Barsaat ki Raat (1960)

For all those who thought I’d deserted classic Hindi cinema to wax eloquent about Robert Mitchum: good news. I’m back. After gushing for a week (well, a little more) about Mitch and his films, I’ve returned to Bollywood—and with a film that’s a must-watch for anyone who likes Muslim socials; who thinks Madhubala is gorgeous; or who loves old Hindi film music—especially qawwalis.
I fall into all three categories, so Barsaat ki Raat was long overdue for a rewatch.

Bharatbhushan and Madhubala in Barsaat ki Raat

Amaan Hyderabadi (Bharat Bhushan) is a penniless but superb, much-published poet (surprisingly common in Hindi cinema. It’s sad how all these guys are apparently swindled of their royalties). He lives as a paying guest in the household of Mubarak Ali, a qawwal with two daughters. The younger, Shabaab (Ratna) is mischievous and lively; the older, Shama (Shyama) is beautiful, deeply in love with Amaan—and very reticent, which means she hasn’t whispered a word to the object of her affections.

Shama hides her love for Amaan

To Shama’s distress, Amaan goes away indefinitely to Hyderabad, primarily to recite his poetry in a radio programme. In Hyderabad, he stays with an old friend, Shekhar (Chandrashekhar), who is now a police officer.
One rainy night, wandering around looking for inspiration, Amaan finds it in a gorgeous (and very wet) girl (Madhubala) who bumps into him when both seek shelter under the eaves of a blacksmith’s shop.

...and Amaan finds the love of his life

Amaan is bedazzled, and by the time he’s on air the next day, he’s written a paean to the beauty he encountered the previous evening. Her name, we discover, is Shabnam, and she’s the elder daughter of the police commissioner, Khan Bahadur (K N Singh). Shabnam has long loved Amaan’s poetry (and him), even though she’s never seen him. She hears him on radio, though, and from the lyrics, figures out that Amaan is the same man she’d met—and to whom she was very attracted.

Shabnam listens to Amaan on the radio

Shabnam and her mother (Mumtaz Begum) have, in the meantime, been trying to find a tutor to take Shabnam’s naughty little sister Razia (Baby Shobha) in hand. Shabnam asks her friend Shanti (Peace Kanwal, in an all-too-brief role) to take up the task, and Shanti agrees.

Shabnam 'appoints' Shanti to teach Razia

Shanti also arranges a function in Amaan’s honour, where he recognises Shabnam. A quick conversation with Shanti, and Amaan learns his beloved’s name, and whose daughter she is.
Amaan has more luck coming his way: Shekhar informs him that the police commissioner needs a tutor for his daughter. Amaan leaps at the offer; is put out when he discovers it’s the scruffy Razia he’ll be teaching; but realises that it’ll let him visit Shabnam’s house. So he turns up with Shekhar and is greeted with happy surprise by Shabnam, and a graceful retreat by Shanti, who knows that Shabnam is nuts about Amaan.

Amaan is hired as Razia's tutor

Shabnam’s father takes some time to realise this fact. When he does, he throws Amaan out, raves and rants at Shabnam, and tells his wife that he’s received a proposal for Shabnam from a lawyer in Lucknow called Aftab. Aftab’s a great catch, and Shabnam will marry him—or else.

Khan Bahadur flies into a rage

He hasn’t reckoned with Shabnam, though, who sneaks out to meet Amaan at their usual rendezvous, the blacksmith’s shop where they first met. Khan Bahadur and Shekhar trail Shabnam and Amaan to the blacksmith’s, but the blacksmith hoodwinks them.
Amaan now takes Shabnam off with him to Indore, where he gets a contract to recite on radio. But Khan Bahadur and Shekhar hear his voice on the Indore station (isn’t this a little farfetched? Don’t these guys have anything better to do? Why the Indore station, anyway? Why not Jhumri Talaiyya?) and recognise his voice immediately.

