Shabnam (1964)


Every other frame of this film contained some element of which I said: “I want that!” like a small spoiled child.

It’s an Arabian Nights-meets-Zorro fantasy complete with lush sets, fabulous costumes and beautiful horses, but the highlights are the fantastic songs by Usha Khanna (who also has a beautiful singing voice). The only real drawback is the leading man: Mehmood’s antics grow quickly tiresome. He is actually good as the serious Zingaro, and occasionally very amusing as Zingaro’s effeminate alter ego—I just wish he’d been allowed (or required) to tone his act down a bit. Helen has a good role as the brains behind the villain (Jeevan), and the other cast members all acquit themselves well. The story is credible and absorbing; altogether, this movie is a lot of fun.

Kalifa Haroon (Sheikh Mukhtar) owns a little cafe/bar, where his daughter Shabnam (Vijaylaxmi) dances wearing a mask. She’s tired of the mask, but he insists that she wear it because she is a dead ringer for the Princess of the kingdom. The army commander-in-chief, Jabar (Jeevan), has just usurped the throne after kidnapping the Sultan and blaming neighboring enemies, whom he claims are demanding a ransom. Jabar is using the “ransom” claim to rob everyone in the kingdom of their valuables. Haroon is afraid of what might happen to Shabnam if Jabar comes to know about the resemblance. I really want those camel candlelabras.


Right away we are treated to one of my new favorite songs: “Har Nazar Mein Sau Afsaane.” I don’t know if this Vijaylaxmi is the same one as the star from South Indian cinema, but she can really dance! Here’s the song for you to listen to as you read the rest of this—it provides the perfect ambiance!

I also love Haroon’s club: I want the lamps, the carafes, the hookahs, and the tables. (I already have a rhinestone-encrusted fez.)



The entertainment is interrupted by Jabar’s men, who have come—of course—to collect ransom money. Kalifa Haroon refuses and tells them to get out, and a fight breaks out. Haroon is aided by a mysteriously veiled man, who wields a mean sword and arrives in the nick of time. Mukri is one of Haroon’s sidekicks. He makes me laugh; he is so cute, especially after he puts a little table on his head for protection.


After chasing the soldiers away, the mysterious veiled man proceeds on to the palace, where he meets one of the Sultan’s loyal ministers—who embraces him on recognizing him as Khan Mustafa (Mehmood), the son of an old friend (and colleague, I presume). Khan Mustafa has been betrothed to the Princess since childhood, and he asks why she doesn’t speak up about Jabar’s atrocities. I want the glass candelabra and the small table on the right. I imagine that the lamps are cranberry red (but later discover that they are blue).


Jabar is planning to marry the Princess himself, as a means to obtaining the throne “legitimately.” The minister warns Mustafa that he won’t be able to defeat Jabar alone, and reminds him about the time years ago when Mustafa’s father disguised himself as “Zingaro” in the same kind of situation. Jabar enters the scene just as Khan Mustafa leaves.


When the minister refuses to tell him anything, Jabar kills him. Outside in the stormy rain and wind, Khan Mustafa transforms himself into Zingaro!


News of the Princess’s fiance’s impending arrival has reached Jabar, and he plots to have Khan Mustafa killed on his way. Jabar’s smarter half, Saba (Helen), persuades him to let Mustafa be—she points out that he is likely to be similar to most men of his high social status:


Sure enough, when Mustafa arrives he poses as an effeminate buffoon of a man, pinching snuff and wielding a feather instead of a sword (a feather that squirts water, in a scene that goes on too long). The Princess is disappointed—she may be fooled by Jabar, but she’s a pretty feisty girl otherwise. Jabar, as planned, falls for the drama.


The Princess gives Jabar a jewelry set (necklace and earrings) as her offering towards her father’s ransom. Soon thereafter Zingaro manages to make off with all the jewelry and valuables that Jabar has collected, to Jabar’s rage. Zingaro comes to the Princess’s room one night and returns the necklace to her—but keeps the earrings as a “memento,” giving her a brooch belonging to him instead.

When Jabar sees the necklace on the Princess’s neck, he is furious. She tells him that Zingaro returned it to her but kept her earrings—and it’s obvious that she is now suspicious of Jabar herself. Jabar sends out an annoucement demanding that Zingaro return the Princess’s earrings by coming to the court in broad daylight.

Time for Helen! She sings an awesome song which is mysteriously filmed in color (as is her other song later, and the climax of the film—in between we go back to black and white). Maybe some Helen admirer donated money to the budget so she could be picturized in color. I want her outfit and her jewelry (and also to look like her in that outfit and jewelry).


