Pesh Hai: The Muslim Social—Random Thoughts

Including some recommendations, and some warnings.

This post was sparked off by a comment, by blog reader and fellow blogger Ava, on my review of the Sunil Dutt-Meena Kumari starrer, Ghazal. Like me, Ava ‘adores’ Muslim socials, and in her comment, suggested that I make a list of ten of my favourite Muslim socials. A great suggestion, I thought. And then thought some more. Were there ten Muslim socials I loved to bits? Were there some which were fabulous when it came to certain aspects, and horrendous on other counts? Were there some, perhaps, that I wouldn’t watch again (except possibly at gunpoint)?

All that thinking, I decided, had to be shared. Also in the hope that it might elicit some responses from those reading this blog post—please do comment, share your thoughts, and feel free to disagree. With the tameez and tehzeeb one would expect in a Muslim social.

Meena Kumari as Naaz in Ghazal

Without further ado, then. First of all,

What is a Muslim social?

(And, before anybody leaps at my throat: let me clarify. This is my definition of the term. Yours may differ).

For me, a ‘Muslim social’ is characterized by the following:

(a) Nearly all the characters are Muslims. There may be some characters who are from other faiths, but the main characters are Muslim. For example, while Mala Sinha, Rehman and Ashok Kumar play Muslims in Dharmputra, I’d not call that film a Muslim social, because these people and their lives form only part of the narrative of the film; the rest, including Shashi Kapoor’s character and the household in which he grows up, are Hindus.

(b) The ‘Islamic-ness’ of these Muslim characters. This I divide further into two sub-categories: the tangible and the intangible.

1. The tangible ‘Islamic-ness’ runs the gamut from clothing (usually, achkans and pyjamas for the men; churidar-kurtas or shararas—and invariably burqas for the women) to food, to the way they speak. Which is invariably in Urdu, though its nuances may differ from one film to another, with some older films tending towards more Persianized Urdu dialogues while newer films may be closer to khari boli. There are also, though these are less common, regional nuances—Dakkani (Hyderabadi Urdu), for example.

Jaan-e-mann ek nazar dekh le, from Mere Mehboob

2. The intangible, the customs and traditions followed. These are many. For instance, there are customs dictated by religion (you’ll rarely come across a Muslim social which doesn’t contain at least one Eid, or a mention of rozas, or at least one person shown at namaaz).

Then, there are mushairas and qawwalis. Since Urdu is a given in Muslim socials, and since songs are a given in Hindi cinema, it’s hardly surprising that Muslim socials are the perfect platform for both ‘literary’ recitations of Urdu poetry (in the form of mushairas) to rather more popular qawwalis.

Na toh kaarvaan ki talaash hai, from Barsaat ki Raat

Purdah forms an integral part of this intangible ‘Islamic-ness’, and is used almost ubiquitously across Muslim socials when romance comes into the picture. In a period when arranged marriage was the norm (and I’m talking not just about Hindi cinema, but also Indian society well up to the 70s and even beyond), the fact that almost every Hindi film had a romance that ended in a happy marriage was mouthwateringly daring. There would always be barriers to the couple’s love: disapproving parents, differing backgrounds (urban/rural, rich/poor, different castes, etc).

As if that wasn’t enough, Muslim socials added yet another barrier, one that seemed designed to prevent love blossoming in the first place: the purdah, which prevented the hero even seeing (and thus falling in love with) his destined beloved. They got around it in different ways—from a marriage followed by love, as in Chaudhvin ka Chaand, to the heroine doing the pursuing, as in Nakli Nawab, but the purdah was an important part of a Muslim social.

Mast aankhen hain ke paimaane, from Nakli Nawab

(c) The chronological setting of the film. This is where I’m going to be treading on thin ice, because I’m pretty sure some people are going to disagree with me.

Anyway, here goes. To me, a Muslim social is one set in modern times (which, if you think of it, accentuates the ‘Islamic-ness’ of its Muslim characters, who continue to speak in chaste Urdu, dress in achkans, and participate in mushairas even while some of the men do wear suits, and the characters live in modern houses and have everything from cars to radios). Films with a largely Muslim set of characters, but in a historical setting—say, Jahanara, Taj Mahal, Mughal-e-Azam, etc—I’d classify as historicals, rather than Muslim socials.

Mala Sinha, in and as Jahanara

Partly, I tend to prefer this classification because ‘social’ itself is a word I associate with ‘society’, a film set in an everyday sort of world, of people like us. The world of Mughal emperors (or other royalty, even if fictitious, such as Lala Rookh, Rustom Sohrab, Aab-e-Hayat, Chor Bazaar, etc), even if with the odd dancing girl or lovelorn poet here or there, is not the world of commoners.

