Daaera (1953)

This is one of the strangest films I’ve seen in a very long time. It clocked in at a little over 2 hours, so I am not sure if there were pivotal scenes missing or what, but I spent the entire time feeling like I was playing catch-up and losing rather badly. Certainly Kamal Amrohi had a lot he wanted to convey, but he seemed to also want to keep us guessing at whatever it was. It did strike me that it is a movie about assumptions: assumptions that the characters and the audience make are turned over and inside out one by one. That could have been interesting; but the story is excruciatingly slow and largely unrewarding, like watching paint dry in the burning sun on a hot sticky day (but slower and more agonizing) and then realizing the color has turned red instead of the blue you wanted.

One of my major issues with it is that none of the characters are terribly well-developed, so that instead of being involved with their stories I feel much more like a neutral spectator, held at arm’s length from any real emotion. That could have been intentional, but it doesn’t work for me. My favorite thing about the film is probably the music, composed by the hitherto unknown to me Jamal Sen. It is pretty mournful (the whole thing is really), but very very beautiful indeed from the opening title music to the end.

The film begins with an elderly man (M Kumar), clearly very ill, knocking on the door of a doctor’s house late at night. He is informed that the doctor is away, and ferried with his silent female companion to a guest-house run by Maaji (Protima Devi). She gives them a vacant room with a terrace, where the girl Sheetal (Meena Kumari) beds down while the old man sleeps inside. Maaji’s son Shravan (Nasir Khan) sees Sheetal sleeping from his neighboring terrace and falls so hard for her that he is completely unable to concentrate on an exam the next morning. He asks servant Bihari who the guests are.

Maaji figures out pretty quickly that her son is smitten by the new tenant’s daughter. This isn’t much of a challenge since he now spends all of his time on his own terrace mutely staring across at her as she lies motionless on her bed, while neighbors sing a very lovely bhajan nearby. The bhajan is Sheetal’s theme song, repeated throughout the film: “Oh Lord you are my refuge; I have entrusted myself to you.”

Maaji understands her son’s feelings, but is not very happy about them and I’m not clear why. She is cryptic, a quality just about everyone in this movie shares. Even the dialogue which occasionally punctuates the long silences is abstruse much of the time. Maybe it’s just not done for a man to be staring at a strange woman, even if she is out there in plain sight; maybe Maaji feels that she is beneath them status-wise. I have no idea. I have questions, only questions.

She is also unable to speak to him directly about her disapproval, sending a servant with her message instead.

Shravan sends a message back to his mother that she’s not to worry, nobody will ever know about his feelings (I laugh to myself and say “Ha! Unless they see him on his terrace!”).

Sheetal herself seems oblivious to Shravan, unmoving and staring into space from her bed. When the doctor (Jankidas) finally arrives she lets him in; I am relieved to know that she can actually get up. Although the old man pretty clearly is suffering from tuberculosis (in the immortal words of Monty Python “He’s coughin’ up blood!”), he puts the blame squarely on a powder that he is taking. Sheetal sits silently, shielding the candle flame from his gusty coughing and gently sponging blood from the corner of his mouth. The old man explains his problem, slightly ashamed but also a little boastful.

The doctor is shocked to discover that Sheetal is the old man’s wife and not his daughter as everyone so far (including probably anyone who hadn’t read a plot synopsis before watching, although I had) has believed.

The doctor is saddened to see that she is also suffering from tuberculosis, as he finds her coughing on the terrace outside the room. He gives her medicine for both of them, and chastises her for sleeping out in the open; it will only make her illness worse. That evening as Sheetal goes to sleep, Shravan stares at her from his balcony, singing a love song that he’s penning to paper. When he goes inside, the paper blows across the space between the buildings. This poor manuscript blows around unnoticed for a good hour, getting hung up in trees and temple roofs and stepped on by an oblivious Sheetal.

The next morning Maaji comes to visit her new tenants, and the old man has an uncontrollable coughing fit which causes her to send for the doctor. Sheetal is tending to her husband as he arrives, and he scolds her; Maaji watches the goings-on with some sympathy if not comprehension. Sheetal does not bother to disabuse her of her misunderstanding, but Maaji returns home with bad news for her love-struck son. She doesn’t want the light of her household to marry a terminally ill woman (who can blame her really?).

By now I feel like getting details of plot out of this film is like undergoing a root canal: painful and really really endless. Shravan continues to mope and watch Sheetal’s every move (which isn’t many, as she mostly lies in bed), and I realize that I don’t much care for him: he is gloomy, spineless and self-pitying. In point of fact nobody here is much fun, as Sheetal tends to her husband, wracked by coughing, between her own bouts of weeping and hopeless staring into space from her bed. A new character now enters the picture in the form of Gomti (Roopmala), a neighbor introduced in much the same supine way as everyone else, but who turns out to be a bit more lively thank goodness when she befriends Sheetal.

She even manages to engage Sheetal in conversation, eliciting the information from her that she’s here with her husband seeking medical treatment. Sheetal asks her some questions in return, and Gomti tells her that she has come back to her maternal home in disgrace, having fallen in love (and probably more, although it isn’t ever made clear).

