, when you are getting it all realised on the sets, there is a nice process of warming up to better and better shots.”

The idea, he would share, was born out of a sense of patriotism, “as I spent hour after hour of blackout nights, out on the lawns of my house, listening to the transistor for news of the conflict that engulfed India and Pakistan for 22 days. I thought then of this great land of ours, this secular country of ours, with so many races and religions; and of the spirit we inherited from Gandhi and Nehru, which, despite the diversity, political as well as social, has withstood the onslaughts of two foreign invasions in the post-Independence era in a spirit of unity. To this nation of ours, a people always ready to sink their parochial narrow-minded differences in times of peril to a larger national interest called freedom, I decided to dedicate my first directorial effort.”

Anand boldly crafted his onscreen character Lieutenant Ramdev Bakshi, a peace-loving man who enrolls in the army despite his strong aversion to war. In his introductory shot in the film, he is picturised trying to capture a butterfly. He refuses to kill the voiceless creature—as his sweetheart Suman goads, in order to prove his love for her—so firm is his belief in non-violence.
A scene from the film Prem Pujari (1970) showing Dev Anand trying to capture a butterfly.
“Woh goli chalayenge, main goli chalaunga, phir woh goli chalayenge… kab khatam hoga ye silsila?”
Despite his resistance and due to family pressure, Ram joins active duty but is court-martialed as he refuses to obey the orders of his senior to shoot at the enemy. In the scene, which he set at Nathula in Sikkim, based on the skirmish of 1967, his pet dog at the border post has taken the first volley of shots. Wracked by pain, holding his beloved dog’s body, he refuses to fire back, saying: “Woh goli chalayenge, main goli chalaunga, phir woh goli chalayenge… kab khatam hoga ye silsila?” A pacifist, he sees no end to the vicious cycle of firing on both sides. 

He meets Rani (Zaheeda), a spy, in a helicopter crash. Not knowing her actual intentions, he helps her, and slowly understands the dangerous game of espionage. On realising Rani and her fellow agents’ nefarious plans, his love for his country prevents him from escaping. He decides to beat them at their own game in his own way. The espionage drama thus starts near the Khemkaran sector in Punjab, travels across the world, and finally settles there again in the end. He takes to the gun only so that such wars can end. 

“Is barbadi mein hi naya janm ho raha hai. Hum ahinsawadi aur prem pujari log zarur hai lekin bujdil aur kayar nahi. Jo goliyan barsayega wahi goliya khyega.” With these words, he sends out the message that India, as a nation, has never attacked another country. When we took to arms, it was only to protect our self. 

Blending past & future
Screen shots taken from the film.

Prem Pujari was in the making for two years as much time was spent in procuring government approvals for its war-centric theme. Importantly, it also introduced many new faces to Hindi cinema. Newcomer Shatrughan Sinha, who played a Pakistani army officer, would later go on to become an iconic star. Incidentally, in order to compensate for the insignificant role that Sinha had in this film, Anand recommended him for the 1971 film Gambler. Another debutante, Zaheeda who played Rani / Mrs Andrews/ Mrs Yuk Tok, also achieved some measure of popularity. While Madan Puri played the character Jung/ Jang, Prem Chopra essayed Bilquis Mohammad (Billy), and Amrish Puri played Jerry. The film included a belly dance performance by popular Egyptian dancer Nadia Gamal

The cast included artistes who had worked with Anand earlier, like Ulhaas, Nazir Hussain, Achala Sachdev, Sapru, Iftekhar, Sajjan, Ram Mohan, and Siddhu, as well as lesser-known actors like Bhagwan Ji Sinha, Ratan Gaurang, Bihari and Uma Dutt

The film also marked the start of the association between poet-lyricist Gopaldas Saxena aka Neeraj and Navketan. It happened that Anand had met Neeraj at a mushaira in the mid-1950s and offered him the chance to work on a film. Seeing an advertisement for Prem Pujari, Neeraj expressed to Anand his wish to be part of it. Anand agreed to give him a chance and invited him to Bombay. Taking leave from his teaching job at Dharam Sansad college in Aligarh, Neeraj came to the city. Music director S D Burman was apparently unsure about the aspiring lyricist’s capabilities. After giving Neeraj the tune of a song and explaining the situation, Burman set the condition before him that the song would have to begin with the lyrics “Rangeela re…” Neeraj rose to the occasion, penning the memorable lyrics which were instantly green-lighted and thus was he signed on as lyricist for the film.
The "old" man in a hat is Dev Anand made up for a scene in London with leading lady Waheeda Rehman.
Flanking them are star Zaheeda and Achala Sachdev, veteran character actress. Image from Cinemaazi archive.

Prem Pujari also showcased the camerawork of veteran cinematographer Fali Mistry, which beautifully captured the Alps of Switzerland as well as the French countryside, among other natural wonders. Known for his imaginative imagery, Mistry had directed Anand earlier in Sazaa (1951) and Arman (1953). Forging new ties with the Anand brothers’ Navketan banner, Mistry cinematographed Anand in the much-acclaimed Guide (1965). Post-Prem Pujari, he became the in-house cinematographer for the Navketan banner and would shoot several films starring the evergreen Anand, such as Johny Mera Naam (1970), The Evil Within (1970), Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971), and Des Pardes (1978).

Similarly, film editor Babu Sheikh had worked with Anand on several films such as Nau Do Gyarah (1957), Kala Pani (1958), Hum Dono (1961), Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963), and Jewel Thief (1967), and was roped in by Anand to edit his directorial debut. 

Audience reception
When released on 6 February 1970, the film was no great commercial success, though it did good business in its second and subsequent runs after it was re-released with some cuts. Its release also ruffled many feathers. The workers of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) disrupted the screening of the film in Calcutta protesting against what they saw as the unfair characterisation of Chinese communists. A scene in which Anand, along with others, is picturised walking upon the portrait of a Chinese leader, was considered offensive and was deleted before the film was released for the second time.

