This bloodthirsty Mughal historical directed by Mehboob Khan is replete with bristling mustaches, glaring eyes and more talk of swords, vengeance and honor than you can shake a stick at. The sets and costumes are sumptuous, and the histrionics entertaining, if somewhat theatrical and drawn out at times.
Cecil B DeMille apparently wrote in a letter to Mehboob Khan that this film was “a masterpiece of lighting composition.” It is, it is! And Nargis was only sixteen when she starred in it; it was her third film as an adult.
Mughal emperor Babar (Shah Nawaz) has defeated cities all across the lands of the Rajputs. When he enters one of these cities, the slain Rajput king’s daughter Rajkumari (Veena), defies him from the top of her teeny weeny fortress:
Charmed by her bravery, Babar swears allegiance with her and calls her “daughter.” She accepts his olive branch, which does not go down well with her father’s military commander Jai Singh (KN Singh). In addition, her fiance—the son of the slain ruler of the neighboring kingdom—Randhir (Chandramohan) has sworn to avenge his father by killing Babar’s son Humayun (Ashok Kumar).
Chandramohan clearly comes from the old theater school of acting; he delivers his dialogues in a rapid-fire monotone at high decibels, and his facial expression never varies from this:
Babar asks Humayun not to engage Randhir in fighting, since his wife-to-be is now Humayun’s “sister” and Humayun agrees. In addition, Babar withdraws his troops from Randhir’s kingdom Chanderi, which only enrages Randhir further.
Clearly he has never been accosted by a small kid selling candy bars to fund a school trip!
Randhir does not give up, however: he keeps breaking into Babar’s palace and trying to pick a fight with Humayun (he is always politely escorted out), and he vows not to stop fighting until the Mughals are driven from Chanderi (even though they have already left voluntarily). I cheer him on.
Meanwhile, the potentates arriving to pay homage to Babar include Sardar Mir Baba Dor, whose daughter Hamida Banu (Nargis) is so beautiful that Humayun falls for her at first sight.
She falls for him too, but refuses to marry him because her family is much lower on the social scale (well, whose isn’t?); she fears that such a marriage will incite revolution. She also doesn’t have any faith in his vows of fidelity. This distresses Humayun so much that he becomes ill and the court physicians predict that he will die. Even a visit from Rajkumari on Raksha Bandhan doesn’t revive him.
Randhir shows up too, and begs Humayun to get better so that he can kill him and fulfill his sworn oath. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t work either.
Babar’s last hope is to exchange his life for his son’s: he calls on God to take him and give back Humayun’s life, and God comes through. Humayun wakes up, and Babar breathes his last after naming Humayun his heir.
Of course, it’s not going to be that easy. The Rajput kingdoms form various alliances against the emperor and each other. Jai Singh is bent on arresting Rajkumari for treason and taking control of the kingdom himself. The only one who refuses to join in is—Randhir.
He wants a guarantee from the other Rajputs that he will be the one to kill Humayun, but they refuse to give him one. Poor Randhir!
Meanwhile, Rajkumari has summoned Hamida Banu back to the palace. She is now inexplicably (to me) called Mallika, and Rajkumari has decided that she should be Humayun’s Empress. Mallika is still unwilling; she repeats what she had said to Humayun about love:
She doesn’t want to be cast off when Humayun tires of her; she dreams of a soulmate. Despite all entreaties from him, she asks permission to go home, and he grants it. Poor Humayun!
He mopes around the palace ignoring the stories of his army’s losses pouring in. Jai Singh meets with Rajkumari and tells her to choose between Humayun and his rebellion. When she chooses Humayun he gives her one more option: she can marry Randhir, or him. When she scornfully refuses that option, he has her arrested. This finally rouses Humayun from his lovesick stupor—but will it be too late?
Can he save his sister from the Rajput rebels? And his empire? Will Hamida-Mallika ever relent and marry him? Will Randhir get his revenge, finally?
The end does drag on a bit (at least for me, although Gemma went nuts over the horses and elephants in the battle scenes). I find war tiresome and depressing for the most part.
The story is a highly fictionalized account of the beginning of Mughal rule; Babar and Humayun are both praised to the skies as benevolent, enlightened rulers (somewhat like Jalaluddin in Jodha Akbar).
But it is a visual feast, and I also found the contrast between the older style of acting (Chandramohan for example) and what was becoming the “new” more understated style (Ashok Kumar, Nargis) interesting. Not to mention that Randhir’s tireless devotion to his vengeance was hilarious. Bless him!
The music by Ghulam Haider is beautiful too, assuming you like music from this period (which I do). And although the songs are not subtitled, sadly, the rest of the subtitles are pretty good. Hurray!