Those who frequent this blog have probably figured out by now that I have a soft spot (a very soft spot) for Muslim socials. So much so that I will watch just about any Muslim social out there, even if it features people who aren’t among my favourites. Even if it has a fairly regressive theme, and even if I end up not agreeing with half the things in the film. So, when I come across a Muslim social that stars some of my favourite actors (Sunil Dutt? Meena Kumari? Rehman? Prithviraj Kapoor? Rajendra Nath? Check, check, check), has lyrics by my favourite lyricist (Sahir Ludhianvi), and had its songs composed by one of my favourite music directors (Madan Mohan—and how appropriate, too, for a film called Ghazal to be scored by the Ghazalon ka Shahzaada): to not watch this would be a crime, I thought.
The story begins by introducing us to the protagonist, Ejaz (Sunil Dutt), a revolutionary poet and publisher of a revolutionary rag. Revolution, according to this film’s definition of it, seems to consist of rebelling against the traditional shaayari and fasting that is invariably an integral part of a Muslim social. Ejaz, while he is traditional enough to always be dressed in achkan and pyjama, is rebellious enough to steal halwa-puri from the kitchen and stuff his face even during the roza.
…much to the chagrin and amused disapproval of his little sister Qausar (Nazima, at her bubbly best).
And, when Ejaz receives an invitation to participate in a mushaira being hosted by Nawab Bakar Ali Khan (Prithviraj Kapoor) at his haveli, Ejaz informs the nawab’s son, Dr Mehmood Ali Khan (Rajendra Nath), who’s come with the invitation, that he refuses to recite namby-pamby stuff like ghazals. No, sir, since he’s a revolutionary, he believes in free verse, and free verse it will be. Mehmood is too good-natured to demur, so the invitation stands.
Less than ten minutes into the film, and Ejaz’s revolution goes flying out the window. Wandering about one day, he overhears a woman singing a ghazal. This (though Ejaz, since he cannot see her, is unaware of the fact) is Naaz (Meena Kumari), the beautiful daughter of the very same Nawab Bakar Ali, who’s hosting the mushaira Ejaz has promised to be present at. Naaz’s song is so beautiful, her voice so lovely, that Ejaz is entranced.
When Naaz finally signs off, Ejaz goes frantic trying to track her down, even going to the extent of stopping a group of burqa-clad women emerging from a building to ask them whether any of them was the ghazal-singer he’d just heard. But no luck; the women, still all veiled, laugh in his face.
Ejaz is not easily deterred. He continues his quest, and when—a day or so later—a group of (also burqa-ed) women turn up at his office with poems they’ve written, hoping to have them published in his newspaper, he tries to find out if one of them was the singer of the ghazal he’d heard. Again, to no avail; he gets laughed at.
Ejaz, therefore, does the next best thing: he steals part of that ghazal and sings it at Nawab Sahib’s mushaira.
Ejaz does not know (he only hopes), but the lady he’s been looking for all these days is sitting behind the purdah, listening as he passes off what is basically her ghazal, though with some tweaking, as his own. Naaz fumes and frets, succumbs a wee bit when she realises he’s actually plagiarized only the essence of the ghazal, and finally announces to her friends that she’s going to make this arrogant revolutionary poet pay for his presumption.
What follows is rather tedious and boring: Naaz and her friends try to embarrass Ejaz again and again, but in a somewhat half-hearted way (Naaz has, willy-nilly, fallen in love with her aashiq, so her attempts to shame him are merely a farce, a way of trying to save face. Nobody is fooled, not Ejaz, not Naaz’s friends). There is some pretty pointless plotting to have Ejaz meet Naaz (only to have her pass snide remarks and throw his love in his teeth). This, despite the fact that they’ve recited love poems to each other on the telephone and it’s an open secret that she’s in love with him.
All these interludes are accompanied by lots of poetry, both recited and sung. Soon Ejaz (who anyway does not seem to have been interested in revolution all this while), trying to publish Naaz’s poetry in his newspaper, is confronted by his indignant fellow-editors, who ask him what form of revolution this is.
