Dilip kumar’s jugnu & the moral panic in newly independent india.

While the masses loved it, the elite were riled up by Jugnu’s provocative framing of sexuality and depiction of college as a space for free intermingling of sexes. Several provincial governments banned the film, forcing the distributors to chop it drastically to rid it of ‘vulgarity’.

The singing star Noor Jehan’s depature for Pakistan with her husband Shaukat Hussein Rizvi, who was the producer-director of Jugnu, may have contributed to lack of sympathy for the film among decision makers in India.


Jugnu (Firefly, 1947) was an important film in many respects. It was the first box office success for Dilip Kumar, then a newbie in the industry, and the last film of singing star Noor Jehan before she permanently left Bombay for Karachi. Jugnu was peculiar in another regard. It was among a few films that were conceptualised and made in pre-independence India but were released in theatres after the dawn of Independence and the pain of Partition.

The response to Jugnu – the love it received from the masses, the ‘moral panic’ it evoked among the elite, and the punitive action it invited from the young government – was an outcome of the time of transition that the country was going through. It also set the tone for the censorship project that Independent India would embark on –aiming to protect the ‘fragile morality’ of the ‘gullible masses’ – and continues to obsess itself with even today.

The present-day audience would likely judge Jugnu as a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy (which like many latter films of Dilip Kumar ends in a tragedy) that ticks some boxes and misses a few. The film produced and directed by Shaukat Husain Rizvi, then-husband of Noor Jehan, has a simple story. Dilip Kumar’s Suraj and Noor Jehan’s Jugnu study in separate colleges located on the same campus and fall in love. Jugnu is an orphan and Suraj is the only son of an ostensibly rich raisaheb who has accumulated debt. The family has planned to marry Suraj to a girl from a wealthy family hoping to receive dowry that will end their financial troubles. The circumstances mean that the lovers can’t marry each other and must feign unfaithfulness. The mutual heartbreak, ultimately, leads the couple to their tragic ends.

Those against the film objected to, among other sequences, this scene in which Jugnu and Suraj indulge in a flirtatious chit chat hiding behind a sofa in the latter’s home.

Although a mixed bag in terms of performances, the film is salvaged by the comedic episodes in the first half and a couple of good songs in the latter.

While the newspaper advertisements from the time tell us that the film, branded as ‘The Song of the Youth’, was celebrating ‘Silver Jubilees’ in multiple cities, it was also evoking an adverse response from the elite for depicting ‘college’ as a place of the intermingling of the sexes, and its provocative framing of youthful sexuality. It portrayed Indian youngsters as carefree romantics for whom the only thing that mattered was the success and failure in love.

Another topic of contention, repeatedly raised by its critics, was its depiction of a romance between the ladies’ hostel matron, played by Ruby Myers, and a professor from the boys’ college. There were still others who blamed it for slandering India’s higher education institutions by not focussing at all on learning activities that, ideally, should go on in a college.

The song ‘Loot Jawani Phir Nahin Aani’ performed by Latika in the film as part of the college drama was a major point of criticism. Many objected to the lyrics as well as “vulgar”, “nude”, “courtesan-like” performance by Latika.

A peek into the archive tells us that popular periodicals like Filmindia were routinely receiving letters from its English speaking readers complaining about Jugnu. While some wondered how such a ‘vulgar film’ was cleared by the Censor Board. Others demanded that it should be re-examined. Readers would reproduce the lyrics of an entire song (Loot Jawani…) to prove their point of Jugnu’s indecency and its portrayal of college girls as ‘courtesans’. Even Indians residing in Singapore and Colombo wrote with angst that the film was spreading the “wrong impression about college life in India”.

“Believe me, Mr Patel. The whole audience was exasperated – barring a few perhaps – when they saw a college girl dancing with the full garb of vulgarity in a drama staged in the college… Patrons of Indian films here like good stories with melodious songs and not historical distortions and semi-nude dances,” wrote M T Piyaseela from Colombo, in a letter published in the October 1948 issue.

Shiv Das Singh, a student from Jodhpur, feared that Jugnu might affect his educational prospects. “What would be the effect on our parents’ minds seeing the film…Will our parents then be ready to allow us to continue our studies further?” he wondered.

