Rani Rupmati (1959)

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.

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23 thoughts on “Rani Rupmati (1959)

  1. Lovely summary/analysis. I haven’t seen the film, but have read about its plot and wondered. I’m relieved to see that you, who know much more about the history than I do, wonder about the same questions! And yes, the music is great! The ud jaa bhawar part 1 and 2 are gems!
    Meena

    • Thank you! And I’m so glad you agree too that Udd jaa bhanwar and its following song are gems. It’s sad that those two songs seem to have been forgotten in comparison to the more popular songs of the film.

      • I fell in love with the song when I heard Jhanan jhanan jhanan baaje…. on radio a few months back. Was unaware of such a creation. What pitch and matchless rendition. The ending crescendo made me speechless.
        Btw would anyone know what the starting words of the song mean? Something like ‘ Alahalahal mada bhare….’

        • Dear GG,

          The words are from a couplet (दोहा) by Poet SYED GHULAM NABI of Bilgrami (UP). He lived between 1689 to 1750 and wrote under the pseudonym “Rasleen”. The exact words of the couplet are :

          Amiya halaahal madhbhare
          shwet shyaam ratnaar
          jiyat marat jhuki jhuki parat
          jehi chitwat ek baar

          best translated in vernacular as :

          उनके नयन श्वेत, श्याम और लाल हैं और अमृत, विष और मदिरा से भरे हैं। वे जिसको भी एक बार देख लेते हैं, वह जीता (अमृत के कारण), मरता (विष के कारण) और झुक झुक के गिरता (मदिरा के कारण) है।

          Amiya = amrit
          Halaahal = poison
          Madhbhare = intoxicating

          With warm regards

          PARTHA CHANDA

  2. > to be fair, she’s besotted by his singing, not by his face, so the credit here goes to Mohammad Rafi, not Bharat Bhushan

    Madhu, how mean can you get? Such a meanie you are!

    (OK, love it. But don’t let that get to your head)

    > 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.

    Isn’t it obvious? Inter-religious marriages were controversial even back then. 1959, that is. Not 1555.

    • “Inter-religious marriages were controversial even back then. 1959, that is. Not 1555.

      I agree about that, but then why even show it? Because the intense love between Baaz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati – even if disguised as a shared love for music – is very much there. So what the film ends up suggesting is that this very good Hindu woman fell in love with a Muslim, and that their love was the be-all and end-all of their respective lives. And that she is still the good woman, not a fallen woman to be derided for falling prey to love jihad. :-)

      I am still puzzled.

  3. Dear Madhuji,

    As you would be knowing, most of what we know about RUPMATI and BAZID KHAN (aka Baz Bahadur) are from a Book (written in Persian) by one Ahmed-Ul-Umari in 1599. This was translated to English in 1926 by one LM Crump, titled “The Lady of the Lotus: Rupmati, Queen of Mandu: A Strange Tale of Faithfulness”. An extract from the Book reads as under :

    “Six months passed by and Shuja’at Khan took his way to the world of non-existence, and Bazid Khan became the jewel of the throne of Malwa. His first act was to summon Jadu Rai to his court at Mandu, which was the capital city of Malwa. To him he gave land and much gold : and Sarangpur, which he had himself got from his father, he bestowed upon him in Jagir, on condition that he should cause RoopMati to enter his harem. Her father himself gave his daughter in marriage to Bazid Khan, and this much is certain that she entered the harem, but as no marriage ceremony was performed, she was looked upon as a mistress and not as a legitimate wife.”

    In the Film, Baz Bahadur is shown as having died next to Rupmati. But as per the above book, Baz Bahadur, who ran away from Mandu after his defeat at the hands of Adham Khan in 1561, ended up serving under Akbar and died many years later, while he was on his way to visit the grave of Rupmati at Sarangpur, her birthplace. He was buried next to her and, to this day, the Mausoleum still stands, but fallen into disrepair and neglect, although ostensibly under the care of ASI

    With warm regards

    PARTHA CHANDA

    • Thank you, I hadn’t known about that!

      So it seems that the film makers had it right in this sense? That she wasn’t actually married to Baaz Bahadur but only one of his concubines? Then that makes me feel a lot of respect for the film maker who decided to make what would then be construed as a fairly ‘bold’ film.

      Thanks again for shedding light on this. You made me see this film from a whole new perspective.

  4. Another one of those Sangeet Pradhan films from the golden decades. I grew up listening to the songs on radio but never got around to watching it. Some day I might. I never loved Bharat Bhushan but never particularly disliked him either, so I don’t mind watching him. BB was often a kavi or gayak in his films, I guess such roles suited his rather brooding looks.
    Lovely review, I might tackle the movie on some day when I am in the mood for a bit of melodrama and music.

    • Thank you, Ava!

      I agree that Bharat Bhushan’s looks were suited to the brooding poet or singer – that type of role seemed to fit him very well (having said which I must point out that one of his earlier films, which was also Prem Chopra’s debut film, Mud-Mud ke Na Dekh, is an outright comedy, and Bharat Bhushan is among the funniest people in it. Maybe I should rewatch and review that one of these days!)

      Do watch this film if you can find the time. It’s not so very bad, actually – at least the music is superb.

  5. Hello,
    We had a small discussion on this film, in November 2017, when I visited Mandu and was impressed with the fort and story of Baaz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati. The guide there had told an interesting story about her and what I remember today is that, she had to suffer despite her true love for him. And had to sacrify in the end. Unfortunately I forgot the rest.
    So can’t add anything significant.
    I will always remember the movie for its wonderful and amazing songs by VyasJi and enchanting tunes by Tripathi.
    And yes,
    ud Ja bhanwar and Aaja bhanwar are most memorable as far as the the lyrics are concerned. But the rest are too good too.
    :-)

    • Someday I need to visit Mandu… I’ve been wanting to go there for many years now (mostly because my sister, more than 30 years ago, went there as part of a college trip through historical sites of MP). It’s never happened so far, but now I am even more eager to visit.

      Agree about Ud jaa bhanwar and its sequel being stellar as far as the lyrics go – but when it comes to music, I think it’s very difficult to pin down one song in the film as best. All are excellent.

  6. Your comment about seeing some lovely songs picturized on Bharath Bushan and Pradeep Kumar or other actors who loved to ‘underact’ was spot on. Their method of stoic acting allowed no movement of the torso or the head which didnt fit well with Mohd Rafi sometimes traversing 3 or more octaves in a single stanza. (Duniya ke Rakhwale).

  7. Hi,
    Great write-up as usual.
    A silly question popped up though- If Rupmati and Raja Baaz Bahadur did not marry- how is she titled Rani Rupmati?

    • Thanks! Glad you liked this. As for your question, I have no idea… in the film, at least, she’s referred to as Rani Rupmati even before she goes off to Baaz Bahadur. Perhaps the ‘Rani’ was more a name than a title? I have no idea at all. Hopefully someone else can help out here.

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