Decades later, Anand would reveal that “there was a fundamentalist lobby which slashed the seats in the auditorium. In Bengal they had Prem Pujari removed at the point of a gun because there was a sequence about the cultural revolution in China. The CPM and Jyoti Basu had the picture removed and in Bombay they slashed the seats.”

From his very first directorial, Anand displayed a knack for direction. His style was seen as “snappy,” and he conducted himself with confidence in his dual roles of actor and director. The film was considered slick with excellent production values and superior cinematography by Fali Mistry. The screenplay, however, appeared disjointed as it juggled a vast canvas with a profusion of characters.
Dev and Zaheeda shooting outside Mme Tussaud's famed wax works.
Image from Cinemaazi archive.

For Anand himself, the experience of directing his first film was one of tremendous growth, as he “learnt much more” than he ever did “during his entire career of screen acting and production.”

A musical high
Composed by S D Burman with lyrics by Gopaldas Saxena aka Neeraj, the music was a winner, finding universal favour with music aficionados. Besides the highly popular Rangeela re rendered by Lata Mangeshkar, the soundtrack included well-loved songs such as Doongi tainu reshmi rumal by Lata Mangeshkar, Phoolon ke rang se by Kishore Kumar, Shokhiyon mein ghola jayein by Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar and Taqat watan ki humse hain by Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey and chorus.

Comparatively lesser-known songs of the film were also a delight to the ears. Take, for instance, Yaaron nilam karo susti sung by Kishore and Bhupinder Singh and picturised on Anand and Anoop Kumar. The lyrics advise: ‘Gham pe dhool daalo, Kahkahaa lagaalo, Arre kaanton ki dagariya zindagani hai, Tum jo muskura do, raajdhaani hai…’ which roughly translate as ‘apply dust on your sorrows, life is full of thorns, but if you smile, it is capital…’

The title song, that plays as the credits roll, is simply and stirringly rendered by S D Burman. Prem ke pujari hum hai, ras ke bhikhari hum hai prem ke pujari… the song extolls the beauty of India, from the Himalayas to its rivers, which is unmatched in the entire world. 
Themes & criticism
Prem Pujari is seen as weaving the themes of patriotism and the army without being overtly pro-military. From showing the pacifist Ramdev enumerating the cons of war, it traces his journey towards becoming ‘more of a man’ and appreciating the defence forces and war itself.
Anand’s character Ramdev was seen to reflect the intrinsic value of Ram – peaceful and loving, but willing to fight the good fight when required.
Anand’s character Ramdev was seen to reflect the intrinsic value of Ram – peaceful and loving, but willing to fight the good fight when required. The talented and beautiful Waheeda Rehman, who paired opposite Anand in many films, was limited to playing the romantic interest. In comparison, Zaheeda, as the antagonist, had a more substantial role incorporating the conflict her character experiences. 
Dev shooting in Switzerland with a local band. Near Dev is Cinematographer Fali Mistry.
Image from Cinemaazi archive.

The film was, however, seen to go to the other extreme in villainising the other side – the Chinese, by portraying racial stereotypes. It was also panned for its over-the-top makeup and accents, all in all displaying a lack of political correctness and awareness as it pandered to fuelling patriotic sentiments.

That said, the film remains relevant more than 50 years later, as Indian cinema continues to examine the concepts of nationalism and war as seen in more recent films such as Mutthina Haara (1990), Border (1997), Mission Kashmir (2000), LoC: Kargil (2003), Kya Dilli Kya Lahore (2014), and Children of War (2014).

Unafraid to fail
Of the 19 films Anand directed, the landmark Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) which dealt with the Hippie culture and the problem of drugs among the young, and Des Pardes (1978) which revolved around illegal immigration in the UK, were his finest, critically and commercially. 

Many more misses would follow in the 1980s and 1990s, but he was unfazed, accepting and standing by each of his directorial debacles. “To my mind they are all hits,” he would explain. “Monetarily, they have not earned big money but that does not mean they are bad pictures. I never sat on my stardom. I never thought that I was great. I was from my first film - I was always analysing and improving. I always tell myself there is always someone better than you are, right behind you there is another generation coming both in film industry and politics, there is going to be somebody there to beat you any time.”

When Dev Anand passed way in London in 2011, aged 88, he was planning an extensive tour of Britain and Europe to scout for locations for his next film, a sequel to Hare Rama, Hare Krishna. Later, his son Suniel Anand discovered four scripts that had been hand-written by Anand, which he bound. After Anand’s passing, his protégée Zeenat Aman would describe him as “indefatigable,” pointing out that, till the end, he completely believed in what he did. “And he didn't just talk. He actually put his money where his mouth was. He made his films with complete conviction. He was never afraid to fail.” This was possibly Dev Anand’s greatest strength.
Dev (in hat and check shirt) and camp followers. Image from Cinemaazi archive.

A story-teller at heart 
Anand was a phenomenon of his time in many ways. He is also remembered for introducing the concept of personalised hand-written letters and notes in the film industry. Salman Khan had reportedly framed the letter Anand had written congratulating him on the success of Dabangg (2010) and displayed it in his home.

A BA in English literature, Anand’s flair for stories might also have had something to do with the fact that in his early days, he had taken up a job as a military censor. He had to read the letters sent by the soldiers in the trenches to their wives and sweethearts, to delete any sensitive information about troop movements or locations. This gave him the opportunity to “read some powerful love letters, some beautiful stories unfolded in front of my eyes. I even wrote to some of them,” he revealed.

This streak of romanticism would abide till the end; after all, this is the man who even titled his autobiography Romancing with Life!

  • Share