Baaz (1953)

I love pirate movies, especially when the pirate in question is a woman. And if that woman is also Geeta Bali, then…hooray! When I first saw this ten years ago or so I knew nothing about Guru Dutt except that I was “supposed” to watch all his movies if I wanted to be au fait. There is nothing I don’t love about it, except that it hasn’t survived in its entirety, mostly towards the end. Like most of Guru Dutt’s films today the video is murky much of the time, but there is no disguising how beautifully shot every frame is. Equally lovely is the music: OP Nayyar’s tunes have just the right changes in rhythm for what is happening onscreen, and the lyrics (Majrooh Sultanpuri) are wonderful (and subtitled). Sublime. And the cast is just superb. In addition to the gorgeous lead pair are the legendary Sulochana (Ruby Mayer), KN Singh at his suavely villainous best, Johnny Walker and Kuldip Kaur in prime comedic form, and Yashodhara Katju as Geeta’s sweet-faced, slyly clever best friend. They all are just so much fun to watch.

Set during the Portuguese occupation of Malabar (present-day Kerala), the theme is unfortunately still relevant in today’s world. General Barbosa (KN Singh) rules the province with an iron hand, paying only nominal respect to the ruling Indian family who seem to function mostly as puppets. But in the poorer areas rebellion is fomenting. The story opens in the local marketplace where we are introduced to Kirni (Yashodhara Katju) and her mother, who owns a fruit stand. Portuguese soldiers appear and begin tormenting the villagers, starting with Kirni’s mother.

The soldiers are quickly set upon by the fed-up local population, led by Kirni’s friend Nisha (Geeta Bali) pelting them with fruit. As Portuguese reinforcements begin to appear, so does a handsome young man on horseback wearing a very stylish Audrey Hepburn-Flying Nun type of straw hat (it seems to be the local style). He pulls Nisha onto his horse, galloping out of the town limits with the soldiers in hot pursuit. Feisty Nisha is not too pleased at this, although she is easily pursuaded to climb a tree with him when the soldiers get too close.

When they are gone, she asks the young man who he is and he replies simply “a hunter”. He flirts shamelessly with her and Nisha pretends to be annoyed. The sparks of attraction fly thick and fast until more soldiers go by announcing that they are looking for the traitor Ramzan Ali Saudagar (leader of the rebellion), and anyone helping him will be arrested too. She is clearly disturbed by this and disappears into the forest.

Back at the fortress, General Barbosa is getting a massage from none other than young Tun Tun. He is pleased when a soldier appears to inform him that some of the rebels have been caught (they are being whipped outside). His house guest Rosita (Kuldip Kaur) also appears; she seems to be a pretty woman who caught his eye in Portugal, but things don’t appear to have worked out (her interest is clearly elsewhere).

The General is going to the palace to meet the Prince because the government in Portugal wants the Raj Kumar to be crowned King there, as was his father before him.

At the royal palace, the young Raj Kumar returns home—he is none other than Nisha’s savior, Ravi. His mother the Raj Mata (Sulochana) chastises him for his frivolity in the face of his people’s troubles, and she warns him that his bare-chested cousin Yashwant (Ram Singh) has his own eye on the throne, and is playing up to the General with that end in view.

Ravi doesn’t believe that Yashwant is really after his throne, and he doesn’t really want to go to Portugal either but Barbosa is insistent (and so very, very unctuous).

Meanwhile, soldiers have figured out where Ramzan Ali (Jankidas) is hiding: Nisha and her father Narayan Das (MA Lateef) have been keeping him in their home. As Nisha watches, her father and Ramzan are arrested and taken to the General’s headquarters. Her friends urge her to go to the Raj Mata for help, but the Raj Mata turns her away.

Desperate, Nisha and Kirni decide to attempt a rescue themselves. It doesn’t go well, however, and they are also arrested and jailed with the rest of the “traitors”. A slave trader and pirate (Habib, so I’ll just call him Habib) comes to do business with General Barbosa and suggests that he empty out some of the overflowing jail cells by selling some of the strongest, youngest men as slaves for trade elsewhere.

There is no honor among thieves, though, and wily Barbosa sends him the prisoners who have participated in the rebellion, including Nisha, her father, Kirni and Ramzan Ali. Habib discovers this perfidy too late, after his ship has sailed but is slightly mollified at the sight of Kirni and Nisha—until Nisha bites him.

