Jahanara (1964)

Hindi cinema’s fascination for the Mughals is – well, fascinating. Even before independence, we were busy churning out semi-historicals such as Humayun (1945) and Shahjehan (1946); then, in the 50s and 60s, there followed a spate of rather more big-budget extravaganzas, complete with big names, vast armies, glittering palaces and superb music: Mughal-e-Azam, Taj Mahal and Anarkali (Note: As a character, Anarkali seemed to be especially popular. Besides the Bina Rai-Pradeep Kumar version, there were Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam versions of her story; even a Pakistani version starring Noor Jehan. And that list neither includes the two versions made in 1928, nor a 1935 film starring Ruby Myers. Note that Mughal-e-Azam is also about Anarkali).

Then there’s this film, about a relatively little-known (in popular lore, that is) member of the Mughal royalty. The princess Jahanara, eldest daughter of the Emperor Shahjahan, was a powerful and wealthy personage in her time. Jahanara was 17 years old when her mother, Mumtaz Mahal died after bearing Jahanara’s youngest sister, Gauharara. To Jahanara fell the task of ‘looking after’ the family; it was said that Shahjahan was too grief-stricken to be head of the family in anything but name any more.

Soon, Shahjahan shifted the imperial capital to Delhi. The emperor commissioned the building of the Red Fort and the imperial mosque, the Jama Masjid; the emperor’s wives, like Akbarabadi Begum and Fatehpuri Begum, built mosques; and Jahanara laid out the stretch of marketplace known as Chandni Chowk. She also laid out extensive gardens next to Chandni Chowk, along with an exclusive sarai for wealthy Persian and Uzbek traders coming to Delhi. When she died, at the age of 67, Jahanara was a wealthy woman, with an annual income of Rs 11 lakhs from her jagirs (lands) and from trade.

That is fact. There is also plenty of juicy gossip, which may or may not be fact. For instance, one oft-repeated rumour has it that Shahjahan shared an incestuous relationship with Jahanara after the death of Mumtaz Mahal. Another tale has it that Jahanara (and other princesses, for that matter) used to have lovers smuggled into their apartments through hidden passages. There’s even a story that one such lover was nearly caught, and took refuge in a large cauldron—whereupon the emperor (probably Aurangzeb) had fires lit under the cauldron, cooking the poor lover (Does that ring a bell? Shama Parwana?)

And then there is this film, where Jahanara is a tragic heroine, all sinned against, never sinning.

It begins with Jahanara as a child (Baby Farida). Jahanara is very fond of poetry, and hosts poetry sessions with other children of the court. Of these, the one who most impresses Jahanara with his poetry is Mirza Yusuf Changezi (?)
When Mirza Changezi’s father is appointed the governor of Gujarat, the boy comes to bid farewell to Jahanara. They promise to keep in touch…

…and do so using pigeons to carry their verses between Gujarat and Agra. Time passes, and Jahanara (now Mala Sinha) has grown up. She is still enamoured of Mirza Changezi’s (now Bharat Bhushan) poetry. So much, in fact, that when he finally comes back to Agra and presents himself at court, it doesn’t take the two of them long to realise that their childhood friendship has blossomed into love.

Jahanara’s faithful friend and lady-in-waiting, a Rajput woman named Karunavati ‘Karuna’ (Shashikala) is her confidant in this matter. She’s more, even, than a confidant; she is the one who eggs Jahanara on.

And she’s the one who smuggles Mirza Changezi into Jahanara’s chambers. Jahanara—chaste princess—is duly horrified, and tries to throw Mirza Changezi out, both of her rooms and her heart. But she fails miserably. We are treated to some interminable sher-o-shaayari, with the two lovers billing and cooing like the pigeons that are their best buddies.

Unfortunately for Jahanara (and ‘unfortunately’ in more ways than one – wait and see!), her mother Mumtaz Mahal (Achla Sachdev) chooses this moment to appear in the story. Only to announce her imminent departure; she’s grievously ill, and only has time enough to gasp out various admonitions to Jahanara to be a good girl and a good princess. She gets Jahanara to promise that Jahanara will never do anything to shame the royal family.