That night Shravan’s piece of paper FINALLY lands on Sheetal’s bosom, forcing her to notice it as the song plays again. I roll my eyes at the lyrics and scribble in my notepad: “No one except your mother and your servants and the friends you’d have at school if you’d get off that balcony.” Sheetal herself is unimpressed. She tosses it aside after finishing it, and turns over on her side to go back to sleep. Or cough. Whatever.

These guys sawing huge slabs of lumber (in the middle of the night) now make an appearance, and again I never figure out what they are supposed to symbolize, and nor do I much care (they show up later too). Sheetal’s husband—who is doing much better with the medication the doctor has been sending and Sheetal has been getting up at 4 am to administer—now has to leave for a couple of days and return to their home to collect his pension (some commentary on government bureaucracy figures here and is less ambiguous than other dialogue).

She is left to herself and the company of mischievous Gomti, who has made her own assumptions about the husband she has yet to see.

Sheetal is not taking her own medication but throwing it away, and wakens Gomti one night with her hacking cough. Gomti calls for the doctor and goes to Sheetal’s bedside (still out in the open night air, against the doctor’s wishes). It’s clear that she is bent on killing herself.

No wonder Meena K began drinking. I am sorely in need of a cocktail myself at this juncture and if this film is any indication of Amrohi’s moods at home I cannot blame her one bit.

The Doctor Sahab has questions too after finding her discarded medicines, and draws his own conclusion from her enigmatic answers.

He consoles her that her husband is getting better for her sake, that he loves her but as usual, Sheetal’s expression remains blank. I am tired of her, tired of her coughing husband, tired of the whole movie but I soldier on. Is she unwilling to live as a widow? I wonder. Or is it the prospect of her husband actually getting better that’s depressing her? Sophie’s Choice!

Meanwhile, Shravan continues to pine to the point where he falls OFF his balcony, severely hurting himself. Maaji, still laboring under the assumption that Sheetal is the old man’s daughter, decides that enough is enough and sends for the old man in order to fix Sheetal’s wedding to Shravan.

What will happen when she discovers the truth? Why does Sheetal really want to die? Does she love Shravan from afar? Why are the only people I ever like in movies like this the “disgraced” ones (kind Gomti)?

At one point, my mother (the poor thing was sleeping through watching it too) turned to me and said: “Well, this certainly is not Bollywood, is it?” Possible debate on what actually defines “Bollywood” aside, I knew what she meant. There is absolutely nothing and no one joyful, warm, loving or even likable in this film (except Gomti). Meena’s Sheetal remains a mystery, shuttered, sad, hopeless—we never get to know anything about how, why, when or even what her relationship with her husband might be (beyond the “I worship him like a God” thing which is just irritating to me). Any message(s) Amrohi might be trying to send are mostly obscured by the coy dialogues, endless silences, and tortured characters. It must have been suffocating to be trapped in a theater with this movie; at least I could take some welcome breaks from all the pain and confusion when I wanted. There were some interesting twists towards the end, although I am still unsure how to interpret them. Again, possibly this was intentional…but I cared so little for anyone important by the end that I can’t be bothered to even try and figure it out.

Word on the internet speculates that it is the story of Amrohi’s own romance and marriage to Meena, 14 years his junior, but I don’t know. My feelings can be summed up by a trivia point found on imdb (whether it’s true or not I don’t know, because I’m not going to sit through it again): this film apparently holds a record for the longest closeup ever, on Meena Kumari’s face for 6 minutes and 30 seconds. She is beautiful, stunningly so, even with blood pooling under her cheek, but enough is enough.

I’m not sorry to have seen it, and it has given me a new favorite bhajan (“Devta Tum Ho Mera Sahara”) sung by Mubarak Begum and Rafi. Gorgeous!

But I am glad I never have to watch it again.

I think I’ll watch paint dry in the hot sun instead, and feel lucky.

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72 Comments to “Daaera (1953)”

  1. Thanks for reviewing this, memsaab. :-)

    While I agree with you on a lot of things about this movie, I must say I didn’t really mind it at all.
    (Unlike you, I did have to see the movie multiple times since I was subtitling it. So maybe it just grew on me :-)).

    Yes, it is a weird movie – it is the first movie I’ve seen where the lead pair don’t really see each other, where they don’t speak a word to each other. Well, if you can call Nasir Khan the leading man, that is.

    And yes, it was terribly slow.

    And yes, lots of things are not explained properly – they’re just left out there, as if to add to the general mystique of the movie.

    And yes, you’d probably find happier characters in a morgue. There’s not one scene of humour in the movie, if I remember right. Although I did have a laugh when I saw that piece of paper fluttering all over the place – am sure it was meant to be symbolic (symbolising Nasir Khan’s state of mind, perhaps).

    But inspite of all its drawbacks, I found myself strangely enchanted by the movie. Yes, it requires patience but I don’t have a problem with slow movies. And Daaera reminded me a bit of the “parallel” cinema (or “art movies” as they were called then) of the 70s. Especially Ankur (the Shabana film). I’ve seen many of those movies.

