Humayun (1945)

This bloodthirsty Mughal historical directed by Mehboob Khan is replete with bristling mustaches, glaring eyes and more talk of swords, vengeance and honor than you can shake a stick at. The sets and costumes are sumptuous, and the histrionics entertaining, if somewhat theatrical and drawn out at times.

Cecil B DeMille apparently wrote in a letter to Mehboob Khan that this film was “a masterpiece of lighting composition.” It is, it is! And Nargis was only sixteen when she starred in it; it was her third film as an adult.

Mughal emperor Babar (Shah Nawaz) has defeated cities all across the lands of the Rajputs. When he enters one of these cities, the slain Rajput king’s daughter Rajkumari (Veena), defies him from the top of her teeny weeny fortress:

Charmed by her bravery, Babar swears allegiance with her and calls her “daughter.” She accepts his olive branch, which does not go down well with her father’s military commander Jai Singh (KN Singh). In addition, her fiance—the son of the slain ruler of the neighboring kingdom—Randhir (Chandramohan) has sworn to avenge his father by killing Babar’s son Humayun (Ashok Kumar).

Chandramohan clearly comes from the old theater school of acting; he delivers his dialogues in a rapid-fire monotone at high decibels, and his facial expression never varies from this:

Babar asks Humayun not to engage Randhir in fighting, since his wife-to-be is now Humayun’s “sister” and Humayun agrees. In addition, Babar withdraws his troops from Randhir’s kingdom Chanderi, which only enrages Randhir further.

Clearly he has never been accosted by a small kid selling candy bars to fund a school trip!

Randhir does not give up, however: he keeps breaking into Babar’s palace and trying to pick a fight with Humayun (he is always politely escorted out), and he vows not to stop fighting until the Mughals are driven from Chanderi (even though they have already left voluntarily). I cheer him on.

Meanwhile, the potentates arriving to pay homage to Babar include Sardar Mir Baba Dor, whose daughter Hamida Banu (Nargis) is so beautiful that Humayun falls for her at first sight.

She falls for him too, but refuses to marry him because her family is much lower on the social scale (well, whose isn’t?); she fears that such a marriage will incite revolution. She also doesn’t have any faith in his vows of fidelity. This distresses Humayun so much that he becomes ill and the court physicians predict that he will die. Even a visit from Rajkumari on Raksha Bandhan doesn’t revive him.

Randhir shows up too, and begs Humayun to get better so that he can kill him and fulfill his sworn oath. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t work either.

Babar’s last hope is to exchange his life for his son’s: he calls on God to take him and give back Humayun’s life, and God comes through. Humayun wakes up, and Babar breathes his last after naming Humayun his heir.

Of course, it’s not going to be that easy. The Rajput kingdoms form various alliances against the emperor and each other. Jai Singh is bent on arresting Rajkumari for treason and taking control of the kingdom himself. The only one who refuses to join in is—Randhir.

He wants a guarantee from the other Rajputs that he will be the one to kill Humayun, but they refuse to give him one. Poor Randhir!

Meanwhile, Rajkumari has summoned Hamida Banu back to the palace. She is now inexplicably (to me) called Mallika, and Rajkumari has decided that she should be Humayun’s Empress. Mallika is still unwilling; she repeats what she had said to Humayun about love:

She doesn’t want to be cast off when Humayun tires of her; she dreams of a soulmate. Despite all entreaties from him, she asks permission to go home, and he grants it. Poor Humayun!

He mopes around the palace ignoring the stories of his army’s losses pouring in. Jai Singh meets with Rajkumari and tells her to choose between Humayun and his rebellion. When she chooses Humayun he gives her one more option: she can marry Randhir, or him. When she scornfully refuses that option, he has her arrested. This finally rouses Humayun from his lovesick stupor—but will it be too late?

Can he save his sister from the Rajput rebels? And his empire? Will Hamida-Mallika ever relent and marry him? Will Randhir get his revenge, finally?

The end does drag on a bit (at least for me, although Gemma went nuts over the horses and elephants in the battle scenes). I find war tiresome and depressing for the most part.

The story is a highly fictionalized account of the beginning of Mughal rule; Babar and Humayun are both praised to the skies as benevolent, enlightened rulers (somewhat like Jalaluddin in Jodha Akbar).

But it is a visual feast, and I also found the contrast between the older style of acting (Chandramohan for example) and what was becoming the “new” more understated style (Ashok Kumar, Nargis) interesting. Not to mention that Randhir’s tireless devotion to his vengeance was hilarious. Bless him!

The music by Ghulam Haider is beautiful too, assuming you like music from this period (which I do). And although the songs are not subtitled, sadly, the rest of the subtitles are pretty good. Hurray!

