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