As a school boy I didn’t get to see a lot of films, and so a class trip to the cinema was a deal to look forward to. Mrs Kapadia’s Hindi class was abuzz with the talk of film called Pakeezah. I wished I could join the conversation but I knew very little of Hindi movies at that stage. I had not seen one in its entirety or in a cinema hall. The way Nadeem and Prem and Mrs Kapadia talked about the movie was so intoxicating I was desperate to see it. At last, after a few weeks Mrs Kapadia suggested that when the film came to Mussoorie we’d all go and see it, as a way to improve our Hindi.
When the day came it was wet and rainy. But that didn’t bother me. I was off to Rialto, and it was a week day. I was so excited and can still feel the expectation of the unknown that awaited us on the screen.
Three hours later we emerged from the movie house, and while I don’t know what my fellow Hindi classmates felt, my mind was swirling with the amazing scenes I’d just seen. And I couldn’t stop singing the phrase chalte/chalte over and over again, the song that was already hugely popular and that would go on to become one of the biggest hits of Hindi cinema music.
Pakeezah is a stylized, larger than life mythicization of the familiar tale of the prostitute with the heart of gold. Perhaps Meena Kumari's best known film, the film had been planned by her and husband Kamal Amrohi since 1958. When the two of them separated in 1964, filming came to a halt. Initially, Dharmendra was to have played the male lead but Raaj Kumar replaced him. After some years by which time Meena Kumari was suffering from alcoholism, she decided to complete the film before she died.
In the film Amrohi turns to the milieu and culture he is a product of - Uttar Pradesh's feudal elite, its life of ease and elegance, of romantic love, poetry and mujras. Its decadence is not without a touch of class and has sometimes resulted in much creative upsurge. Pakeezah inherits that legacy. There is grandeur in Amrohi's filmmaking - an epic magnitude of treatment. The evocative songs and the background music create the right period mood and Amrohi's eye for details brings great depth to the lavish sets. The dances are extremely well choreographed, cleverly hiding Meena Kumari's inability to dance (Just watch her walk and move ever so gracefully in the song Chalte Chalte even as two other nautch girls dance in the background). And the picturisation of the song Chalo Dildar Chalo across the wide expanse of sea and sky to the boat on which the lovers ride is romanticism at its best. In fact, the film's main merit in spite of its flaws, at times disjointed flow, its stock situations and an over stretched plot lies in its delirious romanticism.
Though the suffering courtesan occupies central stage, she is defined by male values and shaped by patriarchal parameters with the courtesan having to lead a life of emotional repression. The caged bird whose feathers are trimmed and the torn kite hanging in her courtyard operate as visual symbols for her imprisonment and curtailment of desire. The train or the patriarchal haveli are well-knit constructs in the fabric of the film. In fact, the whistle of the train is used like a leitmotif throughout the film.
Ghulam Mohammed's music is one of the all time great scores in Indian Cinema. Pakeezah reaffirms his great talent and it is sad he did not get his due in the Hindi Film Industry in spite of brilliant work in films like Mirza Ghalib (1954) and Shama (1961) besides Pakeezah. Sadly, he did not live to enjoy the efforts of his labour in Pakeezah and Naushad finally completed the music score. The other factor of course which lifts Pakeezah way above the ordinary is Meena Kumari's stunning performance in the dual role of Nargis and Sahibjaan in the film.
Pakeezah finally released in February 1972 and opened to just a lukewarm response but after the death of Meena Kumari on 31st March, 1972, the film went on to become a huge success at the box-office and has since acquired major cult status as well.(http://www.upperstall.com/films/1972/pakeezah)
The soundtrack of this film is as much loved as the film itself. Lata Mangeshkar gets top billing singing nearly every song. There is a wonderful atmosphere to this music. Every song evokes a different mood. There is erotic playfulness in Inhin Logon Ne and pained pleading in Thare Rahiyo. The sad sense of entrapment of Chalte Chalte is complemented by joyous hope in Mausam Hai Aashiqaana. And I know of no other song in Hindi cinema that bubbles with such unadulterated love and happiness then Chalo Dildar Chalo. The poetry and the music combine almost perfectly to make each song complete in its own right.
A great film. A brilliant soundtrack.
01 Title Music (Alap)
02 Inhi Logon Ne
03 Nazariya Ki Mari
04 Chalo Dildar Chalo
05 Kaun Gali
07 Thare Rahiyo
08 Mausam Hai Aashiqana
09 Mora Sajan
10 Chalte Chalte