Having shot her bolt, Mumtaz cops it, leaving her children (including Indira Billi playing Roshanara, and Chandrashekhar playing Dara Shukoh) mourning her…

…and her husband, the Emperor Shahjahan (Prithviraj Kapoor) so bereft that his hair turns white over the space of a couple of days. (This was one of the widely believed stories about Shahjahan; some scholars have conjectured that Shahjahan may have been regularly plucking out grey hair, and suddenly stopped when Mumtaz Mahal fell ill). Jahanara tries to comfort her father, and promises him too that she will always be a cause of pride and joy to him.

This, of course, puts paid to any thought that Jahanara may have entertained of getting serious with Mirza Changezi. She immediately lets him know that it’s all over for the two of them. This, even though Mirza Changezi has the full support and co-operation of:
(a) Karuna

(b) The pigeons

And (c) his servant, confidant and friend Gulley (Sundar) – who even goes so far as to dress up as a eunuch to smuggle Mirza Changezi into the imperial harem.

Even meeting Jahanara proves useless; she forces Mirza Changezi to agree to leave Agra and her. Reluctantly, he goes—but instead of out the way he’d come, he tries walking out the main door of the harem, where the guards stop him. Roshanara notices Karuna ordering the guards to let Mirza Changezi through, and because she is, after all, played by Indira Billi (did she ever play anything but a wicked woman?), she informs Shahjahan. She’s already managed to lay her hands on a note written by Changezi to Jahanara, which she presents to her father.

An enraged Shahjahan summons Mirza Changezi. Shahjahan is furious that anyone has had the nerve to try and romance Jahanara. Mirza Changezi is defiant and flings back, in Shahjahan’s teeth, Shahjahan’s love for his own wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The end result of this audience is that Shahjahan has Mirza Changezi flung into prison.
Dara Shukoh, on Jahanara’s behest, comes to visit Mirza Changezi in prison (his cell, by the way, couldn’t be very effective—its walls seem to be made of crumpled painted paper).

Jahanara has got Dara to promise her that he will save Mirza Changezi from being executed; he therefore exiles Mirza Changezi from Agra, but officially gives out—even to Jahanara—that her lover has been killed.
So Jahanara gets ready to spend the rest of her days mourning for her poor dead love, and Mirza Changezi sets out, far away from Agra, to make new friends: a wily barber (Om Prakash),

His friend, and the friend’s two daughters (Minoo Mumtaz and Aruna Irani), who are dancers and singers:

Especially the older daughter, Shabnam (Minoo Mumtaz), who is soon deeply in love with Mirza Changezi.

In the meantime, Jahanara’s life is turned topsy-turvy by her rebellious brother, Aurangzeb (Siddhu—this is the first time I’ve seen him in a historical!), who has begun to make advances on the imperial throne.

Where will all of this end? Where and how will Jahanara’s political and personal life come together (will it, even)? And what of the lover whom she believes already dead, but who is actually very much alive?

What I liked about this film:

The music. Madan Mohan is one of those music directors for whom I will watch a film, and Jahanara has some of his best songs: Ae sanam aaj yeh kasam khaayein, Jab-jab tumhe bhulaaya tum aur yaad aaye, and the Talat Mahmood classics, Phir wohi shaam wohi gham and Main teri nazar ka suroor hoon.

The ladies, Mala Sinha, Shashikala, and Minoo Mumtaz. All are very pretty, and the first two have substantial roles too (Mala Sinha was nominated for a Filmfare award for Best Actress for her role as Jahanara). And yes, Aruna Irani is very cute. According to IMDB, she was only 12 years old when Jahanara was made.

