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BLAST FROM THE PAST

Chitralekha (1964)

Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari, Pradeep Kumar



In high spirits (clockwise from top left) Pradeep Kumar in a still from the film, Sahir Ludhianvi and

The soul of “Chitralekha” is Bhagwati Charan Verma's story, heightened by the extraordinary poetry of Sahir Ludhianvi in the company of Roshan's heart-rending music. Verma's novel by the same name delineated the long standing dilemma between good and bad, moral and immoral in this world and was adapted for the screen by Kidar Sharma who believed in entertainment with a purpose. However, despite being an extremely gifted genius as a poet laureate, dialogue writer and director who had polished gems like Raj Kapoor, Madhubala, Geeta Bali, Motilal and Mala Sinha into lustrous stars, Kidar committed a colossal blunder in the film's casting whereby the film lost its sheen despite a fine story.

For those who think that physical aspects of a role do not matter much and great actors can portray any kind of characters, they must surely watch this film to understand how miscalculating the physical contours and requirements of a character can end up in horrendous miscasting, making the finest artistes look ludicrous on screen. Even though the three main stars Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari or Pradeep Kumar were fluent with their expressions, they weren't best suited for the characters they portrayed on screen since they were all quite past their prime.

Take for example Meena Kumari's role of the protagonist Chitralekha, nautch girl of the royal harem, who seduces kings to doom with her overpowering physical attraction.

Obviously, the role demanded a delicate looking actress with enormous sensuous and alluring charms, something that Meena Kumari sadly lacked in her later years. So while she was mesmerisingly perfect in her dialogue delivery and gestures, Meena's face and figure lacked the oomph and sizzle that was necessary to provide authenticity to her character.

Similarly, the elderly Ashok Kumar as a Yogi oscillating between lust and spirituality or the rugged Pradeep Kumar as a young, love smitten prince seemed completely ill defined and badly suited to the ‘weighty' characters they portrayed on screen. No wonder the film wilted at the box office without a trace.

The film is about the love story between Chitralekha (Meena Kumari) and Prince Beejgupt (Pradeep Kumar) and how she renounces the world when she realises how her love is hindering him from his administrative duties.

However, when she goes for spiritual enlightenment to Guru Yogiraj (Ashok Kumar), who had criticised her earlier for her indulgence in sensual pleasures, she is shocked to observe the learned Guru lusting after her physical charms.

Admonished by Chitralekha, the Yogi commits suicide while she settles in matrimony with Beejgupt since he has abandoned the throne in her favour.

Botched up script

Certainly, the book is infinitely superior and more satisfying than the film as it deals with various changes and psychological upheavals with greater sensitivity and understanding than the film.

Granted the book had a greater canvas but the film suffers enormously due to a botched up script and even meaningful dialogues by Kidar Sharma are of no help. Though Kidar's deft directorial touch is lacking, the film has some great sets and decor designed A.A. Majid, aided by sculptor Sham Sarang and moulder Y.B. Bhisle.

The only redeeming feature in the movie are two all time great songs by Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi respectively. Sahir's social and psychological depths are visible in both songs wherein while Lata questions spiritual hypocrisy in “Sansar Se Bhage Firte Ho”, Rafi expounds the futility of life and love in “Man Re Tu Kahe Na Dheer Dhare”.

So overpowering is the fusion of man, melody and mood in Rafi's outpouring that Roshan's last mentioned melody was recently declared the best film song ever in a Bollywood film song survey by a magazine. What a pity that Kidar and his co-makers couldn't lift up their game to the level decreed by the genius of Roshan and Sahir, rendering a Hindi language classic into a street level potboiler of little consequence.

DEEPAK MAHAAN

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