Noor Mahal (1965)

Or, Ten Reasons Why You Should Watch Jagdeep’s Funniest Film

First, though, a word by way of tribute. Jagdeep, who passed away last week (on July 8th), may not have scaled the heights other comedians, such as Johnny Walker or Mehmood, did, but he had a much longer innings than most. He seems to have debuted in Madhubala (1950) as a child artiste, and worked in close to 400 films, right up to 2017’s Masti Nahin Sasti.

And, interestingly enough, somewhere between his years as a child actor (in Footpath, Do Bigha Zameen, etc) and his heyday as a comedian, Jagdeep acted as leading man in several films… including Noor Mahal, of Mere mehboob na jaa, aaj ki raat na jaa fame.

But, before I go on to the ten reasons, a quick summary of what this film is about.

Veer Singh (Tiwari) is an ambitious general, younger brother to a maharaja. Said maharaja has got both his children, a boy and a baby girl, betrothed to the infants of his best friend, who is maharaja of another kingdom. Veer Singh is so miffed at the thought of losing any chance of sitting on the throne, he kills his brother and (presumably) sister-in-law (it’s not clear who: all this action happens in shadows).

One baby is rescued by someone (it’s not clear who). What happens to the other baby is also not clear.

But suddenly, while Veer Singh is unleashing all hell in the palace, a shadowy figure wearing a Noorjehan-like crown/hat/headgear/whatever appears and makes a prophecy: the Hunterwali will kill Veer Singh someday. Haha.

Veer Singh, furious at this Cassandra, hurls a dagger at him. It misses, but the Noorjehan-hatted man falls anyway, very obviously clutching the knife to his stomach.

Fast-forward to twenty years later. Veer Singh seems to have awakened a little late to the realization that he hasn’t taken any action against his dead brother’s friend. So he takes a group of baddies and attacks that maharaja. The man (?) is taken captive along with his daughter Radha (Lalita Desai? I’m not sure) and son Vijay (Jagdeep).

Fortunately for Vijay, he is rescued by a masked vigilante, Hunterwali (Chitra). Unfortunately, Hunterwali cannot save Daddy and Radha, but she manages pretty well to boss Vijay around in the well-appointed cave she takes him to. Over the rest of the film, when Hunterwali is not going around fighting Veer Singh’s gang with the help of her faithful steed, dog and snake (yes, snake. Is that a new one for you? It is for me), she’s bossing Vijay, mostly by bundling him into bed and telling him to sleep.

At night, Vijay is lured away out of the cave (it’s not clear how) to an old ruin called Noor Mahal. Here, a maalan (a female gardener-flower seller; also Chitra) giggles and lures Vijay forward, through a gate that creaks open and closed by itself. Once inside, she entices him forward, past cackling ghouls with disheveled hair…

… and just as Vijay is getting close enough to the maalan to do more than just admire her, the resident white-clad, singing-spooky-song, female ghost (also, if you hadn’t already guessed it, Chitra) puts in an appearance.

Meanwhile, Vijay’s sister Radha has fooled Veer Singh into thinking that she’s in love with him and wants to marries him, even though this causes much rancour with Daddy, who (naturally) thinks she’s off her head, and a traitor to boot.

Also, Radha has discovered that Veer Singh’s nephew is around too (how he survived Veer Singh’s killing of his family is unclear, and it’s also unclear why Veer Singh gives shelter to him). This man has fooled Veer Singh into thinking he’s a nitwit, so Radha, probably regarding him as part of the successfully-fooled-Veer Singh-fraternity, falls in love with him. And he with her.

Now for those ten reasons you should watch this film.

1. If you’re an animal lover, it doesn’t get better than this. The lead female is helped by a horse, a dog and a snake! The snake can even open locks on prison doors (no, I’m not joking). And, the bonus: the dog revives its unconscious mistress by bringing a kettle full of water from a lake. The way the water is shown, coming in a steady stream from out of the frame, however makes it very possible that the dog was trying to revive Hunterwali by peeing on her face.

