Adalat (1958)

My family first acquired a TV in 1982. For the next few years, Doordarshan remained our main source of entertainment. And the films Doordarshan telecast at 5.45 PM every Sunday (and a couple of times during the week, mostly at odd times) were the highlights of the week. We saw loads of films during those years. Everything that was shown—from the simply horrendous Fauji to Fedora, which I didn’t understand—was grist to the family mill.

Looking back, I now realise just how tolerant I was back then of cinema that now induces irritation at best, ‘kill-this-film maker’ fury at worst. Watching Adalat now, after having first seen this when I was a pre-teen, I can see that what I thought of as a tragic but entertaining film is really not that great. In, fact, almost tedious.

Adalat is the story of Nirmala ‘Nirmal’ (Nargis, credited as the award-winning actress at Karlovy Vary). Nirmal is in her final year of college, doing her BA and staying with her widowed, weak-hearted mother [Protima Devi, as pathetic a figure as she was in Professor. And you know what happens when someone has been established as having a weak heart in the first few minutes of the film].

The two of them live with Nirmal’s mother’s brother and his shrewish wife. Nirmal’s maami (Chand Burque) is a vicious and very shrill woman who’s constantly yelling at the other two women, telling them how it’s the generosity of her and her husband that allows them to stay on here, living off the earnings of the maamaji. Maamaji seems blissfully unaware that anything’s wrong; his wife has given him to understand that she’s the one doing all the housework…

…whereas in reality, it’s Nirmal who does all the cleaning and cooking that allows the household to manage without a servant.

And, in college, she’s a fine student. Plus, she’s fallen in love with a classmate named Rajinder (Pradeep Kumar, who really looks far too old to be in college). Rajinder and Nirmal’s romance consists largely of accidentally banging into each other.

They eventually do (sort of) express their love for each other, and that too just as the term is ending. Nirmal has won a gold medal for a beautiful poem she recites at the college mushaira. When she comes home, her maami gets on Nirmal’s case again, and Nirmal—a hot-tempered girl, as it is—lets fly and tells her aunt off.  She vows that she’ll go get herself a job, so that she can look after her mother and maami won’t get a chance to pass any more snide remarks.

Nirmal’s luck is pretty good, because she’s not gone very far when she runs into an old friend, Leela (?). [Rather, Leela runs into Nirmal—literally. Like a good Hindi film character, Nirmal’s crossing the road without looking, and Leela nearly mows her down in her car]. Anyway, there’s a cheery reunion, and when Leela learns that Nirmal is looking for a job, she insists on taking Nirmal to a place where there’s a job just waiting for her.

This turns out to be a sangeet vidyalaya (a ‘school of music’) run by Kedarnath (Pran). Kedarnath is immediately taken by Nirmal, and—just as Leela had predicted—offers her a job as a teacher. At Rs 500 per month. Nirmal can’t believe her good fortune. Kedarnath gives her an advance of Rs 100, and after an ecstatic Nirmal has left, promising to report for duty the following day, Kedarnath does a little jig with Leela. The gist of their flighty conversation is that Leela’s got him a nice juicy pigeon which he’ll pluck at his own leisure.

Nirmal, gullible and naïve soul that she is, has no idea what’s happening. Some days later, when the sangeet vidayalaya holds a function and she gets a glimpse of the unashamedly lecherous all-male crowd, she does get a bit of a start. The start swiftly develops into full-fledged flight as the audience leaps onto the stage, the lights go out, and the men start dragging away the girls onstage.

Nirmal finds herself being pounced on by Kedarnath, who flings off his turban and fake moochh etc to reveal himself as a younger and definitely ill-meaning creature.

Fortunately for Nirmal’s virtue, the police seem to have been tipped off by someone, and choose this moment to raid the premises. The ‘audience’ is dragged off, as are the girls (including Nirmal), and the next day, the news of this episode is splashed all across the newspapers.

There’s a hearing in court, and the judge is sympathetic enough to have the poor girls remanded to a rescue home. Nirmal begs to be allowed to go back to her home, since she does have one.
But, hai re kismat. Back home, the family has already heard the news, and Nirmal is told in no uncertain terms that she is not welcome back. Her ma [remember that weak heart?] chooses this moment to pop off, leaving Nirmal with no-one on her side.