So, with that definition (and what I regard as the ‘essential elements’) of a Muslim social out of the way, let me move on to what I like about Muslim socials. Not all, of course, since (like cinema in general), some are good and some are bad. Mostly, however, I’ve seen that there are certain elements that are common to most Muslim socials, and which make me like these films.

(a) The music. From the absolutely sublime qawwalis of Barsaat ki Raat—undoubtedly the best qawwalis in Hindi cinema—to the songs of films like Chaudhvin ka Chaand, Mere Mehboob, and even otherwise dud films like Ghazal—Muslim socials tended to have great scores. Not just good music, but also often excellent poetry.

Jurm-e-ulfat pe humein, from Taj Mahal

(b) The Urdu. Urdu is more or less a given in Muslim socials, and Urdu is, to me, one of the most beautiful, mellifluous languages there is. I remember having once read somewhere about the core difference between Urdu and other languages: according to the writer, in Punjabi you could call a person some really filthy names; in Urdu, the worst you could say was a severe “Aapse yeh ummeed nahin thhi.” (I don’t agree, but even epithets like naamuraad, naamaakool, bewaqoof, etc are, in comparison to the MC-BC stuff you hear in Delhi, very tame).

(c) The tehzeeb, the nazaakat, the gentility. There is—not always, and not consistently, but usually—a certain old-world charm about Muslim socials that I find very endearing.

(d) The achkans. Yes, really. Like military uniforms, achkans have a way of making just about any man look at least passable. Even otherwise-not-favourites-of-mine like Bharat Bhushan, Raj Kapoor, and Rajendra Kumar.

(e) And, continuing with costumes: those gorgeous shararas, the brocade and fine dupattas, and all that lovely jewellery. Hindi cinema’s leading ladies, unlike some of its leading men, have invariably been very beautiful, and a Madhubala, a Meena Kumari or a Sadhana, dressed up as the laaj of a nawabi khaandaan? (Or, alternately, as a tawaif, in Meena Kumari’s case). Stunning.

Thaare rahiyo o baanke yaar, from Pakeezah

(Incidentally, I think a black burqa, its front flap thrown back to form a sort-of hijab, makes a very attractive frame for a pretty face. I suspect film makers thought so too).

Finally, the Muslim socials I like. I couldn’t come up with ten (partly, I suppose, because I have actually seen fewer Muslim socials than I thought I had when I began writing this post). Some of these films are likeable only for one or two reasons; others are overall good, and films I’d recommend without a second thought.

Here goes, in no particular order, though some of my favourites are grouped towards the top of this list.

Mere Mehboob (1963): Young poet finds himself loved by two women—the one he loves, and her best friend—while his elder sister, a dancer, tries to prevent the world from discovering that this respectable young man is her brother. Fabulous music, and the lead pair—a gorgeous Sadhna and a surprisingly pleasant-looking Rajendra Kumar (those achkans!)—make for some good eye candy.

Mere mehboob tujhe meri mohabbat ki kasam, from Mere Mehboob

Barsaat ki Raat (1960): Another poet, another love triangle. And a match that’s looked down upon. The story may not be anything to write home about, but two stunning leading ladies—Madhubala and Shyama—and the brilliant score make up for it. Besides the title song and ‘other’ songs like Kaisi khushi leke aaya chaand, Barsaat ki Raat had by far and away the very best qawwalis Hindi cinema has ever known, all the way from the inimitable Na toh kaarvaan ki talaash hai to Pehchaanta hoon khoob tumhaari nazar ko main.

Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi from Barsaat ki Raat

Pakeezah (1972): A tossed-about-by-fate tawaif falls in love with a forest officer, but realizes that her tainted past will ruin him too. Like the previous two films, this one had a fantastic score—and Meena Kumari’s costumes were lovely. Plus, it had some interesting symbolism, and probably the most famous penned-on-a-train letter (note?) ever.

Chalte-chalte yoon hi koi mil gaya tha, from Pakeezah

Nakli Nawab (1962): A nawab discovers that the local goonda is actually the long-lost orphaned son of an old friend. A makeover ensues, and the reformed goonda falls in love with his benefactor’s sister, unaware of her real identity… a great-looking lead pair, an entertaining story, and some good music. A Muslim social that really needs to be better known than it is.

Shakila in Nakli Nawab

Chaudhvin ka Chaand (1960): An accidental glimpse of a girl’s face makes a nawab fall in love with her. His attempts to discover her identity have disastrous consequences, because in the process, he ends up making his best friend marry (unwittingly) the very girl the nawab is in love with.

Not a favourite as far as story goes; it’s too melodramatic, and the entire premise of people giving up their love for a friend—without asking the beloved what she thinks—riles me. Waheeda Rehman, however, is lovely as ever, and the songs are memorable.

