1954 was a good year for child artiste Rattan Kumar. He had major roles in two films made that year, ‘Boot Polish’ and ‘Jagriti‘. Both won the Filmfare Best Movie Awards, the first in 1954 and the second in 1956.

The first film made by Prakash Arora is more entertaining than the second made by Satyen Bose which is rather preachy.

Ajay (Rajkumar Gupta) plays a naughty boy sent away to boarding school by his uncle and widowed mother when his shenanigans in the village get too much for them to handle. What his uncle does not know is that the boarding school is full of equally naughty boys supervised by a corrupt and lazy superintendent.

The superintendent is truly, truly obese and eats mounds of food while keeping the children hungry. Ajay leads the children into scaring the superintendent away.

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This brings a new superintendent to the school, Shekhar Babu (Abhi Bhattacharya).

He is a man who actually likes children (unlike the earlier superintendent and most of the teachers) and believes that they should be taught with love and interest and not by rote. He has a scheme to involve children in their studies which is considered radical and opposed by the teachers but the principal supports him.

The scheme involves teaching the children under a tree and taking them for a tour of India, while singing “Aao baccho, tumhe dikhaaye jhaanki Hindustan ki”, amongst other things. And oh yes, sports, lots of sports.

From there, of course, the story is about how he wins over the boys and mainly Ajay.

The problem with this film is Rattan Kumar’s character, Shakti. Not only is Shakti crippled but he is also poor and has a widowed mother who works as a servant and is ill-treated by her employer. He is also a good boy. He not only writes and composes a song on Gandhiji but also sings it in Asha Bhonsale’s voice “De di hume aazadi, bina khadak, bina dhaal”.

Since he has also sung (through Ashaji) before this, a song to his mother, “Chalo chalein maa, sapno ke gaanv mein”, we know that something very bad is going to happen to Shakti.

The poor guy is set up to teach Ajay the important lesson that he must study and do well. Bah!

I did like the naughty boys and their pranks. Ajay is quite good with his stubbornness and short temper. But Shekhar Babu and Shakti made me squirm and it was all I could do not to fast forward them.

You also have the mandatory end scene where Shekhar Babu leaves the school because his ‘scheme’ has been accepted by the Education Board and they want him to help implement it in other schools. The children cry and he sings “Is desh ko rakhna, mere bachcho sambhaal ke.”

The songs of course are lovely, the lyrics by Pradeep, music by Hemant Kumar. We still hear ‘Aao Baccho’ every Republic Day and Independence Day blaring away at 8 am from our windows, as the secretary of our housing society summons us for flag hoisting.

‘Jagriti’ was re-made in Pakistan as ‘Bedari’ and Rattan Kumar worked in that as well, since his family moved there in the late 50s. The songs were plagiarized to suit Pakistan. Jinnah replaced Gandhiji, and ‘Hindustan’ was changed to ‘Pakistan’.

I wonder if the songs are played there too on Independence Day.

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