…worse still, when Nirmal finally picks herself up and walks off towards an uncertain future, who should pop up but the eternal bad penny, Kedarnath. [I’m wondering why he isn’t languishing in jail in the aftermath of that raid, but maybe that’s too much to expect of the cops. It’s never explained].

Now looking more dapper, but as black-hearted as ever, Kedarnath tries to again get fresh with Nirmal.

She tries to run away, and in the process, is hit by a car. [It seems to be Nirmal’s fate to get hit or nearly hit by traffic. I’ve rarely seen a more accident-prone heroine; even her meetings with Rajinder consist mainly of collisions between their cycles]. The man in the car, Colonel Thakur Ranbir Singh (Murad), gets out to check on Nirmal, and kindly offers to take her to a hospital—or, when she insists she’s fine, to drop her home.

He hustles Nirmal into his car, and she admits to him that she actually has nowhere to go.

At this, Thakur Ranbir Singh tells Nirmal that she should accompany him to his home in Allahabad. His wife is an invalid and needs a companion, and Nirmal seems the perfect choice. Nirmal is initially hesitant [I’m not surprised; the last ‘elderly gentleman’ she trusted turned out to be Kedarnath], but finally agrees when Thakur Sahib tells her that she is like a daughter to him.

At Thakur Sahib’s home, his wife is very pleased to meet Nirmal, and warms to her immediately. And—surprise, surprise [or no surprise, if you’re familiar with the tropes of Hindi cinema] their son arrives that same evening—and is none other than Rajinder himself! He and Nirmal are overjoyed to find each other here, and, unseen by his parents [and unheard] spend their time in expressing their love for each other.

But there’s no smooth sailing for Rajinder and Nirmal’s romance, after all. One fine day, Thakur Sahib announces that he’s made arrangements for Rajinder to go abroad to study law. All Rajinder has to do is go to so-and-so office and collect his ‘passport for Britain’, and then he can leave—in two days’ time.

Rajinder and Nirmal are devastated, of course. How will they live without each other for the next few years?  Rajinder suggests they get married at once; at least he will make Nirmal his wife before he leaves for foreign shores. When Nirmal expresses doubts about his parents agreeing to the match (she is, after all, destitute, no fit bride for a family as elite as the Thakur’s), Rajinder brushes her off by saying they won’t tell his parents right now. That can happen later, when he’s back. Now, he wants to marry her in the sight of God.

So they get married, with only one pandit as witness [and no marriage certificate, I’m guessing]. Rajinder leaves two days later, and a couple of months down the line, Nirmal collapses one day.
The doctor who’s summoned examines Nirmal and tells Thakur Sahib’s wife that there’s no need for worry; in fact, there’s cause for celebration: this young woman is going to be a ma.

There is shock all around—even from Nirmal, who seems, for all her education, to be woefully unfamiliar with the facts of life.

All hell breaks loose, and Nirmal’s attempts to tell Thakur Sahib and his wife that she isn’t a fallen woman, and that her baby is their son’s offspring, go unheard.

And in comes Kedarnath, now a decrepit and sorry figure. He calls Nirmal his wife, and explains to Thakur Sahib that when he (Kedarnath) and Nirmal had got married, he had been a wealthy man, but now that he’s fallen on hard times and all his wealth has evaporated, she’s left him.

Thakur Sahib and his wife jump to the obvious conclusion: this unscrupulous young woman is only after money, and having deserted her own husband, now has an eye on their wealth—which she’s trying to get by claiming a relationship with Rajinder. Out with the hussy!

So Nirmal finds herself destitute once again. She manages to break free from Kedarnath, but where will she go now? What will she do?

There’s plenty more to come, more tragedy and sacrifice and misunderstandings. Thankfully, there’s also Achla Sachdev, in a small but important role:

And one of my favourite ‘never-a-major-lead’ actors, Jawahar Kaul:

What I liked about this film:

The music. Really, if there’s one reason to watch Adalat, it’s Madan Mohan’s absolutely sublime music (incidentally, one of his assistants for this film was Chic Chocolate). The score includes two of my favourite ghazals (Yoon hasraton ke daag and Unko yeh shikaayat hai ke hum), plus the lovely Zameen se humein aasmaan par bithaake gira toh na doge. There’s  also the cheery Jab din haseen dil ho jawaan, and the unusually structured Jaa jaa re jaa saajna, where the verses alternate between sad/slow, and coquettish/fast.

