Gut-wrenching, heart-searing passion, romance and tragedy = Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. I am not talking about Mughal-e-Azam, but about 1951’s Tarana. I was in tears by the end, and it was not pretty. Their much-vaunted real life romance was clearly visible in every scene between them; I think it’s safe to say that I have rarely witnessed such intensely palpable intimacy between two people, onscreen or off. They really let it all hang out! Madhubala looked as beautiful as I’ve ever seen her; she literally lit up the screen. And in their scenes together, Dilip actually looks happy: he smiles, teases gently—I don’t think I’ve seen the Tragedy King in that light before either!
The story itself had its ups and downs, although there was some interesting social commentary mixed in with the romantic drama. Still, what made it special was the incredible chemistry between the two leads.
Motilal (Dilip Kumar) is a doctor, and it is his wedding day, although he is clearly not looking forward to the event. He snaps at his colleagues when they congratulate him, and has patients scheduled for surgery even though he is a little worried that his mind isn’t on the job.
Later in his office, he flashes back to his arrival in India after completing his education abroad, and we discover the reason for all the angst.
On his way home, his plane crashes near a small village in the mountains. The locals rescue him and the other passengers and crew and bring them to the village. Dr. Motilal helps to treat a woman who was seriously injured, and in the process befriends a local blind man named Sardas (Kumar) and his daughter Tarana (Madhubala). It’s not long before the handsome doctor and the beautiful village lass are falling in love. Tarana teases Moti about introducing him to her “Saiyyan” (beloved)—who turns out to be her little pet goat.
This does not go unnoticed by a local tobacco merchant named Toteram (Gope), who wants to marry Tarana himself. He consults a local holy man, who—for a fee—tells him what he already knows: a “mirage” (there’s doubtless a better translation of the actual word used) has come between him and his beloved.
The other villagers are quick to point out the blossoming romance between the “pardesi” and their Tarana as well, which doesn’t help matters. Moti and Tarana spend a lot of time together singing some pretty songs by Anil Biswas. Toteram continues to consult the expensive holy man, who continues to extract money from him but doesn’t come up with any answers.
Toteram is sort of a pathetic figure throughout. Although he does some bad things and is the instigator of the central tragedy, I could not help but feel sorry for him.
The day dawns when the pilot is ready to return to the city along with his passengers. Tarana is very sad at the thought of Moti leaving—but not for long.
Moti sends a letter to his father Diwansahab (Jeevan!—a young disguised-as-old Jeevan!) telling him that he has to stay back to treat the lone female passenger whose wounds are not yet healed.
Diwansahab is disappointed to hear of his son’s delay; he has arranged Moti’s marriage to a friend’s daughter Sheila (Shyama), who is also eagerly awaiting her would-be husband’s arrival.
In the days that follow, Moti asks Sardas about his blindness, and discovers that he went blind only about seven years earlier; he tells Sardas that he thinks he can cure him. He decides to travel to the city to see his father and also to make preparations for surgery on Sardas. Before he goes, he teases Tarana about forgetting her once he gets busy in the big city.
See what I mean? Have you ever seen such a *smiley* Dilip before? Tarana watches him sail away:
…but he returns immediately, unable to bear the separation. It’s almost more than I can stand, myself!
When the woman passenger has recovered enough to travel, he sends a letter with her to Diwansahab requesting that he send medical items for Sardas’ eye operation. Diwansahab is very angry at this further postponement, but the grateful woman sends the surgical supplies instead, along with some gifts and compliments for Tarana.
Moti operates on Sardas and restores his vision. Soon thereafter Sardas goes off on a short pilgrimage to give thanks.
Toteram’s jealousy now knows no bounds. He conspires with other villagers to cast doubt on Tarana’s character, and when her father returns convinces him that Tarana and Moti have carried things too far in his absence. The film goes a little off the rails for me here, because as you can imagine, Tarana is vilified by everyone including her father, who is a little too quick to condemn her based on village gossip.
The lovers are separated, and Moti—now back in the city—has reason to think that Tarana has died, killed when her father set their house on fire with her in it as punishment for her sins. Sheila is determined to give him a reason to live, and perseveres in getting him back to work and functioning again despite his grief. But Tarana has not died; like Sita, her purity has saved her from the flames.
She sets out to find Moti, but finds him with Sheila; he doesn’t know she’s there (this is a really really *sob-worthy* scene). Thinking that he has forgotten her and moved on with his life, Tarana returns home brokenhearted. Moti finally bows to pressure from Diwansahab and agrees to marry Sheila, whose sympathy, kindness, and selfless love has been unstinting.
The ending is a little flat after all these twists and turns, and the film drags for a while in the second half. I also found the scenes where Tarana is punished for her “sins” very annoying. However, the film’s viewpoint on this did seem to agree with mine in many ways, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Also, the performances are so natural and understated that things never got irritating, as they can on occasion when some filmi lovers are separated and pining for each other.
What makes it worth watching, though, is the chemistry between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. It feels voyeuristic, so personal and so real is it—the sparks that fly when they argue, the tenderness between them in quieter moments, the humor when they tease. It gives the term “love story” more meaning than just about anything else I have ever seen.