Friday, October 3, 2008

Movie Review: Amar (Immortal) (1954) (Hindi movie)

Immortal the movie name might be, but it’s not what the end-product finally turned out to be.

Directed by the eminent ‘Mehboob Khan’, this movie did hold special interest for me.

The story starts with a very idyllic setting of a Gaulish, sorry ….. an Indian village hut. The music and mood is these opening scenes is so sweet that were it in the hands of the director, even the cows would be urinating eau de cologne

Nimmi, the manic one inhabits this duniya (world) (incidently the Turkish word for world too is dunya. We must have borrowed it). Watch her acting (and I am being civil here) and you will know why I am calling it manic. A village belle, she stays with her father and cruel stepmother. The other key characters who inhabit her surroundings are Dilip Kumar, the eminent lawyer and Madhubala, who is soon to be affianced to him.

The key event which is the pivot of the story is when the pillar of society, DK in a moment of madness and frenzy violates the modesty of the milkmaid’s daughter, Nimmi. The otherwise composed DK who is a respected society man, loses ‘it’ in that moment. The rest of the story essentially revolves around these 3 characters and how the event churns their lives.

For the year 1954 in which it was filmed, it is a very daring story and the director must be appreciated for that. The rest is downhill all the way. It’s as if the director exhausted himself in ideating a daring story and the actual filming was to cover all tracks of his daring-ness.

DK who rapes Nimmi follows-up with an attempt to kill her, but in the truest Hindi filmi tradition (and NOT real life I assume), the victim (who has been secretly admiring DK till then) actually sympathizes with the hero. Circumstances reveal part of the story to Madhubala who now knows that DK has had physical relations with Nimmi but not that he has raped her. The spunky woman that she is, she makes way and DK eventually ends up as the beau of Nimmi. So you have a rapist who attempts to murder the victim subsequently, actually ending up as the victim’s bethrothee!!!! WTF!!! What kind of world were they living-in in the 1950s? It’s a muddle, this film.

A unique characteristic of this story is the special situation in which the victim has a range of emotions vis-à-vis the hero-cum-villain. So you have a Nimmi, a raw village girl infatuated by DK, a polished, suave lawyer. Then she is raped by him, but at some level she does understand his innate goodness and the fact that one moment of madness cannot be held against him eternally. At some level she ignores his indiscretion. So does she forgive him? Or in the truest of feudal traditions, does she actually think that he had the right to violate her? So was the rape also at some level an acquiescence of that feudal relationship (implied and implicit)? Does Nimmi ‘succumb’ too easily? Did she subconsciously want the event to happen anyway?

And why is the village belle a bit unruly (looks and acting-wise) and the city-bred girl so mature and well-behaved. Is there an implied thought that the village girl deserved rape and drove the otherwise well-bred DK to it? Divine justice causes the heavens (in this case the ceiling) to fall upon DK at a point in the film but doesn’t forget to punish Nimmi too (O! evil one. Why did you consent to get raped?). She falls down the stairs. And the other villain conveniently gets stabbed and killed. It’s the karma merry-go-round depicted in 3 hours. What you sow, so shall you reap…though in different measures for men and women. Is it implicit somewhere that the dim-witted woman (Nimmi) deserved to get raped or is it that because she is dim-witted that she weakens an otherwise strong man?

Unfortunately we will never know and the director clearly fails in that sense.

There is an attempt at creating a convoluted sense of justice
1. DK, the polished man ends up marrying a village girl, so he loses as he has to since he has committed a dark act. But on the other hand, there are no criminal proceedings against him, so he is a winner in that sense. Is that to satisfy a potential male chauvinist audience and society?
2. Nimmi, although a rape victim and an potential unwed mother, scores by getting DK as her future husband. She thus avoids loss of respect and society’s censure by DKs acknowledgement of being the father of the unborn kid. There’s still hope for her in this life.
3. Madhubala sacrifices for the right cause and though clearly in love with DK, walks out of his life.

Hmmm…………you get the feeling that DK gets away easily with attempted murder and rape. I wonder what was going on in the director’s mind

Peeling away the layers of melodrama and inadequate acting, there is a strong sense of feminine power and integrity conveyed in bits and pieces. To do that in that era required a director of substance. I have mentally made a note to watch other Mehboob Khan films.

So to turn to the acting:
Watching Nimmi act (!!) is an excruciating experience. Madhubala is better-off by a mile…..and she is an average-actress. Towards the end, Nimmi is pregnant and in deep despair. Even a pregnant and crazed woman would take care not to fall on her stomach violently. Nimmi does that and falls in my eyes too. And she has very little to speak-of in terms of dancing abilities.

Madhubala’s introductory scene is where she is being tutored in dancing; kathak to be specific. She makes absurd kathak gestures accompanied by a manic tabla player. (This female version of St. Francis of Assissi, also entertains poor people in her mansion, btw). But one tends to ignore the acting inadequacies of Madhubala. The wonderfully spirited Madhubala oozes charm and we forgive her just for the pleasure of soaking in her warm beauty.

The wonderfully brooding Dilip Kumar aka Yusuf Khan is competent in his role. But he hardly gets enough to do in the film. He is mostly silent but displays a gravitas and a great screen presence. I can understand why he was called the ‘tragedy king’. The rape is a random incident in his life and that angle or the sequence of scenes leading to it is never really well developed. Sad, because DK just doesn’t get the chance to display his talents.

The movie also abounds in wonderful quirky characters, whether its Nimmi, the ‘tabla’ player, M’s dad, Mukhri, Sankat (the other villain), Nimmi’s parents, DK’s secretary. How I miss all of them in today’s world. The current scenario is that the hero and heroine hog the screen time. And all the rest of the background characters are clones of each other…… hardly any individuality there.

But what I should have mentioned much earlier is that this film is a veritable song-a-rama. At vital moments when you want the characters to plumb the depth of their emotions through prose, the pesky songs step in. A tad too many songs has weakened the script substantially. We know there is a sad story somewhere in here but we don’t get to plumb its depths sufficiently, and the infestation by songs is responsible for that. The songs themselves are okay.

To end with: I will state 2 positives
* Much of the action takes place indoors on artificial sets: village houses, barns, ponds, bridges, forests, it’s all delightful. Nowadays in the era of advanced outdoor photography the artificial sets of yore have been forgotten. Someday I will delve into this topic further.
* And yes, there is a wonderful scene of underwater photography where Nimmi is hiding underwater to escape the clutches of the other villain. I was quite surprised by the clarity of the shooting and the technical wizardry. Even in colour films shot 20-30 years later, I haven’t seen such brilliance. Cool!

Dilip Kumar

Story: S. Ali Raza, Mehrish, S.K.Kalla, B.S.Ramiah
Dialogues: Agha Jani Kashmiri, S. Ali Raza
Songs: Shakeel Badayuni
Music: Naushad. Asst: Mohd.Ebrahim
Photography: Faredoon A.Irani
Editing: Shamsudin Kadri
Dance Direction: Sitara Devi
Directed by Mehboob

P.S. Whats with the guys of that era. Their tied neckties stopped 1 inch above the navel


bollyviewer said...

Great review Nirvana! Now I know all the critical things about the movie without having watched it and inspite of Madhubala I dont think I'll try to.

Nimmi really was annoying in her acting(!!) and yes, it would make almost anybody else look like a great actor. lol

Anonymous said...

LOL. enjoyed reading the review more than watching the movie.Watched the movie recently. this review is true to each word.