Zabak (1961)

There’s nothing finer on a wintry and cheerless day than a Wadia Brothers Arabian Nights tale brought to you in Glorious Gevacolor! I am pretty sure that an early Nadia stunt film would be equally fine, but until they become readily available these are just the ticket. Standard features include feisty beautiful women (and dancing girls) in harem outfits, a swashbuckling hero (and in this one Mahipal is not even girly), kings with evil commanders named Something Beg, scores of caped extras, an intrepid animal companion or two (Zabak‘s is a white horse who doubles as the Comic Side Plot!), lovely songs (by Chitragupta here)—and always, absolutely always, every frame is filled with stuff that I would kill to get my sparkle-loving hands on.

Zabak is no exception to my Wadia Brothers Cardinal Rule (which is that the Wadia Brothers…well, RULE).

Our eponymous hero (a relatively manly Mahipal) is the son of a man who owns a bath house (as in Roman baths not the kind you find in New York City) and is a healer of sorts. Zabak and his parents (Ma=Achala Sachdev) are a middle-class family in Isfahaan, which hasn’t stopped him and the Princess Zainab (Shyama) from falling in love with each other. Zabak has some egalitarian views which are wholeheartedly endorsed by a visiting merchant, Usman Shah (BM Vyas).

Otherwise, his views and his romance meet with approval from no-one: not Zabak’s parents, not the King her father, and certainly not the King’s commander Kasim Beg (Muzaffar Adeeb), who wants to marry her himself.

Side note: I have seen this waterfall before! Can someone tell me where it is? I want to go there!

End side note.

Zabak agrees to break things off with Zainab, who is understandably heartbroken (and a little mad—I don’t blame her). But luckily for we film fans, bad guys are never satisfied with just winning; they always have to escalate things, which begins a domino effect of events which end in their ruin (hope that wasn’t a spoiler). Kasim Beg has Zabak arrested for the illegal deed of thinking himself equal to the nobility, and Zabak’s father is arrested for aiding and abetting his son. Zabak is sentenced to whipping and exile, while his father is sentenced to a barber’s razor.

Unable to face the humiliation of a shaved pate, Zabak’s father kills himself in front of his shackled son. Grief-stricken (and seriously pissed off—I don’t blame him) Zabak is thrown out of the city’s walls to wander in the countryside. There, he rescues a girl from a would-be ravisher who turns out to be Samina (Sahira?), the daughter of Usman Shah—who is not a merchant, but a dacoit named Usman Agha.

He is pleased to see Zabak again, and Samina is extremely grateful. She appears to have a Veronica Lake complex of sorts.

Zabak is appalled when he discovers that Usman was posing as a merchant to prepare for an attack on his motherland Isfahaan. He protests, but when a messenger arrives with a message that all of Isfahaan is preparing for the wedding of Princess Zainab to Kasim Beg, he agrees to go along with the dacoits.

In Isfahaan a miserable Zainab is being dressed for her wedding while the court is entertained by dancing—and Bela Bose!

The dacoits arrive in time to save Zainab from her fate, and receive their instructions from Usman.

Shades of Manmohan Desai! After much sword-fighting, Zabak encounters the despicable Kasim Beg and stabs him, leaving him for dead. But Kasim Beg has cleverly worn armor under his wedding garb, and he lives on—only to murder the hapless King, Zainab’s father, for insulting him earlier. The men in this film are a sensitive lot!

As the fighting rages on, Zainab is kidnapped by one of Usman’s dacoits before Zabak can reach her room. Thwarted, he goes to find his mother (still in his dacoit disguise) and discovers that she has put her own eyes out in her grief over losing husband and son (how does that help?! How?!).

She doesn’t want any message from a son who is in cahoots with a dacoit.


When the looting is over, Usman signals for his bandits to get going but is shot through the chest with an arrow. Zabak manages to get him on his horse and out of the burning city in the nick of breathtaking time.

Back in their dacoit hideout, Usman needs medical help—someone to remove the arrow from his chest. Zabak steps forward to offer; his father was a healer and his grandfather too. Pleased by his bravery, Usman calls for a mirror so that he can watch his own operation.

