I saw a mention of this film for the first time on Richard’s blog a couple of years ago. Richard had mentioned that Dupatta (or Dopatta, as it’s referred to in some places) was available for viewing online. I’d stored away that snippet of information somewhere in the back of my mind, and forgotten about it later. Then, recently, Richard published an unusual (and interesting) post on his favourite filmi nurses, and Noorjehan’s character in Dupatta topped his list.
I watched a clip that Richard had posted, and found it so alluring that I decided it was high time I watched Dupatta. And I’m glad I did, because it was a beautiful, touching film that constituted a superb introduction (for me) to Pakistani cinema. (More recommendations are not just welcome, but invited).
Dupatta begins very dramatically: a car careens out of control on a street and turns turtle. Cut to an operation theatre, a surgeon hard at work; and then another swift cut to a more relaxed room, where a nervous young woman (who looks a little like a young Madhubala) is talking to a doctor.
The doctor is a plastic surgeon, and the young woman is pleading with him to save her husband’s looks. They’ve been married only a week, and oh, her husband is so handsome, and what will she do—how will she be able to live with him—if his face is deformed and ugly?
The doctor listens patiently to this immature and shallow young woman’s pleading, then asks her to sit down, so that he can tell her a story.
It is twelve years now, he says, since the story began: the story of Roshan and Bulbul. Bulbul (Noorjehan) is a pretty village girl who lives with her father and stepmother in the hills. She is being wooed by a nasty villager who’s been coaxing Bulbul’s stepmother to get him married to Bulbul. Bulbul’s stepmother, who is not at all fond of her stepdaughter, is more than willing to get her married to this no-gooder.
One day, while Bulbul is out singing and dancing, an errant wind sweeps off her dupatta and deposits it in the hands of a passing rider, a handsome young city-dweller named Roshan (Ajay Kumar). Roshan and Bulbul have a mild and teasing tiff, and fall in love almost immediately.
Then onwards, they spend hours together, he playing his mandolin while she dances and sings. They even meet—all very innocently—at night, and Bulbul is always careful to run home before midnight comes.
One night, unfortunately, she runs into her unwanted suitor, and he figures out that Bulbul has fallen in love with another man. He doesn’t waste any time telling Bulbul’s father, and the old man, in his turn, berates Bulbul.
Bulbul tries her best to plead her innocence and denies that she has done anything to besmirch the family’s honour, but her father is adamant: she must stop meeting Roshan. She must forget him. Bulbul, emotionally blackmailed to the limit of any sane person’s endurance, gives in—but she lays down one condition: if she cannot meet Roshan, then her father will not, ever, force her to marry another man.
This does shake her father up a bit, but he reluctantly agrees. Perhaps he realises a little of the extent of Bulbul’s love for Roshan.
The next day, Roshan waits for Bulbul, strumming his mandolin until its strings snap. Then, he ventures forth to Bulbul’s house—only to see her shut the window when she sees him. Roshan hurries uphill, and Bulbul tearfully tells him the truth: that he must forget her, and go his own way.
Into this unhappy parting, Bulbul’s thwarted suitor comes barging in, hollering a challenge to Roshan. They will fight it out, man to man. So they do, while Bulbul watches on anxiously from her window and her father, standing at the doorpost of his house, sees the two men wrestle and box and let fly at each other. Despite himself, he starts liking Roshan, because the young man fights fair and doesn’t resort to the underhand tricks of the other man.
The goon finally uses foul means (a fistful of mud flung into Roshan’s eyes) to fell his rival. Bulbul rushes forward, begging him to take her life and spare Roshan’s. She’s so desperate for Roshan’s safety that she even comes close to agreeing to marry the goon—until her father, overwhelmed by this proof of Bulbul’s love for Roshan, comes forward and intervenes. Roshan will be his son-in-law.
Back to the doctor’s chamber, and back to his story, which moves forward a little. Some days have passed, and the scene opens in the house of Roshan’s chaacha (Ghulam Mohammad) and chaachi (Nafees Begum). Roshan is an orphan, and his uncle and aunt, who are childless, have brought him up with as much affection as they would have lavished on their own offspring.
