If you’ve read Greta’s latest blog post, you’ll know there are some recent and utterly mouthwatering additions to the Edu Productions page—including this film, Noorjehan’s last to be made in India. Greta, on the Edu Productions page, mentions that “source is a mediocre quality tape supplied by Muz.” Well, no longer. Tom’s cleaned it up beautifully, and Pacifist has subtitled the film. The result is something I’m grateful for. And that, coming from someone who’s not a fan of tragic romances, is a lot.
Mirza Sahiban, a classic romance from Punjab (which has more than its fair share of tragic and legendary romances as part of its folk tradition), appears to be a popular story for cinematic adaptations: IMDB (not infallible by any means) itself lists six adaptations, the first of them dating back to 1929. The latest, Mirza: The Untold Story—released last year—seems to indicate that it’s still not lost its appeal, at least among filmmakers.
But, to get back to what the film is all about. It begins in a small village in Punjab, where the cocky teenager Mirza (?) has made life miserable for just about everybody. He goes about with his bow and arrows, bursting the village girls’ waterpots, stealing butter, grabbing old men’s turbans off their heads, stealing food from a local halwai after setting off firecrackers surreptitiously tied to the back of the poor man’s clothing…
And generally being a total pest. He’s also very rude, and shows no respect whatsoever for anyone. Not a likeable character at all.
Part of the blame for Mirza’s rowdiness should probably be laid at the doorstep of his widowed mother (Amirbano), who’s spoilt him thoroughly. Even when a delegation of villagers turns up at her house, complaining vociferously about Mirza’s misdeeds…
…she initially pounces on her son and threatens to beat him, but cannot bring himself to lift a finger against her beloved boy. Her brother, Choudhary Sahib (?), who’s come visiting from another (distant) village, is as bad as her. He indulgently says that Mirza is a boy, and boys will be boys. [Yes, we know. And, in real life, they grow up to be pretty insufferable men, too].
Choudhary Sahib offers a suggestion: he will take Mirza away with him to his own village. There, under his influence [one assumes Choudhary Sahib imagines himself to be a good influence, not a just-as-inclined-to-pamper one as Mirza’s mother], Mirza will grow up good. Also, Choudhary Sahib will make sure that Mirza gets a good education, so that he can make something of himself. [Right now, the only aim in Mirza’s life seems to be as a sort of Punjabi Krishna, what with all that stealing of butter and harassing of girls fetching water].
Anyway, Mirza bids farewell (and not a very emotional one, either) to his mother and his little sister Chhati, and goes off with Choudhary Sahib.
In Choudhary Sahib’s house, Mirza’s arrival is not looked upon favourably by Choudhary Sahib’s wife (
? Gulab, identified by blog reader Sami). She knows all about how rude and uncontrollable Mirza is, and is justifiably indignant about being saddled with a boy such as this.
Choudhary Sahib, however, is completely in favour of Mirza staying with them, so all she can do is sulk a bit and give in with ill grace.
Mirza soon sets about making enemies left, right, and centre in this village as well. In the little village school, he soon antagonises the teacher by making fun of him, being rude, and picking fights with the other children. Among Mirza’s most belligerent opponents is Pumman (?), who is Choudhary Sahib’s wife’s nephew.
Pumman and Mirza clash over who gets to sit next to the pretty little Sahiban (?), and this leads to further mayhem in the classroom.
On her way home from school, Sahiban finds that she’s being followed by Mirza. When she confronts him and tells him to cease and desist, he replies that he’s headed her way; he isn’t following her.
This gets cleared up when Sahiban reaches her home—because it’s the house of Choudhary Sahib, Mirza’s uncle. Sahiban, unknown to Mirza, is Choudhary Sahib’s daughter.
Mirza receives a far-from-warm welcome from Choudhary Sahib’s other offspring, his son Shamir (?). Shamir leaps to defend Sahiban’s honour, and the resultant fight is only broken up when Choudhary Sahib comes in and introduces the two boys to each other. It doesn’t make them like each other, but at least Choudhary Sahib’s presence makes them stop fighting.