Zabak manages to retrieve the arrow point from Usman’s heart and all is well. Now Usman owes him a favor and the dacoit who kidnapped Zainab shows up with her to claim her as his own. But Zainab is horrified to see her Zabak in the bosom of the dacoits who destroyed her home. When Usman—torn between his promise to give Zabak anything he wants and his general dacoit finders-keepers principle—asks Zainab to decide, she chooses the old toothless dacoit with an eye patch and a limp over the traitorous Zabak.

These people are all clearly insane. Of course, she wouldn’t be a Hindi film heroine if she didn’t flog the poor hero with a whole lot of extra work that almost kills him (hope that isn’t a spoiler either). The discovery that Zabak loves another doesn’t go down too well with Usman’s daughter Samina either—she has loved him since he saved her honor, and now that he’s also saved her father’s life she is determined to make him hers.

I am determined to make her turban and turban jewels mine! (Doesn’t she look like Karishma Kapoor?)

I won’t go into anymore plot detail; your appetite is either whetted for this one or not by now! There is plenty more action, romance, villainy and a clever—though prone to clowning—horse still to come though!

My favorite song in this (although I like them all) is the rollicking “Teri Taqdeer Ka Sitara” picturized on the horse’s owners (and CSP pair):

And I love this little peek into the wizardry of special effects (and of course I love the crocodile too, I think you can even hear the motor that powers it over the music):

Ewwww!!!! but also: FAB.

Will our intrepid not-too-girly hero finally win his true love’s heart? Or are there more kings and princes and obstacles in the way? What will happen to Isfahaan now that Kasim Beg rules? Will Zabak ever see his Ma again (we know she won’t see him)?

If you need a shot of opulence and testosterone to help you through a gloomy day, you could do a lot worse than Zabak!

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48 Comments to “Zabak (1961)”

  1. Th th th that croco d d dile is so frightening. I am shaking in my kn kn knees h h here. NOT!

  2. When I saw this one, it seemed so strange to see Mahipal without lipstick like he wears in all of his mythologicals.

    Such a shame that every Homi Wadia movie couldn’t have been filmed in color!

  3. Who can forget Teri Duniya se door. I am a fan of Mahipal after Navrang.

    • Hey the croc has beautiful dentures .), saw it as a kid in big cinema hall… it was fun as a kid no doubt.

      Ava… did yu see Parasmani with Mahipal, Helen,Nalini Chonkar. Gitanjali and the other crew… fantasy, drama, music, lovely stuff all the way and launch vehicle for Laxmi Pyare, super duo and all songs are super hit.
      Yu dont make em anymore….


    • I haven’t watched Navrang yet…but Parasmani is totally fab (although sadly black & white)…

  4. Maa Zabak must win the award for sacrificial Hindi film mothers. Putting your own eyes out, wow! Serious fun.

  5. “a relatively manly Mahipal” + “All are equal in our bath” + Veronica Lake Part 2 = giving me unrealistic hopes about this movie’s subtext! :D Oh, and the crocodile is the only worthy challenger to Ajooba’s crab that I have seen.

    • “All are equal in our bath”
      The hindi phrase “Haman main sab nange hain”. (All are naked in the bath), suggests itself. :p

    • Subtext? You want subtext? let me know if you find some. I am so dazzled by what’s right in front of me that I cannot even begin to mine it further.

      Sunil: that is probably what they said, if so it’s an excellent translation :)

  6. Thank you for reviewing this film, memsaab. I’ve loved the songs since forever,
    and have also always loved watching Mahipal films. He and Anita Guha are my favourite for doing stories from Ramayana or Mahabharat. :-)

    Its always good to read Mahipal described as – relatively manly/not-too-girly. :-D
    Does Ma deafen(?) herself too? Ouch!!

    • I really liked him in this too—he was sweet. Poor thing had to wear so much lipstick in so many of his movies, and he really didn’t need to. The songs are just awesome!

      • Oh, I forgot to mention the waterfall.
        The only one I can think of are the Jog waterfall in Karnatak. They are the only ones i know which are broad like this rather than a narrow stream.

        The picture could be a part cut off from the whole by some camera trick or two.
        Or it could be from some angle that looks like this.

        • I will look up Jog waterfall, see if there’s a photo :) Thanks!

