I came across this film while I was doing research for my post on Khayyam (who composed two songs for Pyaar ki Baatein) and I was immediately intrigued. Because this film starred somebody whose career I’ve always been a bit baffled by. Trilok Kapoor, younger brother of the stalwart Prithviraj Kapoor, and uncle of three immensely popular leading men—Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor—had the looks and the talent to make it big (not to mention the family connections, so important in the Hindi film industry), but why did his career veer away into the realms of mythologicals? Why did a man who starred opposite famous actresses like Noorjehan and Nargis (in Mirza Sahiban and Pyaar ki Baatein respectively) end up playing Shiv (or other mythological characters) in one film after another?
I still don’t know, and watching Pyaar ki Baatein only befuddled me further on this count. Because it’s exactly the sort of film, I think, that should have led Trilok Kapoor to star in more of the raja-rani type of films that so many (in my opinion, less attractive) actors, like P Jairaj and Mahipal, made their own.
But, to begin at the beginning. Pyaar ki Baatein is told as a story being narrated by an old storyteller to a group of eager listeners. He tells them the story of Badar, the prince of Halab (Aleppo, in Syria), who proposed to Princess Nadira of a neighbouring country, and was most rudely rejected, so that he vowed to make her his servant.
The film itself sets out to explain how this happened, and what transpired.
Badar (Trilok Kapoor) is, as mentioned, the prince of Halab. A rakish prince, too, who seems to spend much of his time riding about with a friend. Now and then they stop to rescue a damsel in distress, and when the said damsel wishes to thank Badar and become his ‘qaneez’ (maidservant), he happily obliges. In fact, Badar has built up quite a collection of such qaneezes at home. In his palace, they dance and prance about coquettishly…
… much to the annoyance of Badar’s father, the Baadshah. He doesn’t approve of this, and doesn’t approve of the fact that Badar seems to show no inclination to even learn the ropes when it comes to governance. Matters come to a head and Daddy suggests a way Badar can start helping out: by getting married.
Before you think Daddy is following the marriage-as-a-panacea-for-all-ills theory to absurd lengths, an explanation. The fact is that a big, bullying country in the vicinity, named Nakhlistan (which I have discovered means ‘oasis’), may try to gobble up Halab. If the King of Nakhlistan tries any such moves on Halab, it would help Halab to have an ally alongside. The bride Daddy is suggesting is Princess Nadira, the daughter of a potential ally. It’ll be a good match, a classic political alliance.
Badar readily agrees.
Not so Princess Nadira (Nargis), who, though she has never met Badar, has heard enough about him to know that he’s a complete debauch.
Also, Nadira’s stepmother is keen that Nadira marry Bakht-Baland (a very young Rashid Khan), who is prince of Nakhlistan, and Step-Mommy’s cousin. Nadira’s father is an ineffectual ruler and a henpecked husband, who doesn’t have the guts to stand up to his wife, so he goes along with her suggestion that Bakht-Baland be sent for. It will give the young couple a chance to get to know each other.
Thus, when Badar’s father’s emissary arrives, bearing a proposal of marriage between Badar and Nadira, Nadira’s stepmother (and Nadira’s father, following his wife’s lead) turn down the proposal and tell him to get lost. To add insult to injury, Nadira too sends a maid out to hand over a doll to the emissary, for him to give to Badar with a message: marry this and add it to your collection of dolls. Because Nadira refuses to be one of that collection.
This message, naturally, when delivered to Badar, leaves him furious (even more so since his very annoyed father rails at Badar for being such a debauch). Badar vows to Daddy there and then that he’s going to set off for Nadira’s home. He will return only when he’s got Nadira along—as a qaneez.
Badar goes off towards the realm of Amir Kamaal, Nadira’s father. En route, he stops for the night at a qehwa khana (I could be mistaken, but I always thought qehwa khanas were more like coffee shops/restaurants rather than inns, but maybe this was also a term used for what we usually call sarais). At any rate, Badar checks in, incognito. He tells the owner of the qehwa khana that his name is Jalal, and gives some garbled address that reminds me of the Roopnagar prem gali kholi number 420 stuff. The address of a Romeo. The owner, not a man with a sense of humour, is unimpressed.
Meanwhile, other stuff has been happening. Nadira, having turned down Badar’s proposal sight unseen, has now been presented with Bakht-Baland, who has arrived with a friend/servitor/general dogsbody named Naamdaar (Maruti) in tow.
