Mirza Sahiban (1957)

If you think your parents could have done better by you, at least be grateful that you aren’t poor Mirza or Sahiba. Sahiba’s family are all nasty pieces of work, with the sole exception of her father who is an ineffectual panty-waist. Her mother is an abusive shrew, and her spoiled and arrogant brothers are murdering bullies. And Mirza’s mother leaves her young son in the “care” of that same family, despite being at the receiving end of their ill-treatment herself and knowing that they dislike Mirza equally. With this sort of beginning, the only hope one can really have is that things will look up eventually…but as we all know, in this sad tale they never do. The only things that kept me going were Beloved Shammi and the really lovely music by Punjabi music director Sardul Kwatra (who also produced it).

I fall in love instantly with the opening song, a paean to the Punjab (I think, the songs aren’t subtitled) called “Nahin Rees Punjab Di” which I’m putting here for your delectation since I can’t find it online anywhere.

Celebrating Punjabi culture is a cliche in Hindi cinema these days, and I’m not Punjabi anyway—but it’s a lovely (albeit idealized) glimpse of the landscape and old pastoral way of life. Sadly, the travelogue is soon over and we are plunged into the bosom of Sahiba’s and Mirza’s dysfunctional family. Sahiba’s father (Uma Dutt) is Mirza’s mother’s brother (making them cousins). She brings Mirza for an extended visit to her family home, a visit cut short when Sahiba’s mother (Gulab) throws a fit over her young daughter’s budding relationship with Mirza, who for some reason is not considered worthy of her. Mirza adamantly refuses to leave his Sahiba when his insulted mother packs up her bags and goes.

Her sad-sack hen-pecked brother (I have to giggle at his self-recriminations in the face of his wife’s iron-fisted control over him):

promises to take good care of Mirza, although how someone so lacking a spine can possibly protect a kid who is clearly not wanted is beyond me. Anyway, Sahiba and Mirza become inseparable and grow into young adults (Shyama and Shammi Kapoor) who adore each other. The little cocoon of love that surrounds them is constantly under attack by Sahiba’s brothers Mir (Ram Singh) and Shamir (Madan Puri) in addition to her mother, but the pair remains steadfast (although they spend a lot of time talking about their willingness to die for one another, never a good omen).

(Right back at you, Shammi, oh my Shammi.)

In addition to Sahiba, Mirza has a passion for his white mare and his bow and arrows and is a crack shot. This endears him no further to his nasty cousins, and his love for Sahiba is also a thorn in the side for the local barber and matchmaker Umara (?) who stands to lose a commission if the young lovers marry each other. When Sahiba persuades Mirza to take her to a local fair, Umara takes the opportunity to create trouble.

By the way, in case you haven’t noticed by now, the subtitles in this were a real trial to read and I’m pretty sure my eyesight is at least 10% worse than it was when I started watching the movie. It’s even more difficult when the picture is moving.

I do appreciate the proper use of “whom” when I can see them, though.

Well, I digress. Umara informs Mir and Shamir that Sahiba is at the fair with Mirza. Infuriated, they track him down and beat him mercilessly, although not as mercilessly as Sahiba’s mother when they all reach home. She throws Mirza out of the house and locks Sahiba in her room. Sahiba’s father quickly accedes to his wife’s wishes that he get Sahiba married into the wealthy Choudhary family (who happen to be her relatives) nearby, and Umara is called in.

Sahiba, unable to escape her mother’s eagle eye, asks her friend Mora (?) to take a message to Mirza, who is now homeless and despondently considering suicide.

Mora saves him from jumping off a cliff, and he goes to stay with their aunt, Bibo.

Umara the matchmaker now becomes very busy, going first to fix Sahiba’s marriage with the son of Choudhary Sahab (Nazir Kashmiri—how it thrills me to say that!), and then to Mirza’s parents’ house, where he tells them how mistreated Mirza has been. Mirza’s mother asks him to plead with Mirza to return home—which he doesn’t have to do because Bibo (?) is already suggesting it to Mirza.

She relents though in the face of Mirza’s devotion:

Oh dear.

