Muslim socials are among the genres I can never have too much of. Back in their heyday, they had some of the best music around (remember Chaudhvin ka Chaand? Barsaat ki Raat? Mere Mehboob? The inimitable Pakeezah?) There was the chance to savour the mellifluous sound of Urdu; to peek into a social structure and lifestyles that often went otherwise unexplored in cinema; and to see women in shararas and men in achkans [the latter, like military uniforms, equipped with some inexplicable means of making even Bharat Bhushan and Rajendra Kumar look good].
Nakli Nawab begins, more or less, at a mushaira of this sort. A trio of siblings—Nawab Sharafat Ali (KN Singh), his younger brother Shaukat Ali (Ashok Kumar) and their burqa-clad sister Shabnam (Shakila, looking possibly the most gorgeous I’ve seen her) make a late entry. While the men are greeted effusively [they are nawabs, after all] and seated in the front row, Shabnam slips away into the zenana.
There are a few laughs at the mushaira, thanks to the comic [though he considers himself very serious] poet ‘Shaiza’ (Munshi Munaqqa), who discovers too late that he’s misplaced the ghazal he’d penned for the gathering. In his absence—while he’s gone off to retrieve the paper from his house nearby—Shaiza’s nephew, a pickpocket named Baadshah (Maruti), passes off Shaiza’s ghazal (which he’d purloined before the mushaira) as his own. This isn’t great shaayari [“Tere deewaar khade hain tera kya lete hain, tere kutte ko kaleje se laga lete hain”], so just about anything that comes after this is bound to be appreciated.
As it happens, the next poet up—and the last of the evening—is Nawab Sharafat Ali himself, who reads out a sher ridiculing love. He is greeted with much praise and is looking pleased with himself when Baadshah’s equally unscrupulous friend Yusuf (Manoj Kumar, unshaven, greasy, with a marigold tucked behind one ear and a string of jasmine flowers tied around his wrist, looking utterly louche) challenges him.
Nawab Sahib is annoyed, but the rules of the mushaira are democratic: if this man wishes to recite a poem, he is welcome to. So Yusuf goes up on stage and sings in praise of love, which brings a yearning dreaminess into Shabnam’s eyes.
The rest of the audience is pleased with Yusuf’s song, too, and he receives a solid round of applause—but the prize goes to Nawab Sharafat Ali, since, after all, he is the chief guest. [No; not quite as democratic as one would have liked, this mushaira].
Much happens in the next few minutes: Sharafat’s younger brother Shaukat speaks up, saying that the prize should go to the best poet, in which case it is undoubtedly Yusuf [considering Shaukat arrived in time to listen to only the fag end of the mushaira, this is rather presumptuous]. Other members of the audience, however, agree; but when a cry goes up for Yusuf… he’s already left.
…and is next seen outside, talking to Baadshah, who’s been keeping himself busy by robbing a passing woman of her handbag. One of those women, there, in a burqa, walking down the street. [How a woman on foot and with nothing else in her hands could have had a fairly large handbag taken out of her possession without her knowledge is beyond me].
Yusuf is a crook (‘shehar ka mashhoor gunda’, as Sharafat describes him in a later dialogue), but he has some principles. No stealing from women is one of them. So he grabs the bag and goes to return it to the surprised women—leaving them in flutters. Especially one of them, who happens to be Shabnam. She excitedly tells her friend Najma (Shammi) that this is the man, Yusuf, whom she’s infatuated with. [Quick worker, this girl]. Najma is horrified: Yusuf has a frightful reputation; Shabnam should get over this infatuation, pronto.
(a) Sharafat is married and is the father of two small children, but seems to be neither a loving father nor a devoted husband [more on this later].
(b) Shaukat is arranging Shabnam’s marriage to a young nawab, whom he’s been corresponding with. The potential bridegroom, along with his mother, will be coming to their home a few days from now to see Shabnam.
And, (c), the most important of all, and something that comes up as a sort of by-the-way. It turns out that, 20 years ago [and why must it always be a round figure? Why not 19, or 18? Why 15 or 20?], Shaukat’s dearest friend had been a widower named Mohammad, whose little son Yusuf was very fond of Shaukat. And vice-versa. [You can guess where this is going. A little boy called Yusuf, and 20 years ago…]
One day, Shaukat, Mohammad and Yusuf went to a mela [No! One should never go to melas, least of all with little children!]. There, at a photographer’s, Shaukat got a portrait photo taken of Yusuf. As a memento of their jaunt, one copy was given to Yusuf, one to Mohammad; and the third copy, Shaukat kept with himself.