They have just received some startling news: that Roshan is on his way home, bringing with him his new bride. This is the first chaacha and chaachi have heard of Roshan getting married, so it comes as a big surprise to them.
When Roshan (whom we now discover is a military officer) arrives with a shy and nervous Bulbul, chaacha soon decides that he likes the new bride—very much. Chaachi has her reservations.
… and chaachi’s reservations grow with time. In order to help Bulbul settle into life in the city, Roshan takes it upon himself to teach her: fashion, English, waltzing, the piano, etc. A made-over, bubbly Bulbul is even more of a thorn in chaachi’s side. She thinks Roshan’s new wife is a frivolous creature. Unlike the usual filmi mother-in-law (or chaachi-in-law), she doesn’t go about openly deriding Bulbul, though you can feel the resentment simmering every time she looks at Bulbul.
A few years pass. Bulbul and Roshan now have a little son (Owais), whom they address as Munna. Munna is adored by his doting family, and chaachi, despite her hatred for Bulbul, is also fond of him.
Unfortunately, World War II breaks out—and Roshan, being a military officer, has to leave for the front. Bulbul, especially, is heartbroken.
In a poignant scene, just as he’s about to leave, Roshan tells Bulbul that they have to face the truth: he may never return from the war. If that happens—and Bulbul refuses point-blank to even admit the possibility—she must marry again. She cannot go through life mourning for him.
Roshan goes away to war. And the inevitable happens: one day, news arrives that he has gone missing and is presumed dead. The entire family—Bulbul, chaacha and chaachi (they haven’t told Munna) are devastated. Poor Bulbul, especially, is unable to come to terms with the fact that her beloved husband could be (almost certainly is) dead.
Then, one evening, little Munna falls ill. Bulbul sends for the doctor (Sudhir), who examines the child and diagnoses an ear infection. Munna will have to be given injections every three hours. There’s a brief spell of awkward indecision: how will that be done? Bulbul doesn’t know how to administer an injection, and it’ll be very inconvenient for the doctor to be to-ing and fro-ing from their house all night long. Finally, when Bulbul pleads with him to stay the night at the house and heal her child, the doctor agrees.
Roshan’s chaachi is very suspicious. With Roshan dead and his lovely young widow all alone, who knows what will happen? The doctor is a handsome young man, too; it’s obvious (at least to the chaachi) that there’s some attraction between him and Bulbul. She spies on the two of them while the doctor is attending to Munna. She even makes some nasty remarks that result in the doctor leaving the house, after telling Bulbul that Munna now seems to be on the mend.
Several events—each a turning-point in poor Bulbul’s life—now take place, in swift succession. Roshan’s chaachi, in a fit of anger at what she thinks is Bulbul’s wanton behaviour, insults Bulbul to the extent that Bulbul slaps her. Bulbul then takes Munna and leaves, saying that they are obviously no longer welcome in this house.
…and when Bulbul returns to her father’s house to seek refuge there, it’s to discover that Roshan’s spiteful chaachi has written to Bulbul’s father and stepmother, giving them an account of Bulbul’s ‘disgraceful conduct’. The stepmother heaps more scorn on Bulbul, and Bulbul finds that the news has shocked her father so much that he’s on his deathbed. She manages to convince him of her innocence, but he dies, anyway.
Since there’s nothing for her to do here, Bulbul returns to the city, and there, with the support of the doctor, she trains to become a nurse. As a nurse, Bulbul ends up being often in the doctor’s company as he goes about his work.
One day, Bulbul learns the sad truth about the doctor’s personal life: he had a little son who died—and his wife is mad. (She keeps screaming every now and then, in English: “I’m not mad! I’m not mad!”) The doctor explains that his wife has these spells now and then, but is usually quiet and calm. But when she has one of her spells, she’s hard to control.
Bulbul, pitying the doctor’s wife, offers to help look after the woman. The doctor is initially hesitant, but when he sees that Bulbul really wants to help, he accepts her offer.
