If you think your parents could have done better by you, at least be grateful that you aren’t poor Mirza or Sahiba. Sahiba’s family are all nasty pieces of work, with the sole exception of her father who is an ineffectual panty-waist. Her mother is an abusive shrew, and her spoiled and arrogant brothers are murdering bullies. And Mirza’s mother leaves her young son in the “care” of that same family, despite being at the receiving end of their ill-treatment herself and knowing that they dislike Mirza equally. With this sort of beginning, the only hope one can really have is that things will look up eventually…but as we all know, in this sad tale they never do. The only things that kept me going were Beloved Shammi and the really lovely music by Punjabi music director Sardul Kwatra (who also produced it).
I fall in love instantly with the opening song, a paean to the Punjab (I think, the songs aren’t subtitled) called “Nahin Rees Punjab Di” which I’m putting here for your delectation since I can’t find it online anywhere.
Celebrating Punjabi culture is a cliche in Hindi cinema these days, and I’m not Punjabi anyway—but it’s a lovely (albeit idealized) glimpse of the landscape and old pastoral way of life. Sadly, the travelogue is soon over and we are plunged into the bosom of Sahiba’s and Mirza’s dysfunctional family. Sahiba’s father (Uma Dutt) is Mirza’s mother’s brother (making them cousins). She brings Mirza for an extended visit to her family home, a visit cut short when Sahiba’s mother (Gulab) throws a fit over her young daughter’s budding relationship with Mirza, who for some reason is not considered worthy of her. Mirza adamantly refuses to leave his Sahiba when his insulted mother packs up her bags and goes.
Her sad-sack hen-pecked brother (I have to giggle at his self-recriminations in the face of his wife’s iron-fisted control over him):
promises to take good care of Mirza, although how someone so lacking a spine can possibly protect a kid who is clearly not wanted is beyond me. Anyway, Sahiba and Mirza become inseparable and grow into young adults (Shyama and Shammi Kapoor) who adore each other. The little cocoon of love that surrounds them is constantly under attack by Sahiba’s brothers Mir (Ram Singh) and Shamir (Madan Puri) in addition to her mother, but the pair remains steadfast (although they spend a lot of time talking about their willingness to die for one another, never a good omen).
(Right back at you, Shammi, oh my Shammi.)
In addition to Sahiba, Mirza has a passion for his white mare and his bow and arrows and is a crack shot. This endears him no further to his nasty cousins, and his love for Sahiba is also a thorn in the side for the local barber and matchmaker Umara (?) who stands to lose a commission if the young lovers marry each other. When Sahiba persuades Mirza to take her to a local fair, Umara takes the opportunity to create trouble.
By the way, in case you haven’t noticed by now, the subtitles in this were a real trial to read and I’m pretty sure my eyesight is at least 10% worse than it was when I started watching the movie. It’s even more difficult when the picture is moving.
I do appreciate the proper use of “whom” when I can see them, though.
Well, I digress. Umara informs Mir and Shamir that Sahiba is at the fair with Mirza. Infuriated, they track him down and beat him mercilessly, although not as mercilessly as Sahiba’s mother when they all reach home. She throws Mirza out of the house and locks Sahiba in her room. Sahiba’s father quickly accedes to his wife’s wishes that he get Sahiba married into the wealthy Choudhary family (who happen to be her relatives) nearby, and Umara is called in.
Sahiba, unable to escape her mother’s eagle eye, asks her friend Mora (?) to take a message to Mirza, who is now homeless and despondently considering suicide.
Mora saves him from jumping off a cliff, and he goes to stay with their aunt, Bibo.
Umara the matchmaker now becomes very busy, going first to fix Sahiba’s marriage with the son of Choudhary Sahab (Nazir Kashmiri—how it thrills me to say that!), and then to Mirza’s parents’ house, where he tells them how mistreated Mirza has been. Mirza’s mother asks him to plead with Mirza to return home—which he doesn’t have to do because Bibo (?) is already suggesting it to Mirza.
She relents though in the face of Mirza’s devotion:
He agrees to return to his parental home if Bibo will bring Sahiba to him to say goodbye, which she does. He promises to return for Sahiba, and she says that she will send word when her wedding date is fixed so that he can save her. I am not clear how this will work out better than if they just leave right now, but it’s not my plot. Sahiba’s wedding is eventually fixed for the same day as Mirza’s sister Chatti’s, and Bibo sends a message to Mirza.
We’re entertained with a lively dance from Sheela Vaz (I really really love the music in this film):
and that’s pretty much the last happy moment to be had (uhh…spoiler?). Mirza receives the message, and races away on his trusty white mare to rescue Sahiba from her wedding.
SPOILER (minor): I hate the way this ends. Not because it is tragic, but because once again an Indian woman is put up on a pedestal and lauded for sacrificing the man she loves, who has never done anything but love her in return, for the sake of people who have never treated her any way but badly. It just infuriates me. It’s tragic all right, and also completely pointless. The film deviates slightly from the version of the story that I’ve read online, but not by much and certainly not for the better; and implicit in the ending is the understanding that Sahiba’s menfolk had every right to kill her and her lover for blemishing her family’s reputation. UGH. No remorse, no punishment—no lessons learned, at all. END SPOILER.
Besides the music, Shammi’s performance is one of the highlights. He is restrained and oh! so romantic. Mirza is loving and strong, but not ridiculously macho. To be fair, none of the performances from anyone are too over-the-top in that way; and Shyama is a very realistic Sahiba, making their romance one you want to succeed. It’s a good cast, and if the end had brought some sort of intellectual nourishment as a result of its tragic events, it would have been an acceptable story too. As it is, though, it’s just terribly sad; and it makes the film’s glowing tributes throughout to Punjabi traditions ring pretty hollow.