Gaman, The story of Migrant and The rise of Counterculture in Bollywood


और भी गम है जमाने में मोहोब्बत के सिवा – फैज अहमद फैज

(There are other sufferings too in this world besides the agony of love.)


60s and 70s where the decades of social change in term of the emergence of counterculture. The world saw spreading of counter culture in the late 60s. The counterculture of the 1960s refers to a cultural event that mainly developed in the United States and United Kingdom and spread throughout much of the western world between 1960 and 1973. The movement gained momentum during the U.S. government’s extensive military intervention in Vietnam. As the 1960s progressed, widespread tensions developed in American society that tended to flow along generational lines regarding the war in Vietnam, race relations, sexual mores, women’s rights, traditional modes of authority, experimentation with psychoactive drugs, and differing interpretations of the American Dream. New cultural forms emerged, including the pop music of the British band The Beatles and the concurrent rise of hippie culture, which led to the rapid evolution of a youth subculture that emphasized change and experimentation. In addition to the Beatles, many songwriters, singers and musical groups from the United Kingdom and America came to impact the counterculture movement.

India was experiencing different kind of social changes where the atrocities on marginalized were increasing in number after the death of Dr. Ambedkar. His dream of Republican Party could not come into reality and the party splited into different groups. It was the time of unrest in the marginalized section where people like Namdeo Dhasal and Raja Dhale started expressing their emotions and feelings through literature. This literature was a revolt against the traditional literature of the dominant class. Marginalised community had no security and they were frequently attacked in the rural areas. This lead to the rise of “Dalit Panther” which was inspired by the “Black Panther” in America.

Rapid Industrial development was one of the lessons India learned after losing the war with China. Due to industrialization, urbanization started taking the speed during 60s and 70s. People from different states started migrating in Mumbai in the search of job and living. The city was already crowded and hence the migrants settled in the slums increasing the slum pockets and slum dwellers population in Mumbai. This actually increased the pressure on the administration of Mumbai and city was unable to provide the basic facilities to the migrants and slum dwellers. This leads to the decline of their living conditions. Slowly local mafias took over the slums and they run their control on the illegal activities as well as on the lives of the people living in the areas.

Indira Gandhi declared emergency in 1975 and the democracy in India ceased to exist for some period. Activists were put behind the bar and the country was under the strict rule of repressive state policies. The nexus between these local mafia, police and politicians developed and slums became the arena of politics and vote banks. Crime perpetuated in these areas and liquor along with other illegal activities flourished. This gave rise to many notorious personalities like Haji Mastan, Kareem Lala, Dawood Ibrahim, Varadrajan Mudaliar, who became messiah of the poor in the slums.

Synopsis of Gaman:

Gaman was a Bollywood film released in 1978. It was a directorial debut of Muzaffar Ali who subsequently made the classic “Umrao Jaan”. Composer Jaidev won National Award for best music direction in 1979 and Chhaya Gangulai won national award for the best female playback singers for the sing “Aapki yaad aati rahi”. In today’s language the movie can be categorised in the art films. Ghulam Hussain is a literate youth staying in the interiors of rural India, jobless and eventually loses his farm from the landlord. He migrates as a landless labour to Mumbai in the search of job. His friend Lalulal helps him to get a job of washing cars. Ghulam Hussain soon learns taxi driving like Lalulal and start working like other migrants in Mumbai. The film goes on with the visual comments on the busy, inhuman life of this metropolitan city of India. It also gives fairly details of the migrant’s life in Mumbai. Ghulam Hussain tries hard to make money for his family but at the end Lalulal gets killed because of his affair with the local girl and Ghulam Hussain has to make a decision to leave the city forever to look after his family and sick mother.

In the last frame of the movie, Ghulam Hussain is standing in the railway station watching the train to his village and thinking about his savings. More than half will be spent only on the travel so what money is left for his family? The question haunts him and in his deep feeling of suffering and pain, the train slowly passes away in front of his eyes.

Feudal Society in the movie:

The film shows the domination of landlords in rural India where he captures Ghulam Hussain’s land with force. It is also clearly shown that some of the local population is always behind the landlord for their own interests and they act as his informers. People in rural India are shown to be devoted to the landlord and they don’t think of leaving the village for their own benefit. The mills and the other industry is cutting the labour strength and hence they can’t get any employment their too. At the same time, the relation among people of different community is shown to be friendly and they help each others. There is no trace of communal tension in the movie though the characters are from Hindu and Muslim background. Religion plays important role in the rural life and director has given a glimpse of Mohharram, the Muslim festival of Mourning for the killing if their religious leader Hussan and Hussain. They beat their own body with different kinds of whips so much to pour blood out of it. It was suffering they bear for the killing of their leaders. Director probably willing to comment their real life is nothing better than the regular suffering under the sheer poverty and they still follow all the religious rituals of another kind of suffering.