One very short scene towards the end of the film.

Spoiler ahead:

In the courtroom scene, Rattanlal (Jawahar Kaul), who’s the public prosecutor, has been questioning Nirmal, who’s in the dock for murder. He has not the faintest idea that this is his mother, but she knows that this is her son. As he’s speaking, addressing the judge and jury, building up his case against her, she gazes at him—you can see the longing in her eyes—and then slowly slides her hand along the railing, until she is able to rest her hand on top of his. Rattanlal is so surprised that he loses the thread of what he’s saying, and sits down soon after, unable to continue.

It isn’t a melodramatic scene, but it’s very poignant (mostly because it isn’t melodramatic?) The mother, yearning for her son, touches him surreptitiously, and the son—unaware that this is his mother—is taken by surprise. The love in Nargis’s face, the utter bewilderment in Jawahar Kaul’s: easily my favourite scene in the entire film.

Spoiler ends.

What I didn’t like:

The melodrama. There’s very little that’s subtle in Adalat: the many sorrows that plague Nirmal; Kedarnath and all his equally nasty cronies; the high-handed Thakur Sahib and his wife: they’re all pretty over the top.

I would probably have tolerated it (as I did when I was younger) if it hadn’t been for the fact that Nirmal herself didn’t elicit a spark of sympathy in me. For a woman whose education was made much of (it’s mentioned every now and then), Nirmal seems not just naïve, but really rather lacking in common sense too. And initiative. When Thakur Sahib dismisses her claim that she is his bahu, why doesn’t she suggest they telephone Rajinder—or write to him?

And (spoiler ahead)… why doesn’t she show some initiative when Kedarnath has her ‘locked up’ in the kotha? If other women, like the one who smuggles out the baby, can sneak in and out during the night, what is to prevent Nirmal doing so as well? Spoiler ends.

In my opinion, too, Rajinder is a coward. He’s quick to believe the worst of Nirmal, all because his overbearing father says something. For someone who pledged undying love to Nirmal and should have been expected to trust her, Rajinder shows a sad lack of anything even remotely approaching trust.

But. The music. Someday I’m probably going to make a list of ten otherwise-avoidable films that have wonderful music. [Well, maybe not just ten. Maybe hundred.] Adalat will feature on that list.

42 thoughts on “Adalat (1958)

  1. Terrific! You actually saw this one?! And analysed it too :D Thank god for your humour though. Mother popped off! I’m still ROFL :D


    • :-D

      Frankly, Hansda, the only way one can watch a film like this is with a sense of humour. Otherwise, it’s simply unbearable. And, to be truthful, my memories of this hadn’t been as painful as it proved to be…


  2. :-D
    the film might not deserve a dekho, but your review is wonderful and worth more than a re-read!
    Amusing and and entertaining!
    Though I must say that it is hard for all victims to react the same way. Women caught in such situations do have at times different ways to deal with such situations. This doesn’t make them less a victim though. I had once a meeting with women from a home for victims of domestic violence. Alhough one could see a pattern in the case histories, the way the women dealt with it were all different. Although a support in form of family and the society was available, many couldn’t bring themselves to use it for different reasons. Most probably the same is true for victims of prostitution.
    But I understand that the film doesn’t take any pains to make this clear as well.
    What I really couldn’t understand is Kedaranth’s obsession with Nirmal (pure one). But if he had not, then we wouldn’t have a story would we?
    The time when yous aw the movie was probably the same when I watched it. But had compeltely forgotten it. I remember seeing the “the award-winning actress at Karlovy Vary”. The same was true for Lajwanti as well. Though I remember the story of Lajwanti, I had compeltely forgotten the plot of Adalat.
    ROTFL at “I’ve rarely seen a more accident-prone heroine”! :-D
    Thanks for this thoroughly entertaining review, dear Madhu!