Badle-badle mere sarkar, from Chaudhvin ka chaand

Bahu Begum (1967): A series of crazy misunderstandings, along with the hero’s evil uncle’s misdeeds, result in the heroine being married – accidentally by proxy – to an older man who has fallen in love with her. When her ‘husband’s’ sister is to get married, the heroine – now sheltering with an old tawaif – comes to his house to pose as the ‘bahu begum’ she actually is.

While the three leads were older than they should have been, an engrossing story, a superb cast, and good songs make this better than I’d thought it would be.

Meena Kumari as Zeenat Jahaan Begum in Bahu Begum

Dil Hi Toh Hai (1963): In a refreshing change from the usually demure, eyes-downcast-and-speaking-in-murmurs Muslim girl depicted in most films, Nutan here played the feisty daughter of a nawab; her character falls in love with a poor singer (played by Raj Kapoor)—and he ends up teaching her music while disguised as an old man. Both of them, and everybody else (barring his foster mother) are unaware that he is actually the changeling whom this very girl had been promised to as a toddler. A melodramatic end aside, this is a fun film with some witty repartee and a couple of good songs, including the brilliant Laaga chunari mein daag.

Raj Kapoor and Nutan in Dil Hi Toh Hai

Chandni Chowk (1954): Meena Kumari—in what was probably one of her earliest outings in the Muslim social (a genre she was to embrace, what with Bahu Begum, Benazir, Ghazal, and Pakeezah)—stars as the daughter of an impoverished but proud nawab who is hoodwinked into letting his daughter marry her childhood sweetheart, the son of a gardener. When the young groom realizes that both he and his irate father-in-law have been duped, and that he is unwelcome, he goes off to Egypt, on a self-imposed exile. Shekhar isn’t my idea of the perfect leading man—and Meena Kumari had her fair share of weeping to do here—but this film was entertaining enough, and boasted of one of my favourite little-known songs: Tera dil kahaan hai, which Roshan was to reuse later, as Rahein na rahein hum.

Tera dil kahaan hai, from Chandni Chowk

Those, therefore, are some of my favourite Muslim socials from before the 70s. Not that that was the end of Muslim socials; this was one genre which actually did endure for a while. The 70s and 80s saw several Muslim socials, including the memorable Umrao Jaan and Nikaah. Rishi Kapoor (possibly by dint of being the face of 70s qawwali?) ended up acting in a lot of these films, including the popular Tawaif and Deedaar-e-Yaar, as well as rather more forgettable films like Yeh Ishq Nahin Aasaan.

In the recent past (when it comes to ‘recent’, I generally mean the 90s and since), the concept of ‘Muslim social’ seems to have changed. There have been films with a largely Muslim cast of characters (I’m thinking everything from Mission Kashmir to Well Done, Abba, to Haider, Bobby Jaasoos and Daawat-e-Ishq), but more often than not, you see a definite change from the markedly ‘social’ angle of the earlier films. Mission Kashmir, Fiza, and Haider, for instance, use a primarily Muslim setting—Kashmir—to tell a story, but the story is more about terrorism and strife than the aspects I associate with the ‘Muslim social’. Daawat-e-Ishq is, for me, the one recent film that I thought captured the essence of the Muslim social very well, while also being with the times, definitely contemporary.

And, before I sign off, the third thing I’d mentioned at the start of this post: the warnings. The Muslim socials from the good old days that I wouldn’t want to see again. Benazir (which, despite a superb cast, lacks conviction in its attempted boldness about a young man falling for a much older woman). Ghazal, which is ho-hum and melodramatic. Mere Huzoor, which has its moments, but has too much Raj Kumar and Jeetendra (both melodramatic, and added to that a melodramatic Mala Sinha) for my liking. Neend Hamaari Khwaab Tumhaare, which has an interesting premise: very hep, Westernized Muslim girl falls for a man, unaware that his ‘Nawab’ father is actually an upstart who won a lottery—but falls flat on execution.

Neend Hamaari Khwaab Tumhaare

Which are your favourite Muslim socials? Which are your pet hates?

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90 thoughts on “Pesh Hai: The Muslim Social—Random Thoughts

  1. Madhu, great write up. If you’re in the mood for a little more reading on this you could look at Ira Bhaskar and Richard Allen’s ‘Islamicate Cultures of Bombay Cinema.’ It’s only a tad bit more academic and has a whole section on the Muslim Social. My love for Johnny Walker has made me watch and re-watch Chaudhvin ka Chand and Mere Mehboob; watching him undo all the tehzeeb and tameez of the protagonists is great fun!

    • Thank you, Radha, for the appreciation, and for the book recommendation. I hadn’t heard of this one before – I should’ve looked around before doing this post! Sounds very interesting.

      Yes, Johnny Walker is such a breath of fresh air in some of the stuffier Muslim socials, isn’t he? Especially Chaudhvin ka Chaand, which got so horribly depressing and melodramatic. But then, he was a joy to watch, always. I love him, too.

