This is my least favorite of the Mehboob Khan films I’ve seen, and it is such a pity. It boasts a fine cast with excellent acting, absolutely gorgeous music, stunning cinematography, detailed sets and costumes. The visuals, the ambiance and the characterizations all convey a wild Romanticism, but the plot collapses into an unholy mess halfway through. The pivotal event around which it revolves is completely incongruous with the characters we have come to know (not to mention that I have a serious quarrel with some of the resulting fallout). It feels like Mehboob didn’t show up at all to work on the second half; it’s as if he realized that he was confused about what he was trying to say, knew he had screwed it up, didn’t have the energy to care, and finally just gave up.
This is one of the most romantic films I’ve ever seen, with absolutely sublime music by Naushad. It’s a Muslim social drama set in Lucknow, with all the attendant grace and beauty you would expect. Elaborate sets and costumes are de rigueur! Love blooms for Sadhana and Rajendra Kumar, and there is also a lovely romance between the so handsome Ashok Kumar and pretty Nimmi. Obstacles and misunderstandings abound, seasoned with (mostly) funny-man Johnny Walker’s antics, and made compelling by the people and relationships you can’t help but root for—this is my favorite kind of movie. Even the fairly poor condition of the color print only adds to the old-fashioned and elegant ambiance of it all.
Almost-graduate Anwar Hussain (Rajendra Kumar) has seen a girl’s eyes through her burkha, and fallen hard for them. When he despairs of finding her before school ends, his best friend Ghayal (Johnny Walker) encourages him to write a poem for her for the shair competition that Anwar has won every year. He does so, and performs the lovely, haunting “Mere Mehboob Tujhe”—instantly winning the adoration of the girl he seeks, Husna (Sadhana).
She attempts to meet him afterwards, but is scared off by other students crowding around to congratulate him. Poor Anwar has no other opportunity to meet her before he boards a train home to Lucknow with Ghayal. Unbeknownst to him she is in the ladies compartment of the same train and her brother the Nawab (Ashok Kumar) ends up in the same carriage as Anwar and Ghayal—who knows him, and introduces him to Anwar.
Ghayal is the son of the richest man in Lucknow, a moneylender. He wants Binda (Ghayal’s real name) to join the family business but Ghayal prefers to dabble in poetry. On one of his first days home, he is riding his bike in the time-honored “Look Ma! No hands!” tradition when he loses his balance and crashes into the girl who becomes the object of his affections.
This and the ongoing arguments with his father at home make up the Comic Side Plot, and that’s all I’m going to say on the subject. Johnny Walker is one of my favorite comedians, and he makes me laugh during this film; thus, I find it easy to forgive the CSP interruptions and the fact that Praveen Paul and Sunder (who play his parents) don’t look any older than he does, and nor does Johnny himself look even close to the same age as Rajendra Kumar and Sadhana.
So on with the main plot: Anwar’s education and support has been provided by his older sister Najma (Nimmi). When the two of them were orphaned at an early age, greedy relatives mistreated them and stole their inheritance. To survive, Najma took Anwar away and started working as a dancer in the theater. They are extremely close, and I love their bhai-bahen relationship.
Najma’s dancing is not respectable work, and in fact she doesn’t want anyone to know that she is Anwar’s sister for fear of tainting his reputation and prospects. For his part, Anwar longs to acknowledge her, dancer or not, and now that his education is complete he wants her to give up the profession that she so dislikes and which so shames her. He can’t bear to see her on stage, although I think she’s lovely!
Someone else who finds her lovely is the Nawab: he is in love with her and as her official “protector” has saved her from the advances of other men, but he won’t marry her because he feels an obligation to maintain his old and respected family’s name.
Anwar knows nothing about their relationship, although the Nawab has confided in Husna about his love for Najma. Theirs is also a close brother-sister relationship (I love those, since I’m lucky to have one myself). He refuses to get married at all, since the woman he loves:
The Nawab sits around smoking his hookah all day, and their house is absolutely over-the-top grand. It’s Mughal-palace-meets-1950s-Hollywood-set-decoration:
Anyway, Anwar needs a job and Ghayal suggests he ask the Nawab for assistance (it’s not what you know, but who!). The Nawab is thrilled to see the young men again, and happily recommends Anwar for an editor’s job at a local newspaper. He asks Anwar for a favor in return: his sister writes poetry, and could use some tutoring.