The system of “Chauthai” means to give the land to the landlord for cultivation and get certain percentage of the grain as “Chauthai”. It’s about the 25 percent of the total production. When the landlord captures Ghulam Hussain’s major portion of land he has nothing left for his survival. Even while land was there he and his family were leaving in poverty. Though his family and his own conscious were not allowing him to leave the village, he migrates to Mumbai as a landless labour.

Migrants in the movie:

Movie has given fairly detailed account of migrant’s life in Mumbai. Ghulam Hussain stays in shanty locality where they have a problem of road, drainage system, electricity etc. First he stays with his friend Lalulal and then he rents similar type of accommodation for himself. He is surrounded by youths with no jobs and they are engaged with drinking, gambling or other criminal activities. Migrants help each other but village ties seem to play the major role in the establishment of migrants in Mumbai. They are constantly working without taking care of their health and send money to their family. They have single point agenda of making money and to survive in the city at the same time take care of their family in the country side. Lalulal loves a city girl but he doesn’t have place to stay after getting marry. The city need these migrants for their services but doesn’t provide them a decent living. Even Ghulam Hussain gets lots of experiences about the problems of taxi drivers and their hardship.

The director has shown again a religious festival in the city where people are dancing at the same time there is a protest rally passing behind this dancing group. He has interchangeably showed the suffering rituals of Moharram in the rural India and the dancing group in the city. Both places the common man is suffering but still devoted to the religion, probably seeking the peace and security in it. The movie also shows the patriarchy and the domination of male over female in the city. The suppression of woman is shown when Lalulal’s girlfriend is forced by her family to go to gulf for a job so that her family will get money. Her brother is a jobless youth engaged in criminal activities.

Theory of Poverty:

Herbert Spencer, one of the early British sociologists (who coined the term survival of the fittest) said of the poor:

“…good for nothings…vagrants and sots (drunks), criminals…men who share the gains of prostitutes; and less visible and less numerous there is a corresponding class of women..”

Spencer believed, very much in keeping with the dominant beliefs of the time, that the poor should be given no assistance. As far as definition of poverty is concerned, Poverty is not just the lack of money; there are two types of poverty. Absolute poverty refers to the situation in which a person lacks those things that help to sustain human life. They lack basic human needs, such as food, shelter and clothing. This form of poverty was once quite common in countries such as Britain and America but has since declined, particularly since the introduction of the Welfare State. This form of poverty is still prevalent in many Third World countries. Relative poverty refers to the situation in which a person lacks the necessary resources to enable them to participate in the normal and desirable patterns of life that exist within a given society at a given time. For example, if you cannot afford to have a cooked meal then you may not be in absolute poverty but you are certainly in relative poverty.

There are three broad theories of Poverty.

According to Individualistic theory, the causes of poverty and even inequality are rooted in individual failings of some sort or another. You are, to put it bluntly, poor because you deserve to be poor. This is very much the basis of the whole individualistic theory of poverty, it is the morality of the individual that is causing their poverty, it is their laziness. Cultural theory is a slightly more sophisticated version of the individualistic theory. This time it is not the individual that is to blame for their own poverty but the individuals’ culture. Their culture (their beliefs, values, attitudes and general patterns of behaviour and language) are what causes their poverty, or at least, what helps to keep them in their poverty. Perhaps the most famous advocate, and the man who first came up with the idea, was Oscar Lewis who was an anthropologist working in slum areas, shanty towns, in South America. He observed these people in their environment and believed that they exhibited a different culture, a sub culture, to that of the rest of society. This he called a culture of poverty. The main characteristics of this culture of poverty were as follows: people held an attitude of fatality (they believed that it was hopeless to try and improve their situation) and a present time orientation (they lived for today instead of for tomorrow). As a result they were less likely to see school and education as a way out of their poverty; also, they were less likely to see the point in saving money. This he argued helped to keep the poor in their state of poverty.

The Marxist theory of poverty and inequality is a radical departure from the theories we have so far outlined. Marxists do not blame the poor for their poverty nor do they blame their culture. Instead Marxists look for explanations in the structure of the society in question, in the economic arrangements present and in the functions that poverty performs for capitalism and the capitalist class. To put it simply the reason for poverty and inequality lies in the market based capitalist economy and the fluctuation that all such economies periodically go through.

