Kanhaiya, an oddly religious romance

Publié le 1 Mars 2011

in love

You’ll have to expect from me, more and more, reviews of boring / outlandish movies where Nutan or perhaps Waheeda Rehman have starred, and which I will have seen out of sheer silly infatuation (mind you, I cannot bring myself to review films that would have no interest at all). And so, take a guess: is Kanhaiya one of them? This 1959 story is actor Om Prakash’s only directorial attempt, and perhaps this is another downer. But you be the judge; here’s the *story*!!

Shanno (Nutan), a young village beauty, becomes love-struck by the divine magnificence of Krishna Kanhaiya, as, one night, some performers acting out a passage of the Gita, pass through her village. She becomes so engrossed by the God that she seeks remote places in the neighbouring countryside, deserted valleys and mountain slopes, where she hopes to hear his divine flute playing. She begs him to play, calling out his name in a rapturous voice: “Kanhaiya! Kanhaiya!” And the god answers, occasionally. The sun-clouds or the snow-peaked caps play his flute for her. Occasionally, too, he comes close to her, and marvelling at her mortal beauty, he takes her in his arms, and she cuddles against him, entranced. But in fact these arms belong to a village bumpkin, a drunk also called Kanhaiya (Raj Kapoor), who has been told that the belle calls out his name in the meadows… Soon enough she will realize that there is a misunderstanding, but not before three quarters of the movie, so we’ll have plenty of time to exploit the misunderstanding…


The families soon intervene: Kanhaiya’s mother (Lalita Pawar) thinks he’s too foolish and wasteful to become married to anyone, but the young man gets support from the village doctor, who helps him when he doesn’t know what to do. Shanno’s family at first refuse to have anything to do with the town idiot, but soon they are obliged to relent because of rumours that their daughter “really” loves Kanhaiya. The marriage is set, but Kanhaiya arrives drunk and Shanno’s father calls it off. She is now locked in, to protect her against herself. Meanwhile, a plague erupts in the village. Shanno manages to escape, and goes to the mountain valley to call on her God: he must do something. Kanhaiya overhears, and takes the rebuff personally: he goes back to the village, and starts curing the people, which incurs the wrath of the doctor! The latter sends word that Shanno is pregnant, and this triggers the scandal it’s meant to cause.


Last episode: an accused Shanno has to prove her worth, and she does it by calling upon Sita’s test by fire. Of course, everyone thinks she’s exaggerating, but she insists, believing that her Kanhaiya will protect her. Reluctanly, everyone agrees, anyway the scandal has gone too far now, and a solution has to be found. She gets on to the pyre, when Kanhaiya (Raj, that is) arrives, and tries to stop the test, but he’s beaten and chased away. Shanno understands his sacrifice, and tries to protect him. She does love him after all! But she’s asked to continue with the test, and she readily submits. Her protector and admirer now runs to the mountain and calls the God himself, to come and save his devotee! After some unsuccess, Kanhaiya answers, speaks to him (pic below) and starts a downpour which extinguishes the fire. Shanno is proven innocent of the unchastely accusation, and she can now rejoin her valiant defender.

God's words

Even though I have not been able to tell this story gravely, I do believe it’s a serious one; it looks like a filmed episode of the Mahabharata (confirmation, anyone?). We have the unlikely love between a God and a mortal, the villagers who criticize from their limited parochial point of view, the lazy and drunken lad, but who’s good and brave when needed, and at whose hands the village gets purified of illness; the Sita episode itself, and the message from the divinity to the lovers. So after a moment of disbelief and impatience (“what exactly am I watching?”) all this struck me as a legend, a plunge into the beliefs of popular Hinduism; for me the psychologically impossible love of Shanno for Krishna’s flute represents the soul’s desire and ascent towards the transcendent Spirit.

Pyre prayer

The great reward of this movie is of course to see Nutan dedicate herself so fully to this difficult role. She manages to make “Shallow Shanno” interesting to follow through the various emotions that take hold of her: confidence, love, pride, gratitude, fear, hope, anger, determination, faith, devotion, etc. She is particularly convincing when defending her chastity and on the pyre, confiding in her trust with Krishna-Kanhaiya. She lends her face to the Hindu belief in Krishna’s benevolence; she makes divine adoration shine on a human face and transmute it into its earthly equivalent; she becomes the divinity herself: fearless, absurdly irrational and deeply moving. Unfortunately, M. Kapoor doesn’t come up to scratch: he apparently didn’t believe in his role that much!