Zingaro shows up halfway at the end of her song, and returns the Princess’s earrings in style!


After which, he quickly escapes on his beautiful white horse (which I want). The Princess by now is pretty smitten by Zingaro, although Khan Mustafa woos her with a pretty song too.

In any case, over at Haroon’s place Shabnam is still chafing under her father’s restrictions. One of Haroon’s men, Omar, is in love with Shabnam and she with him. Omar decides that if he disfigures the Princess’s face, then Shabnam won’t be hidden any more, so he goes to the palace and tries to throw acid on her. She is saved by Mustafa, but Jabar is puzzled as to why Omar would have wanted to disfigure the Princess. Clever Saba puts two and two together (with reports she has heard of Haroon being seen with a Princess lookalike).


Omar is saved from Jabar’s men by Zingaro, and he tells Zingaro about Shabnam looking exactly like the Princess.

Jabar’s men kidnap Shabnam and bring her to the palace. He instructs them to next kill the Princess—instructions which are overheard by Saba. Jabar has been stringing her along with promises of marriage, and now she understands his true intentions. This causes her to turn into Mary Tyler Moore from the “Dick Van Dyke Show.” No, just kidding! but look:


Khan Mustafa overhears as well, and Zingaro saves the Princess. Unfortunately the silly girl goes right back home—where Zabar imprisons her.

In the meantime, Haroon has found out from Omar that Zingaro knows their secret and he thinks Zingaro has kidnapped Shabnam. He confronts Zingaro with the fact that “Haroon is feared by all”:


Will Mustafa/Zingaro be able to convince the gigantic Haroon that he hasn’t kidnapped Shabnam? Will he be able to rescue her from Jabar’s clutches? And free the real Princess? Is her father the Sultan still alive? Watch Shabnam to find out, and for a Helen-Vijaylaxmi dance-off in color!


It’s oodles of fun! As I said, all songs are fabulous; there’s even a qawwali which extols the awesomeness of money. And maybe there’s a warehouse out there waiting for me to discover the props that I so covet from this bit of filmi fluff.

website statistics

47 Comments to “Shabnam (1964)”

  1. Memsaab, I hope that someday you get each and ever trinket that you covet! You deserve only the best!

    The color scenes in this film are dream inducing and this film made me quite a fan of Sheikh Mukhtar.

    And lastly, I hope there is a film out there someplace where Helen always wears her Mary Tyler Moore hairstyle!!

    • Oh thanks Mike :) I actually have so many trinkets already that I would be hard-pressed to find space for more—but where there’s a will, there’s a way!!!

      Was Sheikh Mukhtar a wrestler like Dara Singh? He is so BIG. And I’ve seen that style on Helen elsewhere, it does suit her but was pretty startling in this context! And speaking of that, thanks for pointing me in the direction of this gem! :)))

  2. Wow…sounds like a lot of fun. I love such movies.
    There were two songs of this movie I knew before I read this review. They are “maine rakha hai mohabbat” and “ye teri saadgi”. Now I realise I have also heard “har nazar mein sau afsaane”. Lovely song, did not know it was in this movie.

    Looks like other songs are good too. Got to find them and listen to them.

    Thanks, memsaab. As usual, a thoroughly absorbing review.

  3. I think I am in love with Sheikh Mukhtar- he looks so manly! Much as I love our guys today, they just dont feel as huggable as those back in the day :) I dont think he was a wrestler- I recall seeing a documentary on him a few yrs ago, and they didnt say anything about that- though that’s hardly proof.

  4. Oh, I just realised it also has “teri nigahon pe mar mar gaye hum”. That’s another nice song.

    • You can find all the songs on youtube right now (I don’t link from my posts since links become invalid so quickly) but if you search using Shabnam Usha Khanna you’ll find them all :) Every song is a gem. The Rafi song isn’t in the DVD of the film, except as a bonus song—and the picture is really pixellated and broken, so I think they left it out b/c the source was bad. It is such a beautiful song too, it’s a shame (although I’m glad they didn’t flog us with the icky quality during the film).

  5. Have just been watching the songs on youtube.
    Lovely songs.
    And you know what ?
    You mention this movie to an Indian and I can guarantee you 95% of people would not have heard of this movie. Make that 99%.
    It is one of those unfortunate movies that has very low “brand awareness” but, after reading your review, I feel could well be a little gem in its own right.
    Maybe it has to do with the fact that Mehmood as hero, Vijay Lakshmi – and Usha Khanna at that time – were hardly a saleable proposition.

    But that is one of the things I like most about your site. Not only are your reviews cracktastic :-) , you also go off the beaten track to unearth movies that many would not have bothered to learn about.