Functions of Poverty – According to Marxism, the poverty in the society performs certain functions. Capitalism requires a highly motivated workforce. Workers must be willing, indeed almost enthusiastic, to get into the factory and work. The reason being that capitalists must compete against other capitalists and against capitalists in other countries. Also, if none of the working-class came to work for their employers who would do the work, certainly not the capitalist class. By giving different members of society differential monetary rewards so workers are motivated to work. As a result it is necessary to give those such as the unemployed, elderly and sick less money than that received by the workforce or workers would not be motivated to work.

The low wage sector which exists to greater of lesser extent in all capitalist economies serves to lower the wage demands on those in paid employment. The working class tend to judge their wages not in terms of how they compare to the capitalist class but how they compare to their poorer co-workers and neighbours. Poverty thus helps to keep a check on the wage demands of the working class. Also, if there are large numbers of unemployed people, and even those in poorly paid jobs, then there is always plenty of competition for jobs and so the employer can pay less. It is after all a market economy and the workers labour-power is a commodity just like all the others.

Those who are in poverty form what Marx called a reserve army of labour. This reserve army of labour, which may consist of ethnic minorities and those in the labour force who are least desirable, for whatever reason, to the employer. This reserve army of labour performs the function of keeping the pretensions of the working-class in check during periods of “boom” in the economy. During such times, when demand for labour is high, the reserve army will be called up and so any delusions of grandeur held by the working-class are torn asunder.

Marxian Theory of Alienation:

While explaining the concept of Alienation in EPM 1844, Marx says that “Firstly, the fact that labour is external to the worker – i.e., does not belong to his essential being; that he, therefore, does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy, does not develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and ruins his mind. Hence, the worker feels himself only when he is not working; when he is working, he does not feel himself. He is at home when he is not working and not at home when he is working. His labour is, therefore, not voluntary but forced, it is forced labour. It is, therefore, not the satisfaction of a need but a mere means to satisfy needs outside itself. Its alien character is clearly demonstrated by the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, it is shunned like the plague. External labour, labour in which man alienates himself, is a labour of self-sacrifice, of mortification. Finally, the external character of labour for the worker is demonstrated by the fact that it belongs not to him but to another, and that in it he belongs not to himself but to another. Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination, the human brain, and the human heart, detaches itself from the individual and reappears as the alien activity of a god or of a devil, so the activity of the worker is not his own spontaneous activity. It belongs to another; it is a loss of his self. The result is that man (the worker) feels that he is acting freely only in his animal functions – eating, drinking, and procreating, or at most in his dwelling and adornment – while in his human functions, he is nothing more than animal.”

Sociology of Gaman and the Dynamics of Migration:

Gaman means “Departure” but this means “Migration” in the context of the movie. The tile is displayed in the frame when Ghulam Hussain migrates from his native place to Mumbai as a landless labour. There is an attempt to show reverse migration at the end of the movie but the viewer knows that reverse migration is impossible. Poor in this city has no other option than to bear suffering in the city and earn money for their family in the countryside. There is an incidence showed where a senior taxi driver doing this work for thirty years gets killed in the accident. It was the case for many of them to end their life with one or the other misery. Migrants in Mumbai city stay together according to their native place ties and they do help each other’s but the poverty and insecurity is so much that this help doesn’t seems to be an adequate one. They live in slums where lots of crimes perpetuate they have to live under the constant pressure of survival. They can’t have basic necessities of life. They have to kill their basic desires of loving someone or to be loved by someone. Every time they think of progress they need to think of their income and they have to leave that thought.

There is no trace of communal tension seen in the city among migrants besides surprisingly the director has not shown any tension between the castes also. Urbanization and the migration forced people to come together and stay together but the movie doesn’t seem to be reflecting on the caste relations. In fact it was shown in the beginning of the movie that Hindus and Muslims are staying together with harmony in the village.

The movie is more about the problem of migrants who are basically came from poor background with lower education and with the no or very little land in the countryside. It’s a comment on their suffering in the village as well as in the city. Due to their lower economic background they are dominated by the feudal class in the village and they are dominated by the local mafia and other dominating factors of the society in the city. It is also about the adjustments they have to make with their life and principles. They have to get habitual to the inhumanness of the city life where people are more anxious about their time than about somebody’s life.

Gaman is a strong comment on the dynamics of migration and urbanization where the migrants are required by the city for their services but city do not provide those basic necessities and a decent life.

