Rustom Sohrab (1963)

Who would’ve thought that the Ramsay Brothers’ first production was a historical worthy of a Sohrab Modi [granted, it does have two far-too-chubby leading men and its fair share of violence, but still; Rustom Sohrab is no horror film, not by a long shot]? But yes, Ramsay Productions—famous for its B grade horror films of the 80s and 90s—did make this rather surprising debut, a film based on the Persian epic poem Rostam and Sohrab (part of the famous Shahnameh).

Prithviraj Kapoor and Premnath in and as Rustom Sohrab.

The story begins with a deathbed scene: the Shahenshah of Iran is dying, but clings to life long enough for his trusted minion Rustom (Prithviraj Kapoor in armour, looking rather pudgy, but also pretty immovable)to arrive. When Rustom storms in, the king proclaims his [the king’s, not Rustom’s] son Kaikavoos his heir, and asks Rustom to serve Kaikavoos as faithfully as he’s served the king all these years. He then kicks the bucket, and Rustom gets down to following his orders.

The king is dead, long live the king!
In the next scene, we are introduced to Princess Tehminia (Suraiya, looking beautiful as ever—she, I think, was one actress who looked lovelier in her later films; Rustom Sohrab was her last film), of the neighbouring kingdom of Samangaan. Tehminia is out in her chariot with her bodyguard-cum-general dogsbody Carmoos (Azad) and her maid, Huma (Lillian, another beauty), when they find they can’t go further because a tree has fallen across their path.

Tehminia encounters Rustom
Who should turn up then but Rustom, who—with barely a grunt and a heave of his shoulders—moves the tree trunk out of the way. Tehminia is mighty impressed. She (not knowing who he is) offers him a job, but Rustom turns it down. She then gets Carmoos to toss him a gold coin, and Rustom merely grabs the coin, bends it in half, and tosses it back. He also tells Tehminia who he is, before mounting his horse and crossing the border back to Iran.

Rustom tells Tehminia who he is...
He leaves behind a lovesick Tehminia [okay, I admit I like Prithviraj Kapoor—a 1963 Prithviraj Kapoor, not a Sikandar one—but not as poster boy. Majestic, yes. Mughal-e-Azam style patriarch, yes. Romantic hero, hardly. But there’s no accounting for tastes]. Tehminia is so besotted, she decides she must lure Rustom to her by fair means or foul.

She settles for foul: she orders Carmoos to go steal Rustom’s beloved horse, reasoning that Rustom will come looking for it.

... and Carmoos is given an order he doesn't much like
Tehminia is apparently a good judge of the psychology of the individual; one evening, Rustom turns up at the Samangaan palace, furious. Tehminia’s father (Badri Prasad) and her brother (Sajjan), both mild-mannered, genial men, reassure Rustom that they have the greatest respect for him and wouldn’t dream of stealing his horse. And, if his horse has been stolen and is in Samangaan, they will have it found. Meanwhile, will he honour them by staying the night?

Tehminia's father and brother meet Rustom
His guns spiked, Rustom agrees. Tehminia and Huma, who (having overheard this conversation) are busy helping arrange the bedroom designated for Rustom—find themselves in his suite after Tehminia’s father and brother have bade their unexpected guest goodnight. Huma manages to escape without any trouble, but Tehminia, despite drawing her veil across her face, cannot [and is almost certainly not eager to] leave.

Tehminia in Rustom's room
One would have expected a warrior as doughty as Rustom to have better eyesight, but he—though Tehminia’s veil is flimsy in the extreme—doesn’t recognize her, even while she sings a song of longing and love. It’s only as she’s about to leave that he sees a ring she’s wearing. It’s the bent coin he had tossed back at the Shahzaadi of Samangaan!

Rustom realises who Tehminia is

The next morning, just as Rustom’s preparing to leave, Tehminia puts in an appearance again, and [probably realizing she daren’t faff around any longer], tells him everything, down to the way she had his horse stolen. This affects Rustom deeply [it’s not every day a woman steals his horse in order to entice him. I can just imagine Rustom trekking upcountry and down in search of his horse every time a woman thought his muscles were quite the thing]. He tries to dissuade Tehminia—he is a soldier, the battlefield awaits him and may take him away from her—perhaps forever. But Tehminia is adamant. She loves Rustom, and she will have him, no matter what.

Tehminia confesses her love to Rustom
So they are married, and Rustom stays on in Samangaan, romancing his new bride.