He also orders all the men who aren’t fit to be sold as slaves to be thrown overboard; for some reason Narayan Das is spared, although he is clearly older than Ramzan Ali, who is among those discarded. It is not a pretty way to die, and the scene is quite grim. Nisha watches helplessly with Kirni, and a young Indian named Tillu (Jaswant), who is part of Habib’s crew, is obviously also perturbed.¬†Nisha has proven no more amenable in the time since Habib first spotted her, and finally in a fury he has her tied to one of the masts.

The rest of the group are sent below to the galley and are starved and whipped for a couple of days while Nisha remains roped to the mast.

Also at sea are Raj Kumar Ravi and the lovely Rosita on their ship to Portugal. Rosita is doing her level best to seduce him (and teach him “Portuguese” ways) but without a lot of success. This exchange sums it up pretty well!

One night Habib gets very drunk and comes up to taunt Nisha. Down below in the galley, the men are getting tired of being beaten and remember—they are rebellious at heart to begin with. Nisha begins a song exhorting them to action, which is really quite stirring.

With the help of Habib’s Indian sailor Tillu, the men free themselves and take over the ship. They swear loyalty to “Didi” (Nisha of course), and when an auspicious¬†bird of prey swoops down and sits on her shoulder her position as “The Falcon” is cemented. Of course it isn’t long before Nisha and her gang sail right into the path of the Raj Kumar’s Portuguese ship. Thrilling cannon booms and swordplay ensues, with the newly minted pirates prevailing. Nisha’s men urge her to throw all the passengers overboard, but she points out the virtues of tempering justice with mercy. She even sends the ship’s old captain off in a lifeboat to report back to Barbosa about his new female enemy. She recognizes Ravi at once (*sniff*) as her previous “rescuer” but puts them all to work swabbing the deck, even her fellow Indians.

Court astrologer Johnny Walker convinces Ravi to keep quiet about his royal status—the ruling family are seen by rebels as being firmly in Barbosa’s pockets and his presence aboard a Portuguese ship would only confirm that.

He continues to annoy and flirt with Nisha, and all that tension finally culminates in a sword fight between them which itself ends with Nisha falling overboard and Ravi jumping in to rescue her. It’s so cute and they have such great chemistry that I am only moderately distracted by Ravi’s ballooning shirt that makes him look like this guy.

Kirni is pretty amused by where this is all going too, and sings a pretty song teasing them. But nobody else is that pleased: Tillu is suspicious of the Raj Kumar, and Rosita is not pleased with the competition. Back in Malabar, the old captain has reached Barbosa and told him that the Raj Kumar and everyone else is dead. The Raj Mata is devastated by the loss of her son but Yashwant seizes his opportunity. And as Ravi sings another wonderful song to Nisha, Rosita decides to make her own escape in a lifeboat and heads back to Malabar.

What will Yashwant and Barbosa do when they discover that the Raj Kumar is still alive and in the company of The Falcon, who has been sinking the General’s ships left and right? Will Nisha’s men remain loyal in the face of her romance with the mysterious Ravi? Will Nisha still love Ravi when she discovers that he is the Prince, scion of the royal family which has let her—and her people—down so often? Will Ravi learn anything from the rebels he’s been traveling with? Can anyone ever free Malabar from the clutches of the Portuguese?

Even if you can predict how it ends, you will enjoy this film. Guru Dutt is so dashing, Geeta is beautiful, and their chemistry is superb. I like that his is the more light-hearted role in this, while Geeta is grouchy much of the time (oh the responsibilities of being The Falcon!); it’s a nice change of pace for both. There are many little comedic touches—sometimes even just a facial expression makes me burst out laughing—and the whole cast is just marvellous, each contributing and adding a nice depth to the overall picture. The story moves along nicely with only a little moralizing (plus it’s moralizing I am totally on board with anyway). And if you’re not familiar with the music, do look up the songs online. They are gems, every one.

Plus, I believe I have found a new maxim to live by.

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49 Comments to “Baaz (1953)”

  1. To be honest Memsaab, it is Guru Dutt’s worst film and quite a dismal one at that. Little wonder it flopped. Here’s my take on it.

    http://www.upperstall.com/films/1953/baaz

    • I know this is sacrilege, but I think Guru Dutt’s worst film is Chaudhvin Ka Chand. I really hate that movie. I find this one quite sweetly entertaining, for all the reasons I mentioned. I don’t think that the boat(s) were that bad, I’ve seen worse (in Jab We Met, for instance). But…that’s what makes the world go around :)

      • I think I agree too. Muslim socials are pretty hard to watch for me. Especially with weak powerless women and a friend who must kill himself to allow the hero to marry the girl. (ugh)

        • There are so many things about CKC that make me want to stab my eyes out with a fork.

