Aurat (1953)

I’m very fond of Bina Rai. I’m also a fan of Premnath in his pre-paunchy days. And a film that starred both of them? I didn’t even bother to try and find out what it was all about. So, when I began watching it and saw this, it made me sit up a bit:

Credits of Aurat (1953)

Offhand, I couldn’t remember what Judges 14, 15 and 16 was all about, but that gets resolved within the first couple of minutes of the film itself. After a quick disclaimer that the settings and characters of the film are purely fictitious, we get into the thick of the story, with an introduction to Aadil (Premnath). Aadil lives in a village with his widowed mother, and (unlike every other man we encounter during the course of the film) has long hair—which is tied back into a definitely sissy plait, complete with a ribbon:

Aadil with his mother

He’s also very, very strong. [Ah, now I’ve figured out what Judges 14-16 is all about].
The military commander (Hiralal) of the empire has just ridden into Aadil’s village, along with his soldiers. He’s the bearer of bad news: the king has decided to build himself a new palace, and needs volunteers to do the hard work. 200 men from Aadil’s village have to report on duty. When everybody remains silent, the commander gets antsy and asks what the problem is. An old man finally says that the harvest is due, and no men can be spared.

An old villager speaks up againt tyranny

At this, the commander flies into a rage and starts whipping the old man. Our hero leaps into the fray at this point, driving off the commander and his soldiers all by himself. The old man’s daughter, Ruhi (Purnima) has also arrived—and been subjected to some lechery by the commander. While the commander and his men ride off, Aadil and Ruhi cradle her dying dad, and Aadil promises the old man he’ll look after Ruhi.

Ruhi's pa dies in Aadil's and Ruhi's arms

With Ruhi’s father dead, Aadil takes Ruhi to his home, where it soon becomes apparent to all (except Aadil himself) that the girl’s fallen for him in a big way. Aadil’s mother seems especially pleased and is all for Ruhi getting married to Aadil soon. Nobody seems to think it necessary to ask Aadil what he thinks.

Ruhi pines for Aadil

The scene now switches to the king’s court. The king (Ulhas, wearing an idiotic tunic with fur-topped boots that make laughter bubble up in me every time he appears on screen) is being entertained. The dancer, Juhi (Bina Rai), is the king’s fiancée, though she seems more a mistress than anything else.
The dance over, the king confesses that he’s finding it difficult to control his lust for Juhi (well, he’s not quite so blunt, but that’s approximately what he says). She suggests he go hunting and offers to accompany him.

Juhi promises to go hunting with the king

So the next day, with a bunch of soldiers along, Juhi and the king go hunting, in separate chariots. Juhi’s horses run away with her and dump her in a rocky area, where a lion emerges from a cave and starts prowling after Juhi.
Juhi’s shrieks attract the attention of a passerby (Aadil! Hallelujah!), and he comes to her rescue, wrestling with the lion, and finally sitting on it while throttling it.

Aadil battles the lion

Juhi is quite dazzled by this paragon of masculinity, and though she returns to the king (with Aadil following), she’s obviously now smitten with Aadil. The king, however, doesn’t notice, and is magnanimous when Juhi insists that Aadil be suitably rewarded. Aadil is designated a military commander (nobody raises the question of how he’ll share power with the guy who already occupies this post), and at Aadil’s behest, the king agrees to revoke the forced labour.

The king shows his gratitude to Aadil

Now that Aadil’s become military commander, he of course has to go off to the capital to attend on the king. Ruhi, still mum about her love for Aadil, is heartbroken:

Ruhi pines some more for Aadil

…But he is enjoying himself, watching a dancer perform (the king and his officials seem to spend more time on entertainment than on affairs of state). Aadil is little aware that he, in turn, is being watched by Juhi.
Juhi admits to her nosey maid Yasmin (Roopmala) that she is besotted with Aadil.

Juhi confides in her maid Yasmin

With Yasmin’s help, Juhi meets Aadil in the garden and though he doesn’t seem particularly interested in her, she bulldozes him into agreeing to teach her archery.

Juhi practises her wiles on Aadil

Over the next couple of days, what with the archery lessons and Juhi’s blatant attempts to get a still-reluctant Aadil to visit her, the situation starts getting convoluted. The commander (no doubt furious at being displaced by a rural upstart) draws the king’s attention to the growing chumminess between Juhi and Aadil. The king, probably realising he’s no match for someone who looks like that, even with a braid hanging down his back, decides to take punitive action—by reinforcing the forced labour order he’d rescinded earlier. I’m not sure how this will stop a romance from blossoming between Juhi and Aadil, but okay.