Shekhar recognises Amaan's voice on the radio

Shekhar and Khan Bahadur phone Indore, but Amaan comes to know and escapes with Shabnam.
Next, Khan Bahadur guesses (don’t ask me how; ESP?) that Amaan will next head for Jabalpur, where, according to Shekhar, Amaan and he have a mutual friend called Sudhakar (Rashid Khan). Amaan will certainly turn to Sudhakar for help with the elopement.
Khan Bahadur’s obviously risen so high in the police force because of his good guesswork: Amaan does take Shabnam to Sudhakar’s house. Sudhakar insists the runaway couple get married at once.

Sudhakar suggests Amaan and Shabnam marry immediately

But true love’s path is terribly rocky. While Amaan and Sudhakar are away fetching a qazi to perform the marriage, Shekhar arrives and bullies Shabnam into returning to Hyderabad with him—to the rage of her father and the emotional blackmail of her mother. Both agree that Shabnam’s disgraced the family by running off with Amaan, and the only way to redeem what’s left of their reputation is to get her married off to Aftab as soon as possible.

Shabnam is threatened and scolded

So Shabnam’s parents bundle the family into the train to Lucknow, little aware that also headed for Lucknow is Amaan, now running scared because he knows Khan Bahadur can have him arrested for elopement. What a feeble character: I’d have expected more spirit from a hero.
On the train, Amaan meets a bunch of poets, one of whom claims to be Amaan Hyderabadi. Amaan can’t say he is Amaan since one whiff of his whereabouts will bring the police after him, so he keeps mum. (Thought: If that’s the case, then how come nobody’s arrested the interloper yet? And nobody does, either, during the course of the film).

Amaan meets another 'Amaan Hyderabadi'

Eventually, though, Amaan reveals his identity to the aspiring poet, and they work out a clandestine contract of sorts. Amaan will write poetry, the other man will pass it off as his own. Most of these verses are going to be sung by a young qawwal called Chand Khan.
Another coincidence, now. Aftab, Shabnam’s fiancé-to-be, is a good friend of Amaan’s, and Amaan goes to stay with him while in Lucknow.

Aftab welcomes Amaan to his home in Lucknow

…so the day Shabnam arrives with her family at Aftab’s house, Amaan is in the next room. Nobody but Aftab knows he’s there, so they chatter on, Shabnam’s mother glibly saying that Shabnam’s got her heart set on marrying Aftab. Amaan overhears, and is both angry and broken-hearted. While sneaking out of the house, he meets Shabnam, offers his bitter congratulations on her wedding, and vanishes, leaving Shabnam desolate and actually physically ill.

Amaan meets Shabnam - and is very bitter

And now for yet another coincidence. Mubarak Ali, Shama and Shabaab have also arrived in Lucknow and are getting ready, with trepidation, for a qawwali competition. They’ll be pitting their skills against Chand Khan, the qawwal for whom Amaan’s been doing a lot of ghost writing.

Shama and Shabaab also arrive in Lucknow

So Amaan and Shabnam are now apart, Shabnam weepy and Amaan bitter and cynical. Shama, desperately (if quietly) in love with Amaan, is also in Lucknow. The qawwali competition is coming up, and unknown to the parties involved, Amaan is—in a way—going to be in opposition to Mubarak Ali’s family.
Will Khan Bahadur ever realise he’s being an unfeeling brute? Will love triumph? And if so, whose? And who’ll win the qawwali contest?

What I liked about this film:
The music. Between them, Roshan and Sahir Ludhianvi produce one of the most awesome scores in Hindi cinema. The credits roll to the lilting rain song, Garjat barsat saawan aayo re, and after that it’s just one great song after another. The second half of the film is dominated by what I personally feel are the best qawwalis in filmdom: Na toh kaarvaan ki talaash hai and Yeh ishq ishq hai (Manna Dey, Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhonsle, Shiv Dayal Batish and Sudha Malhotra in a brilliant qawwali that segues into the second, equally fabulous one), Pehchaanta hoon khoob tumhaari nazar ko main, and Nigaah-e-naaz ke maaron ka haal kya hoga.

A qawwali from Barsaat ki Raat

Madhubala and Shyama. Oh, so luminously beautiful, both of them.

Madhubala in Barsaat ki Raat

(And I was so relieved to see Shyama in a sympathetic role, and not as an evil bahu out to break up a loving family).

Shyama in Barsaat ki Raat

What I didn’t like:
The story. It had potential: a love triangle, a disapproving Daddy and a penurious poet, in a setting with lots of lovely Urdu shaayari thrown in, can be very enjoyable, but Barsaat ki Raat fizzles out after showing some initial promise. There are too many coincidences and too many mysterious motives, with people crowding the screen and not doing much beyond either weeping (if they’re female) or spouting poetry/throwing their weight about (if they’re male). Even the three main characters aren’t particularly well-etched: Amaan is wistful and cynical by turn (with some traces of sweetness during his interactions with Mubarak Ali’s family). Shabnam is drop-dead beautiful but either giggling idiotically or sobbing into her dupatta through most of the film. Shama is slightly more interesting, but not much.

And the end happens so fast and so suddenly that it took me a while to realise the film was actually over. I still can’t believe it.

But: I would willingly sit through all of that just for the music, it’s so sublime. Don’t expect too much of the story, and you’ll be fine. It isn’t as mindless and irritating as some other films with music that’s way ahead of the story (examples that spring to mind are Leader and Ek Phool Do Maali), so I at least am willing to forgive the inadequacies in the script.

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45 thoughts on “Barsaat ki Raat (1960)

  1. I saw this a few weeks ago and the music is indeed superb, although i was rather annoyed the songs came without subtitles. This film was touted as a film with strong female charaters which i failed to see, they were all in one way or another bound to the wills of men stronger than them, i loved shyama more than Madhubala in this and i was rooting for her, i also liked her naughty mischievious sister Shabba especially with the sly games she played with chand khan. My overall thoughts this film was an enjoyable romance

    Lol at Ek phool do mali i can see why it must have been irritating but sadhana as well as the songs makes me love that film..lol i still can’t get the ‘sayan legaye jia’ song off my head

  2. Oh, seeing the songs without subtitles wouldn’t have worked at all for a film like Barsaat ki Raat, where the lyrics – especially in the qawwalis – contribute a lot to the song. Sahir Ludhianvi did a great job on the lyrics for the film.
    Yes, I read a review too which mentioned the three strong female roles – which I couldn’t figure out at all: none of the female roles in this was strong! Like you, though, I was rooting for Shyama all the way: there was just something about her that was very endearing.

    Saiyaan le gaye jia means ‘My beloved stole my heart away’. The songs of Ek Phool Do Maali are good, but somehow I can’t get myself to like that film! I guess my expectations were a bit too high: the cast is excellent, the songs are great – so I thought the film would be much better too.

  3. Why am I not surprised that the story isnt much good?!!! I am not a fan of Muslim socials, all that endless stylised drama gets on my nerves. But for Madhubala, Shyama and the songs, I could sit through a lot worse! I suspect that that was the reason behind the film’s success and its enduring fame even now.

  4. bollyviewer: I suppose my main reason for liking Muslim socials is that I like Urdu very much – such a beautifully mellifluous language! But if I think about it, I don’t much care for the stories of some of the Muslim socials I’ve seen – Chaudhvin ka Chaand, Mere Huzoor and Barsaat ki Raat have stories I don’t particularly care for (or downright hate). On the other hand, I don’t mind Pakeezah or Nakli Nawab too much. One thing all of these films have in common, though: great music. That is perhaps reason enough to watch! And in the case of Barsaat ki Raat I’ll be forgiving simply because the music’s so gorgeous.

    memsaab: Good luck! I hope the songs are subtitled; the lyrics are really good, especially as far as the qawwalis are concerned: Sahir did some clever work there. (And I hope the subtitles are done well; not like this example).

  5. I love this film for the three reasons you mentioned, and like you I love muslim socials for ‘urdu’.
    But unlike you one of my favourite muslim socials is ‘chaudvin ka chand’. :-)
    Along with Mere Mehboob, I watch these two over and over again whenever I’m in the mood of a ms (and don’t have any new ones).

    Interesting review, and I loved Shyama too.
    This film is watchable for the music and qawaalis alone. I think even the script writer, director etc concentrated in making that excellent.
    I loved the way he gets a glimpse of Madhubala’s frightened face every now and then whenever the lightening flashed.

    @bollyviewer
    It wouldn’t be fair to single out muslim socials for being stylized drama. Every genre is stylized. :-)
    Whether it is a village drama, college students/story drama, mythology (and how!!!) etc

  6. Well, Chaudhvin ka Chand; is one of those Muslim socials I don't much care for – but don't hate! ;-)

    As a genre, this has more or less died out, though – I think the last Muslim socials I saw were in the 80's, when there was stuff like Nikaah (which I hated because Salma Agha was so mournful) and the Rishi Kapoor-Deepti Naval starrer Yeh Ishq Nahin Aasaan. I know there was Deedar-e-Yaar too, but I never got around to seeing it. And I don’t recall anything from the 90’s or after that which could be classified as Muslim social…

  7. I have always admired Bharat Bhushan but most of his superior performances have been in Musicals and Bhakti music specials like Baiju Bawra,Anand Math, Basant Bahar, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Phagun and Mirza Ghalib.
    However he was usually a second choice in the era of Dev, Dilip and Raj.

  8. I love Urdu too, its a lovely language, but these socials turn it into a flowery, stylised and artificial language – the dialogues sound like an Urdu textbook! This along with all the elaborate drama, just makes them very stagey, for me. I’d much rather watch a good Pakistan TV drama (and there are many of those) for my dose of Urdu. But then, these socials have the best songs ever, and very, very gorgeous people – so I always land up watching.

    pacifist, you are right about all genres being stylised. None of them has dialogues spoken in such patently text-book language, though (or quite as many helpless and weepy characters!). And I have the same problem with historicals and mythologicals, too. They either tend towards elaborately Sanskritised Hindi or Persianised Urdu! I just happened to mention Muslim Socials in the context of Barsaat Ki Raat.

  9. I used to love Pakistani TV dramas too – watched a lot of them way back in the late 80’s and the 90’s. They were so wonderfully made that my mother, my sister and I ended up getting quite addicted to them, especially Dhoop Kinaare, Tanhaaiyaan, Ankahi and (to some extent) Daanish.

    As far as very stylised Urdu is concerned, I think Barsaat ki Raat managed to avoid that. It’s very everyday Urdu; more Hindustani, actually. Pakeezah and Chaudhvin ka Chand used, in my opinion, much more flowery Urdu than either of these. But then, of course, there’s another point: till the 40’s (and well into the 50’s, as far as I know), Urdu was much more prevalent than it is today, especially in North India. My father, for instance, had to learn English and Urdu through most of school, not English and Hindi. That’s probably the reason why a lot of 50’s films – even those not Muslim socials – have a generous sprinkling of Urdu words that today aren’t in such widespread usage.

  10. You love Haseena Moin’s serials too! I like all her serials too, but Dhoop Kinare is my favorite. The funny thing is, it was very popular during my school days and long before I watched it, I knew the entire story, most of the funny scenes and dialogues, and still loved it when I saw it a few years later! I even ordered a DVD on ebay, but it was a horrible print. :-( And now, thanks to youtube I can revisit every so often. Tanhaaiyaan, Ankahi and Dhoop Kinare are all there on youtube!

  11. Yes, Dhoop Kinaare was my favourite too – it was just so beautiful, and funny and sensitive. And after Byomkesh Bakshi, Daanish is my favourite detective serial from the subcontinent!

  12. >till the 40’s (and well into the 50’s, as far as I know), Urdu was much more prevalent than it is today, especially in North India.

    Yes, my parents too. Though my mother had to learn Hindi as well.
    I love Urdu so much that I learned to read and write it (not perfectly) from my mother :-)

    The urdu in these films of 50s and 60s may sound unnatural to us today, but I think there was a lot more urdu then.
    Urdu does sound poetic and flowery anyway!!!
    Just the word ‘mohabbat’ sounds flowery when compared to ‘pyar’ (which sounds pretty normal and ‘everyday’ type of word).

  13. I agree mohabbat sounds much more poetic than pyaar, but my high school Hindi teacher (who believed that only Sanskritised Hindi was Hindi) would throw a fit at that: as far as I remember, pyaar is also Urdu, not Hindi. ;-) The Hindi equivalent would be prem, which doesn’t even have the charm of pyaar!

    Come to think of it, even a few Hindi words aren’t used any more – for instance, kyonkar. I only recall seeing it in my Hindi textbooks from school, and in some old films.

  14. LOL!! Yes!! The word ‘prem’ is what I actually meant, having just watched ‘Prem patra’ last week. :-D

    While ‘Urdu’ sounds poetic and lyrical, ‘bengali’ sounds musical, and both are my favourite, though I understand the latter only a little.

  15. Oh, I envy you – it’s been a long time since I watched Prem Patra… such a lovely film.

    Yes, it’s the same with me as far as Urdu and Bangla go: I understand spoken Urdu fairly well, can spell my way through simple words if they’re written properly (and with a little guesswork!), but can understand very little Bangla. I suppose I need to embark on a Bangla film spree!

  16. This was a very enjoyable film, especially for the music, of course. Roshan was a great music director and Sahir Ludhianvi wrote some great lyrics. I saw this film with subtitles in all of the songs, and I’m glad I had that chance. Some people told me that these subtitles didn’t convey the real beauty of the lyrics, but I was still impressed.

    A lot of the acting in this was very good too. Like a couple of people here, I rooted for Shyama. Her character was more interesting than anyone else’s, and she did an excellent job with this role. (This is a must-watch for anyone who thinks Shyama is gorgeous.)

    I’ve seen a few Muslim socials, and they all had fine music. Since I’m a big fan of Noor Jehan now, I would love to see the first ones, Khandan and Zeenat.

  17. I’m so glad you managed to see the songs with subtitles – even if they’re substandard, at least they give you an idea of what the lyricist was trying to say. And Sahir does some very clever writing in the songs of Barsaat ki Raat.

    And guess what? I’ve finally got Kathputli! Am looking forward to watching it. :-)

  18. Totally agree with the review. Film’s story doesn’t make a lot of sense but the awesome music and gorgeous Madhubala made it worth the try. Bharat Bhushan was not even good enough to kill a fly! And did anyone notice the writer’s fixation as majority of the character’s names started with ‘sha’ or ‘s’, e.g. Shama, Shabab, Shabnam, Shanti, Shashi, Shekhar, Sudhakar???

    • The writer’s name must have begun with an S or a Sh! ;-) But yes, despite the inadequacies of the storyline, Madhubala and the music make this film a must-see. I’d willingly sit through it all again (as I have, time after time) just for that.

  19. The background music for a few initial sequences in the film used the same tune of another classic number by Roshan that would later bestow us via immortal Rafi’s voice …. ” Dil Jo Na Keh Saka, Wohi Raaz-E-Dil Kehne Ki Raat Aayi ” from Bheegi Raat (1965). God bless those who gave us such musical gifts to cherish for decades to date.

    • Oh, I didn’t remember that. But that is another of my favourite tunes. And I agree with you, God bless those who gave us music like that. So many years later, its magic still lives on.

  20. Sahir’s lyrics are simply divine, so is Roshan’s music. As for the language, Urdu is one sophisticated, beautiful language with rich literary heritage, that sounds so sweet and refined.

    Thank God there isn’t any movement to cleanse Urdu of ‘rogue’ words, as there seems to be in Hindi where simple everyday words are being replaced by unfamiliar Sanskrit words just because those words have been declared ‘unwanted’. These days, I find it very difficult to grasp a Akashvaani news bulletin because it is not in a language common educated people converse in.

    For those who love rich profuse dialogues, Mughal-e-Azam is a must watch. As for Muslim socials, Taj Mahal has got the same team of Sahir-Roshan with lovely songs and qawwalis. And for the same reasons, I would also recommend Dil Hi To Hai.

  21. Yes, I’ve seen both Mughal-e-Azam and Taj Mahal; both have such lyrical dialogues, besides (of course!) fabulous music. Urdu is truly a language with a beauty that is unparalleled. I have just been writing up a soon-to-be-published post on my favourite Sahir Ludhianvi songs, and the research that has gone into the creation of the post has been most pleasurable.

      • Add me to the “can’t wait” list. I also can’t believe I hadn’t seen this review before. I LOVED your summary, because for me this movie was “plot? Characterisation? Who needs ’em, it’s a QAWWALI overdose!” And that’s all that matters.

        • Yes, this is the ultimate qawwali film – there is none even close to it. And this is perhaps the only film I will happily watch again and again despite the fact that it is so so-so – only because the music is so mind-blowingly good!

          • I am SO looking forward to your Sahir post – I rewatched Pyaasa again on Wdnesday and am still on high from the songs. Especially Yeh Duniya Agar mil. That song is my life anthem, I love every single word – I already have half the 1st verse on t-shirt and need to get my FAVOURITE line on to a shirt too:

            जला दो, जला दो इसे फूँक डालो ये दुनिया

            I sing along to THAT line at the top of my voice when listening to this sublime masterpiece of a song

            • Guess which song features very high up on my list! ;-) Pyaasa has superb poetry (I also am especially fond of Jaane woh kaise log the jinke), but Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye is in a class by itself. Just thinking of that song gives me gooseflesh. And that last line is fabulous. And the way Rafi sings it, that angry wail of defiance and despair – oh, my God.

  22. “the way Rafi sings it, that angry wail of defiance and despair – oh, my God.” Yep, I’ve often thought that it would have made a perfect end if the whole walking off together into the fadeout had come immediately after the end of that song.

  23. Barsaat ki raat is watchable but it’s one of those films where the music is just simply light years ahead of the film and will be remembered long after the film is forgotten. (But that can be said about so many films of that period.)
    Bharat Bhushan was not a particularly good actor at the best of times whilst Madhubala is just so breathtakingly beautiful that one quite forgets to check out the acting.
    The only potentially interesting role here was Shyama’s and it could have been far better written. But then filmmakers never really bothered giving women’s roles much susbstance in that era. The Shama character could’ve been made far more interesting by taking on a more ambivalent position rather than just being a sacrificing goodie-goodie beyond belief!

    • Unfortunately, I think producers and directors were also so completely dazzled by Madhubala’s beauty that they rarely gave her roles that used her acting abilities – Amar is one of the few movies where she actually gets to show off how good an actress she could be, not just gorgeous.

      While I don’t agree with the statement that “filmmakers never really bothered giving women’s roles much susbstance in that era” – some, like Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, did make films that portrayed women not merely as either stark, evil black or pristine white – but yes, I agree that the majority of film-makers did slot women into two clearly demarcated roles: the good and the bad. But then, that seemed to happen to most characters, whether male or female.

      In the end analysis, I’d reiterate what I wrote in this review: it’s the music that makes Barsaat ki Raat. Everything else falls far behind.

    • Not late in the day… but which actor do you mean? The one who begins the qawwali? (There is also the man sitting next to him). The main singer, the guy in the black cap, may be Balam. I’m not sure.

  24. The movie is okay but I was quiet disappointed because of the end.Everthing happened so quickly.Just one dialogue of Aftab changed the mind of Shabnam’s father and finally he was agreed for Shabnam’s and Amaan’s marriage.
    And yes,the Music is really fantastic.I specially like Zindagi bhar nhi bhoolegi,kya gham jo andheri and Garjat barsat saawan.

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