Considering this is a period film—a ‘raja-rani’ film, so to say—and it has some great music, I’ve not made much of an effort to watch it. I don’t mind Nirupa Roy in leading lady roles (she could look really pretty, and as long as she wasn’t playing the self-sacrificing and long suffering Sati Savitri, she was fine). But Bharat Bhushan isn’t my cup of tea. Along with Pradeep Kumar and Biswajeet, he is one of those actors whom I invariably see lip syncing to great songs, and wish the songs had been picturized on someone else.
But I finally decided it was high time I watched Rani Rupmati.
The story begins by introducing us to the town of Mandavgarh (now better known as Mandu), part of the kingdom of Malwa. Malwa is ruled by Pathans: its Sultan is Shujat Khan, whose elder son, Baazid Khan ‘Baaz Bahadur’ (Bharat Bhushan) seems to be an effeminate, music-loving hedonist who spends all his time doing riyaaz with his ustad.
Thus, when word arrives from the Sultan, Baaz Bahadur’s father, instructing the prince to proceed to Sarangpur with an army, the general, the sipahsalar Haafiz Khan (Ulhas) who is sitting with Baaz and listening to the riyaaz, assures the prince that he need not go. He, Haafiz Khan, will go to Sarangpur instead.
Baaz agrees, but once the general has left, Baaz himself goes off on a hunt. Chasing a deer which leads him to the bank of the Narmada, he hears a woman singing. Entranced by her voice, Baaz follows it, joining in the song and in turn completely bowling over the singer (Nirupa Roy). She, along with a bevy of other young women, is swimming about in the river, decked up in silks and jewellery that have surely been damaged by this wasteful and thoughtless act.
This young woman, we soon realize, is the Princess Rupmati of Mewar—she says so when, drawn by Baaz’s song, she comes dazedly out of the water and walks up to him.
Still staring dreamy-eyed at Baaz Bahadur [to be fair, she’s besotted by his singing, not by his face, so the credit here goes to Mohammad Rafi, not Bharat Bhushan], Rupmati tells him that she comes to the river twice daily, in the morning and the evening. She’ll be back here again the next day. [Ahem. A broad hint, that].
The next evening, sure enough, they meet on the riverbank, and Rupmati tells her story. At the time she was born, Mewar was in the grip of terrible floods. The Narmada overflowed her banks continually, and the general populace was in great distress. To appease the Goddess Narmada, Rupmati’s father took his baby daughter and offered her to the river as a peace offering. The baby sank into the depths of the river, and was immediately brought above the waters by a smiling and pleased Goddess [or that could be a goddess who didn’t want babies—I can sympathise with that; babies are a lot of hard work].
The Narmada gave the baby back, saying she was pleased and would therefore, for evermore, protect and watch over Rupmati and her people. Rupmati, in turn, must devote herself to the river. Which is why Rupmati comes to the river daily to worship the goddess.
Baaz Bahadur and Rupmati’s musical evenings don’t get much beyond the first note. They are spotted at the riverside by some angry villagers [we, as a country, have always been plagued by moral police]. The villagers turn up at the Raja’s (Rupmati’s father) palace and start haranguing him [this seems to be a very democratic setup; you’d rarely see modern politicians being treated with such complete disdain for authority]. The end result is that the Raja is browbeaten into telling his daughter to tone it down, and agreeing to have her married off as soon as possible, this of course being the time-honoured way of bringing a wayward woman onto the straight and narrow.
So Rupmati’s wedding is fixed, and she can only watch dumbly on as her groom’s baaraat arrives. But after a while, the thought that she may never hear Baaz Bahadur’s glorious voice again takes hold of Rupmati. She’s so distressed that she calls her maid, Heera (Ratna Bhushan) and begs her to accompany Rupmati to the bank of the Narmada, where Baaz will be waiting for her. Heera tries to reason with the princess, but to no avail.
Rupmati has just about come face to face with Baaz when their rendezvous, innocent as it is, is disrupted by the arrival of a crowd of disapproving and scandalised people, foremost among them Rupmati’s father and her groom. The bridegroom, in fact, staunchly refuses to marry Rupmati, hard though she (as well as Baaz) tries to convince everybody that there is absolutely nothing low about meeting to appreciate each other’s music. Rupmati’s father pleads, for the sake of his honour, and is summarily refused.
The groom leaves, and Rupmati’s irate father takes her home and handing her a cup of poison, leaves her to it. She has brought ruin to Mewar; this is the only way she can repent.
Rupmati, devoted [and spineless] daughter that she is, lifts the cup to her lips—and just as she’s about to drink it, is stopped by the voice of the Goddess Narmada, which emanates from the poison. The Goddess tells Rupmati to cease and desist; this is not what she has planned for Rupmati. Rupmati must live on and bring about prosperity in Mewar through her life. For that, she must leave and go to Mandav, to Baaz Bahadur.
Obedient as always, Rupmati shows a bit of spunk and jumps down from a balcony, and escapes. Taking Heera with her—Heera refuses to be left behind—she rides off towards Mandav and Baaz…
… only being brought to a halt when riding a little too fast, Rupmati bashes her head against a low-hanging branch [a variation on what Nirupa Roy was to undergo in Amar Akbar Anthony?]
Fortunately, Baaz Bahadur is in the vicinity, hurrying to the deathbed of his father. He hands Rupmati and Heera over to one of his men to escort safely back to Mandav, while he goes to Sultan Shujat Khan’s bedside. Baaz arrives just in time to find a missive arriving from the Mughal Emperor Akbar, indicating that Malwa should accept Mughal suzerainty. Shujat Khan is livid: the Pathans and the Mughals have always been at daggers drawn, and he will not bow down, not even on his deathbed.