The king gets huffy

Fortunately for the king, Juhi’s quite capable of botching up her love life all by herself. She piles on pretty heavily, and Aadil gives her the boot by telling her he doesn’t have room in his life for love and other such stupidity.
Then, having discovered that forced labour is back in fashion, Aadil turns rebel and rides off towards his village, leaving Juhi vowing vengeance at being spurned.

Juhi vows vengeance for Aadil's spurning of her love

The military commander and his men set out to arrest Aadil, but they haven’t reckoned with his might. He climbs a hill and defends it against an entire platoon by hurling huge boulders, until all the attackers retire hurt.

Aadil defends the commander and his men

The king throws a fit when his bedraggled and bruised army returns empty-handed. Juhi then offers to capture Aadil for the king, on two conditions: one, that Aadil will not be physically hurt; and two, that he will be handed over to her so that she can put him in chains and make him her prisoner.
The king is anyway at the end of his tether, so lets her have a go.

The king agrees to let Juhi have a go at capturing Aadil

Juhi goes off to the hill that Aadil’s still camping on. There, she strikes camp along with Yasmin, and Aadil turns up soon enough to ask her what she’s doing in the vicinity. He’s still not interested in her, but Juhi changes all of that by singing a song (Aankhon aankhon mein) and Aadil wakes up to the fact that he loves her. Yes, very sudden. But the film has to get a move on, you know. Before we know it, they’re spending all their time together, and there’s much billing and cooing happening. In the midst of all of this, Juhi asks Aadil the secret of his prodigious strength, and he tells her it lies in his hair: cut off his hair and he’ll be as weak as any other man.

Aadil tells Juhi the secret of his strength

Juhi, devious woman that she is, offers Aadil a glass of sherbet (which she’s drugged), and once he’s tossed it off and fallen asleep, snips off his hair and calls the guards. Poor Aadil, still asleep, is put in chains and taken away, leaving behind a smug Juhi.

Juhi cuts off a drugged Aadil's hair

The king has the helpless Aadil blinded. Ruhi arrives shortly after with Aadil’s mother, who screeches, “Zaalimon ne tumhaari aankhen phod deen!” (“The brutes poked your eyes out!”). Yes, well. As if Aadil didn’t know. The commander shoves the old woman away, she bangs her head on a rock and dies.

Aadil is blinded and his mother arrives

If you know the story of Samson and Delilah, you can probably guess what happens next. If you know Hindi cinema, you can also probably guess the twist in the tale.

What I liked about this film:
Premnath and Bina Rai: they look so beautiful together. Yes, Premnath does go through the latter part of the film looking like an outsized raccoon in a too-short tunic, but still. This, by the way, was their first film together and they got married shortly after.

Premnath and Bina Rai in Aurat

Juhi’s character is interesting—much more so than the original Delilah of the Bible had been. This being Bollywood, she isn’t as ruthless and mercenary as her Biblical counterpart, but her motives are clearer and better etched.

What I didn’t like:
The dialogue’s too theatrical. The acting’s adequate, but the effect is spoilt by the actors having to spout the most ludicrous of lines.

But I do have to applaud the producers for putting in that initial disclaimer about the setting of the film being a fictitious land. That was a smart bit of work, because the setting is such a mishmash of styles from across time and space, that there’d have been no accounting for it otherwise. Most people at court, for example, wear what looks like ancient Roman garb (though I’m not sure about the furry boots: Asterix-era Gothic?), but the palace itself resembles the Victoria Memorial:

The king's palace

Aadil’s village friends look like Indian villagers:

The villagers from Aadil's village

Ruhi and Aadil’s mother wear clothes that reminded me of the Middle East—possibly Israel? In this screen cap, though, the mother’s wearing something with long fringes à la early 1800’s American Frontier.

Ruhi and Aadil's mother in somewhat anachronistic clothing?

—And when she’s busy spelling doom for Aadil, Juhi wears gloves:

Juhi prepares for her coup

Still, not unforgivably irritating, as a film. And, though some might think me heartless, I got lots of laughs out of looking at poor blinded Aadil. Premnath looks more hilarious than pitiable with his two black eyes (especially as you can see his eyes gleaming brightly in the middle of all that blackness). The king’s a hoot, too, with his tunic riding dangerously high in front. Plenty of unintentional humour here.

