When I watched the 1949 Nishaan last week on Youtube, the topmost recommendation in the side panel was what was billed as another copy of the same film. Just for the heck of it, I clicked on the link, and arrived at a completely different film: Nishaan, yes; but a Nishaan made 16 years after the 1949 one, and a Nishaan too which is important for one major reason: it marks Sanjeev Kumar’s debut in a lead role (and that too a double role).
Sanjeev Kumar had already played small parts in two films—Hum Hindustani and Aao Pyaar Karein, but this film, with ‘Introducing Sanjeev Kumar’, was his first big role(s). He didn’t soar to success immediately, and most of his films over the next couple of years were fairly forgettable (as Nishaan is, to some extent). But despite the general unimpressiveness of this film, what stands out is the very natural acting of its leading man.
The Three Musketeers meets Hamlet meets Azaad meets general swashbuckling mayhem.
I will admit I watched this film mainly for two reasons: for Sanjeev Kumar, who is deliciously handsome in his early roles; and for the song Nain bedaardi chhalia ke sang lad gaye, which is total eye candy. [I am shallow, that way].
But then, ten minutes into the film, I sat up and began getting my hopes up. Because this was taking the route of one of those classic novels that I’ve always wished Hindi cinema had adapted for the screen: Dumas’s The Three Musketeers.
Give me a period film, and I’m willing to give it a shot. If it happens to be set in Mughal India, so much the better. If the cast features people like Meena Kumari, Pradeep Kumar, Rehman, Veena, Lalita Pawar and Nighar Sultana: well, there’s hope that the acting will be passable. And when I realize that the music composer is Roshan: then I’m certainly on for it.
Noorjehan, of course (though Richard would probably question that ‘of course’) is about the noblewoman who married the fourth of the Great Mughals, Jahangir. Born in May 1577 and named Mehrunissa, she was the daughter of a man who rose to great prominence in the Mughal court: Itmad-ud-Daulah (‘Pillar of the State’) was the title given to him, and the marriage of Mehrunissa to Jahangir made of Mehrunissa a powerful woman, too. Initially given the title Noormahal (‘Light of the Palace’) by her doting husband, she was subsequently given the title of Noorjehan (‘Light of the World’) and went on to become probably the most influential of imperial consorts in the Mughal dynasty, a wealthy woman in her own right, as well as a woman who exercised a good deal of power from beyond the purdah.
Of the many things that fascinate me about old Hindi cinema, this is one: the making of films set in a time and space wholly alien to India of the mid-1900’s. The 1950’s, especially, seem to favour these sort of films, set in exotic locales and needing costumes, makeup, and sets that were vastly different from what one saw in the more usual Bollywood drama, thriller or even mythological. There was Yahudi (with Dilip Kumar looking far from Roman in a light-haired wig and ankle-length gown); Aurat(based on the story of Samson and Delilah)—and this one, about the Mongol warrior king, Changez (better known to the West as Genghis) Khan.