Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das Indische Grabmal were, as Anu called them, ‘raja-rani’ (‘king-and-queen’) films, no matter how warped they may have been as examples of that genre. In line with my last post, therefore, here’s another film: also raja-rani, also set in the India of maharajas, evil plotters wanting to make a grab at a throne that’s not legitimately theirs, and a pretty lady at the heart of it all. Kohinoor, however, is a blessedly long way from Fritz Lang’s Indian epic. This film’s a rollicking farce mostly all through, with plenty of good songs, a great cast, and some superb comedy sequences.
The story begins in the state of Kailashnagar, which, since the death of its king, has been handled by its Diwan, Veer Singh (
? I know I should know who this actor is, but his name escapes me identified by Anu and UpendraS as S Nazir). The late king’s son and heir, the Crown Prince Devendra Pratap (Dilip Kumar) has now come of age, and it’s time for his raj tilak – his coronation. Devendra, however, seems to be a bit of a scamp, more interested in his pet mongoose (which he leads on a string) than in court matters.
Veer Singh’s wife (Leela Chitnis, acting to the hilt as Leela Chitnis – quaky-voiced and brimming over with motherly devotion) has brought up Devendra like her own son, and is very proud that he is finally going to become king. Her son Surendra (
? identified by UpendraS as Wasim Khan), who regards Devendra as his brother, is equally glad for Devendra.
Veer Singh is the only member of the family who is not quite so exultant – because he’s been enjoying ruling Kailashnagar so much, the idea of handing over to Devendra is not one he relishes at all. In fact, along with his evil minions, Veer Singh has been plotting to get rid of Devendra, once and for all. Devendra barges in on one of these meetings – the Diwan has been showing off to his co-conspirators a cobra that he intends to unleash on Devendra [isn’t that a silly way of trying to murder someone who has a pet mongoose?]
Devendra appears a little suspicious – definitely not the clown he’s been pretending to be – but he doesn’t come right out and confront Veer Singh.
Veer Singh’s wife, in the meantime, has coaxed Devendra into agreeing to marry the princess of a neighbouring state. One look at the portrait of the lady, Chandramukhi (Meena Kumari), and Devendra is smitten.
Chandramukhi, too, has been sent a portrait of Devendra’s, with reciprocal results. Both Devendra and Chandramukhi, in their respective palaces, are celebrating Holi with their subjects, when Chandramukhi accidentally blunders into the senapati (commander-in-chief) of the state (Jeevan, looking leeringly evil). The senapati, who knows that Chandramukhi’s decrepit and senile old father (M Kumar, helpfully identified by UpendraS) is a weakling, has an eye on the throne – and on Chandramukhi.
But arrangements have been made for Chandramukhi to leave for Kailashnagar to meet Devendra. She gladly agrees to set out, even firmly turning down any suggestions that the senapati send a contingent along to guard her. She’s a canny girl, it seems, and thinks she’s safer without the senapati’s protection.
Switch back to Devendra now. Amongst his other accomplishments, Devendra is also an excellent singer – and so has journeyed through the countryside to a musical assembly. Here, a wilful dancer named Rajlakshmi (Kumkum) challenges any singer present to sing a tune to which she can’t dance. Devendra obliges by singing a wonderful song (Madhuban mein Radhika naache re – more on that later) and we get to watch some fabulous dancing too.
The song comes to an end, and just as it does so, a spectator standing by (he’s one of Veer Singh’s henchmen) unleashes a cobra, which of course is promptly killed by Devendra’s mongoose. Devendra looks (and who can blame him?) suspicious… and his suspicions are confirmed when a gang of armed men break into his chamber that night at the palace and try to kill him.
In good swashbuckling hero style, our prince manages to put them all to rout – he can swing a sword as well as anybody – and they flee.
Devendra follows, and just about manages to see where some of his former assailants have fled: to a chamber where Veer Singh is standing. Devendra’s suspicions are confirmed. Of course; he should’ve known all along. He confronts Veer Singh, and finally blows his top and tells Veer Singh to keep the throne of Kailashnagar – Devendra has no desire to be king at any cost.
But he does issue a caveat: if there is justice in heaven, someday the crown will rest on the rightful head.
So Devendra rides off into the countryside, followed by Veer Singh’s men (he refuses to let go – after all, there may be justice in heaven, and then where would Veer Singh be?). The goons manage to topple Devendra off his horse and over the edge of a cliff. Veer Singh’s riders, assuming Devendra is dead, ride back and report the good news to Veer Singh, who does not realise that Devendra hasn’t died at all – he grabbed a branch just in time.
… and clambered up, to make his way to a well-lit group of tents. He soon discovers this to be the camp of Princess Chandramukhi, en route to Kailashnagar to meet him.
Although he could probably just have himself announced, Devendra opts to use the dramatic (not to mention convoluted) method of disguising himself as a sadhu.
He then wangles an audience with Chandramukhi, to whom he prophesizes her meeting with the man she is to love – and follows it up by wandering off, only to come back in his (improved! Thank goodness!) version as Devendra. They sing a song together under the starry skies.