A word of warning: Try not to see the Friends VCD of this film. Although I didn’t have as unnerving an experience as Richard did, the print’s bad, as you can probably guess from the screen caps.

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32 thoughts on “Aurat (1953)

  1. The fRIENDS strike again. This is the third time in blogland! I will definitely steer clear of VCDs in future, but sometimes the temptation is irresistable – as in this case.

    Bina Rai was ethereally lovely. Wonder why she wasnt more popular. Did she retire after her marriage? Prem Nath can carry a tunic like few others can! The only ones who successfully did so were Dara Singh and Dharmendra. Dilip Kumar had to resort to nightgowns in Yahudi!

    I bet Delilah reforms in the end, but does Samson get his eyes back?

  2. Yes, Friends should probably rename themselves Enemies – they definitely seem to harbour some sort of animosity against lovers of cinema!

    I haven’t been able to figure out why Bina Rai didn’t make it big in Bollywood – she was lovely. Interestingly enough, she didn’t retire after her marriage; in fact, four of the other films starring her that I’ve seen – Marine Drive, Vallah Kya Baat Hai, Ghunghat and Taj Mahal were all made after she got married. But her films opposite Premnath seem to have been total flops!

    Oh Lord, yes: Dilip Kumar’s night gowns in Yahudi were so awful. Makes me cringe just to think of them. The costume designer could’ve used togas or something: the sort that hide the wearer’s legs (like Ustinov’s in Quo Vadis).

    Spoiler coming up:

    Nope, Delilah doesn’t reform (though she’s very upset that Samson’s been blinded; and she’s regretful)! Samson brings the house down, killing everybody but himself – and Ruhi, who’s come to try and rescue him. So in the end his eyes are figuratively opened – he realises that Ruhi’s love is true; and they walk off into the sunset together. But no, he doesn’t get his eyes back.

    Spoiler ends

  3. That is a twist alright. Hero not recovering his eyesight. And unrequited love being requited without mandatory death scene. And heroine/vamp not reforming.

  4. Banno, you do know Hindi cinema very well! Yes, that’s exactly why they called it Aurat: just before the credits start rolling, there’s a brief voiceover which dwells on how a good woman can be the making of man, but a bad one can bring ruin. Ugh.

    The credits, by the way, are accompanied by illustrations; the one where the film’s title is displayed is of a woman’s face, with a snake draped below it. Now that’s what I call subtlety…

  5. “how a good woman can be the making of man, but a bad one can bring ruin.”
    Poor men, have no free will. Totally dependent on women to make or break them! :-(, ;-)

  6. Yes! ;-)

    Though, if you come to think of it, that’s a fairly recurrent motif in Hindi cinema – look at films like Mere Huzoor, Chhoti Bahen, Bhabhi etc, where the woman’s influence over her menfolk (not necessarily restricted to her husband/love interest) seems to indicate that men are pretty witless and can so easily fall prey to a woman’s wiles, or (if she’s good) be `uplifted’.

    Aarghhh!

  7. Premnath looks so dashing! Wow!

    “the king and his officials seem to spend more time on entertainment than on affairs of state”

    What do you expect? I think for the most part they didn’t do anything else, other than looting and pillaging neighbooring kingdoms.

    What I missed in this story:
    Aadil kidnaps Juhi and takes her to his mother. She learns to serve his mother and him.
    The king gets angry and attacks Aadil’s village and when a spear is thrown in Aadil’s direction, Ruhi jumps in from nowhere and gets killed.
    Everybody including Juhi cry for a while and she is conveniently forgotten afterwards. Aadil kills the king (naturally only in self-defence)
    and during this as his tunic rips, an old minister notices a tattoo on his left arm. Ah! He is the long lost brother of the (now dead) king).
    He takes his foster mother and (and the now tamed/docile) Juhi with him to the capital and is crowned as a king.

    What is not shwon:
    Aadil becomes as corrupt as his predecessor. He never marries Juhi but keeps her as his mistress, he marries a wealthy princess froma neighbourhood kingdom instead.
    The foster mother, well, she remains the foster mother.

  8. harvey, have you ever considered writing (specifically the writing of screenplays) as an alternate career? You’re wasted among the plants! ;-))

    Scenario 1 sounds more like the usual Hindi cinema style, but the hero can’t – even in ignorance – kill his brother. Maybe the king was an evil usurper, and had killed off the entire royal family… but the old minister had managed to save the heir to the throne (then a baby), whom he was subsequently separated from (lost in a storm? earthquake? flood?). The baby, of course, was rescued by this woman and brought up as Aadil.