This nurse is the one who begins to soon drop hints—first mischievous, then more serious—that Doctor Sahib and Bulbul are destined for each other. She is a widow; he is saddled with a mad wife. She is beautiful; he is handsome. They get along well. Will it be a surprise if they should fall in love? Bulbul shrugs off the nurse’s insinuations, scoffing at them…
Until one evening, when Bulbul takes over the other nurse’s duty of taking the doctor his tray of coffee. The doctor, sitting in a dimly-lit room, doesn’t realise it’s Bulbul who’s entered, and begins a monologue addressed to the nurse, who he thinks has brought him his coffee. He tells her how he feels about Bulbul, and how much he loves her—and a shocked, yet compassionate Bulbul, gently tells him that yes, she understands.
Has Bulbul finally managed to get over the death of Roshan? Is she ready to leave the spectre of Roshan behind and make a new life for herself?
Or will things take a sudden, surprising twist, when a disfigured and badly-scarred man shows up at the house of Roshan’s chaachi and chaachi, admitting that he has returned from the front, and knew Roshan?
What I liked about this film:
The second half. Unlike a lot of films that suffer from the ‘curse of the second half’, this one’s the opposite.
The first half, which is all about the romance of Roshan and Bulbul, is pretty standard fare, with all the usual obstacles—the unwanted suitor, the nasty stepmother, the inimical chaachi. But once Bulbul goes to the doctor’s house and starts working there, the story suddenly becomes much more interesting.
There are no high histrionics here, and relatively little melodrama. Instead, what we do have is a sensitive, beautiful portrayal of love, and what it can mean to different people: from jealous possessiveness to respect and understanding, and selfless sacrifice… and when the scarred man arrives in the story, it becomes even more poignant. The last half hour, in particular, had me glued to the screen (and crying a bit, I must admit).
Hakim Ahmed Shuja (who wrote it) and Sibtain Fazli (who directed it) made Dupatta a film you must watch if you like love stories. This is one of the most sensitive I’ve seen in a long time.
The music, by Feroz Nizami. When you have a singer like Noorjehan as your lead actress, you should take advantage of it—and Nizami does. Noorjehan gets to sing some great songs in this film: from frothy, romantic ones like Baat hi baat mein and Main ban patang ud jaaoon re (both in the beginning of the film) to the beautiful Chaandni raatein. My favourite, though, is the absolutely wonderful Saanwariya koi tohe pukaare—a good example of a song which you’ll appreciate more if you know its context in the film.
And, Noorjehan. She is the star of this film (of course!), but it’s easy to see why she was the star, even if you overlook her beautiful voice. Those expressive eyes, and the very restrained acting (particularly in the second half of the film) are a pleasure to watch. I’ve only ever seen one Noorjehan film before—Anmol Ghadi—and while I liked her in that, I didn’t go gaga over her. Dupatta has made me change my opinion.
What I didn’t like:
Compared to the latter part of the film, the first 45 minutes or so seem somewhat inept (they aren’t, actually—just in comparison). The drama regarding Bulbul’s nasty would-be suitor, her disapproving stepmother and her father could’ve been toned down a bit, I thought.
Still. I can live with that. For the sake of the last half-hour, I could live with a lot more. (Incidentally, certain sections of Dupatta reminded me of the Greer Garson-Ronald Colman starrer Random Harvest. There’s a similarity in the quietly sensitive beauty of both romances, and there’s the fact that both are linked to the consequences of war. If you’ve seen and liked Random Harvest, you might want to give Dupatta a try).
A copy of Dupatta, with English subtitles, is available on Youtube. You can watch it here.
P.S. A few things I noted about Dupatta:
(a) Except for Roshan and Bulbul, nobody is ever named in the film. Munna, possibly—but that is very likely used (as it often is) as a generic nickname for a little boy. I thought the naming of only Roshan and Bulbul was an interesting way of showing who the really ‘main characters’ in the film were.
(b) Contrary to what most people would expect of a Pakistani Urdu film, the Urdu here isn’t highly Persianised. If you can understand the language of most Hindi films made in the 50s, you’ll see little difference between the two.
(c) Interestingly, the film is ambiguous as to the religion of the people involved. ‘Roshan’ and ‘Bulbul’ are fairly ‘non-religion-specific’ names, and God, whenever referred to, is called ‘the Master’ or ‘the One Above’.