Last remark: if you want to see this flick, try and get a better one than the Shemaroo, it’s badly scratched, the worse I’ve ever seen!  

fooling  public frenzy

One or two shots of Nutan, thanks Yves!

extasy  season of spring2

Rédigé par yves

Publié dans #Film reviews

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Thanks for the DVD yves. Finally I had the opportunity of watching it.

In short, it was exactly as I had expected. The story is inspired from Meerabai, and I thought Nutan did justice to her role with the right expression of devotion and wonder.

Raj Kapoor wasn't bad either. Thank goodness his Chaplinesque act wasn't able to fit here.

This is a film which can be watched if one is able to totally travel back in time and leave all modern concepts behind.

Happily I'm quite an expert at that :-)

Thanks once again for enabling me to watch this film.


Hi Pacifist,

I liked your combination of terms "a right expression of devotion and wonder", that shows a sensitivity to Nutan's acting, and to the meaning of what her character stands for, that perhaps I
haven't been able to distinguish so well.

I'm pleased I was instrumental in enabling you to see the movie! I'm at your service if you would want to ask me another film. Which one would you like among the ones I have? I've a few more that
I haven't reviewed, either because they were less interesting, or because I haven't seen them yet! So don't hesitate to ask.



Hi yves

Came here from harvey's blog :-)

I completely agree with suja's comment especially the part;

>In a world where people's desire to see violence, sexuality, beauty etc are exploited by the film makers, why not exploit their need to believe in myths?

While reading the review I was reminded of Meerabai and didn't find it odd that Nutan's character was in love with Krishna. Afterall wasn't Meera a real character? So this part is not even a
question of myth.

The rest is OK with me too.

I'll watch this if I get it. Films of those times interest me, if nothing, then for at least the ambience of simplicity and 'past' (the reason why I love old films).


Hi Pacifist,

Thanks for your visit! Since I wrote that review, I have indeed come to recognise that the picturisation of such extraordinary stories (at least seen through our Westerners' eyes) should be
carefully looked at and not criticised too quickly, which is what I think I did. I too was very interested in the story of Meera, which Suja made me discover.

If you need me to send you a copy of the movie, please don't hesitate. Here's my email address: yves.1000ou@wanadoo.fr



On a totally different track (I tried to find a way to write a comment unattached to a specific review but couldn't so am writing here) - I have a recommendation for you. Achanak (1973). I loved
it when I saw it then but havent seen it again. In fact I am a bit afraid that if I see it now, my opinions will change so I dont dare :) Something i read somewhere reminded me of this film
and I thought of you and your insightful reviews which I enjoy so much. This may be to your taste even without the presence of Nutan or Waheeda!

cheers, Suja


Hi Suja,

Many thanks for your suggestion. I've looked it up on IMDb, it seems to be highly rated (even if by only few people), so it's worth seeing, apparently! Gulzar is also the musical director who
directed Meera, that you had told me about some time ago! I'll try, Suja, and let you know.

All the best,



I think I'll let this pass :(


Hello Sharmi,

Well, perhaps it isn't a bad choice! Because in spite of what we say in the discussion with Suja, about the reality of these spiritual experiences, the movie isn't really well made nor very
entertaining: it's a pity!


Hi Yves, Of course, stories of people communicating directly with God abound in all cultures. Your Jeanne d'Arc is a good example. I think in current times, people claiming to hear God will be
thought to be Schizophrenic in most cultures but I believe that in rural India, even now, such a person will be taken as a saint, a Guru; moreover, I believe that such a person can get a
following even in the cities amongst the educated and westernised Indians as long as they are 'normal' in other things. There is something in the Indian psyche which longs for a connection with
the unknown, with God..

On the subject of Meera, her's is an interesting story told very badly in the movie called Meera so I won't recommend it. This is a wikepedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meera . Her devotional songs are very popular and most Indians would know at least a line or two. Aandal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aandaal was from the 8th century so her story is even less verifiable. But in the Tamil month of Margazhi (Dec-Jan),
her poetry is sung in temples and in homes (definitely Brahmin homes, I am not sure if its prevalent in all communities). I used to hear my grandma and mother sing them and feel a great
attachment to these  beautiful songs.

The link I sent before was for the children's book I had mentioned. I like children's books - they give the gist of a story without dramatising or sermonizing, and often without drawing
inferences and conclusions which I prefer to make for myself.

