Raj Hath (1956)

Despite my love for historicals and Madhubala, I was surprised when Ava mentioned this film on her blog. A historical (and a Sohrab Modi one, too), with Madhubala, and I’d never heard of it? Ava recommended it, so I decided to keep an eye out for it. Fortunately, I discovered Raj Hath on Youtube—therefore, this post. Ava, thank you. This was an enjoyable film.

Madhubala and Pradeep Kumar in Raj HathRaj Hath – a ‘page from the annals of Rajasthan’, as it describes itself – begins with a procession of caparisoned camels and horses setting out from the kingdom of Jagmer, ruled by Daljeet Singh (Sohrab Modi). This entourage is headed by Daljeet Singh’s representative, Sangram Singh (Murad), carrying with him—along with all the fine goods laden on those camels—the teeka to formally finalize the wedding of Daljeet Singh’s daughter to the prince of Satnapur.

The scene shifts to Satnapur [it shifts fairly frequently between the two kingdoms, which gets a bit confusing, especially since some of the men, with all that facial hair, look pretty similar].
Satnapur’s Rana Bakhtawar Singh (Ulhas) has been watching out for the Jagmer delegation, and gets very excited when they finally enter. But no, not because he approves of this wedding. Because he’s managed to pull a fast one on Daljeet Singh & Co.

Bakhtawar Singh smirks
Bakhtawar Singh now reveals the dagger beneath his cloak. Many years ago, Bakhtawar’s father had sent a proposal of marriage to Jagmer, proposing a match between Daljeet Singh and Bakhtawar Singh’s aunt. Daljeet Singh’s father had, in none too polite words, turned down the match. That has rankled with Bakhtawar Singh all these years. Leading Daljeet Singh up the garden path by proposing a match between Jagmer’s princess and Satnapur’s prince has all been a ploy to disgrace Daljeet and give him a taste of his long-dead father’s medicine.

The humiliation of Sangram Singh and Jagmer
Sangram Singh is justifiably offended, on his own and his master’s behalf. He leaves, threatening vengeance.

Bakhtawar’s son, the prince (Pradeep Kumar) is summoned, to be told the news.

The prince is summoned
He is happy enough to not get married, as long as the insult to his old phupi has been avenged [this man hasn’t yet had a glimpse of his betrothed; if he knew she looked the way she does, he might’ve been singing a different tune]…

…because the princess of Jagmer is played by the gorgeous Madhubala.

The princess of Jagmer
She and her father receive the news from the returned Sangram Singh. While Daljeet Singh breathes fire and orders preparations for the invasion of Satnapur—how dare they insult him and his daughter thus!—the princess bemoans her fate. [Jiski maang reh gayi sooni, zehar hai uska jeena, she sings to herself. Not much of a feminist, this].

Piffle, says her father. She’s a Rajputani, she shouldn’t be wailing and weeping in this silly fashion. She should join him in showing those upstarts from Satnapur where they get off.
Daddy’s brief but pithy lecture has its desired effect; the princess wipes off her tears and agrees that Bakhtawar Singh & Son must be put in their place.

Daljeet Singh encourages his daughter to think revenge
In Jagmer, therefore, hectic preparations are made for war. The army is outfitted; all workers and craftsmen are ordered to make only weapons and armour [what happens to the weavers and embroiderers and jewelers and all those others who don’t work with anything remotely connected to battle?]. Daljeet Singh, in a fit of unbelievable idiocy, also orders that no music is to be played. I don’t see the point, though much later in the film this is used to highlight something with not much of a point to it, either.

Preparations are made for battle
All of this is carefully noted by a Satnapuri spy, who rushes to Bakhtawar Singh and tells him all. Pooh, says Bakhtawar Singh. Let Daljeet Singh rattle his sabre all he wants. The fortress at Satnapur is guarded by an impenetrable maze; unless Daljeet Singh is able to find out how to pierce that maze, all his armies and his weapons are going to be useless.
Away in Jagmer, Daljeet Singh too has realized that all his efforts are futile unless he has the map of that maze. One of his servitors, Kaushal (?) boasts that he will go to Satnapur as a spy and get a map of the maze.

