Another unforgettable film from Bimal Roy - Parakh netted him his third consecutive Filmfare Award for best direction (he won earlier for Madhumati and Sujata). The story - written by music director Salil Choudhury - is a satirical fairytale set in rural India and comes complete with wicked people, good people, a damsel in distress, a hero and a fairy godfather.
We are taken to a small village called Radhanagar and meet the people there - the penurious village postmaster Nivaran (Nazir Hussain) and his charming daughter Seema (Sadhana) who is in love with the popular village schoolmaster Rajat (Vasant Choudhury), the irreverant postman Haridhan (Motilal), the pious priest Tarkalankar (Kanhaiyalal), the lecherous rich man Haribhanj (Asit Sen) who is keen on Seema, the greedy Doctor (Rashid Khan), the zamindar Tandav (Jayant). The good, the bad and the ugly - they are all here, but remarkably true to life.
Into the calm waters of this village's life falls a very large pebble whose ripples are soon to be felt throughout the village. Postmaster Nivaran receives a very unusual letter and seeks the counsel of the village's influential and learned people to help him. He invites priest Tarkalankar, zamindar Tandav, the doctor, Haribhanj, and Rajat to a meeting and reveals that he has received a cheque from the famous millionaire Sir J. C. Roy for the princely sum of Rs. 5,00,000 (it was a princely sum in 1960). The eccentric millionaire has also attached instructions for the disposal of the monies - the cheque should be given to the best man in the village who should use it for the good of the village. Everybody is stupefied.
It doesnt take them long to recover their wits and they are soon arguing over which one of them is the best man. All except for Rajat, who suggests that the matter can be easily settled by an election in the village.
This sets the stage for an all-out, no-holds-barred competition. Even before the election is announced, strange things begin to happen in the village - the doctor starts treating his patients for free, the zamindar forgives the people their taxes, the priest allows the lower caste people to enter the temple and the rich man causes new wells to be dug for the villagers and announces building of better roads, too. Sounds delightfully familiar?
All the candidates - again with the exception of the noble Rajat - strive to outdo each other in public service. In this they are egged on by the postman Haridhan who finds their efforts to win The Cheque very amusing. However, it is soon borne upon them that their public generosity notwithstanding, the most likely to win is Rajat. Thats when politicking begins, alliances are made and characters are assassinated...
What happens to the election? Who gets the money? As I said - this is a fairytale. So, the good win, the bad are defeated and the lovebirds are united.
The movie cleverly uses the fairytale format to sketch an image of human greed and satirise democracy - all with an impish sense of humor. The characters are very well sketched and completely believable. From the pious priest who hasnt an ounce of charity in him, to the greedy doctor who wont treat poor patients without receiving his fees upfront and the idealistic schoolmaster who educates his students and gets them to help the village - all the vagaries of human nature are presented with warmth and understanding. The good performance by the entire cast - Bimal Roy's able direction was no doubt mainly responsible for this - along with the great screen play and dialogues make this a test (Parakh) well worth watching. The beautiful music composed by Salil Choudhury is an added bonus. The classical numbers - O sajana barkha bahaar aayi and Mila hai kisika jhumka - by Lata and the satirical Kya hawa chali by Manna Dey are unforgettable. It is very rare to find a movie that is beautiful, entertaining and satisfying all at once - Parakh is one such perfect gem.
This was actress Sadhana's second movie, after Love in Shimla. When she turned up on the sets of Parakh sporting her "Sadhana fringe" Bimal Roy thought she looked too glamorous to play a village girl. She reportedly used hair-gel to push back her fringe in order to convince Bimal Roy that she could look simple enough for her role! It worked and we have a beautiful Sadhana (I think she looked better without her fringe) giving a natural and sensitive performance.
Look out for Keshto Mukherjee who is completely sober for the only time in his Bollywood career!