International Labour Day: Remembering Indian Cinema's Portrayal of the Struggles and Triumphs of the Working Class

On the occasion of Labour Day, The Mooknayak reminisces on Indian cinema's portrayal of the hardships and perseverance of the labor class through classic films.
International Labour Day: Remembering Indian Cinema's Portrayal of the Struggles and Triumphs of the Working Class

1- Do Bigha Zamin (1953) is a classic film directed by Bimal Roy, telling the story of a farmer who is forced to become a rickshaw puller to pay off his debts. The film is a powerful commentary on the exploitation of laborers. Balraj Sahni carries out the role of a laborer's exploitation exquisitely, portraying the character of Shambhu Mahato, a poor farmer, who is compelled to leave his land and migrate to Kolkata to earn a living as a rickshaw puller.

Shambhu's struggle to pay off his debts and the exploitation he faces at the hands of moneylenders and wealthy merchants are stark reminders of the harsh realities of life for many in India. Do Bigha Zamin still remains a timeless classic and is widely regarded as one of the greatest Indian films ever made. Its themes of social injustice and exploitation continue to resonate with audiences today. It won the Best Film and the Best Director Filmfare awards in the first Filmfare Award held in 1954.

2- Mother India (1957) is an epic film directed by Mehboob Khan that delves into the life of a poverty-stricken farmer woman struggling to make ends meet while raising her children. The film pays tribute to the resilience of working-class women. Nargis portrayed Radha, a mother burdened with the responsibility of two young children. The film depicts the exploitation of agricultural laborers and peasants at the hands of feudal landlords in the village. In one memorable scene, Nargis and her two sons are shown plowing the land themselves in the absence of ox, set to the evocative song "Duniya mein agar aaye hain toh jeena hi padega zindagi hai zeher toh peena hi padega". The film was also nominated for an Oscar.

Anu Warrier

3- Naya Daur (1957) is an iconic Bollywood film directed by B.R. Chopra and released in 1957. Set in a small village in post-independence India, the movie chronicles the story of a group of laborers who are struggling to preserve their traditional means of transport, bullock carts, in the face of competition from a new bus service.

4- Paigaam (1959) is a classic Bollywood film directed by S.S. Vasan and released in 1959. The film portrays the story of two brothers, Vijay (played by Dilip Kumar) and Ravi (played by Raaj Kumar), who get separated in childhood due to a family dispute. Vijay becomes a successful businessman, while Ravi grows up to be a factory worker.

5- Garm Hava (1973) - Directed by M.S. Sathyu, this critically acclaimed film tells the story of a Muslim family struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of the partition in India. The patriarch of the family, Salim Mirza (played by Balraj Sahni), is a successful shoe manufacturer who faces financial ruin due to the post-partition economic turmoil. The film is a poignant commentary on the human cost of political and social upheaval and underscores the resilience demonstrated by the working-class in the face of adversity.

6- Resham Ki Dori (1974) is a Bollywood movie directed by Atmaram and released in the year 1974. Although the film's storyline revolves around the cliche theme of a lost and found family drama, the movie manages to explore the textile workers' plight and their relationship with the opportunistic mill owners. Dharmendra, who plays Ajit in the film, champions the mill workers' cause. The song "Chamka Pasina banke Nagina," picturized on Dharmendra, encapsulates the zeal and exuberance of the workers.

7- Mazdoor (1983) is a Hindi film directed by Ravi Chopra and released in 1983. The film stars Dilip Kumar, Raj Babbar, and Smita Patil in lead roles. The film sheds light on the struggles faced by laborers, as evident from the title of the movie "Mazdoor" (which means laborer). The film manages to showcase the positive aspects of industrialists while exploring the hardships faced by mill workers. Mr. Sinha (played by Nasir Hussain) plays a generous industrialist. After his death, his son, Heeralal, takes over and makes changes aimed at maximizing profits at workers' expense. The workers are mistreated and exploited by the factory owners. Deendayal (played by Dilip Kumar), a worker, revolts and sets up his own mill and is helped by the factory engineer, Ashok (played by Raj Babbar). 

The movie is known for its strong social message and portrayal of the laborers' plight in India. The film highlights the exploitation of workers by wealthy industrialists and the labor movement's struggles to gain fair wages and working conditions. The film's themes are still relevant today, and its message of social justice continues to resonate with audiences. The memorable song "Hum Mehnatkash Is Duniya Se Jab Apna Hissa Maangenge", based on Faiz Ahmed Faiz's poem and picturized on legends of the Hindi film industry like Dilip Kumar, Raj Babbar, Johny Lever, etc., provides an insight into the aspirations of laborers worldwide.

8- "Coolie" is a Bollywood film directed by Manmohan Desai and released in 1983. The movie does not adapt the novel by Mulk Raj Anand but shares the same title as the novel. The film explores the problems faced by porters, who are referred to as Coolies, in India. The movie stars Amitabh Bachchan in the lead role, who plays a young man named Iqbal, who works as a coolie. Iqbal's life is turned upside down when he is accidentally involved in a fight between two criminal gangs and ends up getting seriously injured.

The film highlights the issues of labor exploitation, human trafficking, and poverty. It also touches on the themes of corruption, the Indian caste system, and the struggles of the working-class people in India. Through Iqbal's character, the film sheds light on the conditions of coolies who are forced to work tirelessly with little reward, often risking their lives and health. The movie portrays their undaunted spirit, resilience, and perseverance.

Manmohan Desai's "Coolie" was known for its impactful storyline, powerful performances, and iconic songs. However, the film was also mired in controversy, as Amitabh Bachchan suffered a near-fatal accident during the shooting, sparking national concern and widespread speculation.

9- Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001) - Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, this epic sports drama transports us to the era of British imperialism in India, where a group of villagers led by Bhuvan (played by Aamir Khan) challenges the British Raj on their tax policy by asking for a game of Cricket. The film is a powerful commentary on colonialism, imperialism, and the exploitation of the working-class. The movie highlights the courage and determination of ordinary Indian laborers to stand up to the oppressive British colonizers.

These films replay the struggles and triumphs of the working-class in Indian society, inspiring new generations to take on the challenges of contemporary times.

International Labour Day: Remembering Indian Cinema's Portrayal of the Struggles and Triumphs of the Working Class
[Dalit History Month] India's Forgotten Water Hero: Ambedkar's Thoughtful Approach to Water Management and It's Relevance Today

You can also join our WhatsApp group to get premium and selected news of The Mooknayak on WhatsApp. Click here to join the WhatsApp group.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The Mooknayak English - Voice Of The Voiceless