  6. I have really fond memories of this movie – its probably the only time I ever liked Mehmood (well, I was a child, so loud performances were perfectly fine!). The heroine was so beautiful – way better looking than most of the other dancer-stars of that time – and she could dance beautifully, too. I wonder why she didnt get anywhere in Bollywood. And the songs are DIVINE! The two Rafi songs were really famous (Maine rakha hai and Yeh teri saadgi) but the others are very good, too. After seeing this one on TV, I remember humming the songs for days after. Didnt realise parts were colored because back then our TV was a B/W one!

    Hope once you get all the stage-props and costumes+jewelery that you desire, you’ll consider displaying them in your museum.

    • I find Mehmood really funny sometimes, but I prefer him in smaller doses. But he was very restrained in his “Zingaro” mode, and quite enjoyable. Vijaylaxmi is an AWESOME dancer! I don’t think I’d ever seen her before. The Helen-Vijaylaxmi dance-off was really fabulous, and the lyrics hilarious :)

  7. Shweta, I would love to find that documentary on Sheikh Mukhtar! I know nothing about him other then he played the hero in movies of the 40s and even went into filmi directing and producing in the 50s and 60s with B grade movies like the Randhawa/Malika film PANIC IN GOA.

    I have a press book from one of his 1950s filims and on the back it has an ad for one of his “upcoming” films (which evidently was never made/released) titled: FRANKENSTIEN!!! I wonder if he was going to play the monster. The Indian Boris Karloff! LOL!

  8. Memsaab – Raja is right – I too have never heard of this movie. Blissfully unaware of its existence like most Indians! Thanks to you and Michael? for unearthing this movie.

    Usha Khanna was a top music director – she has composed some really melodious songs and was the only female music director in the male dominated film industry music scene. wonder why she does not compose anymore? I will try to list a few of her famous songs for you when i find some time

    • She worked for a long time, but was never as prolific as the men—don’t know if it’s because she was a woman, or what. But I love her music. Dil Deke Dekho was her first one I think, and it’s got superb songs. This may be my favorite soundtrack of hers thus far.

      She was not the FIRST female music director in Hindi films, though. Do you know who was? :)

  9. I saw this at Nehaflix, but i was skeptical, you are way more adventurous with the Bollywood films you watch, unless a film is Critically acclaimed/a or was a box office hit/ has my favourite stars in it, i’m a bit reluctant to watch it. I’ve just started my bolly blog as well, i’ll have more reviews soon but please do stop by for a visit, Cheers

  10. So do the two Mehmoods land up with the two Vijayalakshmis? She’s really cute, specially with that mask.

    And Helen. What can one say about her?

    At the FTII, there were trunkloads of stuff from the Prabhat Studios films. And I’d try to use as much as I could in my student exercises, even though it was a great pain getting them sanctioned. But none of it was as enticing as the camel candlebra.

    • Well, there’s only one Mehmood (he just disguises himself as Zingaro)…but he ends up with the Princess and Shabnam of course has Omar (who loved her so much he threw acid at the Princess…but apparently all was forgiven by the end) :-)

      *Jealous* re FTII—when I visit, we will need to go there and root around! I know that Roy Wadia of Wadia Movietones is trying to find resources to help catalog all the goodies in that collection too!

  11. This sounds like something I should add to my wishlist as soon as possible! And Helen looks so absolutely gorgeous (well, when doesn’t she?) Hero acting wimpy to put people off the scent reminds me a bit of The Scarlet Pimpernel…

    • Yes, exactly—the Scarlet Pimpernel (the original with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon is one of my favorite films) and Zorro had that wimpy alter ego in common :-) It’s lots of fun, and Helen is at her very most stunning.

  12. She’s wearing a mask? It looks like the most awesome pair of eyeglasses ever. Where were they at my last visit to Vision World?

  13. Oh, further evidence that Jeevan should never, ever be given a position of responsibility in any kingdom.

  14. Regarding your query about first women MDs above:-
    The first woman MD was Jaddan Bai (mother of Actress Nargis) who was a multidimensional lady. She produced, directed and composed the music for Talash-e-Haq (1935).
    The same year Saraswati Devi (actually a Parsi lady) also made her debut as MD when she scored the music for Bombay Talkies’ film Jawani Ki Hawa.
    She was very prolific right into the 40s with hits like Achchut Kanya(1936) and Jhoola(1941). Incidentally she also sang in a few films. You can read about this first prolific woman MD in hindi films here:

  15. Shabash Hildebrand, you got BOTH of them :) I just cannot stump my readers…but that’s a good thing.

  16. Now it’s my turn to be jealous! This sounds wonderful! To borrow Raja’s term, good work increasing “brand awareness” of another forgotten gem.