  2. Ghazal was such a disappointment, despite Meena, Sunil and a score by Madan Mohan.

    I like all the five films you mention for the very same reasons. Re: Bahu Begam “the three leads were older than they should have been” Hehe. My thoughts exactly. Only Naaz is age appropriate. But the story -aah, the clothes – ooh, and the music – wah. Meena and Ashok Kumar hold up the story so well. They had a beautiful chemistry. Unfortunately, Pradeep Kumar was always lurking around to throw a spanner into their works.

    I liked Mere Huzoor when I saw it as a kid. I don’t mind Raj Kumar all that much and I liked the music a lot. I may not like it much NOW, but am not tempted to try.

    Wondering if Garm Hawa would qualify as a Muslim social? It is, of course, in a league of its own.

    Bazaar would qualify and it ticks most of the boxes too. It is a lovely film.

    Among the newer crop, Well Done Abba was really really good. But it is not really a ‘romance’ which a Muslim social had to be, more a social satire. I loved ‘Yahan’ by Shoojit Sarcar. Again based in Kashmir with mostly Muslim characters but the hero is a Hindu.

    Now those ‘characteristics’ of being set in a bygone world of Nazakat that typified a Muslim Social are not longer there. The genre is dead.

    • “Meena and Ashok Kumar hold up the story so well. They had a beautiful chemistry.

      So true! Usually, I’d be gunning for the younger man, the man the woman was actually in love with, but here, it was Ashok Kumar all the way. Partly because of his and Meena Kumari’s acting, and partly because of the way it was scripted – you got the definite feeling that she felt something for him other than duty.

      I have to see both Garam Hawa and Bazaar someday! I feel ashamed that I’ve seen neither of them all these many years, inspite of all the acclaim I’ve heard for them.

      Thank you for the Yahaan recommendation – I hadn’t seen that. Will do!

      • i will be honest i don’t like chaudvi ka chand. i don’t think it has guru dutt touch. i find it melo dramatic , slow and boring. sacrificing saga off course not directed by guru dutt. but by M.sadiq. on the other hand i cannot watch mere huzoor cause it is known fact that mala sinha when got free hand from director gets over the top. and when i read that manoj is in nakli nawab it puts me off. hoped from other contemporary like shashi ji . i don’t like sunil dutt punjabi tone. in mere mehboobi don’t like pan cake make up of Rajender kumar. it is the only eye sore.

        • ‘and when i read that manoj is in nakli nawab it puts me off.’

          FYI, he’s actually pretty good in it. Looks wonderful, and I think he has great chemistry with Shakila. And the film itself is quite good. Melodramatic near the end, but not OTT.

      • on epic channel khawabo ka safar with mahesh bhatt was on mehboob khan saheb . they discussed najma that mehboob saheb ‘s najma was first muslim social and was a trend setter. they showed scene of ashok kumar romancing heroine . ashok kumar got 3 lakh for it , a record in itself and said he was regular feature in Muslim films. it was unbelievable for me that how ashok kumar ji is romancing. i saw him once in grehasti on bike and doing romance . i started laughing. i can relate to him as dada ji and pita ji.

    • Yes. I first saw it on Doordarshan, when I was a teenager. Liked it a lot then (I had much more patience back then, and perhaps Shashi Kapoor made up for a lot). When I rewatched it a couple of years back, I didn’t like it – the songs, the lead pair, and what could have been the set-up for a really good comedy were all wasted.

  3. Wonderful post, dear Madhu!
    I agree with your definition. But I’d surely put even Umrao Jaan in the historical category rather than muslim social.
    My most favourite in this genre would be Pakeezah and then Barsaat Ki Raat, but I like the latter more for its songs rather than the story or even the film itself.
    I liked Benazir somewhat, because it had The Bimal Roy touch to it. I know, he didn’t direct it, but everybody was so down-to-earth and subdued. Chaudhvin Ka Chand was nice in its execution and the songs, the story was exciting enough but the idea of giving up one’s beloved for one’s friend, never appealed to me much.
    Well, with that I come to the end of my list for the pre-70s. Post 70s there was Garam Hawa and Bazaar, which I liked.
    Hadn’t you reviewed Bank Manager once? Wasn’t that a muslim social too? sabaa se ye keh do is such a lovely song!

    • Glad you liked the post, Harvey! Thank you. :-)

      Hmm…Yes, you’re right about Umrao Jaan. It is a historical, just like Mirza Ghalib and Shatranj ke Khiladi.

      I haven’t reviewed Bank Manager, though I have seen the film – for Saba se yeh keh do! What a fabulous song that is – just the thought of it gives me gooseflesh. But the film was very forgettable; it’s about the villain deciding to rob a bank by using the bank manager (played by Shekhar, not a favourite of mine) – and they entice him by using a lovely tawaif (Minoo Mumtaz) posing as a bade ghar ki beti. Quite forgettable, and even the other songs weren’t great.