While Kaushal is busy trying to accomplish this [in a charming, but naïve, even downright stupid, way: by asking Satnapuris straight out], a spy from Satnapur arrives in Jagmer.
This man is disguised as a mendicant who dispenses medicine; he goes about hawking stuff, some of it carefully wrapped in a screw of paper, to get rid of bed bugs.

A spy poses as a mendicant...
Opened, these bits of paper contain nothing but a cheeky extortion to catch the insects and kill them. One of the more powerful officials at Jagmer comes across one of these, immediately realizes that the paper’s from Satnapur [talk about an eye for instant forensics], and guesses that the ‘mendicant’ is a spy. [Yes, well. I don’t feel sorry for the spy. He deserved it for being such a chump]. Various ups and downs ensue in the man’s short-lived espionage career, and he ends up sent back on a donkey, with his face blackened, to Satnapur.

... and ends up in dire straits
Meanwhile, Kaushal—the spy from Jagmer—too has been caught, so it’s quits.
Daljeet Singh and his daughter receive the news of Kaushal’s debacle and wonder how they’re going to proceed now. They have to get hold of a map of the maze, and with Kaushal having failed, there’s not much chance of another succeeding. [I would suggest they find someone with an ounce of common sense].

The princess advises her father...
The princess offers a suggestion: Daljeet Singh should invite any of his subjects to volunteer for the job. Whoever should prove valiant enough should be sent on the mission [she doesn’t suggest any valid way of testing a volunteer’s skills, but anyway]. Daljeet thinks this a great idea, and the proclamation is duly made throughout Jagmer. On the appointed day, among the men who turn up at the durbar are two feminine-looking youths who, despite their moustaches and pretend-deep voices, look reconizably like Madhubala and Kammo (who plays the princess’s friend, Juhi).

...and turns up, disguised, in court
As in all good Hindi films, this similarity goes unnoticed, even by the king, who—impressed by the young man’s (the princess’s; the disguised Juhi remains in the background) fervour—agrees to hand over this task to the duo. Sangram Singh is indignant; this should be his duty [why didn’t he say so before, when Kaushal was going off on his foolhardy mission?] but is silenced. He is needed for when the army is to be led into battle.

At court, Daljeet Singh appoints two young spies
For now, the princess and Juhi, both in disguise (in a series of disguises, actually) make their way into Satnapur. The princess is, for a Hindi film heroine of the 50s, rather unusually resourceful. She soon manages to inveigle her way into the fort, where—disguised as a dancer—she performs in the courtyard, with Juhi, dressed as a man, providing the music for a song.
The prince, her ex-betrothed, hearing the song, comes out onto the terrace and watches. He’s quite enthralled [who wouldn’t be? She’s Madhubala, after all]. When her song and dance is over, he descends from the terrace and gives her, as a reward, his signet ring.

A 'dancer' wins a ring from the prince of Satnapur
The ‘dancer’ is all coy and charming, and the prince offers her—as a further reward—anything she would like. [Risky business. These carte blanches are inadvisable, especially keeping in mind that Satnapur’s Kotwal has had it proclaimed far and wide that spies from Jagmer are trying to discover the secrets of Satnapur’s maze].
The dancer simpers and finally, with an innocent and wide-eyed look, says she and her musical friend have come many, many kos because they’ve heard so much about the magnificent maze at the Satnapur fort. May they please see it?

The dancer asks for a guided tour of the maze
The prince now proves that beauty [if you think Pradeep Kumar is handsome, that is] and brains need not go together. Of course, he says, and summons a soldier to show the dancer and the musician around. The ‘dancer’ and her friend go about, examining every little detail, checking out everything [oddly, the fort has large patches of peeling plaster, with rubble showing through—whoever designed the sets obviously thought forts were always half-ruined, even in their heyday].

The prince of Satnaput obliges
Next we know, the princess and Juhi have returned to Jagmer and are triumphantly showing off the plan of Satnapur’s maze, which they’ve made and smuggled out. They also reveal their true selves, and Daljeet Singh is very proud of his brave daughter. Now that they have the plans for Satnapur’s maze, Jagmer’s armies can attack.