Fast-forward, and the children in the story are now grown up. [Some, like Shamir, seem to have aged considerably faster than the others, but I suppose that is the result of being constantly under the stress of living under the same roof as a hooligan like Mirza]. Mirza (now Trilok Kapoor, Prithiviraj Kapoor’s brother) and Sahiban (Noorjehan) have gone from being childhood sweethearts to deeply in love as adults too.
Mirza is still very attached to his bow and arrow, and misses no opportunity to hurl insults [and arrows] at Pumman (now Gope). Pumman is still very smitten with Sahiban, and is annoyed that she seems to find Mirza far more interesting than she finds Pumman. [Pumman might like to take a look in a mirror, methinks. And examine his manners. Whatever else he may be, Mirza is handsome, and certainly knows how to woo a girl].
Mirza and Sahiban’s frequent rendezvouses haven’t gone unseen. People in the village have been gossiping, and the general consensus seems to be that Mirza has sullied the honour of Choudhary Sahib’s family. Further fuel is added to the fire when, at a local fair nearby, Sahiban makes no bones about praising her beloved Mirza’s prowess as a wrestler, archer, rider, and overall hero.
It’s only a matter of time before her family comes to know. Pumman, seething with envy and frustration, visits Shamir and tells him what is going on under his very nose. How can her brother let Sahiban carry on an affair with Mirza?
Shamir has no clue what Pumman’s talking about, but is quick to believe the worst of Mirza [perhaps with reason? Mirza, at least a teenaged Mirza, was certainly not the sort of person I’d want for a brother-in-law]. Pumman decides to let Shamir see for himself, and along with a bunch of other men, they go off to where Mirza and Sahiban are sitting and singing love songs to each other.
Many insults are hurled between the men, with Pumman and Shamir being equally violent in their abuses. Mirza [who seems to have certainly become more restrained and likeable since his adolescent days] controls himself, though he does let Shamir know that if Shamir hadn’t been Sahiban’s brother, he (Mirza) would’ve long since used him (Shamir) for archery practice.
This, of course, doesn’t go down well with Shamir. Sahiban is hauled off home, distressed and weeping and begging both brother and beloved to spare each other. Shamir gives Mirza one last stern warning [accompanied by one last dirty look] and tells Mirza that he’d better not be seen anywhere near their home again.
But things still don’t settle down. The entire village is still gossiping about Mirza and Sahiban, and Pumman comes to Sahiban’s home to meet her mother. Sahiban’s mother, as we’ve seen from when Mirza was introduced into her household, is not at all in favour of Mirza. She doesn’t like him a bit, and discovering that that ne’er-do-well has been romancing her daughter is galling.
Pumman—who has been angling for Sahiban all these years—suggests himself as groom for the girl, and Sahiban’s mother is eagerness itself. Yes, Pumman is a respectable man, from a good family, prosperous and capable of looking after Sahiban well.
He nearly ends up saying goodbye to the world, because along with Sahiban, who’s emerged from the house, out comes her mother, too. And she’s so angry with Mirza, she lifts her lathi and lets fly at Mirza’s head.
Choudhary Sahib, who arrives just then, tries to stop her, but before he can do much, Shamir puts in an appearance—and also begins to beat Mirza. Fortunately for Mirza, his aunt—his mother’s sister, and therefore also Shamir’s aunt—arrives just then and manages to stop Shamir from injuring Mirza any further.
Mirza, blood streaming from his skull, goes off to moan and sing a sad song all by himself, while his aunt—having first appeared to be on Mirza’s side—now goes off to blast all his hopes by telling his mother what he’s been up to.
Mirza’s mother and his sister Chhati (?) are horrified, Chhati rather more so than her mother. Chhati lays all the blame on Sahiban’s doorstep, cursing her for having beguiled Mirza. She rains curses on the absent Sahiban’s head (some of them really innovative—“Aag na lag gayi uski jawaani ko?!”—“Why didn’t her youthfulness catch fire?!”)
In Sahiban’s home, there’s an equal amount of bad-mouthing directed at Mirza. Choudhary Sahib tries to stand up for his nephew, but both his wife and his son are completely anti-Mirza. Pumman gets their vote.