  4. Wonderful! I especially liked the way in which the as yet unidentified lady in Mere Mehboob was christened (if that’s the right word) as “Tumhari Hai Allah” by Johnny Walker. That movie certainly tops my list. Mehboob ki mehandi too had a nice song Yeh jo chilman hai, in which Rajesh Khanna not only pierces the purdah curtains but also breaks the fourth wall blinking in his characteristic style not only at the heroine Leena Chandavarkar but also at the audience.

    • “…in which Rajesh Khanna not only pierces the purdah curtains but also breaks the fourth wall blinking in his characteristic style not only at the heroine Leena Chandavarkar but also at the audience.

      LOL! You will have the Rajesh Khanna fan club coming at your throat for that! But the song is nice, I agree.

      And Johnny Walker’s “Tumhaari hai Allah” is priceless. He was such a joy to behold.

  5. It was also nice to see reference to one of my favourite qawwalis, Naa to caravan ki talaash hai. That song is not only long (about 12 minutes), but changes colour midway into a bhajan with references to radha and Janak and has got some thoughts like :
    Khaaq ko but, aur but ko devtaa karta hai ishq
    Intahaa yeh hai ke bande ko khuda karta hai ishq

    • I personally feel that Na toh kaarvaan ki talaash hai (and the qawwali it segues into. Yeh ishq ishq hai) are without doubt the very best qawwalis (or one qawwali, however one likes to consider them) in Hindi cinema, ever. Everything – Sahir’s lyrics, Roshan’s music, the ensemble singers – is perfect. Couldn’t be improved upon.

      • I remember reading somewhere that it took 24 hours straight to get the musicians, singers and coordination to get one complete 12 minutes take to get to Roshan’s satisfaction for this quawwali – na to karwan ki talash hai. One can feel the passion of everyone involved in this amazing creation!

  6. Pakeezah and Mere Mehboob I totally love… I’ve seen a few others but they can never come close to this. Some stunning pics u have on this post Madhu. Btw I also thought Chaudvin ka Chand is overrated. And don’t you think Meena Kumari totally kills it in these Muslim socials??

    • So true! Yes, Meena Kumari was a pro when it came to Muslim socials (and, well, a lot of other films, too – she was a superb actress, though – as is the case with just about everybody, I guess – she made a few bad decisions when it came to films like Chandan ka Palna. ;-)

      Chaudhvin ka Chaand has lovely music, and Waheeda Rehman looks gorgeous – but those (and Johnny Walker, who’s a hoot) are the only reasons I’d recommend it. As I’ve mentioned, the melodrama and mindless self-sacrificing gets on my nerves.

  7. you are right in that of late all/most movies which have many muslim characters tend to get wrapped around violence…but still some of the merit a mension here:
    Dev (2004) , Anvar (2007) , Ishqzaade (2012), and even Gangs of Wasseypur (2012). Also Dedh Ishqiya (2014- for a little bit of the older muslim social feel)

  8. My favouriote genre, Madhu. Enjoyed reading your definitions, and agree with you about them though achkan wearing men abounded in other genres too, especially raja/kunwar sahebs in Rajput, punjabi. films.

    My absolute favourites are Pakeezah, Mere Mehboob and Chaudvin ka Chand.
    I love Chaudvin ka chand a lot in spite of the idea of giving up wife for friend for the price of his life.
    Though if I remeber well it wasn’t just giving up wife for friend but also the total maize of circumstances he was caught in where his cousin was to get married to Rehman, and what would follow.
    I remeber his saying that his death would stop the wedding etc.

    Bahu Begum is another film I like a lot and can watch again so also Barsaat ki Raat.
    Benazir, Gazal were OK once. Doubt I can watch them a second time.
    I feel sorry that this genre is now dead. :(

    • This one must have really appealed to you, Reeba, to bring you back here to my blog! Hello there. :-)

      You’re right about achkhan-clad men appearing in other films too; I didn’t mean to imply that they were exclusive to Muslim socials – just that Muslim socials seemed to always have men in achkans.

      And yes, it is sad that the genre, even if not dead (I’m thinking of Daawat-e-Ishq, here) is no longer what it used to be.

    • Thank you for the correction, Anu. I’ve made the change. Yes, I do recall your review of Chandni Chowk – in fact, that was what spurred me on to watch the film. I liked it more than I thought I’d like a film starring Shekhar. ;-)

  9. One more person who likes Muslim socials just for the language, and most of them have good music , pretty heroines and costumes.. I find them very entertaining.
    I have seen all the ones you mentioned, Bahu Begum, I liked a lot except for the aging characters. I saw Palki recently, it had its moments that one liked and an unbelievable story. It was ok.
    I would consider Shabab to be a Muslim social too, had great music and Nutan looked fabulous !

