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3 life lessons from Dilip Kumar’s Ram Aur Shyam

The film’s leading ladies especially have quite a bit to teach

3 life lessons from Dilip Kumar’s Ram Aur Shyam
Dilip Kumar played twin brothers in the film. Image: Screengrab of YouTube video by Narjis Movie Masala

I’ve been a huge fan of ‘double role’ movies all my life. I love those plots of twin siblings separated at birth or in a Kumbh Ka Mela, only to reunite years later in adulthood after a series of twists and turns. I’ve even taken the lookalike (not twin-sibling) route in PiKu & ViRu for one principal character. Buy/download, read, and review my book here to find out who it is :)

This fascination of mine with dual-role films explains why I’ve watched Ram Aur Shyam so many times in the 34 years of my life. My last viewing, however, was easily a decade ago.

That’s why I chose to revisit this blockbuster to pay my tribute to its lead actor, the legendary Dilip Kumar, who left for his heavenly abode on 7 July 2021.

For the uninitiated, the film is about a pair of twin brothers separated by fate during childhood. The two men lead distinct lives oblivious to each other’s existence.

Ram (Dilip Kumar #1) is the rightful owner of a prestigious estate. But it’s his evil brother-in-law Gajendra (Pran at one of his menacing bests) who calls the shots, citing Ram’s ‘mental weakness,’ which is actually crippling trauma caused by Gajendra’s atrocities that renders Ram subservient.

Shyam (Dilip Kumar #2), on the other hand, is a village-based carefree lad who harbours ambitions of becoming a movie star.

What happens when each of them flees from home and lands up in the other sibling’s world? That’s what the movie is all about.

May I say how I found this film even better and more entertaining than before? The drama was so gripping that I didn’t even realise when the hour before the interval had elapsed.

This 1967 superhit was also way ahead of its times in the depiction of its leading women. Mumtaz, as the village girl Shanta, was particularly badass, especially when she would beat up goons and shield her trauma-riddled man, Ram, from them. Then, there was the urbane Anjana (a very elegant Waheeda Rehman), who refuses to choose her life partner on the basis of merely their photograph. She decides on Shyam only after witnessing his proactiveness and decisiveness in moments of crisis. God knows what happened to Bollywood after this phase.

Ram Aur Shyam’s screenplay did have some holes, and the numerous lengthy songs slowed down the pace. Nirupa Roy’s act as Sulakshana (Ram and Shyam’s elder sister and Gajendra’s wife) had always been too pativrata for my taste. This time, she also reminded me of Jane Bennet from the iconic Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, due to her tendency to focus on the good in every person and situation, despite her husband’s cruelties. And I shook my head at the physician’s advice at the beginning of the film to get Ram married as a solution for his psychological distress. These issues, however, failed to ruin an otherwise highly engaging movie experience. Did I forget to mention how awesome Dilip Kumar was?

Besides being a thoroughly entertaining flick, Ram Aur Shyam also turned out to be very enlightening. Here are a few life lessons I learned in its nearly three-hour runtime.

Looks are never enough

As I mentioned, one of my favourite scenes in Ram Aur Shyam is when Anjana firmly refuses to marry Ram, solely based on his photograph. “Khaali tasveer se aadmi ke swabhaav aur nature vagayra ka pata thodi chal sakta hai,” she tells her father (Nazir Hussain) in front of Gajendra. And when her meeting with Ram doesn’t fulfil her expectations, she refuses to bow down to the familial pressure on her to still accept the match.

Indeed, it’s only during out-of-the-ordinary life events that we can gauge someone’s true nature. It’s this chivalrous and courageous side of Shyam during episodes of conflict, despite some mistakes by him (see the next point to know what they are), that makes Anjana choose him for her life partner. Love particularly blossoms in times of difficulty, when a couple braves all sorts of storms together, not when everything goes according to plan.

Tell the truth as soon as possible

Shyam should have revealed his true identity to Anjana and her father, both of whom believed him to be Ram, right at the outset. Gajendra would never have been able to frame him later for the real Ram’s fake murder. Shyam could have also prevented himself from becoming the source of humiliation and heartbreak in not one but two gatherings.

Agreed, the film’s events had to lead to the brothers’ union in the climax. But imagine the amount of stress and inconvenience Shyam could have spared himself and many others if he’d have written the tell-all letter to Anjana early on. He should have heeded this logic before dilly-dallying out of fear and hesitation.

Courage is contagious

Shanta and Shyam’s courageous sides help Ram shed his fears of Gajendra and put up a fight. Shyam’s defiance of Gajendra’s tyranny also empowers the tormented Sulakshana to speak up and be unafraid herself. Yes, Ram did need professional help in resolving his issues. But it’s also good for him to have such brave and encouraging loved ones in his fold.

You can watch Ram Aur Shyam on YouTube.

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