But the path of true love is never easy, is it? Barely has the last note been sung and Chandramukhi retreated towards her tent that she’s sprung upon by a bunch of masked men who kidnap her and ride off with the princess.
Devendra rides off too in hot pursuit, and succeeds in overpowering one of the men – a straggler, whom Devendra knocks out, strips of his clothes and mask, and thus exchanges identities with. While the man staggers off in a chaddi-clad daze, Devendra leaps on to his horse again and catches up with the other abductors – who have fetched up at the place they had to deliver Chandramukhi: an old stable (barn?), where the lecherous senapati of her kingdom awaits.
He again tries to coerce her into marrying him, but Chandramukhi (who knows full well that this villain doesn’t love her, only her kingdom – and, anyway, who’d choose this guy over a dashing Dilip Kumar?!) – well, Chandramukhi makes it pretty clear that she wants to have nothing to do with him.
So the senapati has Chandramukhi locked up and guards stationed outside the dirty little room where she’s held prisoner. One of the guards is the masked man whom the others believe is their own chum, though he’s really Devendra in disguise. When things have quietened down a bit and the others have relaxed their guard, Devendra creeps into the room and reveals his identity to Chandramukhi.
Much delightful action follows as the two of them escape: while Devendra uses his fists to good effect, Chandramukhi picks up a heavy stick and lets fly with it at anyone who comes in her way. She’s a dab hand at whacking the senapati’s men, and keeps the two sentries unconscious (with regular clonks on the head) while Devendra ties up the rest who’re sleeping… and the two lovebirds are able to run away.
Not for long, unfortunately. The senapati’s men catch up within a day’s time. Chandramukhi is abducted all over again, and a wounded, unconscious Devendra is locked up in a burning shed. His faithful horse hauls him out, though, and carries him – coincidentally enough, to the house of the dancer Rajlakshmi. She looks after Devendra.
When he recovers (by which time Rajlakshmi is well and truly in love with him), Devendra discovers that Chandramukhi is still missing and that a huge reward has been offered by her father the king for any news of her.
Devendra sets off to search for his beloved, and teams up with a singer-of-sorts (Mukri).
In the meantime, the captive Chandramukhi continues to refuse the senapati, and he’s gotten pretty sick of her constant moping. At the advice of his henchmen, he therefore decides to invite musicians, dancers, singers et al – anybody who can cheer Chandramukhi up and have her accept the senapati’s suit.
And who arrives? The Sangeetkaar Maharaj Kohinoor Baba, bringing with him his chela:
This is the start of a delightful romp as Devendra, his sidekick, Chandramukhi and the senapati follow up one mad scene with another. Chandramukhi shows how adept she is with a heavy brass vase; Devendra spouts gibberish; the senapati discovers that it’s a bad idea to decorate opulent guest chambers with brass vases; and much happens…
If you like raja-rani films, don’t give Kohinoor a miss. It’s a gem.
What I liked about the film:
The sheer light-heartedness of most of it. True, there are scenes that are fairly grim (especially the last half-hour), but the overall tone of the film is one of madcap humour. The scene where a masked Devendra arrives in the shed where Chandramukhi is locked, and then helps her escape, is a sweet, romantic, yet funny one; and the many scenes in the senapati’s palace, with Kohinoor Baba driving the senapati up the wall with his speechifying… priceless. There is one especially hilarious scene, with Chandramukhi, Devendra, Devendra’s assistant, and the senapati racing around Chandramukhi’s room, while Chandramukhi lobs heavy brass vases at the senapati – and always with unerring aim.
[Interestingly, while it seems to be set in what seems to be pre-colonial India – there are no signs of modernity at all – Kohinoor does use the occasional word or dialogue in English. There is something very funny about a desperate Mukri wailing for Kohinoor Baba: “Guru! Where are you?!”]
The cast. Meena Kumari and Dilip Kumar, both of whom unfortunately got typecast as tragic actors, show just how versatile they are. Both are fabulous, and Jeevan shows an unexpected flair for comedy. Plus, Meena Kumari is utterly lovely.
Madhuban mein Radhika naache re. Naushad composed some lovely music for Kohinoor (two other favourites of mine from the film are Koi pyaar ki dekhe jaadugari Gulfam ko mil gayi Sabz Pari, and Do sitaaron ka zameen par hai Milan), but Madhuban mein Radhika naache re ranks as one of my favourite songs ever, bar none. The music is out of this world, Rafi sings it with his characteristic brilliance, and the picturisation – from Kumkum’s alluring dancing to Dilip Kumar’s ‘singing’ and ‘sitar-playing’ (I read somewhere that he actually could play the sitar, that’s why it looks so real onscreen) – is sublime. I can watch this song again and again, it’s so perfect.
What I didn’t like:
The grimness of the last half hour. Not that it’s unbearably so, but compared to the frothy farce of the rest of the film, it does get a bit gloomy.
And there’s a “Huh? How did she do that?” moment involving Kumkum, towards the end of the film.
But, overall: a film you must add to your collection if you like Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari, Naushad, raja-rani films – or a hearty laugh. A swashbuckler, a romance, a comedy: what more could one want?