Starring: Meena Kumari, Raaj Kumar, Ashok Kumar, Nadira
Direction & Screenplay by Kamal Amrohi
To be honest, I have no idea how I came across this film, but I am so unbelievably glad I did. I have watched the movie just shy of a dozen times since the winter of 2020, and I can safely say that it never loses its appeal in my eyes.
Filmed in 1971, the story centres around Sahibjaan, a courtesan who unexpectedly falls in love. After an unfortunate series of events, drama and tension builds up and reaches a climax in the final scene (which I can remember verbatim).
It is without a doubt that the fourteen years it took to film the movie was completely worth it. The stereotype surrounding old Bollywood movies is that they are really slow, which is often the case. Whilst this film was relatively slow, and points of tension within the production were few and far between, I was completely hooked the entire time I watched it, which is a rarity when I watch Indian movies.
The heart and soul of every Indian movie is the soundtrack! This movie is the gold standard in that category: the film is full of musical gems written by some of the most influential composers in Indian history, namely Naushad and Ghulam Mohammed. My personal favourites are ‘Tir-e-Nazar Dekhenge’, ‘Chalte Chalte’, and ‘Mausam Hai Ashiqana’. Filled with beautiful and figurative language and incorporating the unique styles of classical Indian music, these songs are timeless, and are still extremely well-known by older generations today.
Meena Kumari also did not disappoint: this was her swan song, and the best legacy she could have left behind. It helped that her personal relationship with the director, Kamal Amrohi, went awry throughout the filming process: she was able to realistically and convincingly pull off playing the role of a woman both discontent with her life as a courtesan, and enthralled by the prospect of finally finding somebody who will love her beyond a single night.
It was very interesting to notice that the film was incredibly ahead of its time in terms of women’s rights. In old Bollywood movies, the lives of women were often dictated by their male family members or just pure fate. However, in this film, Sahibjaan, for the most part, chooses her own destiny, which makes the movie a complete outlier compared to other movies from the industry at the time. Make sure you watch the music videos! The choreography is not to be missed.