        • >a friend who must kill himself to allow the hero to marry the girl.

          He’s already married to her. ;-)
          The friend kills himself of shame. Those were such times – of honour, etc we won’t understand them.
          I love Chaudvin Ka Chaand, and ALL muslim socials especially Mere Mehboob.

      • Technically, we have to look at CKC as a M Sadiq film. Guru Dutt was only the producer and actor officially. Even story and script wasn’t his. Baaz is his responsibility as screenplay writer (oh BTW, have seen the script in his handwriting!), actor and director.

        • Did he have good handwriting Karan? :))) And you’re right, he wasn’t really responsible for CKC but it’s still a “Guru Dutt” film in most people’s minds…

    • To be honest I never liked any of Guru Dutt movie in spite of the family connection.My uncle, K N Singh, figured in some of them. Baaz, seems like a great film idea just 50 yrs ahead of the post productions skills of the industry at that time. A lot seems lacking, but this was the infancy of Indian film making.

      .

      • Also Greta, I found the muslim socials to be annoying and beyond that I vowed not to watch another after being exposed to them on the only TV medium at the time in India. Only oxygen of freedom can liberate the stale continents of the regions referenced there in. If not, they can keep making the same. I will smile when they can all breathe free.
        Peace XXX

        • I love his early films, his “noir” ones and the lighter ones. I actually do like several Muslim socials, but CKC was just more of people making other people miserable over some misbegotten idea of honor.

          As to the production values, for its time I think Baaz did quite well. As I said above somewhere I’ve seen worse in recent films :) I did think of you Ajay while watching this, your uncle was just so great as the smarmy Portuguese general. Lovely.

          • I used the wrong word ‘honour’ in my response. No, I don’t think it had anything to do with honour. I think he swallowed that diamond ring because it was on his finger which was in front of his eyes, while he was going through a great deal of turmoil and embarassment, and in his anguish it was quickly done.

  2. Greta, I loved this film! For all the reasons you mentioned. I wish Guru Dutt hadn’t gone all sombre and intense – though I did love Pyaasa as well.

    JFYI – your blog is not updating itself on my blog roll for some reason.It’s still showing the guest post on KA Abbas as your latest.

  3. memsaab ji,
    Recently,I had given a synopsis of Baaz on Atul ji,s Blog on 6-2-2012,in connection with a song from the film.
    Reading your review today was like revisiting the film itself,what with shots from the films and your interesting comments.It is purely a pleasure,for sure !
    Geeta Bali was my fav and Guru dutt,though appearing marginalised in Baaz,was quite interesting too.
    Thanks.
    -Arunkumar Deshmukh

    • He wasn’t too marginalized, I think he did quite well considering it was Geeta Bali he was up against :) She is just amazing. And the songs are gorgeous.

  4. Greta, I too agree with your take on this film. With so many films to be watched, it is rare that I revisit one and this I have seen at least 4 or 5 times. I immediately fell in love with both leads and have tried to watch as much of their other work as possible. And I must say, that I prefer Guru Dutt in the lighter roles. I also really enjoyed Mr. & Mrs. 55 as well.

    And it was so refreshing to see a female character kick so much butt! Geeta is marvelous in this.

    Thanks for another outstanding review.

    • I love Mr. & Mrs. 55, should watch it again. Geeta just is so great in everything she does, she always elevates even the worst material, and this was a great role for her.

  5. I finally gave up looking for a DVD of this, even though it seemed so irresistible. As you have confirmed! Where did you get yours?

  6. @Memsaab – Before Guru Dutt began to take on intense roles starting from Pyaasa, most of his films were great escapist fare. Everything about this film is enjoyable and I would love to see it again. The cast is great. Majrooh and O P Nayyar knew that their role was to enhance the film and they do that perfectly.

  7. Good idea…no, but I will.

  8. I love this film. It’s very enjoyable, and all the time while watching I was thinking about how well everything was considering the times. The ships, the sea, the Baaz and oh, just everything.
    And of course the lead pair. I find Guru Dutt’s smile very sexy so I can watch him in any film. :-)
    Thanks for reminding me of this lovely film.

