Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam 1962
Meena Kumar, Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman
iconic The film lovingly recreates a bygone era
Sometimes, a film transcends frontiers of cinematic excellence and knocks the door of perfection, when genius invokes magic and legend is created. Guru Dutt’s black-and-white opus, “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam”, released in 1962, falls in
a category of films that rewrite rules, against which work of future generations is measured.
Dutt, who after the commercial debacle of “Kagaz Ke Phool”, decided never to wield the director’s baton again, roped in friend Abrar Alvi for “Sahib…”. Although more than four decades have elapsed since the movie was released, controversy over whether it was ghost directed by Dutt, has often shorn credit due to Alvi.
Based on Bimal Mitra’s novel of the same name, the movie starts with the demolition of a dilapidated haveli overseen by a grey haired Atulya Chakraborty aka Bhootnath (Dutt).
As workers break for lunch, Bhootnath, now alone at the site, imagines the stirring of a poignant song “Koi Door Se Awaaz De Chale Aao” which leads him into a reverie, and the story unfolds in flashback. A young Bhootnath arrives at the imposing gates of the same, grand haveli in Kolkata from his village, to stay with his brother-in-law who works there.
The film is set in 19th Century Bengal, in the throes of a decadent feudal system of zamindars, anti-British protests and renaissance. Bhootnath gets employment at Mohini Sindoor factory, owned by Brahmo Samaj-practicing Nazir Hussain. Here, a relationship develops between Bhootnath and Jabba (Waheeda Rehman), daughter of the owner.
However, Bhootnath is inexorably drawn into the life of the haveli’s Chhoti bahu (Meena Kumari), who enters the story a good one hour after the movie starts, but thereon, smoulders on screen.
Totally devoted to her debauched husband, Chhote Sarkar (Rehman), it is the neglect inflicted at his hands that gnaws her soul.
Despite overtures she is repeatedly spurned by her husband. As word spreads about the efficacy of Mohini Sindoor to salvage failed relationships, Chhoti Bahu summons Bhootnath, who, on seeing her is dumbstruck.
Eventually, a platonic relationship develops between the two. Finally, in a bid to outdo courtesans who indulge Chhote Sarkar, she hits the bottle with vengeance, asking her ghulam, Bhootnath, to procure liquor.
The scene, where a dead drunk Rehman forces the bitter brew down Meena Kumari’s throat, signalling her inexorable slide into addiction and subjugation, is heart rending.
The verbal spats between the lovelorn wife and indifferent husband are dealt sensitively, specially, when in a drunken stupor, after the song “Na jawo” Meena Kumari laments the absence of a child in their life, even as an angry Chhote Sarkar leaves for his night of sin. Thereafter, the story takes a serious turn as Chhote Sarkar is paralysed after a brawl at a brothel, and the insolent zamindars suffer bankruptcy.
Meena Kumari, in a career defining role gives an awe-inspiring performance.Rehman, as the debauched zamindar, and Dutt as Bhootnath are reliable and convincing as ever. It says loads for the confidence of Waheeda Rehman, who, despite essaying a role not as powerful as Meena Kumari’s managed to hold her own.
The music scored by Hemant Kumar to lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni did full justice in carrying the plot forward, and capture the distinctive mood, nuances and ambience of different situations — including “Bhawra bada nadaan hai” and “Piya aiso jiya mein samaay gayo re”. Authentic costumes and haunting photography by legendary cameraman V.K. Murthy stand out.
Commercially successful, the film also garnered critical acclaim.
It won four Filmfare Awards — Best Actress for Meena Kumari, Best Cinematography, Best Film and Best Director — besides being nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin International film festival. It was also awarded the President’s silver medal, as well as the Film of the Year from the Bengal Film Journalists Association, besides being India’s official entry for the Oscars.
To be remembered for: Great acting, brilliant cinematography, lilting music and sensitive lyrics
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