Fiitoor that releases this week, is based on Charles Dickens’s classic novel Great Expectations. One wouldn’t think that Bollywood had heard of Dickens, leave aside thinking of making a film on one of his stories.
But way back in 1981, one of Dickens’s most popular novels, Oliver Twist was made into a film, titled Kanhaiya, directed by Khalid Sami. The book with the famous line, “Please sir I want some more,” spoken by a hungry Oliver asking for more food, was essential reading for kids at one time. The book about the unfortunate orphan who goes through the dark underbelly of the city, exploited and terrorised, fitted right into the crime-infested slums of Mumbai. It is no secret that criminal and beggar gangs in the city recruit kids to work for them.
The Hindi film, had an interesting cast of actors, who went on to bigger and better things. Naseeruddin Shah, in the early days of his career, played the Bollywood version of Fagin, called Rahim with red hair and weird make-up.
The story is very convoluted—as Oliver is put through the wringer of bad luck; he suffers in a workhouse, is mistreated by a coffin maker he is sent to work for; he escapes and goes to London, where he runs into the ‘Artful Dodger’ and is taken in by Fagin, who trains a bunch of kids to be pickpockets. Oliver somehow stays honest and clean even amidst the muck of crime, even earning the sympathy of a prostitute called Nancy, who helps him.
Oliver, ie, Kanhaiya, was played by Master Raju, who was a star kid at the time, and like many others, disappeared when he grew up. But he was an excellent actor, his face a blend of innocence and mischief, that endeared him to audiences.
The film was suitably Indianised with songs and dances. Kanhaiya’s mother is a rich girl who is disowned by her father for eloping with a poor man. When she dies, Kanhaiya is sent to an orphanage run by a cruel manager and his wife, who starve the kids. He runs off to Mumbai and is picked up by a gang that forces other kids like him to steal. Kanhaiya ends up with his grandfather, though it is a while before he is left in peace by assorted villains.
The cast included Kanhaiyalal, Amjad Khan, Farida Jalal, Asha Sachdev, Dev Kumar, Asha Chandra and many other actors familiar to audience of that period. The film did not do well, but was produced by shipping tycoon Sam Sugnu Jethwani, who, in the eighties, had a short but eventful career as a film producer.