There are moments of surprising sensitivity in the film. For instance, there’s this moment when, after Aurangzeb has usurped the throne and Jahanara has been ordered to go to Delhi, she tells Shahjahan that she will not leave him. Shahjahan bellows at her that he is the rightful emperor and that he orders her to go. She obeys, and walks away—then turns at the door to see her father standing, alone and forlorn, beside his throne, which isn’t even his any longer. She turns and runs back, to tell Shahjahan that she had obeyed the emperor, but will not leave her father.

What I didn’t like:

First, the not-really-important stuff, the details that one can live with. The historical inaccuracies, like the vividly European baroque feel of the headboard on this bed:

Or the very incorrect ‘Mughal architecture’ in this palace:

Or the fact that everybody makes it out to be a bad thing that Jahanara is in love with a commoner. Sorry. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that she was in love with any man. Prior to Akbar, Mughal princesses could marry; Akbar realised that this just created more claimants (or would-be claimants) for the throne, so he decreed that Mughal princesses would henceforth not marry. Jahanara was doomed to a life of solitude (or at least not married bliss), Mirza Changezi or not.

And then there is the depiction of Mumtaz Mahal’s death, a highly sanitised version. Mumtaz Mahal didn’t die in regal splendour in a gorgeous palace; she died in childbirth in the rainy season, in a muddy tent while accompanying Shahjahan on a campaign in Burhanpur.

What really got my goat, however, was the high melodrama in the film, especially in the first half. This bit of the film moves painfully slowly, with Jahanara and Mirza Changezi mouthing empty-sounding words of love to each other. That is followed by much weeping and screeching when Mumtaz Mahal dies, to be followed (when Mirza Changezi is banished and Aurangzeb starts showing his true colours) by argument and defiance, more weeping and more melodrama. I could have done without all of that.

I wish this film had focused on a more well-rounded picture of Jahanara and her times. Aurangzeb’s rebellion against Shahjahan, palace intrigues, Jahanara’s support of Dara Shukoh (and Dara Shukoh himself, who was a very interesting personality) would have made for an intriguing story. And it could have helped pass the time better than in trite poetry.

And yes, this was one film which really didn’t need the comic antics of Sundar and Om Prakash.


45 thoughts on “Jahanara (1964)

  1. What! Akbar passed a diktat that Mughal princesses could not marry? Unbelievable. So that’s the real key of the story, isn’t it, or should have been? How inhuman!

    But it does sound like a film to be watched. I have a soft spot for Mughal ‘anything’.


  2. Yes, I thought Akbar’s diktat terribly inhuman too. No wonder the mahal sara in the imperial household often consisted of hundreds of women – aunts, nieces, cousins, included – since they couldn’t be married off and were therefore the emperor’s responsibility. It must have been an awful existence for them.

    If you like Mughal stuff, do watch this film. It’s not as opulent as Mughal-e-Azam and not as well-made as I remember Taj Mahal, but it’s certainly worth a watch – and the music is superb.


  3. ROTFL at this really funny review of this boring film. And read open-mouthed at some surprising facts of mughal court life and times.
    I saw it on DD eons ago!

    Makes a really good reading. How about infusing some more of your phenomenal sense of humour in your novels?
    We need you to review more period films!!!!!!
    Watch out Anarkali and co.! Dustedoff is on prowl!
    Very :-)


    • Thank you! :-) I’m glad you liked the review – actually, I too had last seen this film years ago as a kid when Doordarshan aired it, and my memories of it were of deep depression. The main reason I rewatched it was because I like the music so much – and I did want to see how historically accurate the story was (no, I hadn’t been expecting much).

      Ah, that’s a good idea, to infuse some humour in my novels. I have written some humorous short stories, but maybe I should make a concerted effort to be a little funnier, generally speaking.


      • The music in the film, as you have already said, is awesome to say the least. Love most of the songs in it and most particularly the duet with Minoo Mumtaz and Aruna Irani (was she really 12?) is highly watchable!
        Like some funny things happening to Muzaffar would be great! But naturally you are the author, yo know the best. I mean the author knows the different facets of her character and what suits it and what not. :-)


        • Unfortunately, Muzaffar is already too cast into a particular style of writing, so I don’t think I’ll change that – but I have been thinking of doing another series of a historical detective story – I just might try giving that a humorous bent! Thank you for the suggestion. :-)

          IMDB says Aruna Irani was born in 1952, so by that account, she should’ve been 12 when this film was made. Seems a little unlikely to me, but then if you compare it to someone like Mumtaz (who had arrived as a B-movie star by the time she was 16), not improbable, I guess.