Of course, with all of this set up complete, what happened next should hardly come as a surprise. There was a stampede at the mela and Yusuf got lost. Mohammad, to make matters worse, got run over by a car and was fatally injured, though he stayed alive long enough to make Shaukat promise that he would look for Yusuf, and bring Yusuf up as his own son.
So Shaukat has looked for Yusuf all these years, but to no avail.
But Yusuf—at least, the Yusuf we’ve already been introduced to—finds Shaukat shortly after. On the street one day. Shaukat recognises the young man as the brilliant young shaayar of the mushaira, and embraces him. An embrace which Yusuf eagerly returns, since it gives him the opportunity to pick Shaukat’s pocket in the process.
Yusuf hurriedly bids farewell to Shaukat (who’s blissfully unaware of the theft) and goes his way. He meets up with Baadshah (who’s helped in this escapade), and hands over a couple of currency notes from the stolen wallet for Baadshah to buy them something to eat. Yusuf opens the wallet to examine its contents at leisure… and is pounced upon by Shaukat, who’s smarter than Yusuf had imagined. He bashes Yusuf up, but Yusuf, though angry, cannot bring himself to bash up Shaukat in return [Anybody who’s seen Hindi cinema and knows how the lost-and-found trope works, will guess why this is so. Yusuf has obviously not seen too many Hindi films and is puzzled at his own inexplicable reticence to beat the hell out of Shaukat]. He does, however, decide that he must have his revenge.
Baadshah meanwhile has discovered, tucked away between the rupees that Yusuf pulled out of Shaukat’s wallet, a letter—written to Shaukat by Shabnam’s potential bridegroom, mentioning that he and his mother will come visiting to fix the match.
This is the perfect way to dupe Shaukat, make themselves wealthy, and have their revenge, decides Yusuf.
So he and Baadshah negotiate a deal with a seth, to whom they will pay a commission from what they make. The deal is that the seth will, give them the necessary capital for their nefarious venture, and the three of them will divide the proceeds.
There’s a brief interlude where the scene shifts to the kotha of the naachnewaali Zohra (Indira Billi), with whom Shaukat’s elder brother, the much-married Sharafat [how ironically named, as it transpires] is carrying on a torrid affair. Zohra and her brother Abdul (Kamal Kapoor) are a canny twosome and well aware that she’s managed to catch a tagdi asaami here, as they say.
In a conversation that should be ominous, Abdul points out to Sharafat that people will talk about him and Zohra—and can Nawab Sharafat Ali allow his reputation to be besmirched with talk of infidelity? In the very next breath, Abdul reassures the nawab; he is ever-loyal to Sharafat Ali: he will protect his mentor’s honour. “Chaandi ke dhaage aur sone ki soonyee mein badi taaqat hai, Nawab Sahib,” he says. “Aise honth silte hain…ke uff tak nahin nikalti.” So Nawab Sahib hands over 10,000 rupees to Abdul to stop up whatever tongues are liable to wag.
And back we go to Yusuf and Baadshah, who turn up at Shaukat’s—disguised respectively as a nawab and his mother [a rather unpleasant looking mother who should have been in purdah, if only for aesthetic reasons]. They pretend to be Shabman’s prospective groom and mum-in-law, with the ‘groom’ saying his mother was too impatient to wait any longer to meet her daughter-in-law-to-be, which is why they’ve come earlier than expected.
The ‘Begum Sahiba’ goes off to see Shabnam, who tries very hard—by pretending to be cross-eyed, mute, and partially paralysed—to get rejected, but is approved of. Begum Sahiba, in passing, also approves of Najma: Baadshah has obviously fallen in love at first sight.
