Comments on blog posts here tend to go off on tangents. I don’t have a problem with that (in fact, I often contribute)—and, best of all, sometimes these completely tangential comments give me ideas for other posts. The other day, commenting on my C Ramachandra post, Harini had remarked that Asha Bhonsle’s voice in Aa dil se dil mila le sounded a lot like Noorjehan’s. That reminded me of the lone Pakistani film I’d seen till then, the wonderful Dupatta (which starred Noorjehan). And I decided it was time to watch another Pakistani film. After all, Lollywood did share a lot in common with Bollywood in the early years, didn’t it?
And so it seems, when this film begins. This thing about a wealthy and domineering old woman (Bibbo) lording it over her household and treating her dead husband’s poor orphaned niece like a servant is something I’ve seen in Hindi cinema. In Armaan, the poor waif in question is Najma (Zeba), who’s ordered about and told to be grateful for her good luck in getting a roof over her head. Najma, ‘good girl’ that she is, accepts it all quietly.
Najma’s goodness is soon highlighted even more. The old lady’s two daughters, Najma’s cousins, are Seema and Dolly, and Seema—in a hushed and private conversation with Najma—reveals just how sordid her own life is. It turns out that Seema had been in love with someone named Sohail, and had even done the unthinkable with him [in a departure from the way Hindi cinema would have treated this, there is not a drop of rain in sight]. Sohail had to go away abroad, and Seema could not summon up the courage to tell him that she was pregnant.
She’s deposited her baby with a poor [as in poverty-stricken] woman to bring up. And now, charming creature that she is, she asks Najma to help her: keep checking on the woman, pay her regularly, treat the child as her own, blah blah. [Why this woman gave birth is beyond me. She’s one of the shittiest, most irresponsible onscreen mothers I’ve ever seen]. Anyway, Najma, pushover sweet and helpful that she is, agrees, and from then on, she becomes pretty much the de facto visiting mum of the baby.
All of this has been happening in the hill town of Murree. The scene now shifts to hot and happening Karachi, where Nasir (Waheed Murad), only son of the wealthy Khan Bahadur Wajahat Khan, is the life of every party. His father, finally fed up with Nasir’s wayward style of living, decides it’s time the young man got married [now where have I heard this before?]. His old friend’s widow lives in Murree, he tells Nasir, and has two fine daughters of marriageable age. He has been in correspondence with the old lady, and has decided that Nasir will marry one of the girls.
The good thing [from Nasir’s point of view] is that he is given some nominal choice in the matter: he’s allowed to choose which girl to marry [no such luck for the girl, which is really rather sexist, I think]. Nasir, thinking on his feet, asks his father if he may be allowed to take his best friend Shahid (Nirala) with him to Murree, and is given permission. So Nasir [who has obviously watched Dil Tera Deewaana] switches identities with Shahid. Shahid will pass himself off as Nasir, while Nasir will pretend to be Shahid, Nasir’s secretary.
So this is how they arrive at Begum Sahiba’s home, where Shahid—bumbling and clumsy and not at all the sort of man I’d want marrying one of my daughters [though Begum Sahiba is probably only imagining his wealth when she looks on him so dotingly] is given the best guest room in the house and is waited on hand and foot… while Nasir is given considerably less salubrious accommodation.
Things start moving fairly soon. Out in the street, Nasir has a brief run-in (in connection with some street urchins and an apple pitched at the lady) with Najma. Neither of them knows who the other is, but Nasir is pesky and Najma is annoyed.
Later that day, however, when Nasir—feeling hungry—goes to the kitchen, he finds to his surprise that the lady is there. He apologizes to her, and she is gracious enough to forgive him. They even get talking, and Nasir asks her which of the two sisters ‘Nasir’ should choose. Either, says Najma; relationships are made by the Almighty, not by people [a prophetic statement, as it turns out].
Nasir, before bidding her goodnight, tells Najma that he’s fond of a midnight snack; could she leave something for him in the fridge? Najma agrees. [Yes, this sounds inconsequential, but there’s a reason for it, as will be revealed later].
Very soon [and, as in Hindi cinema, with the help of a couple of good songs], Nasir and Najma are in love. Meanwhile, Shahid—masquerading, of course, still as Nasir—has fallen in love with Dolly, and she with him. [This provides a chance for another familiar element, the singer singing playback for the tone-deaf: Nasir does a Kishore Kumar for Shahid’s Sunil Dutt]. Soon after, Begum Sahiba decides it’s high time she spoke to Nasir’s father and invited him over: perhaps he’ll be able to egg his son on into finally saying yes to the marriage.
Of course, they can’t have that happen, because Khan Bahadur Wajahat Khan cannot be fooled about who his son really is. Just after Begum Sahiba books a trunk call to Khan Sahib in Karachi, Nasir hurries across to the nearest phone booth and calls the telephone operator, pretending to be Begum Sahiba [squeaky voice and all] and cancelling the call. He then phones Begum Sahiba and pretends to be his own father [gruff voice and all], and makes arrangements to come over to visit the household in Murree.
…which he does by donning a disguise: beard, moustache, sherwani, et al. Nobody recognizes him, not even Najma [this is getting more and more like a Hindi film]. But that evening, ‘Khan Sahib’ slips into the kitchen, where Najma is hard at work with her chores. Which of the girls should Nasir choose, he asks. And when Najma repeats her conviction about that being decided by God, Khan Sahib goes on to ask if she can leave some food for him in the fridge.