    I think this movie was meant to be an ode to womanhood. Well, womanhood, as was idolised by Kamal Amrohi. Clearly not YOUR definition of womanhood. :-)

    The songs are lovely – especially the bhajan (“devta tum ho mera sahara”) and that Talat song “aa bhi ja meri duniya mein koi nahin” (come to me, there’s nobody in my life). :-) You can’t blame Talat for Nasir acting like a wimp. :-)

    • Yes, Amrohi’s definition of “paragon” is a far cry from mine, and a far cry from Sheetal. If all the movie was about was an ode to womanhood as portrayed by her then…UGH. I don’t need things explained to me necessarily but I need to have an understanding of what the filmmaker is trying to say or at least WANT to try and figure it out, and I think he failed miserably at both. It was just a mess of miserable people. I wouldn’t call Nasir and Meena the lead pair by a long shot, she seemed to have no interest in him at all, zilch. I never saw any feeling for him on her part at all. And all his feelings were based on looking at her lying on a bed on a terrace, which isn’t romantic—it’s just fantasy.

  2. Sadly, I can’t help you with any of your questions. I saw the movie a couple of years back and nothing, NOTHING could induce me to sit through it again. My abiding memory of this movie is Meena Kumari sleeping on that terrace and the camera/scene NOT MOVING for like 10 minutes. Suffocating indeed.
    :-(

    PS. Give “Shokhiyan” a try if you want to hear more by the wonderful Jamal Sen.

    • My abiding memory will be Meena sleeping on the terrace and Nasir falling off his. THAT made me laugh out loud :D Thanks for the Shokhiyan reccommendation, I would like to hear more of Jamal Sen’s music. It was sublime.

  3. I’m with Raja on this and am willing to give director Amrohi the benefit of the doubt. After all, he’s responsible for Mahal which I’m very fond of, and the highly regarded Pakeezah which, except for its glorious music, I’m less fond of.
    Yes, it didn’t make much sense to me and maybe important chunks are missing, but I find it haunting and I think about it often even now, ten days or so after seeing it. What it was very good at was evoking a mood – a mood of gloom and desolation. I don’t mind that in movies. It made me think, even though I couldn’t really come up with any answers. Although I think he goes a little bit overboard with the sexual repression angle, the Cineplot guy has a different take on it:

    http://cineplot.com/daera-1953/

    • Each to his own, I always say :) Maybe this is one of those movies men can relate to better than women, although I’d have no idea why (and it’s based on three comments so never mind). I didn’t get any real “sexual repression” theme out of it, other than everyone in the movie being repressed in general by something. Nasir and Meena had nothing to do with each other, and her husband coughed through the first half and she coughed through the second…kind of ruins the mood :D

      I am glad I’ve seen it, and glad I never have to again!

  4. Ah the memories! I actually did see this in the cinema. It was shown during the London film festival a few years back. I took my Mum and Dad to see it with me. I do recall that seeing Meena Kumari on the big screen was the real highlight and while the visuals didn’t make a whole lot of sense they really worked. Like your Mum both my Mum and Dad slept through the middle of it – they woke up for the couple of songs and the letter scene but at least by the end of the mo vie they were well rested. The letter scene did get its fair share of giggles from the audience. I think overall for a mood piece it did the job. Watching it in the cinema was good as you could leave your mood there and step out in to the fresh air and realize that you didn’t really breathe that well watching it. Powerful film but not sure I would want to settle down for an evening to watch it again. There seemed to be big chunks missing from the cinema version also – the whole falling off the balcony bit was confusing as heck. The last song was amazing though. The photography and composition was really good and a very brave way of picturizing a song.

    • It was powerful visually indeed, and if that’s all he was going for then he succeeded spectacularly. But I found very little meaning in it ultimately and that made it just a very long slow vision of nothing. It’s like he was afraid to commit to an actual stance on something…if I were to be pressed to find a meaning, it would be that Meena’s character accepted her life and fate “nobly” in proper female fashion—but to me, committing slow suicide because you are unhappy is just silly and a waste of life and not a message I can really get behind (but to be fair, I am not convinced that WAS his message—but if not, what would replace it remains a mystery to me). If we had discovered that she actually was in love with her husband—which some people may think is implied, but it didn’t work for ME, she seemed more devoted to him out of duty than anything, then it would have been much more powerful, but she was such a passive character that she didn’t seem to really feel anything much except despair.

  5. I agree with with you about the movie being depressing. There was this beautiful wedding song, just before the movie ended, with Meena motionless in the foreground with the festivities and movements going on the other terrace. I don’t know how Kamal Amrohi shot that scene. It was beautiful. Also creepy.

    The movie was shot beautifully, everything was so aesthetic, the lovely haveli, with beautiful doors and windows, the lovely bower where Meena sleeps with its never-changing sweep of flowered branches practically dipping on her bed.

    Meena looks beautiful too. But the theme of the movie, very very weird. It is supposed to be an ode to the women who give up their own lives and identities to tie themselves to the men. No wonder the men feel happier about this theme then the women ;)

    Beautiful but weird, thats my verdict.

    • I loved the visuals, and everybody watching each other from their various almost-connecting terraces :) And I really did love the music, although I got tired of the Shravan “theme” song after a time. He was such a passive zero of a person, like Sheetal; I couldn’t connect at all with either of them.

  6. Hmm. Beautiful is all very well (and the bhajan), but I think I’d rather spend that 2 hours watching something a little happier. Just a little will do.

    By the way, the men sawing lumber in the middle of thne night – could it be a metaphor for sorrows cutting into everybody? ;-)
    Thank you for taking this one for the team, Greta.