Before they do, that, however, they must seek the blessings of the state deity, Mahashankar. Daljeet Singh, his daughter, and their entourage set off into the desert, towards the temple.
But unforeseen dangers lurk… because the prince of Satnapur, by some freak coincidence, also happens to be camping in the desert at the same time, and our princess, losing her way while returning from watching a magnificent sunset, runs into him.

An unexpected meeting
He doesn’t recognize her as the dancer [this man needs his eyesight checked], but he does fall head over heels in love with her—enough to make him sing a song once she’s gone.
Sadly for the hero, the heroine hasn’t fallen in love with him, not yet. Instead, she gets back to her camp only long enough to grab a dagger so that she can go all the way back and kill the prince while he’s asleep. [I’m disappointed in this girl. Cowardly thing to do, killing a man in his sleep].

The princess gets ready for vengeance
This, after all being a romance, however, love gets the better of her. And now comes the dilemma: on the one hand are the prince and princess, Romeo and Juliet-like, and on the other hand are their respective fathers, baying for each other’s blood. Who—and what—will triumph?

Love
... and honour
W
hat I liked about this film:

The overall feel of it. The music, by Shankar-Jaikishan, is lovely (one song in particular is beautiful and very well-known: Aaye bahaar banke lubhaakar chale gaye). Madhubala is gorgeous as ever, and the storyline is fairly engrossing and entertaining. Sohrab Modi, probably the greatest exponent of the Hindi historical, produced and directed a film that manages to tackle what seems to have been one of Modi’s favourite themes—love versus honour—but in an unusual way. The end is a bit surprising, not something I’d seen coming.

What I didn’t like:

Some of the rather convoluted and pointless espionage and counter-espionage scenes in the first half-hour or so could’ve been made a little more believable. Kaushal’s ham-handed attempts to get at Satnapur’s secrets, for example, made me wince and wonder why he was allowed to go on a mission of such importance.

There are other problems. For instance, while Daljeet Singh continuously claims that he is very proud of his daughter and considers her no less than a son, he says in one scene that a man’s pride is nullified the moment a daughter is born to him. A contradiction, there?

Despite that, a good watch for anybody who likes historicals. Give it a try. It’s available on Youtube, here.

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15 thoughts on “Raj Hath (1956)

  1. Oh thanks for the mention, Madhu. I saw this years and years and years (sigh) ago, when I was in college. It was a re-run show and I just loved it. The Rajah-maharajah story, the lovely songs, Sohrab Modi, all worked for me.

    The ending was a surprise. Kind of happy and sad at the same time. It surely justifies the title of the film.

    I suppose the whole espionage thing was set up to make the hero and heroine meet.

    I love the comments you make. They are like the ‘asides’ used in a play. That was when character would say something he was thinking of, which was not audible to his fellow players, only the audience.

    • Thank you, Ava! I thought I’d at least heard of most of the historicals out there, to coming across a mention of Raj Hath on your blog was a revelation. I’m so glad to have watched this – despite the hiccups (minor ones, really), this was a good, entertaining film that I really liked. And Madhubala, oh – she cannot be anything but gorgeous. I love her!

      Thank you for liking the asides. ;-)

  2. Nice review! I like Sohrab Modi’s films as his films have historical setup. Thanks for the link :) .Must give it a watch…..
    In screenshot #11,Madhubala looks soooo cute in a mustache :) .

    • Do watch, coolone160! It’s an enjoyable film. And Sohrab Modi’s historicals are invariably good – much more believable than some of the other historicals being made back then, or even later.

      Heh. Madhubala does look cute in the disguise. Even later in the film, she’s in a couple of other disguises, and seems to be having a lot of fun! :-)

  3. Madhu, talk about coincidences. I watched this just the other day because I wanted to watch something that I didn’t have to worry my head over (and to get rid of the awful headache I had after watching Dilli ka Thug). If I hadn’t felt so strongly about that blasted film, Raj Hath would have been my post. *grin*

    Yes, it is a rather engaging film, isn’t it? Madhubala is gorgeous (what’s new?), and I think, anytime anyone needed a ‘prince’, they automatically thought of Pradeep Kumar. He did carry himself well, though.