          • Nope, can’t be the Jog falls.
            Extremely likely to be near Mumbai. Google
            water falls Mumbai. :)

            Umbrella Falls bhandardara
            seems likely candidate

          • I tend to agree with Sunil that it is our aamchi Bhandardara,Mahrasthtra.

            This applies esp to the oldie goldies bcos those days the Unit cud hardly afford to go out of the Country, leave aside the State, and I have just seen yday, (what a coincidence), whilst watching BAROOD from 1966.

            The scenes move from Lonavla/Khandala, The Western Ghats to these falls. Will try to dig out the SS.


  7. More likely its a prop used for different films.

    But here’s one in Assam called elephant falls which resemble this a lot, and I think prehaps they photographed it and used it in many films as a backdrop.

  8. Maybe the Umbrella Falls…although it doesn’t look quite right either. Ah well. The magic of the movies.

    ps @pacifist: the photo link did cause a fatality so I removed it ;-)

  9. Re: “…she has put her own eyes out in her grief over losing husband and son (how does that help?! How?!)….”

    Other than to express her anguish, I think it’s to help preserve the last visual memories of her husband and son – there wasn’t photography back then and time can be an enemy to the mind.

    Re: “…Doesn’t she look like Karishma Kapoor?…”

    No, but I see a bit of Reena Roy in that screencap.

  10. Having being subjected to more than a few Turkish films in the eighties (many dreadful) I remember one film in which the protagonist poked his eyes out with the minarets cologne bottle shaped like a Turkish mosque. He was feeling miserable and lots of bad things happened to him and that was his reaction. Brrrrr. This was not a scene a child should see (especially one whose TV/film viewing is strictly monitored at home)

  11. Veronica Lake complex“?! There was a lot of it in an old Ginger Rogers film I saw recently, but this is kind of a very delayed reaction (almost two decades too late!) to her.

    And I wonder if Mahipal felt naked without all the lipstick…

  12. There are lots of beautiful waterfalls through out India – so would be tough to identify this one I think. Kerala is full of water falls as you go through the State.

    • I tend to agree that it’s probably one close to home, ie in Maharashtra. It very might well be the Umbrella Falls, they look the closest I’ve seen. Camera angles are so deceiving too.

  13. Goodness, I could stare at those screencaps all day just for the costumes! I actually scrolled through those before I went back to the top and read your post. :-) I, too, am set on wearing a pink turban in the not-so-distant future. Everyone already thinks I’ve gone crazy anyway, might as well prove them right. :-D

  14. Thank you for introducing me to a music director I was not aware of, Chitragupta. I listened to one song from Zabak on Music India Online “Teri Duniya…something…” and it was lovely so I listened to a few more of his songs at random and they were very good. According to Wikipedia, his sons are Anand-Millind, highly popular in the 90’s and still active

    • Among my favorite soundtracks by him are “Main Chup Rahungi” and “Zimbo”…he wrote absolutely fabulous music :) I’m always happy to see his name as Music Director!

  15. It’s a nostalgic. It took me flashback to my childhood when I first saw
    Zabak paying forty paise for a balcony.

  16. I was happy you mentioned Zimbo. I love the song Lo Chale Hum from that movie.
    Chitragupta (or Chitragupt) somehow was never discovered by Hindi big banners. In the 50s and 60s he composed mostly for fantasy films like Zabak here, or for social dramas made by Tamil industry producers and houses. The ones you reviewed Ek Raaz, Oonche Log are all by Southern producers. I guess they could not afford the then n-demand MDs like SJ, LP or Naushad. Which is lucky for us, for Chitragupta gave us some very memorable music.

    I was actually looking for the meaning of Zabak in the Hindi/Urdu dictionary, which did not have it of course, and found

  17. Oops! butter fingers. Hit the submit when I was trying to insert:).

    …. found it (not the meaning, but what or who it was) at your blog.

  18. Hi Membsaab,

    I’ve enjoyed your posts! Where on earth do you find these movies? The subtitles are almost essential to the experience. Can you share your source?


    • Yes even if I did not need them, which I DO, I would probably usually leave them on. They can be highly entertaining.

      I find movies all over the place, but this one is pretty easy to locate on a subtitled dvd. Rare for a Wadia Bros. film! Try Nehaflix or…or eBay :)

  19. Yes indeed that crocodile really made me laugh. But Zabak is remembered for the wonderful songs.

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