    • There are lots of things sawing lumber in half in the middle of the night could symbolize, but frankly by then I was overburdened by things to figure out and just couldn’t waste the effort on it! :D

  7. It’s very rare that I never want to watch a film after reading one of your reviews. This is it. :) Laughed so hard at Sophie’s Choice. And Meena Kumari taking to drink, due to Kamal-saab’s possible mood at home.

  8. sounds painful………and one of most morose movies you seem to have reviewed.

  9. Seems you completely missed the point. I would have pointed it out to you, but that would be an insult to Kamal Amrohi. This is one of the most beautiful films I have ever watched. I have watched it more than once and will watch it again given any chance. I wish I could redirect you to an article about the film, but you can’t read Bengali. I usually like your fresh perspective on hindi films, not this one.

    • If you would be so kind as to enlighten me on the point I seem to have missed I would be grateful (and I really doubt that Kamal Amrohi would mind). It would be much nicer for you to try and help me to understand than to find refuge in being snarky just because you disagree with me. I will take comfort in the fact that Meena herself doesn’t seem to have much cared for it!

      • You see, the lack of events and forcing a story or meaning upon the audience is the idea of the film. It is slow paced because the camera/director does not wish to engage and create meaning but to silently observe from a distance. The impossibility of the love story between Shravan and Sheetal is the beauty of the film. Shravan loves Sheetal, who loves her dying husband so much that she can’t even see any other man and finds no meaning in living a life when he dies. She doesn’t take medicines, because it’s a death wish that keeps her going. The symbolism of the fluttering paper is one of the rare cinematic moments, especially in hindi cinema. So restrained, yet so powerful. I guess what you missed is Shravan is being married towards the end of the film. Sheetal looks on. And after a hauntingly long take of her face in close-up, one understands she is dead. Do you see the irony?

        Daaera is a poetry of stillness. Nothing moves in the film, everyone violently desires something, love, life, death… Amrohi uses an alarm clock. Time keeps moving, nothing else does. At the end of the film there is a series of shots of the clock’s inside. The alarm keeps ringing. Sheetal doesn’t wake up anymore. Amrohi doesn’t wish to address ‘issues’. He creates a distance with the couple (Sheetal and her old husband). How far their marriage works, whether this death wish is out of love or agony we will never know. Sheetal dies with looking at the marriage ceremony, if one can read unfulfilled love or a marriage with death in those eyes, is not easy to determine.

        In the tradition of Guru Dutt, Kamal Amrohi is one of the rare directors of hindi cinema, who dared to be this poetic. The camerawork is simply brilliant. I do wish you see his other 3 films, Mahal(1949), Pakeeza(1971), Razia Sultana(1983) if you haven’t already.

        • Thank you for that, it helps me understand what you and others see it. I guess that I just prefer more warmth and engagement—this just isn’t my type of story/filmmaking. It’s not that I missed the point, maybe, so much as that I don’t find the point or his way of making it to my taste. I know she died watching Shravan’s wedding, but since she had shown absolutely no emotion about him ever I didn’t really buy it that she cared one bit about it, even if I was supposed to. As I said elsewhere, if she had actually seemed interested in Shravan, or more in love with her husband, it would have been a better movie for me. But she only seemed interested in dying and not much else which is quickly very boring, poetry or not :( The last scene of the film is gorgeous, I agree—it is very beautifully photographed and the music is wonderful. But the whole thing overall feels soulless to me :) We can’t all like the same things!

          I have seen Mahal, which I liked, and Pakeezah, which I didn’t (sorry!). I love the music from Razia Sultan (Khayyam) but haven’t watched that one yet. And I am a HUGE fan of Guru Dutt, have seen all his films and Pyaasa is one of my favorites.

  10. Memsaab ji,
    I had seen Daera in the late 50s,in its second run,as a morning show and had regretted it.This year,on the 9th may,I have written about this movie(with a synopsis of the film-wrong at few places and corrected by Raja ji ,few days back),on Atul ji’s blog.
    At the end of my comments I have quoted a sentence from Meena Kumari’s interview-” I wish to forget that I ever acted in a film called Daaera”.
    This should actually sum up the film !
    -Arunkumar Deshmukh

  11. I don’t think it’s a “man vs woman” thing at all. :-) Speaking for myself (can’t speak for all men in this universe :-)), I’d have felt exactly the same way even if the roles had been reversed, i.e, if it had been the man who’d give up his everything for the sake of his ailing, elderly wife. It is about love – and, as we know, love is not always practical. :-)

    I cannot help feeling that one needs to get under the skin of this movie to try to get its essence better.

    To me, Amrohi has tried to present a story about the concept of eternal love between a couple. He has tried to test the limits of a relationship. Cutting across age differences. Fighting against the odds – they are struggling for survival and for life.

    Meena is young and beautiful – the world is her oyster if she chooses to look beyond her husband in her life. But she is devoted to her husband, though he is much older than she is (old enough to be her father). That he is terminally ill, is a further test of her strength. And she happily accepts it – and takes to caring for him lovingly. It is clear that both husband and wife deeply love each other, they care a lot for each other.

    So if we don’t look at this as “oh, ANOTHER woman-suffering movie” and see it as “that’s beautiful love”, we might be able to appreciate it better, I think.