    • Lajwanti is another thoroughly irritating film, but with great songs. I somehow find it hard to understand why Nargis – who’d worked in some truly good films – did these as well.

      I like your observation about how women (or, should I say ‘people’ – not necessarily only women) react in the face of oppression. Being educated, or having a job, etc doesn’t always make you immune to oppression. Look at something like domestic violence, even among women who’re educated and earn for themselves… but, as you mention, Adalat does not delve into this. It doesn’t take the trouble of showing that Nirmal is making some attempt to speak up or think how she can improve her lot. Basically, she seems to be just a bit of driftwood, floating about with the tide.

      Incidentally, I find Kedarnath’s behaviour towards her illogical.

      Spoiler ahead:

      He obviously lusts after her, but even when he’s had her in the kotha for 25 years (or whatever), he hasn’t had his wicked way with her… *puzzled*


        • Uff! Anu. :-D

          But it’s actually not surprising I thought that, because that’s the sort of thing I tend to do in some of my stories – people have names that are contradictory to their situations. So a Nirmal who was malin would be right up my street! Like Pakeezah, you know.


      • I was looking for a review of Lajwanti and stumbled across this reference. For want of a post on that film, I must apologetically offer my views on Lajwanti in this thread in hope of a response from either of you :-)

        I appreciate that you found the Lajwanti “highly irritating” but I found it to be considerably intelligent and progressive for its time. The film was happy to portray Nargis’s character, Kavita, as capable of earning a decent living and having the will to survive even after the bitter separation from her husband and daughter. Most Bollywood portrayals of a “good woman” would have her struggling to survive on something as humble as basket-weaving. However, Kavita’s character maintains her dignity and, even more surprisingly, opts for a modestly glamorous profession on the stage despite her deep love and longing for her husband and daughter. The film promotes her worth as an individual, and not merely as a wife or mother.

        It’s also intriguing that Balraj Sahni’s character, Nirmal, remains so self-centred even to the end. It’s his reluctance to tell his daughter the reason why her mother left that prevents the girl from accepting Kavita. He is still worrying about his pristine image before his daughter instead of assisting in the reconciliation. And it’s also stunning how the moment his wife returns after 10 years, he is happy to push his daughter to the sideline. It’s good that the film underscores the negative aspects of his character instead of attempting to downplay them. Importantly, the film does not use the old moral chestnut that it is Kavita’s duty to love her husband despite his flaws.

        I thought Nargis performed brilliantly, and Balraj Sahni was mostly excellent, although he didn’t reach the heights of his portrayal of a somewhat similar (but much nicer) character in Anuradha (1960). Naaz’s portrayal of the daughter was also impressive, given her age.


        • Well, it has been over 25 years since I watched Lajwanti, so my impressions of it are those of a teenager. Probably in my early teens, if I remember correctly. And I didn’t have much patience with drama, or much appreciation of nuances, when I was that old.

          But your comment makes me want to watch the film again and see it! There are several films that I first saw as a teenager and didn’t like, but saw as an adult and have appreciated – even come to love. So Lajwanti deserves a second chance, i guess.

          Thank you. :-)


          • I am glad you want to watch it again, dustedoff – I would be really interested in hearing your views on the film :-) I must confess that I fast-forwarded the songs, which probably made it easier for me to retain my focus. However, the premise of the film impressed me, as did the performances.


  3. Lovely review, Madhu. Enjoyed reading it. I remember seeing this movie about 15 years ago but had forgotten the storyline completely. Good to read about it now.

    Sounds like a rather typical story of the time. Falling in love in college, then misfortune strikes (usually in the form of one’s parent(s) dying), getting separated, then coming together but “circumstances” prevent a reunion, some misunderstanding, accusations of badchalan-ness :-), a sob song….yes, typical of the times.

    I love the songs of this movie. I think a hundred’s not too big a number if you’re making that list of “avoidable movies whose songs are the major saving grace”.

    P.S: I remember Jawahar Kaul from “Dekh Kabira Roya”. :-)


    • I think a hundred’s not too big a number if you’re making that list of “avoidable movies whose songs are the major saving grace”.

