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Naya Daur in New Age
By Sudhirendar Sharma



A movie like Naya Daur, first released in 1957, is still relevant to India more than four decades later for its gripping presentation of people v/s profit conflict.

(This review first appeared in the Live Mint newspaper)

Film-maker B.R. Chopra's Naya Daur, reincarnated in colour, is still relevant to us. The script pitches people against profit, evoking familiar human struggles. The onslaught on peoples' livelihoods and survival has gained serious dimensions ever since the movie was first released in 1957. As special economic zones threaten to edge poor farmers out from their traditional vocation; as sprawling shopping malls raze the livelihoods of neighbourhood vendors; and as the business of retailing challenges the existence of small-time traders, the symbolic battle between machine and hands has seemingly reached a collision course. Naya Daur had only scripted the contours of a simmering social discontent, the myriad conflicts surfacing today reflect the real story.

All is well in an almost idyllic village that hums to its daily rhythm-between small farmers, sawmill workers and horse cart owners. No sooner does the benign mill owner leave on a pilgrimage than the rhythm turns into chaos, as his city-bred son smells profit in his father's business. A new machine at the mill throws workers out of their jobs and the introduction of a bus threatens to wean the cart owners out of their vocation.

Salted with several absorbing sub-stories, Chopra's Naya Daur, the heart-in-the-right-place classic, questions the human cost of progress. By pitching man against the machine, the story may not have come up with the perfect solution to the eternal struggle between the capitalists and the masses, the humanist issues it raises nevertheless remain timeless and urgent.

Should a movie like Naya Daur matter to a growing middle class that is busy plucking the fruits of growth? Does the fight between men and machine hold any relevance when mechanization has become a symbol of progress? Will rich lyrics and haunting music capture a generation that survives on an overdose of remixed music with nasal overtones? The elusive answer is: The taste of the pudding lies in eating it.

The movie may superficially seem like an anti-machine Luddite creed, with its poor, tonga-riding protagonist winning an all-important race against the rich bus-riding capitalist. However, deep down the protagonist delivers a message of inclusive growth when he says: "We don't hate the machine, but it should secure our daily meal as well."

He thus debunks the myth that what is good for business will eventually trickle down enough to be good for the rest of us.

Chopra manages to deliver the final punch when the mill owner reprimands his son: "You took a right step, but in a wrong direction!" Stretch these words to understand the nature of expanding businesses of the day and their collusion with the powers that be and one gets a glimpse of the anti-democratic feudalism in its most raw and naked form-just as the kings and the nobles of old sucked dry the resources of the people they claimed to own.

True to its title, Naya Daur stays ahead of the times. Between rustic romance and earthy camaraderie, between nature's rhythm and haunting melodies, between villainous overtures and defiant postures, the movie never loses direction of its script. Its climactic race between the tonga and the bus, reminiscent of the chariot race in Ben-Hur, not only reflects sheer technical excellence, but demonstrates the triumph of human spirit that in all fairness has been laid to rest.

O.P. Nayyar's timeless number, Saathi haath badhana, is an invocation to the youth for collective action towards dignified living. The message is loud and clear for countless youth who may have either become deaf to the abusive outrage as they take calls at the bustling call centres or may have been conditioned to take solace in being cyber coolies for their clients. Naya Daur reminds us to raise questions on the increasing corporate control over people's lives and livelihoods.

Source: www.livemint.com

Sudhirendar Sharma  |  sudhirendarsharma@gmail.com

Dr Sudhirendar Sharma is an environmentalist and development analyst based in New Delhi. Formerly with the World Bank, Dr Sharma is an expert on water, a keen observer on climate change dynamics, and a critic of the contemporary development processes.

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 Other Articles by Sudhirendar Sharma in
Socio-Economic Development  > Indian Society > Sports and Entertainment

The Politics of Raajneeti
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Raajneeti is not an epic but a film that mirrors the political reality on one extreme and the masses disconnect with reality on the other. Behind its unexpected success lie its disturbing undercurrents.

Not so well-intentioned welfare
Monday, April 12, 2010

In Well Done Abba, Shyam Benegal deals with the serious issue of political economy in an entertaining way and leaves the viewer thinking about the manner our welfare machinery works.
 
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The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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