He agrees to return to his parental home if Bibo will bring Sahiba to him to say goodbye, which she does. He promises to return for Sahiba, and she says that she will send word when her wedding date is fixed so that he can save her. I am not clear how this will work out better than if they just leave right now, but it’s not my plot. Sahiba’s wedding is eventually fixed for the same day as Mirza’s sister Chatti’s, and Bibo sends a message to Mirza.

We’re entertained with a lively dance from Sheela Vaz (I really really love the music in this film):

and that’s pretty much the last happy moment to be had (uhh…spoiler?). Mirza receives the message, and races away on his trusty white mare to rescue Sahiba from her wedding.

SPOILER (minor): I hate the way this ends. Not because it is tragic, but because once again an Indian woman is put up on a pedestal and lauded for sacrificing the man she loves, who has never done anything but love her in return, for the sake of people who have never treated her any way but badly. It just infuriates me. It’s tragic all right, and also completely pointless. The film deviates slightly from the version of the story that I’ve read online, but not by much and certainly not for the better; and implicit in the ending is the understanding that Sahiba’s menfolk had every right to kill her and her lover for blemishing her family’s reputation. UGH. No remorse, no punishment—no lessons learned, at all. END SPOILER.

Besides the music, Shammi’s performance is one of the highlights. He is restrained and oh! so romantic. Mirza is loving and strong, but not ridiculously macho. To be fair, none of the performances from anyone are too over-the-top in that way; and Shyama is a very realistic Sahiba, making their romance one you want to succeed. It’s a good cast, and if the end had brought some sort of intellectual nourishment as a result of its tragic events, it would have been an acceptable story too. As it is, though, it’s just terribly sad; and it makes the film’s glowing tributes throughout to Punjabi traditions ring pretty hollow.

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58 Comments to “Mirza Sahiban (1957)”

  1. ‘Celebrating Punjabi culture is a cliche in Hindi cinema these days,”

    Bolly serves up Punjabi life like “Indian” restaurants serve up Punjabi food. As long as the other under and unrepresented North Indians aren’t complaining who am I.
    Almost all the heroes are Punjabi. As long as Punjab gives us another Dharmendra I’m not going to complain about that either.

    • I can’t tell a Punjabi from a Gujju to be honest :)

      • Simple membsaab – hindi filmdom people with names
        like khanna, kapoor, chopra, etc are punjabis. LoL, it is
        indeed not so easy coz a lot of non punjabis too share some common surnames like for eg Mehra – could be a punjabi surname but also found in UP.

        LoL at sophy’s comment above wrt indian restaurant
        analogy. Some how the hindi films are an overkill about so called punjabi culture. A punjabi friend of mine was
        complaining that they actually don’t depict true
        punjabi culture.

        India has a rich diverse culture and it is indeed a pity that the hindi film makers can’t show more of MP and UP culture.
        Vishal Bharadwaj is from UP (meerut I think) and he does tend to show some of it but then again in the context of his movies it all about certain aspects of UP culture. It would be good if we had more divergent culturally oriented films.

        BTW, I was born in UP and spent my early childhood there though I am not from the North

        • See? Not so simple :D

          All over the world some cultures are noisier than others :)

          • Very true. I was annoyed to find Punjabi songs in a Hindi movie recently (Jab Tak Hai Jaan). Its disrespectful to the audience to insert songs in a language unfamiliar to them. Its almost as if they couldn’t care less whether the audience could understand the stuff they were dishing out.

            What makes it worst is that most Punjabi songs these days (songs of JTHJ were exceptions) seem preoccupied with Daaru (whisky) and Kudi (Girls). I’m sure there’s a lot more to Punjabi culture than that, but the popular music these days paint a pretty pathetic picture of their culture. Really wonder why Punjabis tolerate such vandalisation of their culture.

  2. I’ve wanted to check this one out, but I have so much wanted to see the 1947 one first…

    But if I do find the ’47 one, I doubt it will have subtitles.

    So I was thinking… if the story in both films is identical, or at least close enough, then maybe I should watch the ’57 one first, and then follow the ’47 one based on that. (Memsaab, I think you have done that sort of thing a couple of times before, right?)

