Sharaarat (1959)

It might surprise some of you to know just how many films I watch. No, not new ones, but old films, in the hope that I will find something worth reviewing for this blog. Perhaps one in five of those films gets reviewed, and that because either it’s worth recommending, or conversely, it’s worth warning people off. 

A lot of the Hindi films I watch, I watch because of the music. Occasionally (Duniya Jhukti Hai, Bank Manager, Chandni Chauk) there’s just one song that has prompted my viewing of the film, and the film itself turns out to be so ho-hum that I decide there’s not much point reviewing it. I assume, you see, that most people (unlike me) are sensible enough to not waste a couple of hours watching a film just because it has one good song. 

Sometimes, though, a film has a bunch of good songs, and a cast I have great hopes of. Then, even if it ends up being a bit of a dud, I feel obliged to review the film. Because I want to tell you: steer clear; despite the cast and despite the songs, this is really not worth your while. 

Also, in the case of Sharaarat, there was the fact that this film starred Meena Kumari. And, as I’ve seen from films like Miss Mary, Tamasha, Kohinoor, Azaad, etc, Meena Kumari was very good at comedy. Here, she was paired with Kishore Kumar. I settled down, hoping for some fun. Sharaarat, after all: that sounded promising. 

Within the first fifteen minutes, I’d begun to tire of the unrelenting slapstick this film was. 

Chandan (Kishore Kumar) is an inveterate prankster. He lives to joke about, pull pranks on people, and generally drive them up the wall. He and his friends try to pass it all off as part of being young, but Chandan gets on the nerves of just about everybody else. 

Including his fiancée Shabnam (Meena Kumari), who keeps telling Chandan to get lost. But, as Shabnam confides to her sister Bimla ‘Billi’ (?), Shabnam actually really does love Chandan. This does not make me think highly of Shabnam’s intellect or her taste in men. Why and how Shabnam and Chandan ever got engaged is left to our imagination… 

… but it’s obvious that Shabnam’s father is having second thoughts. He tells the pandit (who was the go-between for the match), and the pandit tells Chandan’s mother. Chandan had better stop the buffoonery before his prospective father-in-law gives him the boot. 

Chandan’s mother warns him, but Chandan isn’t inclined to listen. He’s already played a prank on Shabnam’s father, disguising himself as an old employee at the post office and sending Daddy off on a wild goose chase so that Chandan can spend some time with Shabnam… 

And he disguises himself as a widow, come to Shabnam’s home (with a bunch of his disreputable friends, all similarly disguised) to beg for some funds for a widows’ home. 

The long and short of this is that Shabnam’s father decides enough is enough. He finds a much more eligible bridegroom for Shabnam, a man more worthy than this lunatic, and uses emotional blackmail (holding a pistol to his own head) to bully Shabnam into agreeing to the match. 

Shabnam, thus bulldozed into marrying another man, writes a sad letter to Chandan, and delivers it herself, weeping all the while, and leaving Chandan pretty weepy too. After that, Shabnam goes off to her vivaah mandap and marries Suraj (Raj Kumar). Chandan, meanwhile, writes a suicide note and proceeds to kill himself. 

And, Shabnam’s friends and family are so utterly brainless, they have no qualms about gossiping about Chandan’s suicide while the wedding ceremony is in progress. Worse, nobody thinks of hiding the truth from Shabnam (knowing full well that Shabnam was till recently engaged to Chandan). Shabnam hears the news of Chandan’s death and faints right there in the mandap. 

The next morning (Shabnam, thanks to the faint, has been spared the necessity of a suhaag raat), Shabnam’s doli is going through the streets to Suraj’s house. With much band-baaja and loud music, the little procession is moving along when it crosses paths with the funeral procession carrying Chandan’s corpse. Very symbolic and very macabre. 

Anyhow, Chandan’s dead and gone, and Shabnam is now in her husband’s home. She is taken into her bedroom by Suraj’s aunt (Indira Bansal), made to sit on a suitably flower-strewn bed, and gently told to wait for Suraj. 

But the person who comes along shortly after, frightening Shabnam out of her wits (and into yet another swoon) is… 

What next? 

No, don’t get your hopes up. This isn’t another Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan. 

What I liked about this film: 

The music. Shankar-Jaikishan scored the music for Sharaarat, to lyrics by long-standing collaborators Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra. All the songs are hummable, but a few stand out: Hum matwaale naujawaan manzilon ke ujaale, Tera teer o be peer, and Ajab hai daastaan teri ae zindagi (one of the several songs for which Kishore Kumar lip-synced to another playback singer’s voice; in this case, Mohammad Rafi). 

And that, sadly, is it. 