      Yes, they’re a dime a dozen, isn’t it? So many I can think of, without even having to try. This one, Bhabhi, Chhoti Bahen, Jahanara, Lajwanti… even Barsaat ki Raat, while nowhere as irritating as Adalat (and redeemed to some extent by the sheer gorgeousness of its ladies) is worth it mainly because of its songs.

      Jawahar Kaul was at his best in Dekh Kabira Roya! What a film. :-)


  4. Excellent review. Apparently one plot-turn/incident in about 10 minutes was all the pace the faint-hearted movie goers of the 60s could take : ) All I remember of this movie is that it meandered and wound its way far, far too long. But yes, Unko Yeh Shikyaat Hai is beautifully written.

    Kehne ko bahut kuchh tha, agar kehne pe aate
    Duniya ki inaayat hai ke, ham kuchh nahin kehte


    • That’s a beautiful verse you’ve quoted. AKM. My favourite from that ghazal is this one:

      Kuchh kehne pe toofaan utha leti hai duniya
      Ab ispe qayamat hai ke hum kuchh nahin kehte

      Rajinder Krishan should’ve stuck to being a lyricist. He was brilliant. :-)


  5. I forgot to add : has there ever been a movie in which the all too eager couple had a “temple wedding” and then (a) the guy didn’t disappear (or die) and (b) the lady didn’t err… miss a fullstop? I did a quick check of my none-too-vast memory and I can’t think of one!


  6. Thanks for the review DO
    But what I’m curious about is… where does LK Saighal fit in and also his song ‘babul mora…’? :-)

    I have only one explanation for not minding such films (in addition to not minding the melodrama) is that I retreat into my younger days perhaps, when everything was easier to like. :-D

    THe songs are of course fabulous, no doubt.


    • You are much more tolerant than I am, pacifist! Even though I look back on such films with a certain wistful wonder (at how easily pleased I was in my younger days), I can’t help but wince now. Adalat isn’t as bad as a lot of other films, but it’s certainly not how I recall it.

      P.S. My reference to KL Saigal and Baabul mora was with regard to something I’m writing – though not for this blog. When it’s published, I’ll post it here too. :-)


  7. Madhu, when my dashboard said you had reviewed Adalat I was shocked. I don’t know why I assumed you’d liked it! I saw it on Doordarshan too. :~) ‘Tedious’ is just the right word to describe it! Gosh, it was one of those never-ending ‘trials and tribulations of the heroine’ films, wasn’t it? And Pradeep Kumar? Oh, he needed a kick in his pants.

    Love, love, love your review (especially your asides – I agreed with all of them!) as much as I hate, hate, hated this film. But oh, the music! Yes, please do make that list of forgettable films with great music – I warrant that Madan Mohan will be the oft-listed composer. That man wasted his music on the most horrible films!


    • Arre baba. Anu, you should know by now that I don’t confine myself to reviewing only films that I like. And you put it so aptly: this one’s the ultimate example of the “never-ending ‘trials and tribulations of the heroine” films. (Is it a coincidence, or did Nargis act in a fair number of such films? This, Laajwanti, Mother India, just off the top of my head).

      Yes, Madan Mohan’s music far outshone the calibre of many of the films he composed for. Fortunately, he also had Dekh Kabira Roya, Haqeeqat, Mera Saaya and Woh Kaun Thi? (yes, I’m guilty of enjoying that film a lot, despite everything people may say). On the other hand, Pooja ke Phool, Jahanara, Akeli Mat Jaiyo, Anpadh etc were also all Madan Mohan’s.

      Anyway, what matters is that his music was invariably superb, even if the films were not.


    • We actually didn’t buy this first TV; it was part of the furniture in my father’s office – which happened to be attached to our home. During the day time (which anyway was off-time for DD), Papa’s office was offlimits, but after office hours, when the staff had gone home, we were allowed to watch whatever we wanted. :-)


  8. I remember seeing this on DD and liking it. I remember that scene you mention very well. It was really touching.

    However it was ludicrous to see an aged Nargis still singing on a kotha, towards the end of the story.

    Haha @ Pradeep Kumar looking to old to be a college guy, and “collect the passport from my office”

    But the songs.. oh oh the songs.. DIVINE.