    I tend to like movies which test mental strength. If you remember Bandini, Nutan was in a dilemma at the end. She could very easily have walked away with the handsome and young Dharam – but she chose to go with the ailing Ashok Kumar. That was her mind, her conscience driving her to do what she did. I feel it is much the same here with Meena Kumari. She just felt she had to be with her husband, through thick and thin (well, it was pretty much all thin. :-)).

    Once again, am saying this not from a man’s angle, looking at a movie where the woman inflicts suffering on herself. I would HATE that, if that were the narrow takeaway from this film. I see it from an angle of amazing love between a couple, which one may not always be able to agree or identify with, but which may be worthy of its own place somewhere in lovers’ lore. :-)

    • There’s no question she was devoted to her husband, but even he admitted that he had done her an injustice (although most of his regret seemed to be focused on the fact that he was unable to take full advantage of his lovely young wife). I am not saying that she should have left him either, but to say that she LOVED him is stretching things a bit. She never showed any sign of actually loving him. She did her duty by him, and “appropriately” referred to him as her God, but I never saw any sign of her being happy that he was recovering (the doctor tells her that he is and she continues her downward spiral anyway) and even when she thought he’d been killed in a train wreck she didn’t seem too cut up about it, other than having to figure out what to do with herself. Sure, she was happy to see him resurrected, but it felt more to me that she was again just doing her duty. If she had seemed content at any point with him it would have been a different story, but she was unhappy enough to basically kill herself.

      Maybe this is a western construct (I’m a western girl so you can’t blame me for it!), but I see a huge difference between submitting to duty and embracing it.

      Hey–maybe that was his point, that women should not be forced to submit to circumstances that make them miserable. Oh wait, no…I don’t really think so. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one!

      • Oh, I totally agree with you that if she was just “doing her duty” as a “pativrata” wife in the “mera pati mera devta hai” mode (my husband is my Lord) without love being the main motivator, then I would also squirm at her misery. (So it is not just a western construct. Or maybe I’m westernised in this respect. ;-)). But they both seemed to me to be totally in love with each other.

        But now that I think a bit about it, you may be right – I recall a couple of songs she sings that are full of misery. As if she wants release. And at the end, with her husband back, there’s no need for her to continue to inflict misery on herself.

        So maybe, just maybe, Amrohi WAS having the story of a woman in mind who, despite all innermost urges and external constraints, refuses to cross the boundaries set on her by society. Hence the name of the film – Daaera (boundary/limit). She keeps telling others (the doctor, the friend) that she cannot live without her husband, as if to convince herself more than anybody else. And yet, her innermost thought could have been that she hated the life she was leading.

        True, there was scope for this movie to have so much more – and it’s a pity Amrohi kept it pretty bland. Having said that, it has made me think – and comment – more than most other movies. It could be partly because I subbed it (and I do tend to have a special relationship with movies I sub :-)) but I think it is also because it just happens to be an intriguing, weird sort of movie.

  12. I feel much more could have been done with the theme of this movie. Sad that it got wasted

  13. That is how Meena Kumari earned the title of tragedy queen. In Dil ek Mandir, Rajendra kumar is her past lover and a doctor and Raaj kumar is her husband who is terminally ill. In the climax scene, Rajendra kumar successfully operates her husband after a very long surgery. Meena Kumari has shut herself in a room fearing bad news. When Rajendra Kumar comes to tell her that her husband is fine, she refuses to open the door believing Raaj Kumar to be dead. Due to exhaustion and stress that he has been carrying (as he is been accused of wrong intentions by her), he has a heart attack and Meena Kumari remains oblivious to the situation and continues with her nahin….. Some movies ask for action on part of viewers like this one but we can do nothing and Rajendra Kumar dies. In Pakeezah whenever Meena Kumari is distressed or full of sorrow she decides she wants to lie on her bed. Either she is dancing or lying on her bed throughout the movie. So gorgeous lady and such a fate of irritable roles!

    • Oh thank you for the warning. I probably would not watch a film with the words “Dil” and “Mandir” connected to each other, but Raaj Kumar can make me do a lot of things. So now I know better :D Agree with you—wish her career had had more roles like Mem Sahib and Miss Mary and fewer like this. She was so gorgeous and so sparkly in happy movies…

  14. You might like her movie Baharon ki Manzil with Dharmendra and Rehman i.e, if you havent already seen it. There is mystery element to the story and slow brewing romance with Dharmendra.

    • The only film I’ve seen with Dharmendra and Meena together is Phool Aur Patthar, which had many wonderful things about it—but their chemistry was not one of them. I found their jodi very thanda :) But maybe I’ll give Baharon Ki Manzil a try, I adore Rehman although if one of them (Rehman and Dharmendra) sacrifices her love for the sake of his friend whom she doesn’t love I will be forced to scream :D

      • I think the name Baharon ki Manzil is quite inappropriate to this movie , the name doesn’t tell to expect a mystery movie. Meena Kumari is in her 35-40 and she isnt very cheerful here too as the mystery keeps her puzzled but I still think there is a chemistry.I wont spill more beans do watch it :D

  15. I was in stitches when I read this review. And I am with you on this, memsaab. Now I watch plenty of sensitive, black and white films, but I truly hate emotional sob stories, long suffering yet pati premi sati savitri wives, weak yet abusive husbands, spineless, overwrought heroes. I never warmed up to Kamal Amrohi or tragedy queen Meena Kumari for these reasons. One can do sensitive films that don’t grate on one’s nerves (I love Guru Dutt’s films, for instance, and actually liked Meena Kumari in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam), but many tragic Bollywood films are way too sappy, and are an “emotinal atyachar”. No offense to anyone, but apna apna ruchi…

    • I’m all for sensitive black and white stories too, but this one was just a big zero for me. At least it was devoid enough of any sensible meaning to not really enrage me :)

      Do see some of Meena’s happier films though (mostly pre-1960). She is gorgeous when she is having fun :)))

  16. All I have to say is a big Thank You for enduring this movie for us and telling us about the non-action in it. I consider myself sufficiently warned, and if I do happen to watch it some day, it is because I was craving a bullet in my head! Thank you, memsaab!