    She’s a Rajputani, she shouldn’t be wailing and weeping in this silly fashion. Yeah, good for the king, no? I mean, WTH does she mean zehar hai jeena? About the contradiction (men having daughters, etc.): I think it was credible given the period, no? He is both proud of his daughter (as a father) and the ingrained social conditioning makes him feel otherwise… meh, my two cents. Perhaps it is because I’m often explaining that I can hold two contradictory thoughts in my head, and say that without irony. :)

    Your asides!! Especially Risky business. These carte blanches are inadvisable, and whoever designed the sets obviously thought forts were always half-ruined, even in their heyday]., and most particularly, this:

    [I’m disappointed in this girl. Cowardly thing to do, killing a man in his sleep].

    Thanks for the laughter!

    • Glad the asides were appreciated, Anu. :-) Some films, even though they’re good, evoke these responses in me. Kya karein.

      I agree, Pradeeo Kumar did carry himself well in this. In fact, just today Sidharth Bhatia, Ava and I were discussing (on Facebook) Pradeep Kumar and how he managed to stay afloat during the reign of the big three. Ava suggested that a major reason could’ve been that he took on whatever came his way, willing to share screen space with other male stars like Ashok Kumar. I also suggested that Pradeep Kumar (like Bharat Bhushan) made the historical his own – I always tend to think of Pradeep Kumar fitting perfectly into that milieu. He isn’t half as believable in modern roles like in Detective, Aarti, Bheegi Raat or Ghoonghat as he is in Taj Mahal, Anarkali, Raj Hath or Chitralekha, I think…

      Hmm. Your point about Sohrab Modi’s character battling between his conditioning and paternal pride in his daughter is valid, though I couldn’t quite swallow the contradiction. He’s just too vocal, going on and on about how proud he is of his girl – and then, when it’s not even needed, he makes that statement about his ghuroor having being crushed the day his daughter was born. Two (too?) extremes.

  4. In the good old days when we did not have TV, what we had was VIvidh Bharati, there used to be a one hour slot every Sunday morning for a film soundtrack. I used to eagerly look forward to it. As it was a one hour slot, the soundtrack was heavily edited, but all the same it was good entertainment those days. However, just as some films are telecast repeatedly nowadays, the soundtrack of some films were broadcast repeatedly much to my irritation and Raj Hath was one such film. Although I was a kid I was so fed up that any mention of this film and I feel like screaming. Besides I am no fan of Sohrab Modi or Pradeep Kumar. I could never relate to Modi’s acting, found it theatrical and his films, though put up on a grand scale, often seemed to never end. Let me see after going through your review whether I can ever muster up the courage to see the film.—– Shilpi.

    • Shilpi, your anecdotes and memories of films are always interesting! – even when it’s something you’ve never seen. Hehehe. I can imagine how it must have been, to be pelted with reminders of this film from all sides and as a result become so sick of it. That is one reason I never got around to watching a lot of films in the 80s and 90s – their songs (invariably bad) were being shouted out on Chitrahaar and whatnot, and I hated them. Just the thought of watching the entire film made me shudder.

      But. returning to Raj Hath: I’m not a fan of either Pradeep Kumar or Sohrab Modi, but the former is a little less effeminate here, and the latter a little less theatrical. Besides, the action is divided fairly equally across the main characters, so the focus shifts every now and then.

      • OK, I think I will try to watch it, I should have time once I wrap up my father’s blog.I have already got a long list of ‘to watch’ films, thanks to all you bloggers recommending films left, right and centre.

        • It’s the same story with me! I not only have people recommending films to me, I also have people giving DVDs (my father gave me some, and bollywooddeewana – whom I met earlier this year – gave me some). So, I have a lot to watch!

  5. I started reading, but then decided to watch the film instead and so just read your ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’.

    I had heard of this film and had once thought about watching it if available, but then soon forgot about it.

    Thanks for refreshing my memory. :-)

    Will report back after watching the film – and then reading your review.

  6. Who needs Wodehouse, when I can read your posts! Was laughing the whole article through.

    Enjoyed reading it thoroughly! I won’t watch the film though. Don’t have the time right now. Love Madhubala and Sohrab Modi and Pradeep Kumar in his 50s avatar is okay. I don’t mind him.

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