  17. Oh Todd—run, don’t walk, and buy this. Nehaflix has it (or did). It’s FAB.

  18. You know, I was harmlessly adding this movie to my pages long “to buy” list, and then you had to go and mention “Indian Frankenstein,” and now I know I’m going to spend days searching for a Bollywood rip-off of Frankenstein.

  19. Michael can be blamed for many things (or credited, depending on how you look at it).

    If you do find an Indian Frankenstein, I am certain that you will share it with us :)

  20. i have c this movie when it was released.
    i love music of this movie specialy songs.
    what r songs !!!!!! GTEAT work by USHA KHANNA

    specially actress vijaya laxmi looking very charming. she looks so innocent and beauty that one can not move eyes from her face.
    i have like to know more about vijayalaxmi. but no any details on net.
    can some one give me details about her. she was also in film FAISALA.
    one marvelous song GORI TERE CHALANE PE MERA DIL KURABA picturies on her.

  21. I didn’t remember that I’d ever seen Vijaylaxmi before, but she’s been in several films I’ve seen, I just didn’t really notice her. I don’t know if she played the heroine in many or was usually a second fiddle…

    But yes, the songs in this really make it special. And she is a great dancer.

  22. I was searching for information about this movie, and guess what, I was led to this post. Indeed, this post contains the most authentic and detailed information about this movie that few people even know about.

    • atulbhai,
      SHABANAM is very famous movie…and most movie viewer of old hindi movie know about shabanam verywell…this costume and stant movie was hit at that time…..songs r very famous…regards

  23. Indeed you are right. I was seeking information about the song “Har nazar me sau afsaane ” which I have posted by now.

  24. Thank you for this great in sight into this film. Do you happen to know if there was ever a cd released of this film’s soundtrack with all songs?? I have been looking for these songs for a long time with no luck. If anybody has this cd, I will pay a very good price for it. Thank you for helping.

  25. Thank you for detailed textual representation of this film.
    Mehmood had similar getup as Zingaro in another movie ‘Garam Masala’.

    ‘Shabnam’ has double role played by Vijayalaxmi.
    What are the other movies you know that featured double / multiple roles by single actor ?

  26. Memsaab – I bought this movie because of this post, and I have to thank you. It was great entertainment, and I am very pleased the colour budget was allocated to Helen’s songs! I am a bit iffy when it comes to Mehmood – small doses at intervals works best for me, although it is clear he was very talented. The songs in the movie are brilliant – I really have to find the soundtrack now. Yay! And may 2010 bring you many camel candelabras, trinkets and sparkle-arkly things.

    • Hooray!!! I’m glad you liked it, it is really such fun. Great entertainment any time. I agree with you re: Mehmood, but he is just fine in this :) And the songs are brilliant, you are right!

  27. Memsaab – Thanks again. You are quite a storyteller. I always enjoy reading your descriptions of movies and songs. Shabnam is a 1964 film and I am very fond of all songs, especially top 4 songs in the following list. I did not know the name of the film “Shabnam”….

    •Yeh Teri Saadgi – Mohammed Rafi
    •Maine Rakkhaa Hai MOhabbat – Mohammed Rafi
    •Teri Nigahon Pe – Mukesh
    •Husnun (Aslim) Allah Hai Ya Habba – Lata Mangeshkar
    •Nigahon Ki Jadugari – Lata Mangeshkar
    •Allah Meri Jholi Mein – Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey, Usha Khanna
    •Anadi Hai Shikari – Asha Bhonsle, Usha Khanna
    •Shabnam Bhi Dekhi Shola – Usha Khanna

  28. vijaylaxmi is the star from Tamil Film Industry. She was at the peak of her career when she did Ooty Varai Oravu and then married a Bengali friend of her brother. If she had continued , she would have acted in Hindi films too, as she looked even better than Mumtaz in 1967 and aftermath.She was just 12 when she debuted in films.

  29. I am very happy to read about L. vijaylaxmi , i watched film ” shabnam” on national channel when i was only 10 years. 22 years ago now i am feeling very happy to know about her. She is very beautiful and good classical dancer.

  30. il y 50 ans de cela, j’ai vu ce film au cinema. J’avais 10 ans. Mehmood était un acteur comique, c’est pour cela que cela ne me choque pas de le voir faire ses singeries. peut etre l’a-t-il fait expres pour marquer la difference entre ses deux personnages. en tout cas c’est pour moi un des meilleurs film de mehmood ou il a pu montrer son talent d’acteur complet.

Leave a Reply to KMT Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: