This film stars Shammi Kapoor.
If you like Shammi Kapoor, do not watch this film. If you are a glutton for punishment and want to see it anyway, do not watch the last ten minutes. I can guarantee that you’ll be happier for it; you can decide for yourself what you would have liked the end to be, and spare yourself the trauma of sitting through what is definitely the most horrifying end I’ve ever seen in a Hindi film.
Not that Shama Parwana itself is a bad film, at least not overall and at least not till the last few minutes. It’s a little slow-moving, true. The dialogue is largely high-flown, poetic and thoroughly unrealistic. There are also 12 songs in the film, which (considering that each song takes up at least 3 or 4 minutes) means that well over half an hour of the film consists of singing. Not that the songs are bad—in fact, most of them are excellent—but there’s too much song, too little story.
The story goes somewhat like this.
A young noblewoman, Aalam Meherbano ‘Hijaab’ (Suraiya) is a renowned poetess who sometimes organises mushairas. At one such do, she is highly impressed by a personable young poet, Gul Mirza (Shammi Kapoor). He can’t see her—there’s a flimsy curtain shielding the ladies—but he can well imagine her beauty.
Post the mushaira, a nosey lady-in-waiting, Rehana (Roopmala, who also acted the nosey maid in Aurat), takes it upon herself to convince Meherbano that she, Meherbano, is in love with Gul Mirza. Meherbano denies it hotly; an impoverished poet isn’t the sort of man she should be falling in love with.
Rehana turns to a friend, a maid named Bindiya (?), to help her in messing with Meherbano’s lovelife. Bindiya goes to Gul Mirza and offers to arrange a rendezvous with Meherbano, an idea he leaps at.
Gul Mirza’s rendezvous with Meherbano runs into rough weather; she is horrified to see him in her garden, and he ends up hiding, with Bindiya’s help, in a cauldron (not the most common of garden accoutrements, I should think, but oh so convenient as a hiding place).
But Gul Mirza gets another chance to meet her. At the mushaira, Meherbano had told him that when he composes more poetry, he must come and read it to her. He does so, and she—behind the curtain, with a few maids in attendance—listens. Gul Mirza’s poetry is so entrancing that all the women close their eyes (which I find a little farfetched) and so miss noticing that one of the lamps nearby has set fire to the curtain separating the women from Gul Mirza. Even Gul Mirza’s eyes are closed. By the time they realise what’s happened, a great big hole has been burnt through and Gul Mirza—eyes now open—can see Meherbano in all her beauty.
Meherbano rushes off and all is pandemonium.
A few days later, an important personage now appears on the scene: Meherbano’s father, Afsar-ud-Daulah (Ulhas), a powerful commander in the army of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Afsar-ud-Daulah has returned from a victory in the Deccan, and is bursting with triumph and ego. Gul Mirza, along with his bosom buddy Feroz (Sunder), goes to meet Meherbano’s mentor Arif (?), a wise old man who has a soft spot for Gul Mirza. Arif offers to introduce Gul Mirza to Afsar-ud-Daulah; he’s certain that Afsar-ud-Daulah will bestow high office on Gul Mirza.
At the audience with Afsar-ud-Daulah, the nobleman begins boasting of his skill with a sword. Gul Mirza, never one to keep mum, shoots his mouth off about his own prowess as a swordsman: a good swordsman, he asserts, should be able to cut right through something without letting it fall apart. An annoyed Afsar-ud-Daulah tells him to prove it.
The next day, Gul Mirza arrives, to find a wooden pillar in the room, waiting for him. Three swift slashes, and Gul Mirza leaves the pillar still standing, looking intact…
…though actually in three pieces, which fall apart when our hero pushes them. Wah! What skill! Everybody’s impressed, and Afsar-ud-Daulah appoints Gul Mirza a risaldar, a cavalry commander with a mansab of 5,000 sawar. Gul Mirza looks to be upwardly mobile, and he hopes that with his imminent prosperity, he’ll be able to press his suit more effectively with Meherbano.
He soon gets a chance to do so: Rehana arranges another meeting with Meherbano (by giving Meherbano a cock and bull story about a certain type of incense which when burnt can summon the spirit of one’s beloved). When Gul Mirza arrives in her garden, Meherbano believes it’s his spirit, and sings happily with him:
Until better sense prevails. When she realises that this is Gul Mirza and not some spirit, Meherbano gets mad at both Rehana and Gul Mirza. She scolds Rehana, and tells Gul Mirza not to attempt to see her again. Later, she even sends a note telling him to stay away.
A sudden military emergency now arises in faraway Kandahar, and Afsar-ud-Daulah receives orders from Jahangir to send a contingent. It’s a suicidal mission; there is little hope of survival, but Gul Mirza—in true ‘brave hero fashion’—volunteers and goes off, taking with him a carrier pigeon that Rehana gives him from Meherbano. Meherbano sings a mournful farewell song as Gul Mirza rides off. Why can’t this woman make up her mind?!
The next Meherbano knows, the bloodstained carrier pigeon flies back to her, and messengers arrive to tell her father the news: Gul Mirza has been killed! Afsar-ud-Daulah sends two ladies of the court to console Gul Mirza’s mother (?) and to assure her of Afsar-ud-Daulah’s promise that Gul Mirza’s pension will be given to her.