  9. Yay! eBay!! Thanks for the suggestion.

  10. Hello friends!
    This movie to me seems to be an idea too ahead of Bombay films technical capabilities of the time. I give it good marks/ grade on dreaming up a fantastic period piece, who no one cares/ or seems to care about. I was really embarrassed of the shot of the ‘ship in the harbor’. Other then seeing my young uncle in the opening scenes, there is not much to right about!
    Again, this is history and that is how it is!
    Ajay

  11. see Baazi(1951), casting- devanand, kalpana karthik, geeta bali & k.n. singh.
    and pls post a review on it…

  12. 2 post in short intervals, I am happy Greta ji, I wish “aap Aise hi likthe jaayiye, aapki likhaavat ko kissi ki nazar na lage, yehi aashaa hai”

    Now It is a everyday compulsive habbit, to visit to the blog and reading your write ups.

    God bless you

    regards
    prakash

    • I have no idea what you said up there, but trust it is not obscene ;-D

      • Hey Greta ji

        How can I write such things to you. I hope you are joking.

        I will give you the translation of what I have written in Hindi:
        “I wish you write more regularly and I am hoping evil eyes does not hamper your regular flow of writing”

        I am not sure how much I have communicated with you.

        I will not think of writing such things even in my dream.

        I know you are joking, Am I right???

        regards
        prakash

        • Ha ha, Prakash my dear of COURSE I was joking :) Just my not-so-subtle way of saying “Please translate, it helps me learn more Hindi” :))) I know you would never say such things to anyone!

          • Thank God

            “Aapne tho sachmuch mujhe daraa hi diyaa”
            You and this blog is precious to me.

            regards
            prakash

  13. I remember watching this one when I was a kid, and Indian TV showed a slew of Geeta Bali movies – mostly the ones she did with Dev Anand, but also this one. I loved it (and was pleasantly surprised to see Guru Dutt in a light-hearted role! I hadn’t come across Mr & Mrs 55 or 12 O’Clock till then). And Kuldip Kaur, with her flashing eyes and those flouncy costumes was a treat. :-)

  14. Its been ages since I watched any Guru Dutt movie and I don’t remember anything of “Baaz”. My father who was a hardcore Bollywood fan used to say Guru Dutt wanted Dev Anand for this movie after their successful outing – “Baazi” (1951). Don’t remember for what reason he couldn’t work on this movie. Anyways, it gave Guru Dutt to the film world.

    • You should watch it again! I read someplace that Guru Dutt didn’t want to act in this but couldn’t find another hero (or maybe it was Jaal? I am not sure) so did it himself. I’m so glad he did!

  15. Guru Dutt is my golden oldie crush. Not only he is a talented director but I really like his acting. Very nuanced when necessary but also can be dramatic without him going overboard.

    Also I think he is the best looking Indian man I have seen on screen.

  16. If only Guru Dutt had not died at an early age, we would have some more masterpieces that the whole world would have enjoyed. Mr. and Mrs.55 is a thorough entertainer. The punchy dialogues, especially between Guru Dutt and his mother in law are worth watching any number of times. God bless Guru Dutt and also Memsaab for enabling us to relive those days.
    Kaviraj

  17. nice post. brings back old memories.

  18. I’ve wanted to see this film for a long time, and I was absolutely NOT disappointed. As stated above, both leads are magnetic (love Guru Dutt’s smoldering glances at Geeta) and female pirate movies most welcome. The film seems to be inspired by some of Errol Flynn’s swashbucklers, with KN Singh doing his best Basil Rathbone–confirmed as the shot containing his last appearance in Baaz is the same as Rathbone’s in Captain Blood. I haven’t seen a character like Rosita in another Hindi film (she’s wonderful) and her costume is a bit more period correct, than is often the case with European costumes in Indian movies. This rousing Quit India film (made only a few years after Indian/Pakistan independence) seems to be saying to the audience, Independence has its heartbreak, but it’s worth it in the long run. I’ll definitely be watching this one again great fun. music and romance.

  19. this movies was very sweet and entertaining, like i mentioned before i love geeta bali and she was great in this film, i also enjoyed watching an actress that is pretty much forgotten today kaldip kaur, she was just marvolous, so sad that there are so many lesser actresses that never really got there due in this industry (bela bose, nigar sultana, wonderful actress acted in mughal e azam and yahudi, shakila, even nimmi) and today some acresses are being glofifiyed as some fo the best actresses ever, ashriya bachchan, priyanka chopra, sonam kapoor, etc.

    i just dont like it, there are so many legends and forgoten truely marvolus actresses of yesteryears that should have received there due!

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