Theory of poverty and Gaman:

The first theory of Individualistic approach is seen in the rural area where the feudal landlord treats poor people with no respect. He dominates them and captures their land. He has no respect for law and probably he considers them lower than the human to the rank of animals. This theory considers that poor are poor because they deserve to be poor. This is another version of social Darwinism and survival of the fittest. When the migrant comes to the city, they experiences same Darwinism in different form. The city also runs on the principle of survival of the fittest. Elites in the city do not treat them like humans. They have to tolerate all kinds of humiliation. Hence in the countryside or the city, the individualistic approach of the theory of poverty seems to be working.

In the broader picture, the Marxian theory of poverty is a backbone of this movie because every conceptual idea is based on this perspective. The poor is not class conscious and he is dominated with the idea of hierarchy. He is encultured with the philosophy of religion that legitimised the hierarchical relations in the society. He is devoted to the religion that acts as opium for him to forget his daily suffering.

In the city the poor are kept poor because of the capitalistic mode of production. Taxi driver in the city can work till they are fit for their job. Once they are unfit they are thrown out of the system because capitalism knows only profit and it has no place for the sick or unproductive people. There is a character that has gone insane and hence he is out of the system. He has no option then to wait and die. There is a system of law and enforcement agency that is designed to serve basically the elite class in the society. The customer in the movie is shown threatening taxi driver to take him to police for making extra money and fooling him. The local leaders are coming only for elections and doing nothings for the people who elected them. The dominant ideology is the ideology of the day where making money and getting rich is the motive. It is shown in the movie that a family want a girl to take a job in gulf so that she can send money for them. In sum the city runs with an ideology whose base is rooted in the economic relations of the class.

Secondly the poverty according to Marx keeps the overall wages at the lower level because there is a vast competition to get a job and hence the labour force is available. It is shown in the movie that migrants have to do whatever work is available and they have very little scope to climb high on the ladder. Ghulam Hussain first takes a job of cleaning and washing the cars and eventually he becomes a driver. This is probably the end of his progress in the city because after this he has no options because of the economic limitations imposed on him in the city life. Poverty will not let him make progress.


There is a song in the movie “Seene mein jalan aakhon mein toofan sa kyu hai, is shahar mein har shaqs pareshaan sa kyu hai” This means why there is frustration in the hearts of the people in this city, why their eyes seems so fiery and why everyone in this city is so restless? This song is a beautiful comment about the Marxian concept of Alienation.  The migrants come in the city for a job and they have to accept whatever they get. This gradually alienate them from their work first and then from their fellow workers and eventually alienate from their own self. Gaman is a movie giving the glimpse of how migrants suffer in the city like Mumbai and alienate from their own self; gradually leading to the path of dehumanization. The pop culture seems to be mainly the culture of elites but “Gaman” was the representation of counter culture in Bollywood where it underlined the existence of pain and suffering of migrants in Mumbai; in a way that was never shown in Bollywood.

Bollywood in 70s:

Hindi film industry has never been aloof towards the social issue. In fact social issue where handled in many form since “Achhoot Kanya” at the time of 30s till “Naya Daur” in 60s. B.R. Chopra and other similar directors always showed their social responsibilities by handling different kinds of social issue including industrialization to caste and class problems. But Bollywood was always a market driven industry. Almost all movies that were handling social issue were acted by popular stars like Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Balraj Sahani, Raj Kapoor who were commercially very successful. Music was one of the most important aspects of these movies. The environment in the movie was either elite or middle class. Even if they show anything related with lower class or caste, the surroundings and the actors were rarely match with the reality. Actresses were skilled dancers and every care was taken to make a balance between the handling of social issues and market success.

As we have seen that counter culture stroked the globe in 60s and 70s, Bollywood was not an exception of its influence. Movie maker started making films casting the actors who were not popular, resembling to common man and the issues were core with the contemporary problems of poverty, migrations, industrialization, informal sector, rise of crime in slums, urbanization etc. Interestingly, the aesthetics was not compromised in these movies. The music, acting talents was nowhere mediocre. But the application of those factors was completely different than the main stream movies. It was closer to reality, darkening the pain and suffering behind the theme. People were not running around the trees singing the songs of divine love, rather, people were rarely seen singing on the screen.

Gaman was one of the most successful efforts of this era and still considered as a milestone of Bollywood at the time of the rise of counterculture.

Atul Thakur



“Gaman” Directed by Muzaffar Ali (1978)


Karl Marx, (1988),The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist Manifesto, Prometheus Books, New York.

Electronic references (Dt. 11/03/2012 time: 7.00 PM)

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