…while, far away, trouble is brewing. The easily-scared ruler (Murad) of the kingdom of Maazandaraan has been told by a soothsayer that he will be killed at the hands of Rustom of Iran. He is so terrified at this thought that he immediately rushes off to seek the advice of his old friend and ally, the ruler of Turaan, Afraasiyaab. [He doesn’t even stop to think of asking why Rustom would want to kill the Shah of Maazandaraan; Rustom, after all, fierce or whatever, isn’t an utter lunatic to go around killing people without any reason].

The ruler of Maazandaraan rushes to Turaan
In Turaan, Afraasiyaab advises caution, but his hot-headed son, the prince, has other plans. He thinks it’s a better idea to take the offensive and get Rustom before Rustom gets the Shah of Maazandaraan. But going into Iran—into Rustom’s territory—would be suicidal: what they need is to draw Rustom out, to Maazandaraan. And how will they achieve this? By first laying hold of Kaikavoos, the Shah of Iran, whom they will then use to bait the trap for Rustom.

Afraasiyaab counsels his hot-headed son
Trapping Kaikavoos is a cakewalk [and probably the oldest example of how dangerously seductive good advertising can be]. The prince of Turaan, disguised as a trader of sorts, turns up at Kaikavoos’s court, accompanied by a bevy of pretty young women, bearing chests full of exotic jewels and suchlike. The ‘trader’ sings of Maazandaraan: what a grand place it is, how beautiful, how perfect in every way, how very attractive.

The prince of Turan comes to Iran in disguise
And Kaikavoos, like a wide-eyed first-time aspiring tourist bedazzled by all those glossy pamphlets and fancy videos, gets totally taken in. Before anybody knows it [or can inform Rustom, who is beating it up in Samangaan, and would have probably had the sense to stop Kaikavoos], Kaikavoos has gone off with the ‘trader’.

Unlike your modern tourist, however, Kaikavoos’s impulsive trip to faraway lands doesn’t result merely in uncomfortable hotel rooms, steep entry fees, and odd food. When the bubble bursts and the prince of Turaan reveals himself in his true colours, Kaikavoos finds himself in chains, being battered and beaten and put through some pretty rough stuff. [He must be cursing himself. He probably doesn’t even have travel insurance, and there’s no Facebook on which to vent].

Kaikavoos, in chains.
A missive is sent off to Rustom at Samangaan, informing him that his liege lord is in the hands of the Turaanis. Come and get him, is the message.

As it happens, the person who receives the scroll is Tehminia, now heavily pregnant. She reads it [did no-one ever tell this woman it’s rude to read other people’s letters?] and realises the danger to Rustom’s life if he should go off on this quest. She therefore hides the scroll—but unsuccessfully. Rustom discovers it, reads it, and tells Tehminia that he must go. It is his duty.

As he’s leaving, however, Rustom gives Tehminia something for their yet-to-be-born child: a gleaming rectangle of metal with Rustom’s family crest embossed on it. Put this on his arm, he says [how sexist. The original Persian poem, however, had Rustom providing two items, one if a girl was born and another if the child was a boy].

Rustom leaves his family's emblem with Tehminia for their son.
Then, Rustom is off, headed to save Kaikavoos, and Tehminia is left behind [to give birth to a son. Rustom should’ve been a soothsayer].

Rustom’s rescue of Kaikavoos—of which one shouldn’t have had any doubts—happens, after more intrigue on the part of the Turaanis to entrap Rustom. He foils all their plans with sheer brute strength and frees Kaikavoos, in the process getting rid of dozens loyal to Maazandaraan and Turaan. Many are killed, among them the king of Maazandaraan [that long-ago soothsayer has finally been proved right], and—a huge blow to Afraasiyaab, the Shah of Turaan—the prince of Turaan [no more singing advertising jingles]. Afraasiyaab had, till the very last minute, gone on advising his son not to go up against Rustom, but he was not heeded; and now this has happened.

Rustom frees Kaikavoos and faces up to the Turaanis
Afraasiyaab, good father that he is, doesn’t think of how he’s missed an opportunity to say “I told you so!” Instead, he vows that he will avenge his son’s death by killing Rustom, and by killing Rustom’s son, too, so that Rustom may feel the pain Afraasiyaab has felt.