The result is that Ejaz ends up resigning and is now jobless, footloose and fancy-free, and need not waste any more time pretending to work. (He does not appear to suffer the loss of his job: he’s obviously well-heeled enough to not need to work, and being unemployed doesn’t bother his conscience).
Ejaz’s sister Qausar helps him in his attempts to meet Naaz, and in the process, ends up meeting Naaz’s brother, Dr Mehmood. There is (as is usual when Rajendra Nath or others of his ilk—like Mehmood—are teamed up with pretty secondary heroines) instant chemistry between them. This romance, however, is put on the back burner after being sparked off.
We are also introduced to another character to add to the khichri. This is Akhtar (Rehman, in a somewhat odd role; both rakish as well as unscrupulous, as well as a bit of a clown). Akhtar is Naaz’s cousin, a fairly Westernised sort of man (as is seen by his occasional appearance in a suit, and by his preference for cake over halwa or sevaiyaan). He keeps pulling Naaz’s leg, telling her that he’s going to propose to her and make her his bride, and Naaz, knowing he isn’t at all serious, always laughs it off blithely.
All of the efforts of Naaz, Ejaz, Quasar and Mehmood finally pay off, and the two lovebirds (Ejaz and Naaz) are able to spend enough time together singing a love song and looking soulfully into each other’s eyes. Sadly, they pick the wrong time, the wrong place: Naaz’s father, Nawab Bakar Ali Khan, happens to come by just then (what rotten luck!) and sees the duo and hears their duet. He is furious, and drags Naaz home, berating her for having blackened the family’s honour.
And, to drive home the message to the hapless Ejaz too, Nawab Sahib decides to shoot the young man. He grabs two rifles, loads them, and drives off in his car towards Ejaz’s home, yelling curses all the way.
Naaz, seeing her father in such a rage (and with guns, too, baying for her beloved’s blood) races after her father as he’s leaving. She tries frantically to scream, to beg her father to stop—and can’t. Because Naaz has suddenly been, quite literally, struck dumb. She’s gone mute.
And that is actually the most interesting thing that ever happens in this pretty boring film. Naaz, after all, knows that Ejaz was first attracted to her because of her voice—he keeps telling her what a lovely voice she has. Now, with that voice gone, perhaps never to return, can she expect Ejaz to still love her? Or will she be a burden on him? (If you’ve seen sufficient Hindi films of this type—where one of a couple is stricken by an affliction—you can probably guess at what follows).
What I liked about this film:
The general prettiness. Meena Kumari, though not at her best (which, in my opinion, was in the 50s), is still beautiful, and Sunil Dutt is handsome as ever.
And, to complement the visual beauty of this pair, there’s the music. Not, perhaps, Madan Mohan’s best score (ironic, considering this was a film that seemed right up his alley: a film riddled with ghazals), but still. Rang aur noor ki baaraat kise pesh karoon is perhaps the best-known of the songs from this film, but its sister song, Naghma-o-sher ki saugaat kise pesh karoon is lovely, too.
While Sahir Ludhianvi is the lyricist, the story is such that it restricts him to romantic verse, little of it as memorable as some of Sahir’s more revolutionary poetry (thought: Considering Ejaz was supposed to have been a revolutionary poet, this could have been a good opportunity to have him spout some truly hard-hitting poetry, à la Vijay in Pyaasa. An opportunity, sadly, that’s passed up). There is one song, however, that is derived from one of Sahir’s best-known poems: Taj tere liye ek mazhar-e-ulfat… includes sections from Sahir’s famous poem, Taj Mahal.
What I didn’t like:
The sheer not-anything-much-happeningness of it all. I can claim, with all due modesty, to be extremely patient when it comes to watching films (I never fast-forward, for one), and while I may grit my teeth and curse under my breath when there’s too much self-sacrifice or idiocy or slapstick or any of the other things that annoy me, I generally find myself at least entertained.
Not with Ghazal, unfortunately. The dialogues, while all beautifully mellifluous Urdu, are—at least when it comes to Ejaz’s and Naaz’s romance—are all fluff, little substance. The romance, and the progression towards their meeting, is rather pointless and dull, and—as I mentioned earlier—the highlight of the film is when Naaz is struck dumb.
You have been warned.