There’s nothing finer on a wintry and cheerless day than a Wadia Brothers Arabian Nights tale brought to you in Glorious Gevacolor! I am pretty sure that an early Nadia stunt film would be equally fine, but until they become readily available these are just the ticket. Standard features include feisty beautiful women (and dancing girls) in harem outfits, a swashbuckling hero (and in this one Mahipal is not even girly), kings with evil commanders named Something Beg, scores of caped extras, an intrepid animal companion or two (Zabak‘s is a white horse who doubles as the Comic Side Plot!), lovely songs (by Chitragupta here)—and always, absolutely always, every frame is filled with stuff that I would kill to get my sparkle-loving hands on.
Zabak is no exception to my Wadia Brothers Cardinal Rule (which is that the Wadia Brothers…well, RULE).
Our eponymous hero (a relatively manly Mahipal) is the son of a man who owns a bath house (as in Roman baths not the kind you find in New York City) and is a healer of sorts. Zabak and his parents (Ma=Achala Sachdev) are a middle-class family in Isfahaan, which hasn’t stopped him and the Princess Zainab (Shyama) from falling in love with each other. Zabak has some egalitarian views which are wholeheartedly endorsed by a visiting merchant, Usman Shah (BM Vyas).
Otherwise, his views and his romance meet with approval from no-one: not Zabak’s parents, not the King her father, and certainly not the King’s commander Kasim Beg (Muzaffar Adeeb), who wants to marry her himself.
Side note: I have seen this waterfall before! Can someone tell me where it is? I want to go there!
End side note.
Zabak agrees to break things off with Zainab, who is understandably heartbroken (and a little mad—I don’t blame her). But luckily for we film fans, bad guys are never satisfied with just winning; they always have to escalate things, which begins a domino effect of events which end in their ruin (hope that wasn’t a spoiler). Kasim Beg has Zabak arrested for the illegal deed of thinking himself equal to the nobility, and Zabak’s father is arrested for aiding and abetting his son. Zabak is sentenced to whipping and exile, while his father is sentenced to a barber’s razor.
Unable to face the humiliation of a shaved pate, Zabak’s father kills himself in front of his shackled son. Grief-stricken (and seriously pissed off—I don’t blame him) Zabak is thrown out of the city’s walls to wander in the countryside. There, he rescues a girl from a would-be ravisher who turns out to be Samina (Sahira?), the daughter of Usman Shah—who is not a merchant, but a dacoit named Usman Agha.
He is pleased to see Zabak again, and Samina is extremely grateful. She appears to have a Veronica Lake complex of sorts.
Zabak is appalled when he discovers that Usman was posing as a merchant to prepare for an attack on his motherland Isfahaan. He protests, but when a messenger arrives with a message that all of Isfahaan is preparing for the wedding of Princess Zainab to Kasim Beg, he agrees to go along with the dacoits.
In Isfahaan a miserable Zainab is being dressed for her wedding while the court is entertained by dancing—and Bela Bose!
The dacoits arrive in time to save Zainab from her fate, and receive their instructions from Usman.
Shades of Manmohan Desai! After much sword-fighting, Zabak encounters the despicable Kasim Beg and stabs him, leaving him for dead. But Kasim Beg has cleverly worn armor under his wedding garb, and he lives on—only to murder the hapless King, Zainab’s father, for insulting him earlier. The men in this film are a sensitive lot!
As the fighting rages on, Zainab is kidnapped by one of Usman’s dacoits before Zabak can reach her room. Thwarted, he goes to find his mother (still in his dacoit disguise) and discovers that she has put her own eyes out in her grief over losing husband and son (how does that help?! How?!).
She doesn’t want any message from a son who is in cahoots with a dacoit.
When the looting is over, Usman signals for his bandits to get going but is shot through the chest with an arrow. Zabak manages to get him on his horse and out of the burning city in the nick of breathtaking time.
Back in their dacoit hideout, Usman needs medical help—someone to remove the arrow from his chest. Zabak steps forward to offer; his father was a healer and his grandfather too. Pleased by his bravery, Usman calls for a mirror so that he can watch his own operation.
Zabak manages to retrieve the arrow point from Usman’s heart and all is well. Now Usman owes him a favor and the dacoit who kidnapped Zainab shows up with her to claim her as his own. But Zainab is horrified to see her Zabak in the bosom of the dacoits who destroyed her home. When Usman—torn between his promise to give Zabak anything he wants and his general dacoit finders-keepers principle—asks Zainab to decide, she chooses the old toothless dacoit with an eye patch and a limp over the traitorous Zabak.
These people are all clearly insane. Of course, she wouldn’t be a Hindi film heroine if she didn’t flog the poor hero with a whole lot of extra work that almost kills him (hope that isn’t a spoiler either). The discovery that Zabak loves another doesn’t go down too well with Usman’s daughter Samina either—she has loved him since he saved her honor, and now that he’s also saved her father’s life she is determined to make him hers.
I am determined to make her turban and turban jewels mine! (Doesn’t she look like Karishma Kapoor?)
I won’t go into anymore plot detail; your appetite is either whetted for this one or not by now! There is plenty more action, romance, villainy and a clever—though prone to clowning—horse still to come though!
My favorite song in this (although I like them all) is the rollicking “Teri Taqdeer Ka Sitara” picturized on the horse’s owners (and CSP pair):
And I love this little peek into the wizardry of special effects (and of course I love the crocodile too, I think you can even hear the motor that powers it over the music):
Ewwww!!!! but also: FAB.
Will our intrepid not-too-girly hero finally win his true love’s heart? Or are there more kings and princes and obstacles in the way? What will happen to Isfahaan now that Kasim Beg rules? Will Zabak ever see his Ma again (we know she won’t see him)?
If you need a shot of opulence and testosterone to help you through a gloomy day, you could do a lot worse than Zabak!