Rustom is a tougher nut to crack, so Afraasiyaab goes after Tehminia and Co. first. He attacks the palace at Samangaan, and Tehminia’s father is just about able to hide Tehminia, Huma, and little Sohrab in something like a priest hole. Afraasiyaab has to return empty-handed and looking foolish, while Tehminia’s father, for the safety of his daughter and grandson, sends them off to a villa in the forest.

Tehminia's father sends her off to the forest.
Here, tutored in sword fighting, wrestling and other manly sports by the faithful Carmoos, Sohrab begins to grow up. Because they’re terrified that the infant Sohrab may blurt out his father’s name to someone—and just about anybody may be a Turaani spy in these troubled times—Tehminia’s father deems it best that Sohrab not even be told who his father is. Na rahega baans, na bajegi baansuri, is his idea. A good one, agrees Tehminia.

So Sohrab grows up (to be Premnath), as powerful and warrior-like [if somewhat rotund] as his father, but completely unaware of who his father is. His mother and her brother refuse to answer his questions on that topic, and he’s frustrated and angry as a result.

Not angry enough to not fall in love with the plump, pretty Shahroo (Mumtaz, who must have been only about 15 when this film was shot), and spend some idyllic hours in her company.

Sohrab, now grown up, with Shahroo
…Until the Shah of Turaan, still smouldering (and with Rustom still leading the Persian armies against him in a war which has gone on far too long), discovers who Sohrab is. Ah, thinks Afraasiyaab. Here is his chance for revenge. A dish best served cold? Bring it on. And what will his revenge be? Not quite so straightforward as killing off Sohrab and sending his head on a charger to Rustom. No; this is going to be far more cruel.

What I liked about this film:

To be honest, despite the impressive cast, I had no very great hopes of Rustom Sohrab. Too many historicals—especially those which centre round war and political intrigue—end up being, for me, either too long-winded or just too ludicrous (Rustom-e-Hind, Rustom-e-Rome, I’m thinking of you). This turned out to be a pleasant surprise: it was well-scripted, and though the political drama was there, it was well-plotted and not too convoluted to cause confusion.

The music. Rustom Sohrab was one of the few films to be scored by the underrated but excellent (also eccentric? Or merely irreverent?) Sajjad Hussain. My absolute favourite song from this film—in fact, one major reason for my wanting to watch Rustom Sohrab—is Phir tumhaari yaad aayi ae sanam. Another favourite of mine is Yeh kaisi ajab daastaan ho gayi hai, and the lilting Ae dilruba ae dilruba nazrein mila is lovely, with a pleasing Middle Eastern touch to it.

… and Prithviraj Kapoor’s last dialogue in the film. I don’t easily cry while watching films, but this brought a lump to my throat, it was so poignant. A beautiful dialogue, a moving scene, and very well acted.

What I didn’t like:

The casting of the two leading men. Prithviraj Kapoor is an actor I respect immensely, and he does do a superb job as the older Rustom (especially in that last scene), but as the young Rustom, he’s not very convincing. It’s the same with Premnath. Both these men were, to me, far too old to be in those roles (and far too out of shape to be playing warriors. They look tubby, not muscular, and it’s painful to see them waddling about in armour: not soldierly at all). I thought Shammi Kapoor might have made a convincing young Rustom, with Prithviraj Kapoor appearing as the older Rustom.

But, all said and done: a good film. At least for a one-time watch. And for multiple listenings of its songs.

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27 thoughts on “Rustom Sohrab (1963)

  1. Great Post. Always heard the songs but never knew much about the film. “Phir Tumhari yaad” reminds of the later day song – “Hoke majboor” from Haqeekat.

    • Yes, I was reminded of Hoke majboor mujhe, too. Very similar situation, and both songs are excellent as far as lyrics, music, and rendition are concerned. Incidentally, there’s yet another song – from a much more recent film – which follows the same pattern. Kandhon se kandhe milte hain from Lakshya also features a group of soldiers, at the front, singing of all they’ve left behind at home. Also a nice song.