    • Good to know you’re part of the club, Neeru! And thank you for the Shabab recommendation – I must add that to my wishlist (especially since I like Nutan so much).

  10. I noticed several mentions of mehboob ki mehndi, have not seen it, not tempted to either because of Rajesh Khanna. He entered the film world with a great promise but soon just stuck to the same style of mannerisms and dialog delivery. He pretty much acted the same way regardless of the charecters. Shahrukh Khan is another who just acts the same in every movie I have seen.

    • To be very honest, I like Rajesh Khanna in just a handful of films – and that more because of (yes, yes! Very frivolous reason) his looks than his acting. :-D Plus, his films had very good music – except for Ittefaq, which despite the absence of songs, is one of my favourite of his films. His mannerisms, which so quickly became a part of his onscreen persona, really put me off.

      I’m not a Shahrukh Khan fan, but there are several films of his that I’ve really liked. One, in particular, is Chak De! India, which was so different, and where I thought he acted well, too.

    • acc to me leena is over the top in terms of expressions. i don’t like it all. in mere mehboob same for ameeta in dialogue delivery but its a beautiful movie.

      • Yes, Ameeta is pretty OTT in Mere Mehboob (but then, she usually is, in most movies), but the rest of the film makes up for it. Especially the songs, and Sadhana, of course.

  11. I think by this time you know I am not much into Muslim socials, I just haven’t developed a taste for it, besides I do not understand chaste Urdu. My only association with the genre is my father who did two Muslim socials Benazir and Shama. My father was really good in both actually I really loved his acting in Shama

    • I know, Shilpi. I think, even though Urdu used to be a fairly integral part of most ‘Hindi’ films back then, the Persianized Urdu (mostly) of Muslim socials could make dialogue hard to understand if you weren’t very familiar with Urdu – so that would definitely come in the way of enjoying a Muslim social.

      I have to see Shama!

      • Please do, but I would sort of caution you that you may find Suraiya nd Nimmi quite old, as far as I know this was the last film Suraiya shot for and Vijay Dutt is not hero material. I loved my father in this one, the story had promise but the direction was not up to the mark. I often see the film but only my father’s portions I skip the other scenes. I really like the songs. As you really like this genre maybe you should have a look.

  12. I never considered myself a particular fan of “muslim socials”, but after reading this post, I realized that I’m fonder of them than I thought. :-) Those movies, at least the old ones, had a transporting quality to them…taking one to an idealized world and way of life that probably never existed, but looked like such fun places to visit!:-D

    From your list, I’m afraid I have no love for “chaudvin ka chand” which even with the combined charms of Waheeda, Johnny Walker and Meenu Mumtaz I found deadly boring. Music, the costumes and the art/set decoration is what redeems “Pakeezah” for me. I have a soft spot for “Benair” and “Ghazal” but totally agree with you on “Mere Huzoor” (Ugh) and “Need Hamari Khwab Tumhare.”

    A few other muslim socials that I’ve seen (but don’t necessarily recommend!) that haven’t been mentioned are:

    Zindagi Ya Toofan (Nutan, Pradeep Kumar) – standard story of the “innocent fallen-woman” with some nice songs, but Nutan is not very convincing as a tawaif…

    Darwaza (Shyama, Shekhar) – again some nice songs but rather depressing tale of widow remarriage. Just seems wrong to make the effervescent Shyama play a young, put-upon widow.

    Qawwali Ki Raat (Mumtaz, KumKum) – Mumtaz is gorgeous and gets to sing some fun qawwalis but the movie itself is tedious.

    Chhote Nawab (Mehmood, Ameeta) – lovely songs, okay movie about man-child Mehmood growing up and learning to be a responsible adult.

    • Ah, yes. I have heard of both Qawwali ki Raat (Kamaljeet is in it, isn’t he?) as well asChhote Nawab – have even seen some songs from both films – but haven’t ever got around to watching either. And have never heard of Darwaza or Zindagi ya Toofan. I have to admit to such a soft spot for Shyama that I may just try to see if I can find Darwaza despite what you say about it. ;-)

  13. Lovely! Have seen only a few of the mentioned films, but love them all. Dedh Ishqiya would fall into this category too, but it is kind of a post-modern take on Muslim social, uses all the tropes, the achkans, shayari, nazaakat and everything and has fun with it, going places no muslim social ever went.