What I didn’t like: 

Much of the rest of Sharaarat. But, to start with: the story, which has a very odd balance between the two halves of the film. The first half, up to the point Shabnam’s father insists she marries Suraj, is almost painfully slapstick, with Chandan switching from one bad disguise to another, pulling a series of stupid pranks on people (primarily Shabnam), and just generally being a pain in the neck. The second half of the film, barring a few songs and romantic sequences (including some lacklustre ‘comedy’ featuring Kumkum and Rajendranath along with Kishore), is very different in tone: it’s ‘serious’, to the point of being over-the- top melodramatic and weepy in the last fifteen minutes or so. By the end of the film, I couldn’t believe this was the same film I’d started watching about two hours earlier. 

With a story like that, the otherwise fairly dependable cast isn’t at its best either. Meena Kumari quickly goes from light-hearted (if somewhat dim-witted, given her easy acceptance of Chandan’s idiocy) to weepy. Kishore Kumar is slightly bearable in the second half of the film, but only slightly. And Raj Kumar, never one of my favourites in the first place, gets cast as a really nasty character—nasty in the sense of being that regressively patriarchal, oppressive sort who thinks his izzat is dependent on what other people think. Ugh. 

Anyway. If you love the songs (I do), watch them on Youtube. Give the film a miss.

11 thoughts on “Sharaarat (1959)

  1. Wow, this sounds soo bad… that I want to watch it :-P…. But then I am sure your review is better than the film!
    This is one pairing I have never been able to appreciate – even though they have acted in some 4/5 movies and Meena Kumari was good at funny roles.
    Thanks, Madhu for the review :-)


    • I’ve watched Meena Kumari and Kishore in two other films, as far as I can remember – Naya Andaz (which wasn’t great, but wasn’t terrible either) and Tamasha (excellent, though she was paired with Dev Anand rather than Kishore). Somehow most of Kishore’s comedies don’t appeal to me – they’re too slapstick. This one has the added irritation of being really regressive in the last half-hour or so too. :-(

      So yes, do not watch, Harini, no matter how much it seems like “bad enough to be good”.


  2. Many of Kishore Kumar’s films are indeed like this one. Think of “Half Ticket” or “Mr X in Bombay”. This combo with Meena Kumari does sound enticing though. Never knew that she was good at comedy.


  3. Madhu!!! I am so curious, yaar. Yeh kya mamala hai? Yeh Chandan hai ki kaun? Please do tell! I am dying of curiosity here! My fingers are itching to wikipedia but I would rather hear it from you!
    KK did do quite a number of movies where he played a prankster, did slapstick and made a general fool of himself. Of these, the one that I love the most (I am not even embarrassed to say this, ok!) is Half Ticket. I am not sure what about that movie made it click for me. Maybe it was the stellar performance by Pran as the suave villain, who was not overshadowed by KK’s performance or character one bit. Or Shammi or Monarama in very silly, but fun roles. Or the general prettiness of Madhubala and her giggles. Or the songs. But yes, after that movie I realised I had reached my more than enough quota of KK in such roles. I prefer his subdued character based humour in movies like Padosan.


    • Yes, Pran was fabulous in Half Ticket and the songs were superb (I especially love Aake seedhi lagi – Kishore is such a hoot!), but I think for the rest of it we need to agree to disagree on this one. ;-)

      As to Chandan in this film:

      Spoiler ahead:

      The man is actually Suraj’s younger brother, who’s unexpectedly turned up. He and Shabnam soon develop a very close relationship – very pure, naturally, and very ma-beta (If you listen carefully to the lyrics of Ajab hai daastaan, you can tell). But someone evil decides to break up the happy household and starts a rumour that Shabnam is having an affair with her devar and that, when she has a baby, it’s his. Suraj flies into such a rage that he almost kills both his brother and his wife – in fact, Shabnam is teetering so much on the brink of death that only the crying of her baby pulls her back.

      End of spoiler:

      It’s an awful movie. That last half-hour is sheer torture. :-(


      • Hain? Suraj is alive? What weirdness! How people think of such contrived plots I don’t know. So I also work with young kids (aged 4 to 6 years) and sometimes we do these story narrations. Young kids, as you may know, have not quite mastered the knack of how a story must progress. The main character in their story is always falling into trouble, one after the other, sometimes even before the earlier one has been resolved. So the end never comes and then when they get bored, they say, “and then she went home, ate jeera rice and slept off”. Maybe, just maybe some of these movies were actually written by kids? Actually no, kids have better imagination. I take that back!
        Ok we will agree to disagree about KK and Half Ticket type movies!


        • No, no – Suraj is the husband (played by Raj Kumar) whom she is forced to marry. Chandan was the fiance who killed himself after she told him that she was going to marry another man.

          I love your description of little children’s storytelling skills! :-)


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