At his father’s behest, Baaz Bahadur sends off a reply to Akbar, politely worded but basically reiterating Shujat Khan’s words. Akbar (?) is undecided; one courtier, Aadam Khan (BM Vyas) is belligerent and eager to attack Malwa; but the music maestro Tansen, when appealed to by the Emperor, points out that it’s well-known that Baaz Bahadur is a connoisseur of music. Surely he is not martial, there can be no threat from him.
(This, incidentally, is also an assumption that the Malwa sipahsalar Haafiz Khan had been harbouring, until he discovered Baaz’s ability to hunt and stay in the saddle for hours on end).
Various events now take place. Rupmati and Baaz, both revelling in their shared love for music, also join hands to bring prosperity to the parched land. Baaz Bahadur builds a canopy from which, far though she is from the Narmada, Rupmati can have a darshan of her beloved river. And the two of them lead the people in digging a canal all the way from the river into the heart of Malwa, turning the land fertile and suitable for agriculture.
Suddenly Rupmati is a huge hit, and everybody in Malwa is singing her praises. She comes home to her parents in great triumph, and finds her erstwhile bridegroom there too. Now looking shamefaced, he pleads to be allowed to marry her, but Rupmati sweetly refuses. She is already married. To music. She has given her life to music.
So Rupmati returns to Mandav, and to Baaz—but danger lurks right around the corner, waiting to destroy both of them. For one, there is the sipahsalar, Haafiz Khan, who is very ambitious and has an eye on the throne. He had wanted to get his daughter Hamida (Nalini Chonkar) married to Baaz Bahadur, by means of which he hoped to get control of the throne. But with Baaz now apparently besotted by Rupmati, Haafiz Khan thinks there’s no need to go the Hamida route: Baaz, completely devoting himself to Rupmati and music, will anyway not be able to hold on to his throne.
This rather selfish bit of manoeuvring, when revealed to Hamida (who has fallen in love with Baaz Bahadur) horrifies her [yes, Haafiz Khan isn’t a model father]. She defies him, is immediately taken prisoner, escapes, and goes off to Baaz Bahadur’s court in Mandav.
… where Tansen, in disguise, has arrived to try and get an idea of how matters lie in Malwa. But not too far behind, in the capital at Delhi, Akbar’s sipahsalar Aadam Khan is getting increasingly restive, straining at the bit to invade Malwa.
A note on the historical background:
The story of Baaz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati does have a basis in history: Baaz Bahadur was the last Sultan of Malwa, and a great connoisseur of music. Folklore has it that he first met Rupmati while on a hunt: a deer he was chasing evaded his arrows and led him instead to where Rupmati was sitting with her friends, playing a flute. However he met her, Baaz Bahadur at any rate married Rupmati in 1555, and built a pavilion (Rewa Kund) in Mandu, for her to be able to view the Narmada.
In 1561, Mughal troops under Akbar’s foster brother, Adham Khan (his mother Maham Anga had been one of Akbar’s two principal wet nurses or ‘milk mothers’) invaded Malwa. Rupmati committed suicide and Baaz Bahadur was killed the following year, when another wave of Mughal invasion took place.
What I liked about this film:
The music, by SN Tripathi (who also directed Rani Rupmati). This film has one lovely song after another, beginning with Baat chalat nayi chunri rang daari, to Jeevan ki beena ka taar and Jhananan jhananan baaje payaliya, to the almost iconic song of yearning, Aa lautke aaja mere meet, which appears in two versions, male and female. There is also the impressive combination of two consecutive songs, one in reply to the other: Ud jaa ud jaa and Chhod chale kyon nirmohi.
If for nothing else, watch Rani Rupmati for its songs: they’re beautiful.
What I didn’t like:
I would certainly have preferred an actor other than Bharat Bhushan to play Baaz Bahadur, and I would have liked a little more historical accuracy—but both, I have realized, are too much to expect from much of old Hindi cinema. So let that be.
I won’t say that I outright disliked some aspects of Rani Rupmati other than that; a general indifference would be closer to the truth. This was an all right film story-wise; the acting was acceptable; the melodrama what you’d expect from the average 1950s Hindi film. The mingling of mythology (the Goddess Narmada being one of the characters) with history had me rolling my eyes, however. And I do wish they’d pronounced Adham Khan’s name correctly instead of changing it to Aadam Khan.
But what really puzzled me was the way the film seemed to tip-toe around the real relationship between Rupmati and Baaz Bahadur. History has it that they were married, not merely lovers; but the film, for some odd reason, glides over this. The filmi Rupmati goes and lives with Baaz Bahadur, but there’s no mention of a wedding (in fact, she even tells her once-betrothed that she’s now ‘married to her music’). In all their dialogues, Rupmati and Baaz Bahadur stress on their shared love for music, not their love for each other.
I find this a mystery; I would have thought that, given the rather puritanical mind-set of much old Hindi cinema, it would be obvious to make it clear that instead of living in sin with Baaz Bahadur, Rupmati actually married him. A fleeting thought occurred to me: could it be that a Hindu-Muslim marital alliance [love jihad, 16th century style] was unpalatable? Even that couldn’t be, though, since not only do Rupmati and Baaz Bahadur finally come across as having loved each other deeply, there’s also the song Har har har Mahadev Allah-u-Akbar, which is pretty much a paean to Hindu-Muslim unity.
If anybody can suggest any answers to this mystery, I’d appreciate it.