Husna can’t stop thinking about the handsome poet from college, and has confided in her best friend Naseem (Ameeta, in a lovely role). Naseem happens to live next door to the house that Anwar has rented—his balcony overlooks her back window and garden.
At their first poetry tutoring session, Anwar asks Husna (who sits on the other side of a screen from him—purdah is observed rather erratically in the film, but quite possibly is in real life too) to recite a favorite poem so he can gauge her taste. She astonishes him by reciting his own song back at him.
Ecstatic but shy, each pretends that his or her “friend” has feelings for the other, and then they rush off to share the joy of finding their beloveds with their best friends. At Naseem’s house, Husna sings the “Mere Mehboob” song, and Anwar overhears. Going out on his balcony, he spots Naseem at the window and mistakes her for his newfound love. For her part, Naseem sees the handsome young man staring at her and is smitten. This misunderstanding leads to a happy evening spent gazing across the narrow street at each other.
It doesn’t take long for Husna and Anwar to discover that their “friends” are in fact each other, though. The Nawab calls Anwar by name in Husna’s hearing, and then tells Anwar that Husna herself—not her “friend”—went to college in Aligarh where she heard him sing.
Anwar realizes that he’s made a mistake with his neighbor, but forgets about her quickly (after all, he has no idea who she is). He advances boldly beyond the screen at the next tutoring session—not much tutoring is getting done, I can tell you!—and finally gets to see Husna’s face. He murmurs “Subhan Allah!” reverently. I melt into a puddle.
Meanwhile, the Nawab has been thinking about getting Husna married and discusses it with Najma. He has had offers from people with lots of money, but he has a boy in mind who is educated and of good character, although he doesn’t know much about his family. Najma unwittingly supports Anwar’s case by pointing out gently that an education is as good as money.
Their relationship is fun to watch too. Clearly they genuinely love each other, and though both agree that marriage is not possible they share a happy companionship together. Of course I think they should get married despite societal disapproval, and I pray that the Nawab will wake up one day and smell the coffee!
At least it looks like a happy ending in store for our Anwar and our Husna, but there is a lot of stuff in the way! First of all, Naseem still loves Anwar and thinks he loves her.
Secondly, one of Naseem’s uncles—a wealthy but characterless man played by Pran!—has gotten a look at Husna himself, and he wants to marry her.
When Naseem’s aunt (Mumtaz Begum) brings his proposal to the Nawab and is rejected, we discover that the Nawab himself has some big problems.
And of course, Anwar doesn’t know anything about the Nawab’s relationship with his sister. Worst of all, the Nawab is about to find out that the man he has chosen for his sister is the brother of the woman whom society—and he—have deemed unfit for marriage into his family!
Can our lovers survive the onslaught of scheming by Pran and Mumtaz Begum? They are no slouches at evildoing! What will Naseem do when she discovers that the man she dreams of loves her best friend? And finally, can the Nawab choose happiness for his sister over the family’s honor? What about happiness for himself and Najma?
It’s a heart-rending and suspenseful trip along the thorny path of love, but a trip I highly recommend. Naushad’s songs for this film are deservedly famous; my favorite besides “Mere Mehboob Tujhe” is the lively dance number “Jaaneman Ek Nazar Dekhle” performed by Ameeta. I need to see more of her! The ambiance is of a time and culture now gone—if romance and history are your thing, you will love this.
Most Hindi films from the 1940s are pretty melodramatic. Not only is the acting theatrical and stagey, but the dialogues are overwrought and repetitive (so that you don’t miss the point, I guess) and there are 10-15 songs sprinkled throughout at the rate of one every ten minutes (or so it seems). Characters are self-sacrificing and martyred, or unreasonably demanding; and there’s often some sort of love triangle ending with at least one person’s death (usually Dilip Kumar’s character). All this can make the movie heavy going, but at least the plots tend to be fairly straightforward and easy to follow. And if you know what to expect they always have something fun to offer (like Hindi films in every decade!).
I was so f*ing happy to see these words. An alternate title could be When Bad Things Happen To Good People. The denouement has Dilip Kumar stabbing his own eyes out. And up until then it’s nothing but misery, suffering and pain.
I will say that it is a well-crafted film, with superb performances—especially by Dilip Kumar and Ashok Kumar. But for a girl who already worries too much about eight dollar cups of coffee and what the world is coming to it’s unredeemably depressing.