    Alternatively, I might either read the online version that you mentioned (link…?) or use your review of the ’57 version to follow the ’47 one. :)

    • I have done that, although not purposefully, with Khazanchi (saw the later remake with subs, then the earlier one without but easily followed it thanks to knowing the story) :) I think you could no doubt do that with this one too. If you google “Mirza Sahiban” you will find plenty of short synopses of the original tale. I found quite a few and they all basically matched!

      This one has SHAMMI :) And it’s pretty well done, even if the plot irritates me!

      • This one might have Shammi, but the ’47 one has Shammi’s uncle, Trilok! :) Of course, you know why I would love to see the ’47 one – last Bollywood film with Noor Jehan. Plus, I find the ’47 film’s soundtrack, by Pt. Amarnath, to be very beautiful all around. But the ’57 one certainly looks and sounds worthwhile too. So thank you for inspiring me with your viewings of Khazanchi. :) This could be a plan (assuming I do even find the ’47 version without subs)…

        • I haven’t ever seen the ’47 version available (I look for movies particularly from then and the 30s as well)…will let you know if I do! And honestly I think you would like this version. I can’t stand the story, but the music especially is so beautiful.

  3. No spoilers here, the legend of Mirza Sahiban is well known. For a moment, Sahiban is torn between the love for her brothers and for Mirza. The movie makers could not depict that difficult moment well, I suppose.

    • Especially not when they made the brothers so very unlikable—they were just macho bullies who didn’t treat Sahiba any better than they treated Mirza, and they had no reason to treat Mirza so badly either! The story would work much better if the brothers were three-dimensional characters instead of nasty caricatures throughout, but by the time the film ends you just don’t understand why any reasonable person would feel any love or loyalty for them.

  4. As Ava says, the plot is well known but Shammi in a restrained role (n so romantic…romance is something he excels at) – it’s too much of a temptation to resist! All the screencaps with Shammi are so good. Thanks for that song, it’s fab! And I love Shyama too. Lots of reasons to watch this movie – am off to hunt for it.
    I saw Janwaar last night and was still under Shammi’s spell and here I go again! Couldn’t have had a better way to start my week :-)
    Thanks a lot!

  5. Shammi is enough reason for me to watch this (not to mention Shyama – I like her a lot too!), but a tragic end? That’s what’s kept me away from buying or renting this all this while. But I don’t know… maybe I’ll try and keep reminding myself “This is just a film,” and perhaps I won’t be too distressed. As in Baiju Bawra!

    Then, Bharat Bhushan isn’t Shammi Kapoor. ;-)

    • It’s well done, and I would like it if it had a truly tragic end instead of a pointless and stupid one (I’m beginning to sound like Baburao myself :)…it would have been much improved if Sahiba’s devotion to her brothers made any sense. She did also say that she didn’t want Mirza’s reputation to be besmirched for killing her family but again my western sensibilities get irritated by all that talk of reputation, when reputations depend on qualities that I can’t get on board with.

  6. Why would Sahiban sacrifice Mirza for her hateful brothers?? Never made sense. At least if the brothers were nice chaps….

    I shall look it up in my Punjabi literature books and let you know if this was any different…

    LOL re the punjabi culture analogy! Love the songs of the Noor Jehan version as well.
    Apart from all the actors, I would go for Rafi and her as top Punjabi products :)

  7. And some alternative Punjabi culture:
    a poem by Amrita Pritam on Partition (now she has a fascinating biography herself) that can be found engraved on the Indo-Pak border at Wagah


  8. Hmmm. Sadly, families still think it’s ok to kill the girl (and often, the boy, too) for the sin of falling in love. In that sense, a true cultural depiction. :(

    • I know…which only makes it that much harder to digest :( In this, the brothers actually do talk about killing Sahiba (and they are the ones who do kill her, although it’s sort of accidental) rather than following the more traditional storyline of Sahiba killing herself after Mirza’s death.