    By the way I am linking a very interesting comment by Javed Akhtar on this genre of Muslim social….from 46:33 onwards

    • Hehe! Thank you so much for sharing that, Mukesh! Brilliant. Javed Akhtar is so much fun to listen to, and I loved this ‘analysis’ of Muslim socials. :-)

      • Haha. Indeed he is. Not in a thousand lifetimes, I would have dreamt of hearing the words Muslim social and Cowboy Western in the same line. And that comment about Sadhna :D

        • The Cowboy Western-Muslim Social analogy was a brilliant one! And probably so true, too (though I’m not absolutely sure that the Western is as much a figment of imagination as the Muslim social is). ;-) The Sadhana comment is a total gem, plus I loved that bit about how rickshaw-wallahs and other everyday people see Muslim socials and comfort themselves with the thought “ke hamaare baap-dada aise thhe”/ :-D

  14. Interesting topic. I can relate to some of the movies you mentioned, though not all of them.

    I don’t know if this qualifies point #c in the strict sense (I don’t remember if they spoke in thick Urdu) but I thought 1982 “Nikah” was fairly well made. The title certainly is one of the main themes and relevant to your topic (Muslim Social). One movie wonder Salma Agha, I thought was good and Raj Babbar was alright. Pankaj Parasher was really awful.. Songs were decent especially Ghulam Ali’s famous “Chupke Chupke Raat Din” and Salma Agha with her original, though nasal voice singing “faza bhi hai” and “Dil ke Arman” (I like the former better than the latter).

    btw, thanks for mentioning “Saba se yeh keh do” from Bank Manager. Hadn’t heard that before and when I played, I had an instant liking to it.. You may find it surprising but I am not much of a fan of Asha’s voice but I like her this style of singing, something about her voice when she is not singing her typical energetic self, I like her a lot!

    • It’s been a long, long time since I watched Nikaah (though I have mentioned it in my post, in passing), so my memories of it are fairly vague. I do remember liking it, though – I even liked Salma Agha’s songs till perhaps the mid-90s, when Dil ke armaan (sung in a very wailing and tuneless way) became a standard ‘child beggars’ song on Delhi Transport Corporation buses. I remember there was this pair of little kids who’d board the bus near AIIMS, singing this song so badly that people would pay them just to shut up… that made me hate, paradoxically, Salma Agha! Not fair, I realized later, but the damage was done.

      Yes, Saba se yeh keh do is a wonderful song, isn’t it? One of my absolute favourites. I love the fact that her voice is allowed to hold centrestage: there is so little instrumentation.

  15. Nice to read this, Madhu. I was waiting for you to do your Muslim social post one day. :) Pakeezah is my favorite on your list, even though it actually did not come out before the 1970s.

    For a long time, I wanted to consider Khandan (1942) as my favorite Muslim social, but I have not watched it beyond all the wonderful Noor Jehan songs. :) . Though I love the sound of Urdu also, I need English subtitles to follow any Urdu film adequately, and I don’t think I could find a subtitled copy of this one, assuming I could find a copy at all.

    Next to Pakeezah, probably my favorite Muslim social is Najma (1943). According to Wikipedia, this was also the breakthrough Muslim social that formed a “blueprint” for many that followed. (And by the way, the definition in that entry differs from yours in interesting ways. They consider Pukar (1939) to be a Muslim social, but you would not.)

    Najma does have some things in common with Pakeezah, such as Veena and Ashok Kumar. With Sitara Devi prominently featured also, the cast is wonderful. I love the music in this movie also and a few other things,,,.

    I’m going to provide the link to my rave review, since that talks more about the things in this film that I liked so much. (Madhu, you commented there, as did Ava and Reeba. But maybe this will be a refresher – and maybe some other people out there might be curious to see this, too.)

    https://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/najma-1943/

    • Thank you for reminding me of Najma, Richard! I had totally forgotten about this, but really must put it on my list. Have just been re-reading parts of your review, and I’m kicking myself for not having watched the film earlier – perhaps before I published this post.

  16. i agree with who is saying that 70s was good to no body. it is true. commercial pot boilers. 60s were balance of everything. not only kaka ji but amit ji did same thing. same dialogues spoken in different costumes, same dialogue delivery, same story, same mannerism. i would have respected him more if amit ji would have tried to raise the level of films like shashi ji did. he was the highest paid actor . couldn’t he produce at least one. even jeetu ji produced and acted in memorable films of gulzar saheb . . i don’t think except few maximum 10 like saudagar, anand, manzil etc. all were commercial pot boilers. i don’t think he bothered much about subject. his movies with except for mukhrejee, basu da and maximum yash ji. all were commercial films like for manmohan desai ji and praksh mehra saheb . i don’t think anybody can watch now especially movies from 80s. what i got to know while listening to great basu da i have decided not to watch any movie from 70s except very very few.

    • I am not a huge fan of either Amitabh Bachchan or Rajesh Khanna (though there are several movies in which I’ve liked each of them), so that is perhaps one reason why I am not very averse to the 70s as a decade – because the films I associate with that decade are not the AB-Kaka films, but stuff like Chupke-Chupke, Golmaal, other films by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Rishi Kapoor’s movies, Vinod Khanna’s movies (especially the suspense ones like Gaddaar and Inkaar)… that’s why, even though the 70s is nowhere as good as the 50s or 60s, I still like it. The 80s was when, for me, it all went downhill.