    Scenario 2 is not Hindi cinema. The hero is incorruptible, you see. And upright, saintly, etc etc…! He can’t have failings over which he ultimately doesn’t triumph.

    We should collaborate. Maybe I’ll send my literary agent a note and ask his opinion. ;-)

  9. “have you ever considered writing…”

    If you accept me as your pupil, gladly! ;-)

    “the hero can’t – even in ignorance – kill his brother”
    You are right, master! I’ve got lots to learn!
    I accept your plot without a single correction!

    We can give scenario 2 to Shyam Benegal! I think he will make a good film out of it.

    I am all for collaboration! collaboration is my second name! ;-)
    Collaborators, that gives me an idea! A spy film!
    *goes of to ponder over this new idea and theme*
    :-0

  10. ROTFL :-))

    Yeah, I can imagine what’s going to happen next. My writing career is going to collapse even before it’s started! But a spy thriller… hmmm. I’m tempted!

  11. “My writing career is going to collapse even before it’s started!”

    ROTFC :-(

    Nahiiiin!
    Mein tumhare liye apni writing career ki Qurbani doonga. Tum apne writing career mein khush raho!
    *grow a beard and sing a sad song*
    or
    *or fall from a staircase and lose my memory*
    or
    *grow a beard, sing a sad song and travel with a train*

    But I think we can make a good hindi mainstream cinema storywriter team. succesors of Salim-Javed.
    Dustedoff-Harvey!
    What say!

  12. This looks interesting. But I don’t think I would want to watch it with that watermark; on the other end, bible-inspired and blindness, I may find it very hard to resist.

    And yes, the nightgowns in Yahudi were bad; Rome has never been so floral.

  13. harvey: I have already started thinking ;-) Maybe I should start a separate page on this blog, where I write the first paragraph of a proposed screenplay, and then let you (or anybody else who’s interested, and who really knows their 50’s and 60’s cinema) to contribute – strictly one paragraph at a time. And with screenshots from random films that fit the scenario. But then, of course, it’ll have to be that one character stays the same actor/actress…. now I’m getting excited about this!

    gebruss: Yes, that watermark was very irritating. Fortunately, it’s somewhat translucent, so not bad unless it’s at the centre bottom of the screen. But it’s still an interesting film, and somewhat unusual in being Bible-inspired. Lots of Hollywood was, but not Hindi cinema, I think… though I must admit Yahudi reminded me somewhat of Quo Vadis.

  14. Ah so this is the film where lovely Bina mended poor Premnath’s broken (by Madhubala) heart…

    I’ll wait for DVD with subtitles, if it ever shows up there…

  15. dustedoff: that sounds to be a great project. I’m all for it! :-))

    memsaab: yeah, Bina had, I think, lots to mend.

  16. memsaab: Yes, and they do look nice together – and there’s a very sweet scene by the riverside which is especially nice. I hope it comes out on DVD – the VCD print was awful, and the film’s really not a bad one if you ignore the obvious discrepancies in space and time when it comes to costume, architecture and so on.

    harvey: Good, good… will begin thinking about it, and maybe launch it in mid-August (or earlier!)

  17. don’t tell me you are serious!
    Really! :-)
    that is going to be fun!

    Maybe I won’t be able to contribute in the beginning, what with being by my parents, who need all my attention!

    After Mid-Sep. I’m all game for it! Really looking forward to it!
    But it sure will be lots of hard work from your side.

  18. Ah, yes – am definitely very keen on doing it, just for the fun of it. A `let’s script a film’ game in which everybody contributes, but of course strictly abiding by the rules (e.g, there must be Helen!). Don’t worry, I’ll keep it on hold till mid-September: would really not want to miss out on the contributions of a reader who’s so talented! :-)

  19. Find great that Helen will be a part of it!

    A teeny weeny idea: How about making two/three endings for the script.
    for e.g., Chandna ka palna. We progress till she lets her be brainwashed by the brain dead sadhu. She starts drinking and all and then she suddenly realises what a fool she is making of herself. but unfortunately, Dharmendra is on his way to get engaged with the girl, whom his mother chose. And now readers can contribute how the lead pair can come together without sexism creeping inside.

    If this is a bad idea, it comes most probably from sitting between dead plants. :-)
    Teh brianis just clogged from century old dust.
    I need dusted off! ;-)

  20. “would really not want to miss out on the contributions of a reader who’s so talented! :-)”

    Flying two inches above the ground!