  9. OK, here’s the “dope”, and it makes a bit more sense than the film.
    Mirza Sahiban, a kissa (the original kissa is the Yusuf-Zuleikha story) was originally by Pilu, and which has survived in only partially. It was later written by Hafis Burkhurdar, who claimed that a crow from Pilu’s grave had come and encouraged him to tell the tale.
    Both versions concur, and use the brother’s love for a sister, so beloved of folk songs in Punjab.
    Mirza and Sahiban were cousins and Mirza as a child lived with his Mamaji, maternal uncle, Sahiban’s father. M & S take lessons in the mosque together as kids, and this is when they fall in love. But the Sahiban’s father had already betrothed her to Nura, and is not willing to break his word, even for his sister’s son, something quite normal according to Muslim marriage traditions.
    “Mirza elopes with Sahiban to take her to his native village of Danabad. He is pursued by Sahiban’s borthers and her betrothed and their companions. Mirza has an extra fleet horse, but he is so confident of his prowess as an archer that he would stop halfway in the wood to have a nap at mid-day, against Sahiban’s prtestations and warnings of the danger they were exposed to. When Mirza goes to sleep, she hangs his quiver of arrows on a high branch, so that when her brothers are near, he may be persuaded to flee on his much faster horse (mirza is an excellent marksman). But Mirza wakes up too late, he is killed and Sahiban throws herself on a dry bush that she has set on fire and burns herself to death.”

    Mirza Sahiban is a kissa that is not influenced by Sufism, so love is carnal love, not something approaching divine love, which has given it a lesser reputation. There is a saying the Punjab that there are only two-and-a-half lovers in the world: the two fully true ones are Heer-Ranjha and Sohni-Mahiwal, while Mirza-Sahiban is only “half” because it has “carnal passions” as one of its themes !

    To finish off this long post, just to add that most kissas were written up by more than one Punjabi poet, hence there are many variations in the story and its treatment, but in this case, the 2 poets writing about it tell the same tale.

    • Thanks Bawa. I did think while watching that if there were some “good” reason given for Sahiba’s family’s opposition to her romance with Mirza, and if they actually all treated her with some love and respect it would have been a much better film. But alas, that didn’t happen. The point was made that he was an excellent archer and that his lovely white horse was faster than any other horse in the area, but it wasn’t used as part of Sahiba’s rationale for hiding his arrows—she hid them to save her brothers and him from killing each other. But given the chronic behavior of her brothers throughout her lifetime, it made no sense at all for her to worry about them OR give them any credit for finer feelings—if she had any brainpower at all, she ought to have known they would kill Mirza (except of course that she was a good Indian woman, devoted to the men in her family no matter what). Ugh.

      • Ugh is the word!
        Apparently Pilu at the end of the poem also rails against Mirza’s own brothers for not coming to His aid, and both authors imply that Sahiban thought that she could bring about an ending where both sides would be saved from bloodshed, and perhaps, later, everything would be forgiven. Neither author seems to suggest any ill-treatment of Sahiban by her family in other matter, rather, all the contrary.. She is of course described as exceptionally beautiful.

        In that sense, both Pilu and Burkhudar seem to make her more realistic as far as I can see- she is trying to do things in a way that avoids killing anyone- a stance that is perfectly understandable but of course male pride – on both sides- seems to have won the day.
        I mean what on earth was Mirza doing taking naps while eloping and running away from her pursuing family??

        I suppose the film had to add all that drama..it is a pity they didn’t develop it along more logical lines.

        • In the movie I think the poor horse needed a bit of a rest :) It had been going full gallop for quite some time!!! And Mirza thought that they wouldn’t be found.

          The story you found above does more sense and I wish the filmmakers had followed that line, but maybe no villainy was not an option, even though it would have made the movie much stronger.

    • Thanks bawa, it makes this story a little bit sensible.
      Thanks also for the background story.

  10. Is this a Punjabi or Hindi movie?

  11. I’d like to contribute something intelligent to the discussion on warped Indian family values, but I keep looking at the first screencap and wishing I was the horse!