  2. This is a Ramsay movie? Wow. am curious now, but I wont watch it – cos even though I like Prithviraj Kapoor and Premnath – dont think can digest them as romantic heroes. But the songs are indeed too good. “Phir Tumhari Yaad Aayi Aye Sanam” was a Rangoli/ Chitrahaar favourite… remember seeing it so many times those days. This song always reminds me of the other DD favourite” Mohabbat Zinda Rehti Hai, Mohabbat mar nahin sakti” Maybe its the Premnath connection… “Yeh Kaisi Ajab Dastaan ho gayi hai” is simply simply lovely – Suraiya looks beautiful and sings wonderfully. Great review, btw! :-)

    • Oh, I thought Premnath was pretty good as a romantic hero – in the 50s. In films like Sagaai, Naujawan or Baadal. Sadly, he went to seed pretty quick, so within a decade or so of looking absolutely smashing in Sagaai, he was beginning to look pretty portly in Changez Khan or Aurat. Prithviraj Kapoor looked awesome as Sikandar in Sikandar, though I haven’t got around to watching that film yet. Someday…

      I watched Phir tumhaari yaad aayi ae sanam for the first time on Chitrahaar too! I remember we even had a blank tape in the VCR at the time, so we recorded it too, and watched it over and over again. Such a lovely song. Part of it – Haal-e-dil yaar ko likhoon kaise, haath dil se judaa nahin hota – is from a ghazal by Momin.

  3. Another curious thing about the song, “Phir tumhari yaad aayi aye sanam” is that about 5 minutes from the start of the song, when the soldiers who are singing are seen at close range, one of the soldiers appears to be Guru Dutt or someone very much like him. Apart from the song, there is nothing to connect Guru Dutt to the movie. He is not seen anywhere else except in this song. Perhaps some film historian can clear this little mystery.

    • I had another look at the song, but I’m afraid I can’t figure out whom you mean. In this video of the song:

      … there is a brief glimpse of a soldier who looks very slightly like Guru Dutt, at about 4:34. I think it’s just a resemblance, though; I don’t think it is Guru Dutt.

  4. First of all I just noticed the new masthead or header (whatever you would like to call it), it looks real nice.
    Cannot imagine the Ramsay brothers produced this one. I think I have seen this film in bits and pieces, actually did not quite enjoy watching an old and overweight Prithviraj, but I guess I wouldn’t mind seeing the film now considering that these old films told a story.

    • Thank you, Shilpi! I’m glad you liked the new header. I cannot take credit for it – a friend of mine designed it.

      Yes, the fact that this was a Ramsay Brothers production came as a surprise to me – but a good surprise. You should put it on your watch-list (it’s on Youtube, by the way, as you can probably tell from my screen caps). An old and overweight Prithviraj Kapoor, I agree, isn’t convincing as a warrior, but the film itself is quite well-written. And Mr Kapoor’s acting, especially towards the end, is brilliant.

  5. Beautiful review(along with your hilarious asides!)..Have seen this a long time ago on good old DD,The climax of the film I could vividly remember,as rightly pointed out by you was quite poignant and heart-rending indeed…….Prithviraj Kapoor and Suraiya look like an unlikely pair,but there is no doubt about their superb performance in it.
    Prithivraj ‘s looks in this film closely resemble Shammi Kapoor’s.I too wish Shammi was cast in it as his son,as his pairing with Mumtaz would be icing on the cake! Suraiya indeed looks more beautiful than she is in her earlier films.The end of the film justifies the casting of Pritviraj Kapoor in it as he delivers another stellar performance after Mughal-E-Azam (1960) .Thinking to give it another watch after reading your review………..

    • Thank you, coolone160! I’m glad you liked the review.

      “I too wish Shammi was cast in it as his son,” That wasn’t quite what I had suggested. ;-) My thought was that it might have been appropriate to cast Shammi Kapoor as the young Rustom, and have him replaced by Prithviraj Kapoor as the older Rustom in the later scenes. But I think your idea’s a good one, too. Maybe a combination of the two? Shammi Kapoor as young Rustom, and as Sohrab. The best of both worlds, especially for Shammi fans like us!

  6. I really want to see this movie, as I love the songs. Each and every one of them. How absolutely cute Mumtaz looks in this movie.

    I even downloaded it one time, I must try to find and make time to see it. It has been on my wishlist for too long.

    Lovely review. Love those asides. Hehe.

    • Yes, Mumtaz looks really cute here. Still with her puppy fat, but so pretty nevertheless. I do wish she’d had a younger leading man opposite her – Premnath looks far too old. :-(

      Do watch it, Ava. It’s a good film. And the songs – ah. That is enough reason to watch.

  7. ROTFL!!!!
    Had much fun reading the review.
    Prithviraj is Prithviraj, I liked what I saw. Premnath is a different cup of tea altogether. Suraiya, ahem…
    Mumtaz looks very cute and too young, while the leading men look too old. That is supposed to balance the differences, I think.
    The songs are wonderful, aren’t they.
    Till I discovered the video of ‘ye kaisi ajab dastan’, I had thought it was a sad song. Never did I think that it was a seduction song.