    • However it was ludicrous to see an aged Nargis still singing on a kotha, towards the end of the story.

      Just what I was thinking too, when Unko yeh shikaayat hai was playing. I mean, much was made of Nirmal’s youth and beauty when she was first coerced into singing at the kotha. 25 years later, it’s quite obvious that she’s young nor especially lovely any more – and not making any attempt to dress up either – so it’s surprising that she’s still the centre of attraction.

      Maybe (like Harvey said about Kedarnath being a romantic at heart!) the men who come to the kotha are music lovers at heart too. ;-)


  9. I agree with the common feelings about the film here – very good music, not-so-good film.
    I might have alluded to it in the past, but I repeat – Nargis is the ‘real’ tragedy queen not Meena Kumari. Did Nargis even do any non-weepy roles apart from Chori Chori ? Somewhere I listed about dozen roles of Meena Kumari which were far from tragic.
    p.s. I like Rafi songs picturised on Pradeep Kumar.


    • You make a good point, Chris. Now that I think of it, yes: I don’t recall too many films in which Nargis played a bubbly, cheery character. Chori Chori is the exception, and while Awara itself is a somewhat grim film, her character is more feisty and less inclined to be weepy. Perhaps some of her very early films? No idea.

      Rafi did sing some lovely songs for Pradeep Kumar. And for Rajendra Kumar too.


        • Even the name Birah ki Raat doesn’t sound too cheerful! And a fair number of Dev Anand’s early films were pretty forgettable. Of the films you’ve listed, I remember watching Anhonee – yes, not a happy film, though not anywhere as depressing as Aah or Andaz, I thought.


          • ‘Anhonee’ had a very interesting plot – a love triangle involving twins. I recall Shashi Kapoor doing something similar in ‘Haseena Maan Jayegi’. spoiler -The ‘evil’ Shashi’s burnt face and sudden change of heart spoiled the film for me.- spoiler ends.
            Anyway, my favourite Nargis films are the ones she did with RK. I know you don’t like them but I consider the Jodi and their chemistry as the best of the 50s.(till Dev -Waheeda-Nutan,etc. took over). Only Dilip Kumar-Madhubala were close probably.


            • Yes, Anhonee did have an interesting plot. In fact, it’s the only film in which I’ve seen Nargis in a double role. And Shashi Kapoor’s character’s sudden change of heart was hard to swallow in Haseena Maan Jaayegi – otherwise it had been a pretty good, suspenseful film till then.


  10. Another of those films of yore which I would review under on line – Great Music, Great Actors, but nothing beyond that…’
    If the film-makers thought such melodramatic, somewhat unrealistic, tear-jerkers would succeed at the box office, they must, unbelievably, optimistic, because there were dumps of reels of similar films for which only the records kept selling…………


  11. I adore Nargis, she was such a versatile performer that could play almost any role. I feel the same as many here though – she was especially good at playing somebody with a terrible life! Although I do, however, prefer her in the very few ‘happy’ songs she did (Nargis had a beautiful, childlike smile) instead of the slow, miserable ones. On the Side: I love the contrasting costumes of ‘naughty Pran’ & ‘decrepit & sorry Pran’ – Makes me laugh everytime I see Adalat!


    • Yes, the cheerful (and sometimes feisty, as she was in Chori Chori) Nargis is certainly a pleasure to watch, far more than when she’s being weepy – though, that, of course doesn’t mean she was bad at acting the weepy woman.

      Pran’s varied disguises in this film were rather funny, weren’t they? Not just the costumes, but also his entire demeanour – he actually ends up looking pretty down in the dumps when he’s being ‘decrepit and sorry’!


  12. It slipped my mind that day but I’ll ask now ; what was that ‘horrendous Fauji’ you mentioned in the opening para? that popular TV serial?


    • No, no! The Hindi TV series (which starred Shahrukh Khan) was really quite good, and I liked it. The Fauji I’m talking about was a proper feature film (it doesn’t appear on IMDB, though), which had been produced and directed by its star, somebody called Joginder Singh. It was one of those ultra-patriotic-in-a-painful-way films. Truly horrible. i don’t think I recognised any of the people who acted in it. They must have been Joginder Singh’s friends.


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