  17. I started to watch this and I wondered how/why I had trouble getting through a movie directed by Kamal Amrohi and starring Meena Kumari. Mahal and Pakeezah would both fit in the list of my top five Hindi movies of all time. (I actually have a “filmi favorites” list on my blog in which Mahal has at times been number 1 and is presently number 4, but I have limited that list to the 20 year period from 1944 to 1964, which makes it easier than it might have been. :) Meanwhile, I have done quite a few posts dedicated to things, scenes, songs, etc., from Pakeezah.) I also happen to be fond of Amrohi’s 1980s film, Razia Sultan, even if it isn’t quite as much of a masterpiece. So when I found Daaera on Tom’s site, I thought, how could this go wrong? But maybe it did, and your review sheds some light, maybe, on why I didn’t get very far into it at all. But I have to get back to it and try it again and finish it, and maybe it will grow on me. (BTW, I am usually more open to that mood of gloom and desolation that Tom talks about, but maybe I’m just not so much in the mood for that mood right now.)

    • P.S. Oh, a correction to what I just wrote… Mahal is number 4 on my list of favorite soundtracks; it’s actually number 2 on my list of favorite films.

      And back to Meena Kumari… Happy birthday, Meena! (I guess that seems like an odd thing to say, somehow…but she was born 80 years ago today.)

    • Same here. Pakeezah is not just my favourite Hindi film but my favourite movie of all time. Though admittedly the first half of the movie may be a little too languid, and Meena Kumari a little too passive in the first half..the film is still a masterpeice…Stylistically, it is extraodinarily subtle and understated for a hindi film and is heavily metaphorical. There are some extremely powerful and poignaint scenes in it..To name just one, there is the scene Meena Kumari and Raaj Kumar are at the waterfall after he has forsaken home and family for her sake, and she discloses who she is to him. The way she falls at his feet sobbing and his response stirs your heart. The songs are indeed glorious, and widely acknowledged as classics…but I feel that the film itself, though well regarded, remains underrated. Raaj Kumar has also been endowed with an extremely attractive character in the film….extremely shareef, generous hearted and courageous…one of the most attractive male protagonist to have ever graced the hindi silver screen….he has a lot to do with why I love this movie.

      ..ok now i have to stop myself from going on and on and on about the film, (something difficult for me ) as it is not the subject matter of this blog…. Amrohi was was one of the four urdu heavywieght writers to pen Mughal e Azam…and these two factors, for me, are enough proof of his very considerable talent..all of this was basically a preclude to my saying that for these reasons i did want to see Daera, and am finding it unexpectedly laborious..it is indeed very slow.. I don’t think it is much to my taste either…but because it is Amrohi’s will try to pull through…a bit suprised to hear that Meena Kumari didn’t care for Daera…I have read something to the effect that despite flopping it remained close to the couple’s heart…maybe her sentiments with respect to the film changed after her separation with Amrohi….my guess is that the content of teh interview is unreliable.

    • I am glad to hear you say you found it tough going too, with your far more tolerant approach to slow-moving weepy films :))) Probably if my mother hadn’t been watching it with me I would have abandoned ship too, but she kept me going with her witty comments when she wasn’t asleep!

      • haha…i’m not keen on weepy depressing films either…but I have never regarded Pakeezah as one…certainly the tone is quite somber in parts of the films, but there is much more to it than that…the application of the term ‘melodrama’ to the film by some film critics, also makes me cringe..it is anything but…parts of the film are highly dramatic, not melodramatic.

  18. Did Kamal Amrohi have a “factory” like Andy Warhol? :-)

    Looks like Warhol was really inspired by these kinds of movies :-) Did you know he directed a 5-hour movie called “Sleep”? There is only one actor in the movie and he just sleeps from the first reel to the last.

    He directed another 45-minute movie called “Eat”. No prizes for guessing the ‘storyline’ of the movie :-D

  19. I remember watching this a long time ago, longer than I care to remember, and, like Shalini, I refuse to watch it again, even if only to enlighten you . :) One thing I will say, however : romantic ‘love’ as a basis for marriage is purely a western concept. ‘Love’ wasn’t a necessary prerequisite to being married. And when you are brought up with the idea that once you are married, your husband is yoour god on earth, then it would be very difficult to even think of another man.

    While Kamal Amrohi was, by all reckoning, an insensitive clod in real life, and a man jealous of his wife’s success, his portrayal of women in this film had less to do with his idea of what a paragon is meant to be, and more a reflection of the society of the time. Judging the film through the prism of our times is not very fair to the film or its maker

    (And no, I didn’t like the film either. Perhaps I was judging it as a woman of today, too.)