  21. Wow a bollywood film thats inspired from a bible story, this film deserves a round of applause for that alone. Producers of this day should perhaps look into the many wonderful stories in the bible for inspiration rather than recycling silly hollywood movies, like Karan Johan intends to do with Stepmom

  22. harvey: Hehe, I like that idea about revamping Chandan ka Palna; anything would be better than what that film turned up with! It was so awful.

    bollywooddeewana: Yes, the Bible does have some interesting stories in it, especially the Old Testament. And you can’t be accused of plagiarism if you’re just inspired by a story (as Aurat was). What I liked about Aurat was that it uses a very simple and short story, but builds it up with additional characters and elements into a fairly entertaining film.

  23. Maybe I should start a separate page on this blog, where I write the first paragraph of a proposed screenplay, and then let you (or anybody else who’s interested, and who really knows their 50’s and 60’s cinema) to contribute – strictly one paragraph at a time.

    What a fabulous idea! I’ve been toying with the thought of using my unused screencaps – string them together to make the review of an imaginary film. But the thought of all the work involved keeps me away! Yours sounds waaaay better and so much fun for the readers, too. Cant wait for it! :-D

  24. Good, good! I’m already beginning on figuring out the logistics – will probably launch it with a couple of polls to decide what sort of film we should create, who should star in it, etc. (And of course, what sort of film it should be; personally I’m all for harvey’s suggestion of a spy film!)

    Will definitely do this, though it’ll probably happen only in September – I can’t disappoint one of my most supportive readers! ;-)

  25. It is realy one of the bist site Ihave been thruo it but i hope to see all the song of this movie Aurat inclooding song dard e jigar chehro zara sing by Lata ji

  26. I have to commend you and the people who commented about this film and its idiosyncracies which are totally in sync with Indian films since Independence 1947. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to read every word of praise and ridicule in spite of the fact that my father Sam Millar was the Art Director and Costume Designer for this film

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045524/fullcredits

    and also one of India’s most beloved early films, ‘Mother India’.

    He was never at peace at his relationship with the Indian Film Industry during his decades with them because he was a great admirer of Hollywood’s Cecil B. DeMille epics, which he studied closely and sought to instill into the mindsets of his co-workers during filming. Premnath and the whole cast and crew were close friends for ages, and I was lucky to meet them as a 5 year-old in Mumbai those days. Unfortunately my Dad never got little or no credit for his contributions to Bollywood and I have made it my goal to spread the word of his work wherever I can. So take a moment if you would to look at my Blog post about this genius of a man, please :

    http://virtualpoona.blogspot.com/2005/11/mother-india-and-my-father.html

    Apologies for any broken links……thanks for reading, and all the best always !

  27. Fred, thank you for sharing those links about your father! It really annoyed me to see that ‘Father India’ poster – it’s criminal. Though of course I do think nobody was fooled by it; the original Mother India poster that your father designed is too iconic for anything else to even hope to pass for.

    I apologise if you thought I was ridiculing your father’s work in Aurat. I stand by what I said, because it did seem to me that the costumes seemed inconsistent. On the other hand, I would not hold one instance like this against anyone: everybody has examples of work that can’t be called their best. So please don’t imagine that I at all feel that your father lacked skill or talent. (That Mother India poster is proof enough).

    I am always on the lookout for ‘tales of the good old days’ in Hindi cinema. My father’s elder brother (alas, now long passed away) used to work as a guitarist with Filmistan, and every time I meet my father, I pester him to tell me about my uncle’s days in Filmistan so that I can document them. I’ve also been following, with avid interest, the stories Tarun Bose’s daughter Shilpi has to recount of her father’s career. So here’s a question/offer/plea for you: would you like to maybe do a guest post on this blog, telling us about your father, about his work, behind the scenes, anecdotes and so on? Very frankly, I think actors and actresses hog the limelight and not enough attention is paid to other people whose work goes into making films what they are. Especially, as you say, that he got very little credit for his work. I noticed, as you mentioned in one of your posts, that he got credit only for Aurat; which other films did he do work for?

    • Thanks for such a lovely response and for the offer to do a guest post, it is an honor and a much-needed boost in my quest to right some of the wrongs against my Dad.

      I have sent you a private message via Facebook which I hope you’ll get to read soon since I don’t know how often you’re online there……..if not, you can contact frdmilltx at gmail or yahoo. there is a lot I have to say but I am trying to keep it low-key since I’m trying to do some research on my Dad’s work. This post of yours has been a boon !

      Thanks again and all the best always !

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