  4. With Mala Sinha, I expect 2 annoying excesses:
    1. Excessive weeping and wailing (for no apparent reason)
    2. Excessive blushing and biting of dupatta ends to no end

    The only movie where I found her tolerable was Dhool ka phool. Otherwise, never thought much of her.

    Bharat Bhushan – his lip movements annoy me greatly. He talks like a teethless old man, even in his youth.


    • You’re right, Mala Sinha did weep a lot and indulge in a lot of that excessive simpering in most of her films. I prefer to think of her in films like Aankhen or Dillagi, where she’s much more fun. Generally, I think a lot of her earlier films – the B/W ones, in particular – were very high on both emotion and the simpering. Bharat Bhushan is one actor I just don’t like – and I agree with you, he looks downright toothless, even as a young man! But then, he acted in films with amazingly good music (this one, Barsaat ki Raat, Baiju Bawra, Mirza Ghalib etc), so most of the time, I swallow my dislike of him and watch the film anyway.


  5. I’d seen this film long time back and i think i even have the dvd. Want to watch it again but somehow i feel im better off it. Mala sinha looks caked and bharat bhushan is sad :(


    • You know, I would classify this as one of those films that you needn’t watch if you’ve seen it before and have lots of ‘new’ films to watch instead – I mean, with all those so far undiscovered gems that we find every other day on rajshri.com or induna.com or youtube, surely rewatching the highly melodramatic BB and Mala Sinha is not that great a way to spend your time! ;-)


  6. Enjoyed your review as always, and have to add one note. A friend of my father, in the IAF during the ’71 war, had his plane shot down- in fact, one of the bullets went between him and the seatback. A few days later his hair went grey/white from shock.
    So it can apparently happen (at least this is the way we were alwyas told the story).


    • That’s an interesting anecdote. I have heard of people’s hair going grey in a matter of days, but only as hearsay – this is the first time I’ve heard of somebody who actually knew someone who experienced that.

      I regard stuff like that with a certain scepticism, because I didn’t realise it was physically possible – after all, human hair is all dead cells. If it’s already dead (and not in the process of growing any more), how could it possibly change from black to white in a matter of days? I could understand if the trauma would cause new hair that grew – perhaps in a couple of weeks, whatever – to be white, but other than that?

      I wonder if since your father’s friend was an IAF officer, it could have had something to do with the chance that he must have had very short hair to begin with. Maybe then it wouldn’t have taken very long for new (white) hair to appear…


  7. “Mumtaz Mahal didn’t die in regal splendour in a gorgeous palace; she died in childbirth in the rainy season, in a muddy tent while accompanying Shahjahan on a campaign in Burhanpur.”

    Q1: She wasn’t married and she was pregnant?
    Q2: Shahjehan approved of that?
    Q3: (more important) If she was that pregnant, what was she doing on a campaign?



    • Hey bhagwaan.

      Of course Mumtaz Mahal was married. She was pregnant, by her husband Shahjahan, with their fourteenth child, Gauharara Begum. But because of the immense love she felt for Shahjahan (see Taj Mahal!), she couldn’t bear to be away from him even for a moment, so she went with him on campaign to Burhanpur. Shahjahan obviously didn’t have as deep a love for her, or he would have forced her to stay back in Agra – or at least in some more comfortable palace or haveli, even if it was just in a nearby town.

      What made you think Mumtaz Mahal was unmarried, by the way? I’m very puzzled by that!


      • “Hey bhagwaan.”


        But didn’t you write that Mughal princesses were not allowed to get married?