The wimpy, weak Bakht Baland is immediately smitten and confides in Naamdaar: oh, one look of love from Nadira, and he will be able to recover only with the help of elaichi (cardamom) and murabba (preserves).
Unfortunately for Bakht-Baland, this love is completely one-sided. Nadira takes one look at her prospective bridegroom and flatly refuses to have anything to do with him. Her stepmother, Bakht-Baland’s cousin, is equally adamant that Nadira will marry him and no other. Nadira’s father, Amir Kamaal, is caught between daughter and wife, and—spineless, shiftless fence-sitter that he is, takes the easy way out: do nothing.
So someone decides to do something. Saqi (Pran) is the Sipahsalar, or Commander-in-Chief, of Amir Kamaal, and he’s had his eye on Nadira (and, obviously, on the throne) all this while. Saqi decides that now is his chance to make an attempt at both. He ropes in Dil-Aaraam (?), one of Nadira’s ladies in waiting.
Dil-Aaraam goes to Nadira, who’s been moping about, adamant on not marrying Bakht Baland and pretty much at the end of her tether. You have a well-wisher, Dil-Aaraam assures Nadira: Saqi. Run away from the palace for a few days, and that will serve to get the message across loud and clear. When the furore has died down, when Bakht-Baland has gone back home, you too can return. Saqi will assist in this venture. All Nadira has to do is meet him at night at the palace’s ‘chor darwaaza’—the ‘thieves’ doorway’: a hidden back door.
So Nadira runs off with Saqi. At no point does she look on him as a potential lover; to her, the princess, this man is nothing more than a sympathetic confidant, a loyal servant. Saqi takes Nadira to a qehwa khana, getting rooms for both of them, under (naturally, considering the circumstances) assumed names.
And it should come as no surprise that this qehwa khana is the very same in which Badar, posing as Jalal, is staying. Not surprisingly, very soon, Badar/Jalal crosses paths with Nadira. Since both of them are using assumed names, they don’t realize, of course, who the other person is.
Badar, already bowled over by this beauty, decides to stay on at the qehwa khana, and picks on the easiest way to do this—by badgering the owner into taking him on as a servant. He can therefore wait on Nadira hand and foot…
… which, if Badar only knew it, is the exact opposite of that fervent vow he’d taken.
What I liked about this film:
Trilok Kapoor and Nargis as Badar and Nadira, who’re not just a good-looking couple, but also dashing characters. He may be rakish, but he’s not the slimy sort, and when he’s being the protective champion of the damsel in distress, Badar can be pretty competent. Nadira, too, isn’t one of those wimpy females who sit around and mope because they’re being bullied into marrying men they don’t like. She has a fair bit of spunk, even though at times she seems ridiculously gullible.
The music, by Bulo C Rani and Khayyam (with lyrics by ML Khanna, the father of Usha Khanna). Bulo C Rani had been taken on to compose the music of this film, but fell ill during the process, and asked Khayyam to complete the job, so Khayyam composed two songs for the film, including Lata’s first song for Khayyam, Ab kahaan jaayein. Mast chaandni jhoom rahi hai, Yeh nazar taakti hai nishaana, and Chalo wahaan chale jahaan are among the other songs that I especially liked.
The ‘dream sequence’-like dance segment. This is part of a magician’s performance, and stretches several minutes, with some very interesting dances and sets and characters. No song, no dialogue—but very striking.
And, finally, the basic story. I have a weakness for raja-rani stories, and this one had the potential to be among the best. A prince, spurned by a princess he has never even met, sets out to avenge himself by humiliating her—and ends up falling for her. She, equally unaware that he is the very man she spurned, falls for him. Throw in an unwanted (and pretty comical) groom, an evil and lecherous villain, an ineffectual father and a nasty stepmother, and there’s plenty of scope here for a good mix of romance and swashbuckling.
What I didn’t like:
The lack of attention to the romance. This could have been such a whopper of a romance! Two people, unaware that the other is the one they detest, fall in love. There could have been fireworks here (especially as Nadira is not the utterly spineless type), there could have been the building up of an amazing romance, à la Lala Rukh: but no. What we get is Nadira thinking Jalal is a servant, and being grateful to him for helping her—and then, thud. Nothing convincing. Nothing except a couple of duets—one happy, one sad, neither an outright expression of love. No deep conversations, no extended falling in love.
So disappointing. Even if they’d tagged on a further ten minutes after the climactic scene in Amir Kamaal’s throne, showing what happened after that—I would have been happy.
Still. An entertaining film, and one worth a watch if you like raja-rani stories.