    • The concept of love as a basis for marriage is even a fairly recent western idea, especially for the upper classes. I don’t think that my problem with it is rooted in the unfairness of a young woman being tied to an old man even, my problem with the film is that it didn’t succeed at any level in reaching me. Not my heart, not my brain. It didn’t even make me mad! It just bored the bejesus out of me. It’s just a bad film, in my opinion.

      And I don’t care where or what time period it is—a woman who submits to duty and then kills herself with misery is nothing to celebrate as a paragon for others to emulate. I think that filmmakers like V Shantaram (who made a much better movie about young women being married off to old men) and the Wadia Brothers would argue that judging Amrohi harshly for his portrayal of a woman here IS completely fair; they did a better job of portraying *empowered* women as something to celebrate, and earlier than this too :) It’s a constant source of fascination to me how so-called “B” movies of the 30s, 40, 50s and 60s existed in parallel with more mainstream “pativrata” types, and their heroines were feisty and powerful and happy. So you can’t blame “society” as a whole, but the people in it who perpetrate injustice, through whatever means they choose.

      (I won’t force you to come over and watch it with me, you are safe :D)

      • Memsaab, I was not defending the film, perish the thought! :) I do not think I would have considered the heroine worthy of emulating, no matter which era I lived in; but then, I do not have the martyr gene.

        (I won’t force you to come over and watch it with me, you are safe :D)

        Having read your thoughts on the film, that I did not think there was any fear of that happening! LOL If we are going to watch a film, I’d much prefer have a nice, frothy, movie full of masala goodness.

        (Now, just to make you turn green, I’m in India. :) )

      • The period of Golden era of the Hindi film songs is replete with films, which may have top-notch director or screenplay wiriter or editor or actors and most certainly inarguably excellent songs, and the film would just be a disaster. Most of the movies did not suceed,even then, in the then prevalent mileau, and hence the expecatations. Some films that we may have liked then, we may not like today, simply because our perspective has changed.
        “Daera'” should join the ling list of such films. But we should ever be thankful that it was Daera which gave us an immortal gem of Devata Tum Ho Mera Sahara.

  20. Hi,

    This movie reminds me of another movie made in 1957, titled “Sharada” *ing Meena Kumari, Raj Kapoor, and Shyama in the principal roles. It was L.V. Prasad production.

    In the movie Meena is in love with Raj but due to some circumstances, she marries Raj Kapoor’s father!

    (Could it be Kamal Amorhi’s influence on her to act in this movie?) depressing – He was much older than her.
    Your review on this movie will be worth reading as usual.

  21. I don’t think I can sit through such a movie. Wish you would give away the ending!!!

    • SPOILER!
      Meena dies as she watches Shravan’s wedding festivities from her bed on the balcony and it’s the happiest she’s looked through the whole thing. The blessed end.
      END SPOILER!

  22. I haven’t seen the film (been away). Haven’t read the review, because I’d like to watch the film, but have read the comments and your responses.

    I’m wondering if the ‘idea’ that Kamal Amrohi wanted to convey is hidden in the name of the film Daera – which means, a circle.

    Does something come full circle here?
    If yes, were there hints of ‘philosophical thought’ about ‘things’ coming back?
    Is somebody caught in a whirpool sort of reality?

    These thoughts came to my head while reading the comments section.

    • Not that I could discern…I couldn’t find any hints of much in the way of story content besides boredom mixed with despair.

    • “Daera” also means, “Boundary”, “Limit”. I hope this makes sense. Actually it is hardly possible to convey the right sense of what Daera means in hindi. Something is lost in translation.

  23. M: given me a new favorite bhajan (“Devta Tum Ho Mera Sahara”)

    Memsaab didn’t know you like these bhajans let alone that you had a favorite one–I think Bolly is changing you a little ;)
    AS for the movie, Raja makes a strong case but I saw your screenshot of Meena’s corpse-like expression and that settled it. Maybe iI’ll see it if I’m doing a Kamal Amrohi retrospective or am in a particularly morbid mood.
    Btw I saw Dil Apna aur preet paraya with Raaj Kumar and Meena yesterday. She’s happier there for some of the movie. You’ll like it if you like Raaj Kumar. I think they were a little unfair to Nadira who plays third wheel.

    • I love Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, just wrote about it not long ago. I do like bhajans, just like I love the church music I grew up with :) I’ve been long thinking about writing a post of my ten favorite ones :D

  24. If you have not till now get hold of the film ‘Lal Paththar’…Raaj Kumar there and some awesome acting by the lead actors

  25. I got a CD of this movie but due to its very poor video quality I did not dare to watch the movie. The photographs posted by you are of good quality. Yes, the saving grace of the film is music. Jamal Sen immortalized himself on the strength of two songs: Sapna ban saajan aye by Lata Mangeshkar from the film Shokhiyan and Devata tum ho mera sahara from Daera. The song in Daera may not have left much scope for Rafi’s voice as many people complain, but it is good enough for the fans of Rafi and indeed the song have a magical appeal for music lovers; it lingers in your mind. Radio Ceylon knew that and used the song regularly, perhaps as a theme of a programme.