2. Talking of Hunterwali: the feminist in you will rejoice. This is a woman who beats up any goon who comes her way, bosses her boyfriend (if you can call him that) around, and still finds time to masquerade as the maalan and the bhoot (if you hadn’t figured out that these are not three different women but just one, I feel for you: you have much cinema-watching to catch up on). Plus, she does a lot of her fighting in high heels. Wonder Woman, eat crow.

3. Noor Mahal proves you don’t really need a script to be able to make a film. If you have an idea, or multiple ideas—children betrothed in childhood and meeting as adults + masked vigilante with animal friends + ghostly being haunting a ruin + comic sidekicks with romances of their own—you can, given a budget, fit them all in together. Not a logical fit or a fit that makes any sense, but a fit nevertheless.

4. You learn how to make do on a budget. Your dagger-thrower missed? No matter if you can’t afford a retake. You can’t find a stuntwoman (or one of Chitra’s build)? No matter; you get a stuntman, and rig him up with a fake bosom to play the part in long shots. And anyway, as is obvious from point #3 above, you don’t need a scriptwriter at all. Huge saving.

5. You learn crisis management. Let’s say you have this date lined up for the filming of a song (Nainon mein kajra masha-allah, if you want to know). Only two people will appear in it: Chitra and Jagdeep. But Jagdeep cannot make it, and there’s no way you can shift the date. So you film the song, with an odd leg, back, or otherwise unidentifiable body part of a male extra standing in for Jagdeep in some shots. To reinforce the illusion that Jagdeep is actually there, you add in the same stock reaction shot. Again and again. And the song is done and dusted.

6. You learn to be forgiving and broad-minded. So what if your scriptwriter can’t figure out a logical way to get your heroine (or hero, at various points in the story) free of the bonds the baddies have put on them. So what if your extras can’t act for nuts and, while pretending to be guards, pace about stony-faced and seemingly blind to the dog nibbling at the captive’s bonds, or the snake picking the lock, or the accomplice freeing the captive? You let it all pass. It’s all good, it doesn’t matter. Zen.

7. You learn to enjoy the little things in life. Like indulging in all your favourite tropes while making a film. You like the idea of a female donning several disguises for absolutely no reason, you go ahead and do it. You aren’t bothered by questions like “Why does Hunterwali dress up like a bhoot and sing sad songs? Why does she also dress up as a maalan, only to switch to being a bhoot? What is the logic, whom is she trying to fool, and why?” Such questions are meant to be brushed aside; the idea is to have fun, to enjoy yourself.

8. You understand the true essence of escapism. Indian cinema has long been equated with escapism. Too many films, though, in trying to stitch up all the plot holes and find logical solutions for problems, end up running circles around themselves. Noor Mahal shines bright as an example of escapism at its best: not bothering to let itself be fettered by considerations of logic and sense. If a willing suspension of disbelief is an essential part of escapism, this is the film that requires it the most.

9. You see the sad reality that is the film industry. On a less frivolous note, Noor Mahal shows just how difficult it is for people to find sustained work in the film industry. Jagdeep, Tiwari, and Sunder were all pretty well-established actors, having worked in some truly stellar films, including award-winning ones. But their very presence in Noor Mahal shows just what this dog-eat-dog industry can do to those who work in it. They are obliged to set aside other considerations just in order to earn enough to keep body and soul together. (That, sadly, is a learning also from the last Hindi film I reviewed, Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya).

And,

10. You might be able to figure out what is really happening. Yes, this is my basic and most selfish reason for encouraging you to watch Noor Mahal. Perhaps, the more of us there are out there who see this film, the more clarity we’ll have on what really is happening in it. Why Hunterwali also dresses up as maalan and bhoot, who saved Radha’s beau and why is he pretending to be a halfwit, why Radha pretends to love Veer Singh, how Vijay chances upon Noor Mahal in the first place, etc etc.

Happy watching!

Or not, as the case may be.