This is already too long a note but the Bhakti movement is a very interesting subject too, worth reading about. What is pertinent to this movie is that Hinduism accepts that the God-human
relationship can mirror human-human relationships and one can view God in a way which suits the individual. So God as father (very Christian !), mother, master, friend, child (but yes!!) and
lover/spouse are all acceptable ways of worship. Very different to other religions in this matter...

You started with an exploration of Indian films, but they do not exist in a vacuume; the historic stories, the belief systems, the religion and the culture all form foundations of these stories
so your exploration of films will have to be extended a bit :)

Cheers. Suja


Many thanks Suja for all this information once again. I especially appreicated the links about Meera and Aandaal.

You're right, when one enters a culture by one door (the cinema), one cannot isolate what is inside that room from all the stuff in the house! And for India, the house is more like a very big and
old building! But this for me is perfect! I don't mind learning, as you must have noticed. And so the more there is to know, the better. The only thing is, sometimes I will not make the
connections, or will perhaps interpret wrongly for want of the references. But people like you remedy this!



Hi Yves, I haven't seen this film and based on your review, I probably won't see it either (I am thankfully not infatuated with Nutan or Raj Kapoor :). I do know the song mentioned by the other
commentator, which I like. That reminds me to listen to this album..

After reading your review, it struck me that for people not brought up with Indian lore & mythology, the films are a minefield of puzzling behavior. If a woman went crying for God in the
hills of France, it would be she who is considered the village idiot :) But you see, we have Meera and Andal, two women who fell in love with God and saw Him as their love, their spouse. They
both are said to have disapppeared in shrines/temples, to have become one with God. Andal is present as a Goddess in most Vishnu temples in South India, Meera is a household name and her songs
known to all. And this is the thing - I am as rational & logical as can be but I too believe in these myths (do you know this word exists in Sanskrit & Hindi - Mithya - meaning lies?
:). In this scenario, a woman who imagines herself in love with God, to whom God appears in person, is not as strange as it would be elsewhere. She has a 'place' in society - and that is not
in a lunatic asylum! This film seems to have borrowed from the Bhakti movement, of which Meera was a proponent and also from Ramayana - the trial by fire. (Women accused of being witches in
medieval Europe had trials by water, didnt they, stones tied to them and thrown in lakes or rivers, innocence proven only if they floated...ah, the beasts that we human beings have hidden within
us..). In a world where people's desire to see violence, sexuality, beauty etc are exploited by the film makers, why not exploit their need to believe in myths?

On another note, I see that Mahabharata is available in amazon.fr http://www.amazon.fr/Mahabharata-C-Rajagopalachari/dp/8172763689/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=english-books&qid=1299138178&sr=8-3 but
it is a bit overpriced. I am happy to buy it for you next time I am in India and post it to you, if you want.

Cheers. Suja


Hello Suja,

Once again, what a great note, thanks. I had an inkling while watching the movie (in spite of my flippant tone!) that it was telling not a completely weird story, but a religious tale / myth. Why
make a film about it otherwise? I had heard about this Bhakti spirituality, and I'm very interested to connect it to such types of religious attitudes.

It is true that European traditions exist of characters who become entranced by God in a sort of mystical way; you were talking about witches - such a derogatory title would indeed often hide an
attitude towards the unknown judged incomprehensible by the population, who would cover with the word Witch.

We have also the "Ravi" tradition, simpletons - or so considered - who went about talking to invisible spirits in the villages. People would consider them as half-witted because they had no
access to what they could see (Ravi comes from ravishment). There is of course the Christian strand of recognition that the little ones have a preference in the heart of God.

So perhaps the two traditions, Indian and European, exemplify the same potential for such experiences, and the reason why I wasn't being very considerate for these women in Indian Myths is
because I didn't know them.

Thanks for the reference concerning the Mahabharata: is this the "children's book" you were referring to?



The only acquaintance I have with this film is the song, Ruk jaa on jaanewaali ruk jaa (it was from Kanhaiya, wasn't it?). The story does sound weird, sort of semi-mythological (that bit about
her falling in love with the 'God's' flute-playing makes me cringe)... and the number in which I like Raj Kapoor can be counted on my fingertips. This one is probably not going to make the cut!


Hello Madhu,

Yes this Mukesh song is indeed in Kanhaiya, and yes, I think you are not making such a bad choice in leaving out this story. It's reserved for somewhat dotty Nutan fans like me!!