Yahudi (Jew) A Film by Bimal Roy a film review by Sunil Deepak (2004)
Title: Yahudi (1958), Director: Bimal Roy, Actors: Dilip Kumar, Sohrab Modi, Meena Kumari, Nigar Sultana, Nazir Hussein, Helen, Cuckoo, baby Naaz, Tiwari, Murad; Music: Shanker Jaikishen
Bimal Roy directed some of the most beautiful films of Indian cinema including Madhumati, Biraj Bahu, Parakh, Bandini, Musafir, Devdas, Do Bigha Zameen, Parineeta, Sujata. He is one of my favourite film directors, and I have seen of his films like Sujata and Bandini, so many times that I know them by heart.
Yahudi is one of Bimal Roy's lesser known films, though at its time, it did find commercial success. It was a remake of a 1933 film, "Yahudi ki Ladki" (Daughter of the Jew) with K.L. Saigal & Rattan Bai.
The film is set in pre-Christian Rome, ruled by emperor Julius (Murad) while Brutus (Nazir Hussein) is the head of Roman senate. Ezra (Sohrab Modi) is a Jew, a merchant of diamonds, living with his son Elijah and a faithful servant Emmanual (Tiwari). One day as Brutus is passing on the street, the child Elijah accidently drops something from his balcony, that hits Brutus. His guards immediately catch Elijah. Ezra runs to ask mercy for his son but Brutus does not change his mind and Elijah is killed by lions.
Emmanual decides to raid Brutus house and kidnaps his young daughter Lydia (Baby Naaz) bringing her to Ezra, to kill her for revenge. Ezra hugs the child as a substitute for his lost son. Brutus launches a massive manhunt to search for his daughter and orders massacre of Jews. Emmanual is killed while Ezra manages to escape with Brutus' daughter, naming her Hannah.
After 15 years Ezra and Hannah (Meena Kumari) come back to Rome with their servant Ruth (Meenu Mumtaz). Prince Marcus (Dilip Kumar) going out for a hunt with his friend Antonio (Anwar Hussein), he sees Hannah and falls in love with her. Knowing that she is a Jew, he dresses as a Jew called Moshe and he goes to look for her and starts visiting their house. Hannah falls in love with him and they plan to get married. However, during a religious function, Hannah sees that Moshe does not eat the sacred bread that should be eaten by Jewish men. Moshe acknowledges that he is not a Jew and asks Hannah to meet him once.
As Hannah goes to meet Marcus, Ezra follows her and hears that the man he had thought as Moshe is Marcus and is not a Jew but a hated Roman. He asks Marcus to convert and become a jew but Marcus refuses. Ezra asks Hannah to chose between her father and her lover and Hannah chooses her father.
Princess Octavia (Nigar Sultana) is in love with Marcus and their marriage had been fixed by the emperor. On their marriage day, Hannah goes to the palace and stops the marriage, accusing the prince of having told her a lie and promised to marry her. Prince Marcus accepts that accusation of Hannah are true and is put into prison.
Octavia goes to meet Hannah and tells her that Marcus will be killed as a punishment, according to the Roman laws. Repenting, Hannah goes to the emperor and takes back her accusations. Brutus orders that prince Marcus be released and, that Hannah and her father be killed in boiling oil, in front of prince Marcus. Desperate, prince Marcus blinds himself as he can't watch Hannah being killed.
Just before Hannah can be killed, Ezra reveals the secret that Hannah is Brutus' daughter and dies. Brutus asks for forgiveness from Hannah but she refuses him and leaves the palace. Outside the old ruins, she finds prince Marcus, now a blind man and finally the two lovers are united. They walk away towards a new destination.
Compared to other films of Bimal Roy, this film is not very special. The characterisation of Jews and Roman in ancient Rome is very tacky. Sohrab Modi, as Ezra has some good dialogues, but is not very effective. Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari, both are adequate without any great moments.
In a dance the two dancers, Cuckoo and Helen appear together and it is clear that by that time, Helen was the rising star, since the camera stops at her much more than at Cuckoo. Anwar Hussein as Antonio, friend of Marcus, has a couple of good scenes.
The film team of Bimal Roy had all the noted personalities such as Hrikesh Mukherjee as editor, Sudhendu Roy as art director, etc. who later on became famous.
Yahudi came around the same time as two other well known films of Bimal Roy - "Madhumati" and one year before "Sujata". Both other films also had lovely music - Madhumati's music was by Salil Choudhury and Sujata's music was by S. D. Burman. However for Yahudi, Bimal Roy chose Shanker Jaikishen. Music of Yahudi is also nice. There are two well known songs in the film - Meri jaan, meri jaan, pyar tumhi se, ho hi gaya hai, hum kya karen, and Yeh mera deewanapan hai ya mohabat ka saroor.
Even if you are a fan of Bimal Roy, probably you can avoid watching this film since it is nothing very special. Why did he make it, a story very far away from the Indian sensibilities that were his forte? Perhaps because it was about persecution of Jews and after the second world war, there was much more awareness about the holocaust in Germany? The kind of situations - Hannah going to palace to launch accusations about prince Marcus, the emperor himself who is unable to do any thing to change decisions of Brutus, etc. are all difficult to understand and alien to Indian situation. Apart from some initial and final scenes, the film is not so much about the plight and persecution of Jews but is more a romantic comedy - however, the magic seems to be missing.
Another reason why Bimal Roy chose to make it could be that it was about religious differences and it was easier to talk about problems between Romans and Jews, than about Hindus and Muslims?