        “Akbar realised that this just created more claimants (or would-be claimants) for the throne, so he decreed that Mughal princesses would henceforth not marry. Jahanara was doomed to a life of solitude (or at least not married bliss),”


    • Well, The Englishman’s Cameo had been sent to various film-makers, but no, not for now at least. Though loads of people have told me that it would make for a good film. :-)


  8. Thanks for reviewing this, I remember reading somewhere on Mala and her friendship with meena Kumari and although the role was meant for Meena, Meena recommended Mala to the producers for the role. I’ve long been curious about this and I might just check it out for Mala and the fab songs


    • I was thinking about you when I was watching the film, because I know you like Mala Sinha. She’s rather weepy in this, but there are places, too, where her acting’s very good – and she looks pretty! I hadn’t known Meena Kumari had been the original choice for the role. I wonder how it would have been if she had played Jahanara… perhaps, I think, she looked a bit too old for the part, considering that Jahanara was about 17 when her mother died, so a large and important part of the movie takes place when she’s around that age.


    • Yes, the kathak in that dance is fabulous (and anyway, Minoo Mumtaz is one of favourite ‘minor actresses’ – such a joy to watch). And the songs are out of this world, really.


  9. Reminds of Oscar Wilde, who came up with the line “I hear her hair has turned quite gold from grief” … and I think used it more than once!


    • :-))

      Have you seen the Saira Banu-Joy Mukherji-IS Johar starrer Shagird? There’s this scene where the Joy Mukherji character asks IS Johar: “Aap ishq mein baal safed kyon kare jaa rahein hain?”, and IS Johar responds: “Arre bhai, maine ishq mein baal safed nahin, kaale kiye hain!”


  10. I love anything ‘Moghul’ :), but fear the print will be too bad to enjoy it like Taj Mahal’s print, and also Noor Jehan (starring Meena Kumari and Pradeep kumar).


  11. Hindi cinema’s fascination for the Mughals is


    Yes! plus all those qawwalis, Muslim socials (Chaudvin Ka Chand, Pakeezah, Mere Mehboob, etc, etc.), etc. — makes you wonder why Punjabi Pakistan would leave India.


    • One wonders where all those Muslim socials went! There were some really wonderful ones (others I’d add to your list are Nakli Nawab, Mere Huzoor and Barsaat ki Raat). Even during the 80s, there were some – like Nikaah or Yeh Ishq Nahin Aasaan, even Umrao Jaan for that matter. But one doesn’t see films like that being made any more (or perhaps I just don’t watch too many modern films?!)


      • The Modern generation isn’t too keen on traditional films I think. They need a lot of stuff that blows up and Western music based Hindi songs, etc.


        • On the other hand, there was Jodha Akbar… but I think perhaps the biggest draw there was the lead pair. And of course the amount of money that had obviously gone into the making of that film.


  12. I think you didnt mention the 2 great songs in the movie, which deserved a mention-“Woh Chup rahen to mere dil ke daag jalte hain” and “Haal-e-dil yoon unhe sunaayaa gaya”. We cant forget the genius of Rajinder Krishen for the fantastic lyrics, a highly under rated lyricist who has penned the best and weightiest of songs in Hindi cinema.


    • Well… I do think music is also, like almost every other art, subjective – so what may deserve a mention for one may not necessarily be worth a mention for another. And I’ve mentioned the songs I really liked in this film. But I agree completely re: Rajinder Krishan. Definitely very underrated. But I suppose he commanded a great deal of respect in the industry (I’m guessing here), if the corpus of his work is anything to go by – he wrote the lyrics for just about every second film I watch!


  13. These are silly and cockeyed movies where directors find some nonsense from Mughal characters and play around with some music and some love stories.India film directors are carried away by Mughal history and fall at the feet of these treacherous characters who were womanizers, debauches, alcoholics and mere killers. All these stories are absurd and idiotic watchers clap like fools watching this shitty stuff.Muisc directors too dance for coppers. Greta actors like Prithiviraj kapoor to fall for few coppers and portray nonsense roles. Better shove these films in a dust bin and be happy


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