  12. Thanks for adding that wonderful song Memsaab. I think I need to get this DVD if only for the music!

    • I know, I can’t find the music anywhere so have started the arduous process of ripping it from the dvd, although I have no clue how to improve the sound quality :(

  13. Yeah, I have a strong case of the Do Not Wants. The screenshots, however, I will happily take.

  14. Well, this is my information about Mirza Sahiban.

    There is really no illtreatment by family members. The film made up its own story without realizing that the ending would look stupid.

    Sahiban’s father was the son of a woman called Nooran who dies after giving him birth and so he got a wet nurse who had her own daughter.
    Thus the two become siblings, though not really related,

    I have not heard of the saying in Punjab about two and a half lovers (maybe it’s a 21st century saying ;-)
    Mirza Sahiban is considered right up there along with heer ranjha and Soni Mahiwal.

    Same goes for this ‘carnal’ angle. Never heard of that either.
    Surfed around some Pakistani sites to see what they have to say and didn’t read about the ‘carnal’ angle there either.

    Every narration mentions that Sahiban hung the quiver way up because she thought it would avoid bloodshed. Perhaps she didn’t expect her brothers to attack him while he was unarmed.

    • Well no ill treatment except preventing her from being with, and the murder of, the man she loves :\

      Most of the versions I’ve read say that they were cousins (as does the film). As bawa said, though, there are numerous versions floating around out there as is true of most Indian literature!

      • Pacifist: Saying of “dhai lovers” is very very old, so much so that it has probably gone out of use in the late 20th/21st century! The two and half is also a reference to the fact that Sahiban was the only kissa heroine who did not show unwavering loyalty to her lover, no matter what. Both Pilu and Burkhudar criticise Sahiban for failing the test of true love.

        Pilu’s poem did not comment much on the social norms of the time, he concentrated more on the hostility and tensions between the two sides and the fact that they were unwilling to compromise.

        And my sources on the are the poems- and my little library of books on Punjabi literature. Pilu’s surviving verses are still sung. Burkhudar incorporated Pilu’s verses into his own poems. Scholars agree that the bit about the “crow coming from Pilu’s grave..” was an excuse to freely make use of Pilu’s poetry:), although he did do so openly.

        The themes of carnal/secular love, as compared to human love= divine love as used by poets influenced by Sufism, have been treated by different scholars of Punjabi literature.

        Pakistani or Indian sites, the the earliest known version of Mirza-Sahiban kissa is the poet Pilu’s poem. It is known that Pilu was a contemporary of Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1606), so from that you can date the tale approx. Burkhudar came a generation or two later (b. 1658), so Pilu’s poem would have still been available at the time. More modernly, in the late 1800s, 2 other poets tackled this kissa. Mohammad Buta Gujarati (1836-1919) and Bhagwan Singh (1850-1902).

        In this way, all these tales have had several poets but there has always been one that is first, and most claim that it based on real characters or that they “have seen it with their own eyes”.
        For instance, Heer-Ranjha was first written by Damodar, followed by Ahmed Yar, Muqbal, Waris Shah – the best known one now, Joga Singh, Kishan Singh and Bhagwan Singh. All these later stories make variations on the original tale of Damodar. As he was a Hindu, he saw Ranjha as a flute playe- Krishna type. And in his version, the story is in the tradition of Hindu classics, rather more a comedy, and he reunites Heer and Ranjha in the end and has them leave for Mecca on a pilgrimage.
        I myself don’t mind this sensible happy ending at all :)

        • Thanks Bawa, :-)

          The one that I’m most familiar with is of course Heer Ranjha which my father would sing from a book as he was very devoted to poetry (punjabi). Of course I wouldn’t know who it was written by and too late now to find out.

          • I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch Heer Ranjha (with Raaj Kumar), although I understand that it’s very beautiful and done all in verse (which, depending on the subtitles, would be lost on me most likely)…

        • Very interestng background to this story, bawa. Thanks.
          I have always enjoyed reading comments to memsaab’s posts – there is so much to know from the comments alone. Whether it is discussing the story or providing some gossip ;-) or just banter, the comments are great fun to read. :-)

  15. Between the subtitles and the spoilers, this isn’t likely to go on my “must watch” list. But my, Shammi is looking particularly delectable!