The end result is that ‘Begum Sahiba’ emerges, with the happy news that the wedding is fixed. There is rejoicing, and [following a gentle hint from ‘Begum Sahiba’, recounting her own long-ago betrothal], Shaukat gives a large sum of money to the pair. They retreat into another room when Shaukat is approached by his rather distressed munshi, the poet Shaiza. Shaiza gives Shaukat the news that the nawab and his mother had arrived, but since the nawab and his mother were already with Shaukat, he’s sent these two packing. Put another way, there have been two pairs of sons and mothers, both visiting for Shabnam’s hand in marriage.
The penny drops. Shaukat suspects he’s been fooled. And, going back into the room, finds his new in-laws-to-be merrymaking and gushing over the money. Shaukat is furious, of course, and tears off Yusuf’s fake beard and bashes him up again. Yusuf and Baadshah take to their heels, and in the process, Yusuf’s wallet falls out of his pocket.
Shaukat finds this and picks it up, only to open it and discover a long-ago photo. Yusuf! Yusuf?
He has finally found Yusuf, after all these 20 years of searching. And what a Yusuf. But Shaukat is apparently not a man to be easily deterred. He goes, finds Yusuf, tells the young man the truth, and with some difficulty, manages to convince Yusuf that his father had wished Shaukat to bring up Yusuf, so it’s now right that Yusuf should shift to Shaukat’s home.
…which happens, much to Sharafat’s anger. Yusuf overhears him berating Shaukat: even if Yusuf is Shaukat’s old friend’s son, it doesn’t erase Yusuf’s history as an aawaara, a badmaash, and a hoodlum of the worst order. Their womenfolk will not be safe in the same house as him!
Shabnam, meanwhile, after some initial exulting over Yusuf’s arrival, has been trying her hardest to attract his attention. When he doesn’t even lift his head and look at her, she applies to her buddy Najma for help, and Najma comes up with a scheme. This involves Najma luring—with the help of a dropped handbag—Yusuf to Najma’s own home, where Shabnam will be, too. This is duly done; Yusuf falls for the bait and Shabnam, after singing him a song, manages to arrange a date.
Soon, they’re in love and have graduated from solos to duets. All without Yusuf realising that this isn’t Shabnam’s house, and that Shabnam is actually Shaukat and Sharafat’s sister.
All seems joy and bliss. But we know better, don’t we? Because Shabnam is the laaj of this nawabi household, and Yusuf—being a conscientious man, despite his goonda past—will never agree to have any sort of relationship with the daughter of the house. And there is, too, Sharafat Ali’s far-from-shareef other life. Watch what happens.
What I liked about this film:
The music, by Babul. One of my favourite qawwalis—Hum deewaane tere dar se nahin—is part of this film (and features house favourite Edwina Lyons, in an unusual appearance as a harmonium-playing qawwaliwaali).
Mast aankhein hain ke paimaane do is beautifully romantic, and Tum poochhte ho ishq balaa hai ke nahin hai is a good song, a great Rafi-sung ghazal. Interestingly, three different singers sing playback for Manoj Kumar in Nakli Nawab: Rafi, Mukesh, and Talat.
Shakila and Manoj Kumar, who are total eye candy. (Manoj Kumar, I have come to the conclusion, is a bit like Dev Anand for me: when I like them, in their early films—Shaadi, Nakli Nawab, Woh Kaun Thi? etc for Manoj Kumar; Paying Guest, CID, Nau Do Gyarah, etc for Dev Anand—I like them a lot. When I don’t like them—in Manoj Kumar’s ghastly über-patriotic aka jingoistic Purab aur Pachhim, Upkaar, etc or Dev Anand’s horrid 70s films—I find them hard to tolerate). In Nakli Nawab, Manoj Kumar looks very dashing, and his acting, as the arrogant and crude goonda Yusuf, is pretty good, though he’s rather run-of-the-mill and uninteresting once he’s been ‘adopted’ and reformed by Ashok Kumar’s character.
What I didn’t like:
The last 20 minutes of the film, when the story suddenly goes off the rails with a vengeance and becomes illogical, implausible, very melodramatic and just plain silly. Not utterly unbearable (it’s stuff I’ve seen in other films before), but enough to make one roll one’s eyes.
All in all, though, Nakli Nawab is an entertainer. It’s not one of the best Muslim socials out there, but it has a good mix of drama, romance, angst, villainy, and even some comedy thrown in—and that too all in a fairly coherent way, without deviating too much from the central plot. A good time-pass film.