Meanwhile, Afsar-ud-Daulah has been cursing Gul Mirza. He has discovered Meherbano’s long-ago note telling Gul Mirza not to meet her again (Gul Mirza had accidentally dropped the note at his last meeting with his boss). Afsar-ud-Daulah has realised that Meherbano’s interest in Gul Mirza had reached dangerous levels. The only way to rid Meherbano of this silly infatuation—even if the object of her affections is now dead—is to get her married off. So he begins pelting her with proposals from various eligible noblemen.
Eventually, Meherbano, still pining for Gul Mirza (whom she was never affectionate towards while he lived), becomes so dull and listless that the physician recommends that she be taken away for a while to more salubrious climes.
If you do want to see this film through to the bitter end, this is where you should stop reading this review, because I’m actually going to write what happens. Major spoilers follow.
Meherbano’s trip out of town proves very healing, because who should she meet coming her way but Gul Mirza himself! No, not a ghost, but the man. It turns out that he was badly injured and left for dead on the battlefield, but rescued by some gypsies (who, by the way, may be rebels). Much happy romancing follows, though this being Mughal India in a 1954 film, it’s all very chaste and long-distance: most of the time, Meherbano and Gul Mirza sing joyous songs, she in her chambers and he (with assorted pals!) in his.
None of this goes down well with Afsar-ud-Daulah. Outwardly, he pretends he’s pleased Gul Mirza is back from the dead; on the other hand, he plots with an enemy of Gul Mirza’s and tries to have the young risaldar murdered one night. Gul Mirza gets the better of his attacker, and kills him instead. The result of this is that Afsar-ud-Daulah accuses Gul Mirza of joining the rebel gypsies. He brands Gul Mirza a traitor, and when Gul Mirza disappears from his own home, Afsar-ud-Daulah announces a reward of 1,000 asharfis for anyone who will help arrest Gul Mirza.
Much happens: Gul Mirza, disguised as a sufi, goes to meet Meherbano’s mentor and tutor, the old man Arif, who advises him to tread cautiously. Gul Mirza is however far from cautious: he meets (still disguised as a sufi) Meherbano at a dargah one Thursday, and then one evening sneaks into her balcony to talk to her. Meherbano is initially flustered and jumpy, but then calms down enough to chat with him. Their chatting goes on late into the night and before they know it, they’ve fallen asleep.
They wake up the next morning, and Meherbano’s in a panic, wondering what people will think when Gul Mirza is found creeping out of her room at this hour. Worse, Rehana arrives, to tell Meherbano that her father Afsar-ud-Daulah is coming. Meherbano and Gul Mirza rush out into the garden and Meherbano tries to persuade him to get into that cauldron again. He dillies-dallies: he won’t hide like a coward.
But Meherbano is terrified of what will happen if her father finds Gul Mirza here; so she sings O parwaane, shama ko apni ruswa na karna (“O moth, do not let your flame be disgraced”), and Gul Mirza obediently climbs into the cauldron.
Afsar-ud-Daulah arrives in the garden and (helped by one of Meherbano’s traitorous ladies in waiting) realises that Gul Mirza is in the cooking pot. He doesn’t say so to Meherbano; instead, he asks her why the cauldron is there, and when she says it’s to heat water for her bath, he asks why a fire hasn’t been lit under it. Meherbano can think up no fitting reason, and her father calls for the fire to be lit.
At this point, I’m waiting for Meherbano to suddenly show that she is, after all, a true lover: a woman of strong character who will stand up for her love. And guess what she does? This stupid, selfish, cowardly, lowdown moron of a woman goes down on her knees and starts singing, begging (in metaphor, of course, since Daddy’s standing right behind her) Gul Mirza to stay in the cauldron, because if he emerges from it, Meherbano’s reputation will suffer.
And Gul Mirza stays in the cauldron. The End.
What I didn’t like about this film: (Yes, I’m turning the usual layout of my blog posts on its head; I am so utterly disgusted with this film, I need to vent my spleen!)
What the—?! I know I’ve read this story—the bit about the lover in the cauldron, who is boiled alive by another man (I think a cuckolded husband, in the original version)—but where, I don’t remember; it may be a folktale or something. (The film’s credits say the story’s been inspired by a Mughal legend). But I do remember that the story was more impersonal: the man who was killed in that gruesome fashion wasn’t a hero whom one had come to like and sympathise with in the course of the story. I would have settled for Gul Mirza being killed on the battlefield. But so ignominiously and so horribly? Ugh.
Meherbano. This woman was irritating from pretty early on in the film. She’s wishy-washy and weak-kneed and can’t make up her mind. Worst of all, she strikes me as being unbearably selfish; for her, her so-called respectability is the most important thing in life; she’s willing to sacrifice everything for that. And the end put the lid on it all. I have rarely hated with so much vengeance a character who was supposed to be a hero or heroine. Awful.
What I liked about this film:
The music, by Husnlal Bhagatram. There are some lovely songs here, none of which I remember having heard before. And one, at least, seems to have inspired other composers too!