  17. on extremely serious note i watched nakli nawab on your recommendation and i did like it. it was worth of except last minutes. i liked K.N singh and ashok kumar in achkan, shammi and shakila all made up. i started laughing when i saw the first song on manoj ji. i liked his dress up as a gunda . he looked sweet gunda. i loved the dialogue ki yeh nawaab saheb ki sherwani bol rahi hai. yeh nawab saheb ki biryani bol rahi hain. loved it. now i want to have biryani. i accidentally came to know about another movie named maa beta in which tarun bose ji is there , so is nirupa roy and lalita pawar . and in second half ameeta and manoj . i liked one fact about this movie that there was less melo drama and ameeta was sober here. and manoj ji indeed looked eye candy. di wish you review this movie. nirupa roy and tarun bose ji are playing young couple here.

    • Good! I’m so glad you liked it. :-) I have a particular fondness for Nakli Nawab (partly, I think, because I like Shakila a lot, and Manoj Kumar in this was really handsome). I do wish the film was better known!

      I see you have provided the link for Maa Beta. Thank you! Will definitely bookmark it and try to watch it soon.

      • its a more of middle stream cinema. realistic one. i really wonder during 50s and 60s movies were more realistic but from 70s so high on melodrama. i think in melo drama definition one thing should be added . that what we see in bhansali , farah and Kjo’s movies. like close ups, focus on face and all. i find there movies more melo dramatic than old ones. too much focus on sets, over the top back ground music. and i read in a filmy book that if teesri ksam would have been released in 50s it would have been hit. i think melo drama, commercial pot boilers are contribution of 70s director. and industry never realised that there is already down fall in quality. i think it was mistake of manoj ji as well as Raj kapoor saheb to choose laxmi pyare. i think kalyan ji anand ji gave more melidious shaant music. i wonder what made manoj ji to choose laxmi pyare cause in Purab aur Paschim. songs are good and more good is back ground music which supported his direction. can wonder only. but i see kalyan ji interview on DD while Upkaar and Purab Paschim telecast. they still have good relations manoj ji and kalyan ji anand ji.

  18. Hai,
    Your parameter for selecting Muslim social films makes sense and i have seen some of the movies you listed, why dont you make top ten muslim historicals so that we can have another round of good times again.
    thank you madhu.

  19. i want to watch now Reshmi Rumaal and i think with due respect to guru dutt ji i feel nakli nawab is more good than chaudvi ka chaand. at least its entertains.

    • I have seen Reshmi Rumaal, many years ago (I think I saw it pretty much the same time as I first saw Nakli Nawab). Don’t remember much of it, except that it has some really lovely songs.

  20. i wish to watch apna bnaa k dekho. but i think its no more. like you got ferry may we get this movie. i think only regular PH films survived and production houses which were new those movies didn’t survive at all. like Raat aur DIn not by regular Ph so it is available in bad print.

    • As long as it survives, even if it’s a bad print, something can be done to restore it (digitally, for example – long and laborious work, but at least it happens). If the film itself is lost (as in then horrible case of Alam Ara), there’s nothing to be done. Tragic.

  21. as i said i loved rajinder kumar and sadhna ji jodi. and i think there is a movie i watched aap aaye bhaar aayi. in which they played parents mera dil bhar aaya. i felt that i am watching pair of mere mehboob after few years of thir marriage. so happy. and sunil dutt and sadhna ji played love birds in mera saaya. i am content with these two pairs. i think a post is needed for beautiful pairs of 50s and 60s.

  22. today chaudvi ka chaand was coming. i liked songs and johny walker saheb. mera yaar bnaa hai dulha aur phool khiley hai dil k. meri bhi shaadi ho jaye dua karo sab mil k. the way he said hai allah in mere mehboob . aai haai. it was divine. like meri hai raam aur tumhari haai allah. still i will say i genuinely was able to see nakli nawab. my mother favourite is mehboob ki mehendi being kaka ji favourite hero. she is big fan of rajesh khanna. and always has praise for him.

  23. Love your article! I have been intrigued by the Muslim Socials as well as the courtesan film tradition of Bollywood, particularly for its poetic sophistication. I just wanted to share my thoughts on Mere Huzoor here. Though I found the film a bit boring honestly, there is this one scene where Mala Sinha approaches Raj Kumar with such intense love (may be lust?) in her eyes. When she touches him, he gets some sort of an electric shock! Its sort of representative of how problematic desire of a women becomes even in Socials.

    • Thank you! So glad you liked this post. :-)

      I must admit I’ve forgotten the scene you talk of, but I did find the relationship between the characters of Mala Sinha and Raj Kumar interesting and unusual in this film – and I liked the fact that the end was somewhat predictable than the usual.

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