BLAST FROM THE PAST
Bahu Begum (1967)
Starring Meena Kumari, Pradeep Kumar, Ashok Kumar
Moving performance Meena Kumari in a still from the film.
“Bahu Begum” would not rank among the best of Meena Kumari films. She was 35, not at the peak of her career, and certainly not aspiring for recognition. She had four Filmfare awards to her credit by then, but this movie did not really do justice to her colossal reputation.
Meena Kumari had to share the screen with stalwarts like Ashok Kumar and Pradeep Kumar even though the script revolved around her character. Her emotional attachment to a young nawab (Pradeep Kumar) predictably reaches its desired destination but not before an older nawab (Ashok Kumar) makes a supreme sacrifice.
“Bahu Begum” could certainly boast of good acting and music. Roshan comes up with some soul-stirring numbers. The dialogues are not as ornate as one would expect in an Urdu-influenced script but the Muslim ambience has been captured aesthetically. The film opens to a song, with petite girls on a swing, with Zeenat Jahan (Meena Kumari) as the cynosure, and progresses at a steady pace in keeping with the trend in the ‘60s. Meena Kumari walks into the role comfortably. In a most dignified portrayal of a woman troubled by circumstances, she leaves a mark on the audience.
Her acting is controlled, intense at times, graceful when dealing with grave situations. M. Sadiq, who directed classics like “Noorjehan”, “Taj Mahal” and “Chaudhvin Ka Chand”, manages to keep the viewer engaged in what was to be his last movie.
Music remains the strong point of this movie with Roshan and Sahir weaving magic in numbers like “Hum Intezaar Karenge Tera Qayamat Tak”, sung movingly by Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhonsle, not to forget “Duniya Kare Sawal To Hum” by Lata Mangeshkar. Two dance numbers by Helen, however, are jarring in the film’s context. Nawab Yusuf (Pradeep Kumar) takes a liking to Zeenat and loses little time in proposing and efforts get underway for their wedding. Acchhan (Johnny Walker) is the messenger for Nawab Yusuf, who, unfortunately, is oblivious of the evil designs of one his uncles. The cunning uncle draws a devious plot which sets up Zeenat’s wedding with Nawab Sikandar Mirza (Ashok Kumar). On the day of nikaah, she discovers the truth and makes a desperate attempt to meet Nawab Yusuf, who happens to be away, dispatched out of town by his uncle. Zeenat seeks solace at a dargah, where she collapses. Back home, her nikaah is performed in her absence and in bizarre circumstances when one of her friends sighs, the qazi takes it as acceptance. Nawab Sikandar Mirza is shattered when he receives an empty palanquin in his house. The secret is shared by the nawab with his sister (Naaz). Elsewhere, Zeenat lands at a courtesan’s place but is protected by the kind-hearted Nazeeran Bai (Lalita Pawar). In the most memorable moment of the film, Lalita Pawar gives a sterling performance in the scene when she banishes a wild client who eyes Zeenat. Such moments of powerful acting, however, are rare in this movie.
Circumstances lead Zeenat back to Sikandar Mirza and the two unite when the latter, on knowing the truth, burns his haveli and perishes in the fire. People come to believe that Zeenat, the Bahu Begum, also is dead. The movie ends with Zeenat and Nawab Yusuf leaving in a tonga. Pradeep Kumar and Ashok Kumar, who incidentally never come face to face in this movie, play characters that remain second fiddle to the protagonist. Johnny Walker is outstanding, so is Lalita Pawar in a cameo.
Not the best of films given the fabulous star cast, but compelling still.
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