After a successful north India run, Jugnu was released at Bombay’s Capitol Cinema on October 1, 1948 but was pulled off the theatre within four weeks “in the midst of its triumphant run” after Filmindia editor Baburao Patel wrote a scathing review headlined ‘Jugnu: A dirty, disgusting, vulgar picture!’.

“Jugnu…tells us that college life in India is nothing more than a long sex hunt in which boys chase girls, explore their hand bags, rob their tiffin boxes and sing suggestive love ditties while making vulgar gestures; while girls sigh about heavily, seduce boys to tea, pimp for their friends, puncture their cycle tyres and sing songs of frustrated love,” Patel wrote in the review, adding, “no decent exhibitor with any pride for his profession or any self-respect should exhibit it in his theatre.”

Interestingly, Patel was Noor Jehan’s neighbour in Oomer Park, Warden Road, Bombay.

In fact, Patel informs us in the review, that he had sent an ‘advanced copy’ of the write up to the then Bombay Home Minister Morarji Desai who watched the film on October 26 and issued a ban three days later under Section 21 of General Clauses Act of 1897. This led to a lot of protests from the film producers and distributors for the ‘arbitrary action’ by the Home Minister on a film already cleared by a ‘full board’ of the censors, but to no avail.

The romance between hostel matron played by Ruby Myers and a professor from boy’s college was a major cause of the films popularity among the youth. It, on the other hand, also added to Jugnu‘s trouble with the government.

After Bombay, several other provincial governments banned the film. The distributor – Bharat Pictures, Akola – was forced to re-submit the film for certification where it was chopped off significantly. Records show that when the film obtained its first Censor certificate from the Bombay Board of Film Certification on July 7, 1947, its total length was 14,093 feet. After revisions made following the ban, it was reduced to 11,559 feet. In terms of the run time, the film lost 28 minutes of its original duration of 156 minutes. The film returned to the screens after a few months in truncated form.

In many ways, the extent of criticism that Jugnu received seems disproportionate to the provocation contained in the film. This response can be understood in two contexts. Firstly, the elite discourse in the newly-Independent India was focused on ‘nation building’, a project that would require the energies and services of the youth. Jugnu’s celebration of youngsters as carefree lads inclined to shrug off responsibility in favour of romantic pursuits did not go well with the government and others with a say.

Secondly, the decision by the film’s female lead Noor Jehan and producer-director Rizvi to choose Pakistan over India left little sympathy for them and their product among the Indian elite. For example, in its review of Jugnu, Patel made a misplaced and far-fetched connection between director Shaukat Rizvi and Qasim Rizvi, the head of extremist, separatist Razakar movement in Hyderabad.

In the pages of Filmindia, which was the most powerful film magazine at the time, Muslim filmmakers who were travelling between India and Pakistan in the fog of the Partition (some of which decided to stay back in India) are repeatedly referred to as ‘fifth columnists’ who need to be watched to ensure that “they do not use the powerful medium of the films” for nefarious purposes.

“The censors must watch carefully such anti-social and anti-religious activities of these fanatic producers who live with us to stab us from day to day,” warns an editorial in the November 1948 issue of Filmindia.

Notwithstanding the legal and circumstantial impediments, Jugnu went on to become one of the biggest films of the time and launched Dilip Kumar’s career in the true sense. In fact, it was a large poster of Jugnu put up in Bandra that broke the news to Ghulam Sarwar ‘Agha’, the fruit seller from Peshawar, that his son Yusuf had entered the film business and had become a star.

(This story appeared on indianexpress.com as ‘How Dilip Kumar’s Jugnu lost 28 minutes to confused morality of a young India’ on July 17 2021)

Maharashtra: Death registration system in shambles, data reporting for 2020 still incomplete

Slight rise in mortality in state in 2020; marked uptick in Pune, Mumbai hints at uncounted Covid deaths


As the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic subsides, the extent of loss of life caused by the virus remains contested. There have been claims – by politicians and infectious diseases experts – that the number of deaths caused by the pandemic could be many times higher than the officially reported numbers.