  16. Knowing the end, I do not think I can bring myself to watch this movie, even if the movie has Shammi Kapoor and Shyama in it. I can watch the songs of this movie, that is only this far that I can go as far as this movie is concerned.

  17. Pacifist: That must be a great memory to have.
    He was probably reading from the Waris Shah one, which is the one most widely available and the one most singers sing from. It has some truly beautiful verses.
    You might want to hear a recitation and singing of the same here
    Look for Heer Waris Shah 1, 2, & 3.

    Butt having read the whole thing for myself I have to tell you it is absolutely crazy the way Waris Shah changes directions, goes backwards and forwards, suddenly tells the same incident in a totally different way, meanders for long comments: in short, drives you up the wall if you are looking for a logical tale!

    One scholar in writing about him while acknowledging his gift and popularity of his verses, sums it up thus: “..such a mixture of good and bad qualities…one despairs of making a critical judgment…”

    • Yesss! It clicked!
      It *was* Heer waris Shah!! And it was written in urdu.

      I have downloaded all the parts and will be listening to it very often from now on (the first part is already playing). Its bringing back fond memories.

      Thank you so much.

  18. If I must watch Shammi die, I’d rather he met a patriotically useful death! So, bad print and all (and it is VERY BAD) – I’ll take Shaheed Bhagat Singh anyday! Besides Romeo-Juliet love-tragedies are not really my thing, not even when Shammi looks so good…

    what I won’t do for Shammi would not even fill a postage stamp.” – So you WILL watch Shaheed Bhagat Singh since its bigger than a postage stamp? ;-)

    • I DID watch Shaheed Bhagat Singh, or at least as much of it as I could before the subtitles which were not synched to the sound which wasn’t synched to the video made me sea-sick…

      I’ll take this one again any day over that one, or Jeevan Jyoti! I might even like it better than Shama Parwana in the Shammi Death vein (ie not saying much)…but mostly I would rather watch Junglee or Janwar or Professor or even unsubtitled Daku again :)

  19. You know memsaab, try as I might, I can’t read those subtitles in the screen-caps.
    So am really admiring your ability to sit through an entire movie like that AND make sense of it- Shammi or no Shammi!

    • Well, I couldn’t read half of them anyway it’s true. But the story wasn’t too complicated and I was familiar enough with it to not need them much :) They did give me a headache though.

  20. I like Shammi and Shyama so I think would watch this movie till close to the end (death scenes).
    Talking of Shyama, I have not seen many movies of hers but the ones I have seen, I have really liked her. She has excellent screen presence. I don’t know her story but I think she could definitely have been a bigger star.

    • The death scenes are actually pretty heart-wrenching (in other words, well done—even though they break my Cardinal Rule No. 1 of Hindi movie-watching, which is that Shammi Should Never Ever Ever Die).

      Shyama does have great screen presence, even in her later years when she was quite large she still holds your attention and is really beautiful.

      You might enjoy Karan’s piece about her at Upperstall (although it’s sad, too)…

  21. I’m glad you mentioned Raj Kumar’s Heer Ranjha, memsaab.

    Very remiss of me not to have seen it. If nothing else at least it would be great watching RK delivering dialogue in verse.

    And the subtitles would be fun to read.
    On the other hand I don’t know if watching a classic that too a tragedy with a twinkle in ones eye is the right attitude :-D

    • Yes, even I can tell that Raaj Kumar is an unbelievable poetry-deliverer (is that even a word? I don’t think so)…so I would no doubt enjoy it from that standpoint, although I am sure the subtitles would be inadequate at best for understanding the poetry.

      If you can’t watch something with a twinkle in your eye for some aspect of it, then it is probably not worth watching ;-)

  22. Pacifist: there is a subtitled DVD of Heer Ranjha available, which I own, but haven’t gone round to watching as yet (only seen the beginning). I also bought it just to see a film in verse, although it is in Hindi.
    The songs are very very good.

  23. I am interested in complete story as want to re write a story….

  24. I am interested in complete story as want to re write a story….

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