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20 Comments to “Humayun (1945)”

  1. Just saw a clip of this on youtube. Ashok Kumar is super fabulous – so mischevious and fun!! :-) And Nargis looks quite good too. Have to get hold of this one as soon as possible.

  2. Nargis looks really beautiful, and waaaaay older than sixteen (at least to me). Ashok is v.v. handsome and actually smiles a lot (even though he is lovelorn for a great deal of it). I loved the first half, but the second dragged after a while. The picture is pretty good quality-wise, but the sound is awful, very hissy and crackly. It’s still worth watching though!

  3. “Randhir shows up too, and begs Humayun to get better so that he can kill him and fulfill his sworn oath. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t work either.”

    lolll.. just for this, i want to watch this movie!!

  4. Randhir (in case you couldn’t tell) was my favorite :-) He was relentless in his pursuit of Humayun’s blood. When he vowed to drive the Mughals out of Chanderi even though they weren’t there anymore, I thought I would die laughing.

  5. Poor guy! Looks like he never could get his vengeance settled! He couldn’t kill Humayun because Humayun fell sick; He couldn’t drive the Mughals out of Chanderi because they were already gone; He can’t a get a guarantee from the Rajputs to kill his enemy..*bechara!* :-D

    Just curious, was he portrayed as a hardcore villan, or more like a.. umm.. unintentionally comic character? What happened to him at the end of the movie? I love your screen shots of him, by the way. His eyes make him come alive..

  6. He had the *most amazing* eyes (very light in color) and eyebrows! His face had exactly the same expression throughout…I’m sure he was supposed to be a serious character (not a villain though, the film was quite sympathetic about his quest for vengeance). There wasn’t any (intentional) comedy in this film. I felt quite irreverent laughing at him; he was the quintessential Rajput.

    He ended up being challenged by Humayun to a sword fight because he had fought against Rajkumari; but he saw the error of his ways, and put his sword away and asked for forgiveness from both of them. So…he never did get his revenge…but by the end he didn’t need to anymore. I totally loved him.

  7. OMG, Randhir sounds so hilarious and awesome! I love your caps, and now I want to see this just to see him.

  8. If you enjoy really “bad” 70s movies, I have two recommendations: “Paapi” with Sunil Dutt, Sanjeev Kumar and Zeenat; and “Chor-Chor” with Vijay Anand and Leena Chandravarkar. The second one is really, really kitschy with jazz music playing whenever the villain makes an appearance. I have a feeling you’ll love these movies. :)

  9. LOL–teeny weeny fortress is right–it looks like a kids’ playground accessory! Well, except for the whole, you know, life-and-death warfare stuff going on. I cannot believe Nargis was only 16!

  10. Just one comment on screencaps 3 & 4: “Whoa grandma- what big eyes u’ve got!”

    I’ve missed out on a bunch of ur posts, so am running through ur blog right now….

  11. Amit, I have seen Chor Chor and you are right, I loved it! :-) Will look for Paapi, because I love Sunil Dutt, Sanjeev Kumar and Zeenat—what a combo. Thanks!

    Ajnabi—I’m glad you spotted that too. It really looked like a sand castle or something, very difficult to take seriously in spite of the Rajput and Mughal posturing around it. The horses are almost taller!

    ppcc and Shweta: I wonder if his eyes always looked like that or if he put that expression especially on for being Randhir. I will investigate.

  12. I just found your blog via Beth loves Bollywood.

    I am so glad I found somebody who saw and enjoyed this movie. I watched a while back and had great fun, especially with Randhir and his doomed desire for revenge.

    On the Mallika thing. I thought Rajkumari was using that as a title, so emphasize her desire to see her married to Humayun. Along the lines of: I am going to address you as an empress, whether you like it or not. But I may be getting completely the wrong end of the stick.

  13. Hi Gebruss and welcome :-) I must find more Chandra Mohan to see if he’s just as OTT elsewhere (I feel pretty sure that he is)…

    I decided that the Mallika thing must be a title as well…so if both of us came up with it, maybe there is something to it!

  14. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation :) Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Enfeeble.

  15. Thanks, Enfeeble. The beauty of it is that if you don’t get or like a film, there’s always another one waiting in the wings :-)

  16. I loved this movie. It was nice to see Veena as a beautiful woman who acts as sister of Chandramohan. Veena was adbhut in her simple beauty and speech. I wish…I believe she beat Nargis in the movie.

  17. Veena looked gorgeous in this film. She was Chandramohan’s fiancee though, not his sister…


  19. ‘mallika’ means princess or a royal female at any rate. It’s like calling Hamida Banu ‘your highness’.

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