    • “Till I discovered the video of ‘ye kaisi ajab dastan’, I had thought it was a sad song.

      Same here. From the way it’s sung (I must admit I never did pay much attention to the lyrics), I thought it was a sad song, too. In fact, even while I was watching the film, I was thinking, “Oh, is this going to be a two-version song? Will there be a sad version later in the film?”

      I take it you don’t much like Suraiya. ;-)

        • Ah. Yes, her songs in Mirza Ghalib were simply wonderful. I don’t usually like Suraiya much – she’s not one of my top beauties – but I thought she looked lovely in Rustom Sohrab.

      • HA, include me as another one who thought “yeh kaisi ajab dastaan” was a sad song till I saw the movie. I have the same issue with “lag jaa gale se” – I find it to be a very melancholy, plaintive song and can’t detect even a hint of seduction. Ah well, I guess emotional mismatch between song and screen happens from time to time.

        • I think in Lag jaa gale, the last verse, at least – Aankhon se phir yeh pyaar ki barsaat ho na ho – is meant to be melancholy: a sort of “it’s only this night, and then we’ll be forever apart” sort of sadness. I do agree that the rest of the song is also more plaintive than seductive, though I think some of Sadhana’s expressions in the first couple of verses are definitely come-hither.

  8. The new look is attractive DO. Reminds one of the colour of dust, and I should know
    8-l Fits the name :-)

    Enjoyed reading the review thoroughly. Loved the bit about the tourist Kaikavoos whose complaints about the country he’s visiting are no normal ones but of chains and other irregular stuff. And no FB. hehehe
    Somehow looking at the pictures her and at other places Prithviraj Kapoor loked OK but Premnath didn’t. I still want to watch the film because of the songs and now that you’ve said it’s well made and worth a watch I think I’ll have to find time for it.
    Thanks for the review. Well expressed as always.

    • Thank you, pacifist! (And welcome back). I’m glad you enjoyed the review – and the new header. Not that I can claim credit for the latter; a friend of mine designed it as well as the look and feel of the blog.

      Prithviraj Kapoor, I thought, looks all right as the older Rustom – though still a little too plump to be a warrior – but as the younger Rustom, he’s not just big (the way he was in Sikandar, which I do want to see one of these days), but also fairly obese. Which does detract a bit from how convincing he is. But still: he’s such a good actor, one can forgive that, I suppose. And the film is good. :-)

  9. Just got to this as well. I remember watching this and thinking that having Prithviraj Kapoor and Premnath as the two heroes did the story a great disservice. Like you, I wish Shammi had taken on the dual roles of the young Rustom, and that of Sohrab. Prithviraj would have done very well as the older Rustom. For that matter, I thought Suraiya was a tad too old to be Tehminia as well. But I like her very much, as I do Prithviraj and Premnath, so it was an enjoyable film on the whole. (And the music was great!)

    • I didn’t have much of a problem with Suraiya playing Tehminia – I’ve seen too many 60s films featuring Leela Chitnis, Achla Sachdev, Nirupa Roy or Sulochana Latkar – all looking definitely middle-aged, but playing young mothers in the first half-hour or so of a film which is primarily about their offspring. In contrast, Suraiya, while lacking the dewy freshness of Mumtaz (naturally!) does look quite well-preserved, I think. Certainly believable as a young woman.

      And oh, yes: the music was wonderful.

  10. I’ve missed the last few posts, Madhu, but this a wonderful one to come back to the blog with. I love the music and the story(it really is a heartbreaking tale, no?) of Rustom-Sohrab so much that I ignored the admittedly problematic casting and just enjoyed the movie. As you said, I probably won’t watch the movie again but the songs are constantly on repeat. :-)

    • Thank you, Shalini! I’m glad you liked this post. :-) And oh, yes: this is a heartbreaking story. I already knew how it ends before I saw the film (so it didn’t come as a bolt out of the blue, like Shama-Parwana), but still. Gripping, actually, but a little too unhappy for me. But the songs. Ah, the songs.

  11. Just for information – Suraiya started her first film as gthe heroine opposite Prithviraj in 1943 in “Ishara” and ended her career with this film in 1963 again opposite Prithviraj.

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