One important way to arrive at a more realistic death toll, as per the experts, is to gauge the ‘excess deaths’ recorded in pandemic year after comparing them to pre-pandemic years and factoring in the natural growth trend. For this, deaths registered by the Civil Registration System (CRS) of the state governments act as a reliable data source.

While some states have created dedicated portals for the distribution of certificates and real-time data collection, in Maharashtra the process remains cumbersome. Most agencies responsible for recording births and deaths– municipal bodies or panchayats –send the death registration data to the state authorities manually. This means that the state-level agency, State Bureau of Health Intelligence Vital Statistics, responsible for collecting the data and reporting to the Registrar General of India, completes data collection three months after a calendar year came to an end. It reports the same to the Registrar by end of July, every year.

The Indian Express spoke to officials at the Bureau to find out that, so far, agencies in only 25 districts have submitted the record about the birth and date that happened in the year 2020 in the respective jurisdiction. Data is awaited from 10 other distsricts.

Govardhan Gaikwad, Deputy Director, Health Services, and Deputy Chief Registrar of Birth and Death in the state, says that every year the birth and death reports are sent for publication by end of July. This year, since the receipt of data has slowed down from the agencies issuing the certificates, it may take a bit longer. This means that data pertaining to all-causes deaths registered in the state for 2020 may be available only after a few months, and that pertaining to mortality in the second wave during February-May 2021, can only be available halfway through the next year.

“Government offices of three different types are involved in recording the births and deaths happening in the respective jurisdiction. While some submit the data using online means, most still depend on the manual method. This delays the receipt of the data by us, and we have to process and send it further,” explained Gaikwad.

Although Maharashtra does not have a portal of its own -like Rajasthan’s Pehchan for this purpose – it could use the national portal crsorgi.gov.in.

“Many agencies don’t use the online medium for real-time reporting of the data because it’s not mandatory as per the extant law. Also, some offices may be discouraged by the connectivity issues,” added Gaikwad.

Out of 35 districts in the state, birth and death registration data for only 25 has been recieved by the state Bureau so far. (Picture: Arul Horizon for The Indian Express)

Slight rise in mortality in state in 2020; marked uptick in Pune, Mumbai hinting at uncounted Covid deaths

The data that has been so far compiled by the state CRS shows a slight uptick in the number of deaths in 2020, the year in which the first Covid-19 wave hit the country, when compared with the previous year. The CRS data is not yet available for the more devastating second wave which hit the state between February and May 2021.

However, significantly, cities like Mumbai and Pune, which were the worst affected by the pandemic, show significant ‘excess deaths’ in 2020 when compared with registered deaths in 2019 and 2018.

Data submitted by 25 out of 35 districts to the state CRS shows that 5,78,912 deaths were registered in these districts in 2020. In the previous year, ie 2019 (the pre-pandemic year), these 25 districts had registered 5,16,138 deaths from various causes. (Cumulative deaths in all 35 districts for this year were 6,93,800.)

In 2018, another pre-pandemic year, these 25 districts had recorded 4,88,599 deaths. (Cumulative deaths for all 35 districts for this year were 6,67,900.)

Thus, considering only 25 states for want of data for the entire state, the year 2020 saw 62,774 additional deaths compared to 2019 which, in turn, had seen 27,539 more registered deaths than in 2018.

As per the state health department, a total of 49,521 Covid deaths occurred in the state in 2020. Of these, 35,450 were reported from the 25 districts that we are considering.

Cities like Mumbai and Pune showed a marked increase in the registered deaths during 2020, hinting at the possibility of uncounted Covid-19 deaths.

Mumbai had recorded 88,852 and 91,223 deaths in 2018 and 2019 respectively. The number rose to 1,11,942 in 2020, thus recording a jump of 20,719 deaths over the previous year. As per the Health Department records, Mumbai saw 11,125 Covid deaths in 2020.

In Pune, which had recorded 61,824 and 63,630 deaths in 2018 and 2019 respectively, the CRS recorded 79,683 deaths in 2019. While the rise in recorded deaths was 16,053, the Health Department counted only 7767 Covid deaths in Pune in 2020.