Déjà vu. Najma is startled, but before she can come to any conclusions—correct or not [and how could she conclude incorrectly, unless she thinks stuff like this runs in families?]—‘Khan Sahib’ has left the kitchen and gone.
Next morning, there’s a shock in store for them all. The real Khan Sahib—Nasir’s father—has decided to come to Murree [now that’s what I call a coincidence]. He arrives, introduces himself to Begum Sahiba (who is, unsurprisingly, suspicious, and downright disbelieving. Khan Sahib, she tells him, is already here.
… and Nasir, coming downstairs dressed as a dignified and elderly gentleman, is immediately recognized and collared by his father, who strips him of his disguise and tells Begum Sahiba and her daughters who this young man really is. Begum Sahiba is flabbergasted at first, then reconciles herself to it [Nasir, after all, is far better-looking and more composed than the buffoonish Shahid].
Najma, horror-stricken and feeling betrayed at the way the man she loves has been fooling her all this while, runs away to the kitchen. Nasir follows her there and tries to explain, to tell her that he loves her, but Najma is too distraught to care.
When Nasir and his father get some time alone, Khan Sahib asks his son the all-important question: which girl has he chosen to be his bride? Najma, says Nasir, a reply which—as can be expected from any self-respecting wealthy old man in subcontinental cinema—makes Khan Sahib see red.
Fortunately, Khan Sahib isn’t as unreasonable as many other filmi daddies, and Nasir’s powers of persuasion are pretty good.
He tells Khan Sahib that Seema and Dolly are shallow girls, with not an ounce of the dignity and domesticity Khan Sahib would want in a daughter-in-law. Or even that Nasir would want in a wife. Najma, however, has these very qualities. She is the girl Nasir loves, and she is the one he will marry.
Khan Sahib, seeing this very welcome change in Nasir [one assumes, from this, that the old hip-hop bee-bop Nasir would have been happy hooking up with a shallow girl], is thankful that his son seems to have turned over a new leaf. And that love has been responsible for this welcome change. Nasir’s marriage with Najma has his blessings.
But when this news is broken to Begum Sahiba, the old lady throws a fit. She taunts Najma, congratulating her on getting what she had set out to obtain. And then, before Najma can really react, visitors arrive. It’s a man and a woman, the latter bearing in her arms Seema’s baby.
Begum Sahiba has, through her nosey and nasty munshi, managed to get wind of the existence of this infant (though she has no idea yet who this little tyke actually is). “Place this child in its mother’s arms!” hollers Begum Sahiba, and the woman trots across the room and dumps the kid in Najma’s arms.
All hell breaks loose. Suddenly Najma is being glared at, stared at, being asked questions. And, because she had promised Seema to keep that sordid secret and because she’s a loyal, good girl who would rather let her own reputation be soiled than break her promise, Najma keeps quiet.
Nasir tries to get at the truth, but Najma refuses to tell him either, letting him believe that she is, indeed, the unwed mother of this little brat.
The consequences of this revelation are terrible. Begum Sahiba is so angry at Najma that she throws the girl out of her house, leaving Najma no option but to go to the woman who was bringing up the baby and take shelter with her—only to find that she’s attracting the unwelcome attentions of the woman’s lecherous nephew. Meanwhile, Nasir, heartbroken and disillusioned, turns to drink.
And that’s only the start of everybody’s troubles. Much more is yet to come, and much of it is very reminiscent of Hindi cinema.
Armaan has the distinction of being the first Pakistani film to see a platinum jubilee: a straight run of 75 weeks. It also gathered a bunch of awards at the Pakistani film industry’s official Nigar Awards, with wins for Best Movie, Best Director, Best Actress (Zeba), Best Musician, Best Playback Singer (Ahmed Rushdi) and Best Comedian (Nirala).
What I liked about this film:
The music, by Sohail Rana. Among my favourite songs were Betaab ho udhar tum, Akele na jaana, and Jab pyaar mein do dil. Interestingly (and this is something I’ve noticed before as well, in the few Pakistani film songs of the 60s that I’ve heard), the tunes here are more like the Hindi film songs of the 50s than of the 60s. It’s almost as if, besides the black-and-white prints that Pakistani cinema still used while Hindi cinema had moved into the era of colour, Pakistani film music continued to retain the flavour of the 50s in its music while Hindi film music had moved on.
(Incidentally, besides the songs of the film, the background music was surprisingly good as well as memorable).
Waheed Murad, who is really pretty dashing. He doesn’t get to do any very outstanding acting in this film at least, but he’s easy on the eyes. Incidentally, the film’s story was written by Waheed Murad too, and the film was produced by him as well.
The slightly incoherent and far too swift resolution of the story. The first three-quarters of the film are at a decent pace: not too swift, not too slow. In the last half-hour, however, it’s as if everybody woke up to the fact that they’ve only got so much time left and so many loose threads to be tied up. Everything goes into fast-forward mode, with some hard-to-believe changes of heart, some inexplicable about-turns, and general speeding up of the proceedings.
Not a bad film, really; in fact, it reminded me quite a bit of countless Hindi films I’ve seen, with very similar themes of self-sacrifice and eternal love, betrayal and I-will-love-you-no-matter-what. Not, I would have thought, platinum jubilee material, but then, that’s me.