I’ve always had a soft corner for Muslim socials—I find the tehzeeb quite beguiling. It also probably has a lot to do with the fact that Urdu has a mellifluousness that few languages possess. And most actors look great in achkans!
So, having recently re-seen some old favourites (including Mere Mehboob, Pakeezah, Chaudhvin ka Chand and Nakli Nawab), I decided it was time to watch some I hadn’t seen before. This was the first of the lot, and not bad, really.
Nawab Salim (Raj Kumar) lives in Lucknow with his sister Shama. Salim’s a debauch, his name a hissing and a byword. His world revolves around wine, women and song (and tennis!), but all of that comes to a screeching halt when Salim runs into Sultanat (Mala Sinha), Shama’s beautiful friend.
Salim’s smitten and is pretty sure that Sultanat reciprocates his feelings. He doesn’t know, however, that Sultanat is actually in love with a young poet called Akhtar Hussain `Akhtar’ (Jeetendra), who met her on the train to Lucknow and sang Rukh se zara naqaab utha do mere huzoor to her. By sheer coincidence (and they’re a dime a dozen in Mere Huzoor), Akhtar had once rescued Salim from drowning and so Salim is indebted to him—in fact, Akhtar’s come to Lucknow on Salim’s insistence.
Salim persuades Shama to visit Sultanat’s father (K.N. Singh, in an all-too-short role) and ask for Sultanat’s hand in marriage. Sultanat tells Shama that she doesn’t care two hoots for Salim, and fortunately for Sultanat, her father too turns down the match: a ne’er do well like Salim isn’t his idea of the ideal son-in-law.
Akhtar’s been romancing Sultanat all this while, and decides the time’s ripe to press his suit (that glorious black achkan!). His old chum, a plagiarist poet called Pyarelal (Johnny Walker) visits Sultanat’s father in disguise as an old lady, to plead Akhtar’s case. This is a delightful little scene between K.N.Singh and Johnny Walker, both of them brilliant. By the way, the comic side plot—with Pyarelal’s lady love Geeta (Zeb Rehman) and her parents (David and Manorama) is silly and a waste of some very good acting talent.
The upshot is that Akhtar and Sultanat get married and are deliriously happy. Salim bestows a title (of Nawab) on Akhtar, along with wealth and a job in a plush office.
A few years have passed, and Akhtar and Sultanat now have a small son. The kid gets on like a house on fire with `Nawab Chacha’—Salim. But Salim’s still nursing a broken heart, though he tries to mend it now and then by imbibing too much and spending time with two dancing girls (Madhumati and Laxmi Chhaya: the song’s Jhanak jhanak tori baaje paayaliya).
Meanwhile, Akhtar’s been introduced to a courtesan called Firdaus.
[Aside: any idea who this actress is? She was Nagina in Dil deke dekho. Possibly Indira, since she’s the only person credited in the cast of both movies, as far as I can tell].
Akhtar’s initially reticent, but soon gives up fidelity as a bad joke and has a torrid affair with Firdaus.
When Sultanat comes to know, there’s a big showdown, and Akhtar and Sultanat agree on a divorce.
Post the divorce, Sultanat, her son, and her mother-in-law (Praveen Paul) go off to live by themselves. When Sultanat’s son falls ill and starts asking for Nawab Chacha, Sultanat is forced to send for Salim. He comes, cares for the child—and, on his way out, is attacked by Sultanat’s neighbours, who don’t want any of that around their homes, thank you.
Salim can think of only one way to ensure Sultanat and her family are cared for, without her name being ruined. He offers her a marriage of convenience: she’ll get his name, his wealth, etc; but that’s it. He won’t—even though he adores her—demand more.
About the same time, Akhtar discovers Firdaus’s real nature: she’s using the same lines she lured him with, on a new catch. Remorseful and heartbroken, he reaches Sultanat’s home to see her go off to Salim’s house as his wife.
And so we have the usual triangle: the pining reformed rake, the prodigal ex-husband, and the woman they both love. Clichéd?
What I liked about this film:
Mala Sinha. One of my favourite actresses, and oh so lovely in a sharara!
The film actually makes an effort to break some stereotypes. Sultanat, for instance, doesn’t beg Akhtar to come back to her; she faces up to him defiantly and asks for a divorce. And her mother-in-law, instead of siding with the wayward son, prefers to throw in her lot with her daughter-in-law. Atta-girls!
The ending is unusual: I must admit I hadn’t really expected it. Will say no more.
What I didn’t like:
Raj Kumar and Jeetendra aren’t my favourite actors. Jeetendra in his early movies (including this one) is better than Raj Kumar, but a scruffy beard and facial contortions don’t endear him to me.
The dialogue, though principally in Urdu, wasn’t true to form. It had lots of Sanskrit-derived words that diluted the beauty of the language. Not what I want in a Muslim social.