(By the way, Noor Mahal did do one more thing for me: it introduced me to Jani Babu Qawwal, who composed the music for this film. I hadn’t known that. Though the music was composed by him, it was arranged by Sonik-Omi).

32 thoughts on “Noor Mahal (1965)

  1. Things that can happen if you watch a crappy movie:

    1) You go nuts permanently leaving your readers sad and devastated
    2) You take it on your chin and move on to the next movie
    2.a) In an act of humanity, warn readers OR
    2.b) Take forward revenge by misleading readers into watching the movie
    3) If the next movie is also crappy, Go to Step 1 OR go to step 4
    4) Develop your funny bone, take ample dose of laughing gas and come out with an entirely creative review of an utterly hopeless movie

    Madhuji, I am glad you landed on step 4 above instead of looping back to step 1.
    Gratitude to you for saving all of us. In these difficult pandemic times, the only homage we can offer to Jagdeep-ji is to watch Sholay again.

    PS – I hope you have thrown away the DVD of the movie / Deleted the movie / Blocked the youtube link on your browser

    • Very well said Ravi ji… what a fun review..
      DO , you are making me watch all crappy movies (like Dil ne Phir Yaad Kiya) and now this NoorMahal out of a morbid fascination !
      So not done !!

      :) :)

      • Hehe. :-D So you’re going to be watching this one, too? It’s actually at least unintentionally funny – not like Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya, which was just plain old painful. :-D

        • Yes ! will watch this .. And I toh found Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya very funny also.
          And it gets better . After DNPYK my youtube threw up Dulhan Ek Raat Ki…and I watched that with much disbelief , shock and (perhaps a little unkindly) mirth !
          What a disaster that was… in a contextual sense! Misogynist and miserable both !

    • That’s a very creative comment! Thank you. :-)

      What with everything being on Youtube these days, that was where I watched this film. But I am certainly not going back to it.

  2. I notice this review does not contain your usual ‘What I liked’/’What I didn’t like’ segment. Wonder why. It would have been interesting to learn what you didn’t like about this movie.

  3. Frankly I never had much time for Jagdeep.
    He’s dead and gone and it’s bad form to criticize him. I know. But so is fake adulation.
    Soorma Bhopali did him no good. Every succeeding character sounded the same.
    Having said that may his soul rest in peace.

    • I am not criticizing him.

      I don’t think I watched any of his films from after his Soorma Bhopali role, so at least my memories of Jagdeep are not coloured by that – I thought he was fun as Soorma Bhopali, though yes, there are not too many movies where I can say I really loved his acting. Or noticed him, for that matter.

  4. To be honest, Jagdeep was not a favourite. And his brand of comedy usually irritated me rather than tickled my funny bone. He was the worst part of even Sholay and that’s a film I love.

    But he did have a long career in movies, and when he wasn’t being annoyingly ‘comic’, was quite a good actor. Another reason to mourn an industry which slots you into a bracket and God forbid you ever come out of it.

    I agree with Ravi. Your review, I wager, made me laugh more (to the detriment of my keyboard) than the film ever will. But if I ever want to lose three hours of my life at some point, I will look this up.

    Having said that, I also agree with JP Murty – the man’s dead. May he rest in peace.

    • Yes, may he rest in peace. (And, by the way, my review does not deride Jagdeep. Just this awful film. It’s not as if he made it).

      And yes, he could be a pretty good actor when called upon to be one. Starting from when he was quite young.

  5. P.S – according to Jagdeep himself, BR Chopra’s Afsana was his first film. He was selling chai when he heard they would pay him Rs3 to be a part of the crowd. But when the kid who had a dialogue couldn’t speak in Urdu, Jagdeep jumped at the chance – and got paid Rs6.

  6. OMG!
    How can people make such films? But your post also answers it.
    But otherwise,
    Main Hans Hans Ke Pagal Ho Gaya
    More so after I dared to watch the song, Nainon mein Kajra. I haven’t seen a more horrible song.
    But,
    I love the song, Mere Mehboob Na Ja. It is sung really well. It brings back the memories of Rangoli and other similar programs, where it was played very often.