  26. I caught glimpses of this movie in a Hindi-language TV show called Yaadein on Zee TV about 5 years ago, in an episode on the life and times of director Kamal Amrohi…

    …according to the host of the show, Daaera is considered to be the first Bollywood art film…in my opinion, this statement is somewhat controversial because the first Hindi, or more importantly, Bollywood “art” films, which are synonymous with the parallel cinema of Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal and Adoor Gopalakrishnan et al, were already made during the Pre-Partition years, way before Daaera…a very good example would be Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (1946), which saw the debut of Kamini Kaushal as an actress and Pt Ravi Shankar as a composer…

    …nevertheless, Daaera, in my opinion, is a very sensitive, mind-probing film that also serves as a social commentary, and for me, it is through this film that Kamal Amrohi garners my appreciation for his body of work…it is perhaps his best film, followed by the long-delayed period piece Pakeezah (1972) and the mystery fest Mahal (1949)…sadly, it is, until recently, the least-known of Amrohi’s films…

    …I also agree with you, Memsaab, on the fact that Jamal Sen’s scintillating music is one of the film’s selling points…he may not be in the league of big names of his era, like Shankar-Jaikishen, SD Burman, Hemant Kumar and OP Nayyar, but his music truly has a golden touch of its own and his haunting tunes have a way of staying beautifully etched in one’s memory for a long time to come…

    …thanks a million for reviewing this rare film, Memsaab…you’ve brought an obsolete yet burnished gem of Indian cinema to light…bless you, dear… =D

    • Yes, I think true works of art in cinema were made much much earlier, right at the beginning even :) I need to see some more films with Jamal Sen’s music too!

      • In my opinion, Jamal Sen is the kind of artist whose work emphasises on quality rather than quantity…his works are little-known, but very memorable…he reminds me of many a long-forgotten name from the golden age of Bollywood film music, like Bulo C. Rani, Shambhu Sen and Hansraj Behl…

  27. I have read all the reviews and what I wanted to convey is aptly conveyed by Shubham and Swaminathan. But I do not mind sharing my view point.

    Kamal Amrohi is a master story teller and it is no secret that he had an acrimonious relationship with Meena Kumari ( though memsaab says that meena-dharam pair is thanda, the fact is as per Bollywood records, they were in a relationship in real life before Dharam was besotted by Dream Girl and Dharam moved out of her life). Meena died a pauper. This may have been the reason why Meena regretted doing the movie i) it must have been a flop ii) it was directed by someone whom she hated iii) it had a hero who was Dilip Kumar’s real life brother but was a pathetic actor.

    Those who enjoy Bollywood masala movies will not like such movies. This movie seems to be a predecessor of all the 80’s art movies. There are some film makers who wish to explain everything, but there are some who leave it to the audience.

    You can leave it the way you wish to interpret it. :Daera means boundary – it is possible that a young woman who is married to an older man is not happy due to the reason mentioned in the first two stills (the aphrodisiac bit, I mean). Despite being sexually repressed, the young woman cannot think of crossing the boundary (Daera) for fear of being ostacrised by society. That was the case in the 50’s in India. She cannot openly express her love for another man for the same reason and she throws away the letter disdainfully because there is no point. She doesn’t want to live even if her husband is recovering as her physical needs would still remain unfulfilled. And, she is young ! So, where does that leave her ? So, she prefers death. Also, please note the hero or his mother think she is his daughter. The film doesn’t dwelve on (presumably) what the hero feels once he realises that the lady whom he pines for is someone else’s wife. For his mother, it would have been blasphemy to get her son married to someone else’s wife !

    These subtle nuances have to be understood as one watches the film. This is not a film for the “masses” but for the “classes”. It is possible that many may not like the movie due to is slow pace. But the slow pace of the film may have to do with the lethargic pace in the young woman’s life.

    I am really intrigued by the last scene of the movie, I really envy all you guys who got to watch this movie. Sounds to be very very poignant.Terraces played an important role in the Bollywood movies and yes, terraces interconnected buildings. Remember, Khubsoorat (the Rekha starrer) had a song in the terrace, Guru Dutt and Waheeda listen to a soulful number in Pyasa standing in the terrace, Nutan’s Chand Phir Nilka (Paying Guest) was shot in the terrace.

    BTW, I recently watched Guru Dutt’s Kagaz Ke Phool, though the theme was great, there were lot of gaps in the narration, that really left me puzzled. I couldn’t understand parts of the movie at all and there was a clear disconnect. Yet, the movie left me with a lump in my throat when it ended. A classic movie no doubt, but when you leave too much to interpretation, the movie runs the risk of becoming esoteric.

    Do watch the Kamal Amrohi written – Shankar Hussain.

  28. This movie seems to be an antithesis of Lady Chatterly’s Lover. What a movie it was, I mean LCL, which came much later, probably in early 1980s

  29. Hated the movie..Loved the way you summed up Memsaab the storyline..Would have been better if the old guy would have died and Meena could have been given a new leash in life!

  30. Excellant movies. Story is heart touching.I am sorry to note that such aexellant film was flopped that time. Entire story appears as areality and give permanent impression on mind. It is rare film. Memsaab narration and views are excellant

  31. Hats off to you all for sitting through this one. I started watching it for Jamal Sen’s music, I lasted only 15 minutes through it. Dayera means circle, so perhaps they were all stuck in a circle of emotions ?

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