Muqabla is basically Seeta Aur Geeta with Fearless Nadia as twin sisters Madhuri Aur Rani. Need I say more? Probably not, but I’ve never let lack of need stop me from doing anything. I will tell you, though, that this review has taken me longer than any other review before it to write, by which I mean it’s just taken longer; don’t expect it to be any better.
Special effects wizard Babubhai Mistry is said to have used split screen technology for the first time in India along with back screen projection to show the twins interacting and passing one in front of the other. And although it isn’t her usual “stunt” type of film, there is plenty of action for Nadia and her fists in both avatars. Probably this is better described as Geeta Aur Geeta, exponentially more awesome for not having a browbeaten helpless little mouse in it; both Rani and Madhuri are fairly kick-ass girls. There are a lot of songs which drag the film down for me (interminable love songs between two sets of lovers, sometimes two or three songs in a row with no respite between); but two songs feature Nadia dancing and that is pretty fun to watch. As a bonus, she has a clever and faithful Alsation dog named Gunboat (who I think appeared with her in other films). Plus a very very young and slender Agha plays sidekick to hero Yakub. He excels at physical comedy, and I always love seeing a young anybody I know better from his or her later career.
Seth Dinanath and his wife Radha live with their twin daughters Madhuri and Rani (Baby Madhuri, Meena Kumari’s little ringleted Indian Shirley Temple of a sister, later to be Mehmood’s first wife).
Unfortunately Radha had spurned the marriage proposal of Shivnath (Dalpat) in favor of Dinanath, and he chooses now to take his revenge. He shoots Dinanath and Radha, who let out spectacularly and unconvincingly wooden cries of pain as Rani looks on frozen in horror and Madhuri scampers prudently away (an opportunity to show off the above-mentioned rear-projection special effect).
Shivnath scoops Rani up and leaves poor dead Radha (despite having clearly made the right choice of men earlier, it has sadly not paid off for her) and wounded Dinanath behind.
Madhuri runs into a road and falls unconscious in front of a car belonging to a wealthy man named Rai Bahadur and his young daughter by the name of Veena, Beena, Meena, Reena or Leena, I never can tell. In that time-honored way of India, Rai Bahadur adopts her on the spot since nobody immediately steps forward to claim her, and they drive off into the sunset, crossing paths with Shivnath and poor unfortunate Rani. Madhuri grows up in privileged luxury, loved dearly by her adoptive father and sister Leena-Veena-Beena-Meena-Reena, accompanied everywhere by her bezubaan dost Gunboat; she is much given to bursts of hearty laughter and athletic endeavors like tennis and shooting poor defenceless wild animals.
One day while out with Gunboat, Madhuri hears shouts for help coming from a house which looks very much like an Art Deco radio on the outside (at least to me). Inside she finds a small table with a bottle of booze on it, a table with cigarettes and some plates on it (she very helpfully takes inventory in English in case we can’t see it all ourselves) and a picture of numbers hanging on the wall behind it, and an unconscious man on the floor who—if she only knew it—is her father Dinanath, now elderly.
As she turns to leave and get help (I assume), the table transforms itself by turning over, as does the picture of numbers on the wall.
Her attention is caught by a photograph of herself, and, puzzled, she takes it down and places it on the small table now empty of the booze and glasses it held minutes before. The old man on the floor is gone too.
Madhuri is accosted now by Shivnath, who initially mistakes her for Rani but quickly realizes that she must be the long-lost Madhuri. He pulls a gun on her and indulges in some dramatic room talk, declaiming to the camera beyond her and thus failing to notice devoted Gunboat’s entry into the room. It isn’t long before Madhuri and Gunboat have disarmed Shivnath (Gunboat cleverly catches his pistol when it goes flying) and are fighting his henchmen in the front yard. They are spotted out there by Yakub and his sidekick Agha, two buddies constantly out and about fiddling with their car and gramophone respectively while needling each other, and who now come to Madhuri’s aid even though she hardly needs it. To be fair, henchman Gopal in particular is very very skinny and Madhuri outweighs him by a good 75 pounds or so.
Yakub is instantly smitten with the fair maiden, but she rebuffs his advances and stalks off with Gunboat as we are transported suddenly into a garden and a song with a new set of people who appear to be a CSP romantic triangle. Possibly because romance and singing are not Nadia’s strong suit, this triangle and a side plot featuring Reena-Meena-Leena-Veena-Beena with a suitor of her own dot the landscape with sudden and random musical interruptions. Some of my confusion may be due to the lack of subtitles, or movie frames that are now long-lost, but they seem very out of place. I mostly fast-forward through them (sorry old song lovers, but this music is just not melodic to my ears).
I do love this garden setting, though.
At home, Madhuri is fretting about the old man she’d seen unconscious on the floor, and with good reason (and more camera tricks). Dinanath is now held prisoner in the cellar of the house-which-transforms-itself by Shivnath (I have no idea if it is ever explained how he came to be in this predicament), and they each shout their dialogues theatrically at a point beyond the camera. It’s interesting to watch two men arguing without looking at each other. I am pretty sure that Shivnath tells Dinanath that his second twin daughter has suddenly shown up, and that he’s going to kill her, but other than that I have no idea. The drama of it all is very entertaining, however, so I don’t worry about it.
The house has now turned into a nightclub which is also a front for smuggling. Rani dances there for Shivnath—it’s a treat to see Nadia dancing. I believe the man singing is the music director of the film, Khan Mastana (and I could be wrong)—no idea who the male dancer is, though.
At a Burmah Shell Station, Madhuri is reacquaintanced with Yakub and young Agha, who manages to flatten her tire by mistake. They give her a ride home, but Yakub fares no better romantically with Madhuri than he has before. Agha does manage to steal a photograph of her for Yakub to sing to later before Rai Bahadur kicks them out of the house. Between the lengthy “comedy” scenes and the endless love songs, I grow a bit weary admittedly. A fair amount of time passes thus until Madhuri returns to the house-nightclub she had stumbled across earlier, with Yakub following her. She disguises herself as a man with a large turban, talks her way in, and is momentarily surprised to see a look-alike entertaining the crowd.
I absolutely love this little tap-dancing number, and Madhuri’s disguise, and I roll my eyes at Yakub’s indignation at seeing his Madhuri (he thinks) dancing in a club. Nahiiiin!
Of course, this all ends in a brawl which is mostly played for laughs, ending with more special effects as Agha turns a water hose onto a waiter with a silver tray and pins him to the wall above the bar.
This is not at all made less awesome by the obvious cable hanging around the waiter’s torso after the water stops and he falls face-down.
Still-disguised Madhuri with Yakub, Agha and Gunboat make their getaway; but when Madhuri (now herself again) meets up with Yakub later, he is coldly indifferent. This amuses her no end, I am happy to report, and I reflect again on how sanguine and self-sufficient B-movie heroines are in contrast to their weepy A-movie counterparts.
Of course, she now knows where her twin Rani is, and there are clearly illegal shenanigans going on in Shivnath’s club (not to mention poor Dinanath, still tied up in the club’s cellar). Can Madhuri rescue her twin and give Shivnath his just desserts? Is chain-smoking, dancing, boozing Rani capable of being a good girl again, or has Shivnath made her unredeemably bad? Will Yakub figure out that Madhuri is worthy of his attentions after all? Will the twins and Dinanath be reunited? Will there be more pointless love songs (yes)? Will we ever know for sure what Veena-Beena-Reena-Meena-Leena’s name is (no)?
And above all: will I be naming my next dog Gunboat?
YES. Yes, I will.