This week sees the anniversary of a defining event in the atomic age – on July 16, 1945 the first nuclear weapons test was conducted in New Mexico. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would follow less than a month later.
Now flash-forward 22 years to 1967. In the climactic scene of the Hindi film Aman, Dr Gautamdas – played by the intrepid Rajendra Kumar – single-handedly wrestles a mushroom cloud to the ground and ends the nuclear threat for good.
Okay, I’m exaggerating (but only slightly). I’m also being a little mean, because Aman is a very well-intentioned film about a young Indian doctor’s resolution to work with the Japanese victims of nuclear radiation and to simultaneously spread the message of world peace and brotherhood. This subject is handled mostly with restraint, but a few surreal moments do slip through the cracks. For example, when Gautamdas’s father sulks about his son leaving him to go and work in a distant country, we get the unusual spectre of Rajendra Kumar likening himself to a fragrant phool. A flower’s “sugandh” isn’t only meant for the maali who tended it, he says – it belongs to the whole world.
|"Oh well, as long as they remember to water you every day"|
Aman contains many noble sentiments like the above, but the film is probably best remembered today for one of the most unusual cameos in movie history: the nonagenarian Bertrand Russell playing himself in a three-minute scene where Gautamdas goes to seek his blessings in London.
You have to feel a little sorry for Russell. For one thing, he is referred to in highly mystical terms throughout the build-up to his guest appearance – as a devtaa, a mahapurush who blesses us with his presence only once every century, and so on. When Gautamdas receives the letter saying that the great man has granted him an appointment, he calls it a teerth-yatra or pilgrimage. I’m not sure the well-known agnostic would have approved of all this.
Besides, even a film as high-minded as Aman deserves some criticism for visiting the torment of Rajendra Kumar’s English upon a 94-year-old man. Given that the Japanese people in the story speak in Hindi (which is completely acceptable as cinematic licence), I wish they had hired AK Hangal or someone to dub Russell’s voice. Why not Raaj Kumar? It would have made the scene an all-time classic. Imagine: “Jaani, tum mushroom cloud se jaake lado. Main oopar waale se prarthana karoonga ke tumhaari vijay ho.”
Sadly, then, the existing Russell scene is a pale shadow of what it could have been. But it's still pretty good. Here's the video (Youtube link here).