Mirza and Sahiban’s love story seems to have come to a tragic end. Even Sahiban’s friend Noora (Roop Kamal) chastises Sahiban and tries to talk her out of this hopeless love for Mirza. Noora says that nothing will ever come of it; all Sahiban and Mirza are managing to do is to make enemies left, right and centre. [Well, Mirza got off to a good start on that point; he’s been a pro at making enemies ever since he could hold a bow and arrow].
But a ray of hope appears. Because, when Sahiban pours out her heart to Noora and tells her friend everything—how much Mirza means to her, what will happen if they were to be separated, and so on—Noora agrees to help. First, by being a carrier of messages between the two lovers; then, by escorting Sahiban to surreptitiously meet Mirza, and even going so far as to keep an eye out for intruders while Mirza and Sahiban bill and coo.
She even ends up intercepting the meddlesome Pumman, who, suspicious as ever, has begun to smell a rat. Noora even convinces Pumman that she is in love with him and has pined for him all these years while he’s been trailing after Sahiban—an assertion which surprises, but also pleases, Pumman long enough to distract him from his worries regarding Mirza and Sahiban.
That’s all it is, sadly for the two doomed lovers: a distraction. Noora’s light-hearted flattery, Choudhary Sahib’s reasoning with his wife and Shamir, Sahiban’s own subterfuge and pleadings: will they bear fruit? Can anything bring together these two lovers?
[Yes, there is something that can, actually. To find out what, watch the film].
What I liked about this film:
The two Noors, who really light up the film. One, of course, is the real Noor: Noorjehan, radiant and so expressive. I have to admit that when I watched my first Noorjehan film—Anmol Ghadi—I liked her, but not to the extent of being totally in love with her. But she’s begun to grow on me, and I’ve started loving her more and more with each film of hers I’ve watched. In Mirza Sahiban, her acting is wonderful (I was especially impressed by the scenes where she’s acting shy when in Mirza’s company: she actually gives the impression of blushing: not coy, not overly demure, but actually shy). As for her singing—we’ll come to that.
The second Noor is the fictional one: Noora, Sahiban’s friend. Noora is, for me, the most endearing character in the film (yes, actually even more so than the two protagonists). She’s gutsy, smart, fiercely loyal, resourceful, and just generally the sort of person I’d give my eye teeth to have as a friend.
Pandit Amarnath’s music is the other major plus point about Mirza Sahiban. I won’t go so far as to say I loved every song in the film (there are ten of them, including the unusual but apt children’s song, Aaj miyaanji ko chadh aaye bukhaar toh bada mazaa aaye)—but I did like some of them a lot. My favourite is the lovely duet, Haath seene pe jo rakh do toh qaraar aa jaaye. Rut rangeeli aayi, chaandni chhaayi, chaand mere aaja is another gem, and O kya yehi tera pyaar tha is good too: both vintage Noorjehan.
And Trilok Kapoor is deliciously dashing. A definite hint of Shashi Kapoor, there.
What I didn’t like:
The somewhat inept acting by a few members of the cast—especially the children. (Oddly enough, one of the youngest members of the cast, the little girl who plays Sahiban, seems more convincing than the older children who play Mirza, Shamir and Pumman).
The other thing that irked me was the etching of some of the characters. Mirza Sahiban’s characters are mostly just too black or white to be believable (Shamir and Pumman seem to be among those with no redeeming qualities, except that Pumman is a buffoon at times). The film also has, interestingly enough (though I wonder if that was intentional) a character whom I suppose I should’ve sympathised with—Mirza’s sister Chhati; only, she turned out to be such a nasty and selfish creature with no thought beyond her own wellbeing, that I couldn’t bring myself to feel anything but loathing for her.
Worst? Mirza’s character as a boy. So utterly rude and unlikeable, I wanted to hit him really hard. Strangely, no explanation is ever given for his evolution from being a spoilt and nasty teenager to a young man who is respectful to his elders and seems like a nice sort. Sahiban’s love at work?
Whatever. Despite its flaws, this is a fairly engrossing film, especially if you like classical romance—and it’s a chance to see (and hear) Noorjehan at her best. Thank you, Muz, Tom, and Pacifist, for putting this all together for the rest of us!