    :-)

  7. Madhu,
    Your “Ten reasons” inspire me to watch the film, but can’t promise when. Are you saying that it is number one in crappy department? That makes it 11 reasons why one should watch the film.
    AK

    • “Are you saying that it is number one in crappy department?

      I do not feel qualified to make that assessment, and given that there are several films – mostly of Dara Singh’s, though there are others too that I can think of – which I haven’t been able to summon up the courage to watch yet – I don’t think I will be able to pass judgement on that. :-) But yes, this one should certainly go in the list of dreadful films.

      • You’re so such a diabolical, chaalo person. I was completely bamboozled by the review and it took me a very, very long time to understand the true essence of the post. I think I was on point 3 or 4 when it hit me where you were going with this review. Gosh, I guffawed through those ten reasons. I have a strange, strange itch to watch this movie now. But I only truly enjoy truly bad hindi movies when I’m with someone who laughs at the same things that I laugh at. For instance, I watched the truly horrific ‘Bullet’ ( in the terrible era of Dev Anand hysterics combined with his awful wigs- shudder), and I have never laughed at a movie so much like I did then because of a friend who was over. I had fallen off the bed, I kid you not, when we watched Bullet.

        • LOL! I know what you mean. I have a friend who’s like that too: capable of passing the funniest comments on just about everything, even scenes that otherwise aren’t funny. Watching a film with her is guaranteed to turn the film into a comedy, whether or not it actually is. And a film like this – I would probably fall off the bed too if I was watching it with her. :-)

  8. (And, by the way, my review does not deride Jagdeep. Just this awful film. It’s not as if he made it).

    I didn’t think you did? I was talking about my general idea of Jagdeep and thinking it’s bad form to criticise someone you [general ‘you’] merely do not like very much after he’s dead. And honestly, that’s how I read JP Murty’s comment too (that he was talking about himself), which is why I said I agreed with him.

    Never known you to make talk derisively of anyone, actually.

  9. I loved loved loved loved your reasons
    Nine out of ten reasons are good enough for me to try to watch this movie. You know which one is not , don’t you!
    In this trying time of Covid19, Zen is what we need!!
    Jagdeep was not my go to comedian either. I kind of liked him in Aar Paar or Mr & Mrs 55 ( or was he in both ?)

    • Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed this. :-) And yes, Zen is what we need in these times. I think, in that way, this film fits the bill. It’s so funny in a completely unintentional way, that one can’t help but laugh.

      I don’t remember Jagdeep in Aar-Paar, and I have only a vague recollection of him in passing in Mr & Mrs 55. But I do remember him in Do Bigha Zameen.

  10. Hi Madhuji,
    Thank you for this outrageously funny review of this wreck of a movie. You know what is my dearest wish when I watch this type of garbage? It is that a courageous film journalist has the chance to interview the director and the lead actors and dissects the movie thoroughly. Wonder what they could possibly say in defence.

    Regarding the hero’s acting skills, I agree that his comic skills are questionable. Poor Javed Jaffrey is a zillion times more talented and yet his skills are not utilised sensibly by Bollywood.

    • “It is that a courageous film journalist has the chance to interview the director and the lead actors and dissects the movie thoroughly.

      True! And with a film as old as this one, I keep wondering what someone like the acerbic Baburao Patel would have had to say. He used to tear even pretty good films to pieces, he’d have cheerfully gobbled this one up and not even spat out the bits. :-)

      My personal opinion is that Jagdeep got slotted too quickly: his comedian roles were too stereotypical, and so he got predictable. In the occasional non-comic role, he’s not a bad actor. Perhaps if film makers had offered him a greater variety of roles, it would have done his career a lot of good.

  11. Mere Mehboob Na Ja “ was a beautiful solo song rendered with so much soul and depth by Suman Kalyanpur and remains one of her best songs but the filming of it was terrible . What a shame this beautiful song was wasted in this senseless C grade movie .

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