A year or so ago, I happened to watch Curse of the Golden Flower on the television. I was captivated by the splendor of the film, the exotic and extremely colorful sets and the rituals of the house of an Emperor. The movie was about an imperial family, palace politics and ancient rituals. The movie was re-run often during the course of the next month or so, and I would watch it every time, despite its grim story, drawn by its magnificence.
It set me thinking about a lot of Hindi movies that had a similar kind of a look. Grand stories of Kings and Nawabs, sprawling marble hawelis, opulent decor, rich clothes and jewellery, fine language, and a bonus that a Hindi film has, beautiful songs.
I am not usually good with lists. They are compiled on the spur of the moment and consist of the things I can remember at the time. These are the movies I have seen and can remember. All of them are a big favorite of mine and I can watch them any number of times.
I have listed the movies in the order of their release for the sake of avoiding having to rank the films. Though I love Mughal-e-Azam and Pakeezah the most, I can watch any of these movies at any time.
Rajhath - 1956
This Sohrab Modi film stars Madhubala and Pradeep Kumar. The story is kind of Romeo-and-Juliet-ish with the children of two rival Rajput kings falling in love. Sohrab Modi plays Madhubala's father. On his wife's deathbed, he had promised never to cause his daughter any grief. His second promise was that he would never entertain any relations with his rival king, who happens to be Pradeep Kumar's father. When he finds out that his daughter is in love with his rival's son he knows he will have to break one of these promises.
The movie is fun, full of pretty songs. Madhubala looks like a dream.
Mughal-e-Azam - 1960
This is the big daddy of all grand films. It hasn't gotten any grander than this, and never will. Saleem (Dilip Kumar), Anarkali (Madhubala) and Shehenshah Akbar (Prithviraj Kapoor) work their magic with splendid dialogues, the best ever. Naushad pulled out all the stops with the music. Each frame of the movie makes you gasp. All you can do is keep saying 'Wah Wah' or 'Subhan Allah!"
Taj Mahal - 1963
If you are looking for a grand romance, what story can be better than that of Taj Mahal and of course, Mumtaz and Shah Jahan. There is a lot of palace politics, battles and betrayals. In midst of it all blooms the love between Mumtaz and Shah Jahan. The legendary lovers are played onscreen by Bina Rai and Pradeep Kumar. The movie has it all, courtly elegance, grand palaces, lovely ladies AND a qawwali that Minoo Mumtaz dances to. Chandi ka badan.
Mere Mehboob -1963
Nawab Bulund Akhtar Changezi (Ashok Kumar) is a good, kind man. He happens to have a thing about his family honor which does not allow him to own his love for the dancer Najma (Nimmi). He is not likely to look kindly upon a romance between Najma's brother (Rajendra Kumar) and his sister (Sadhna). This is another of those musical romances that is breathtaking and captivating and full of lovely songs.
Jahan Ara - 1964
Shah Jehan (Prithviraj Kapoor) has forgotten all about his own grand romance, and forbidden his daughter Jahan Ara (Mala Sinha) to love anyone, much less the court poet Mirza Yusuf Changezi (Bharat Bhushan). Jahan Ara promises to never ever look upon Mirza again. He is banished from the palace and wanders about the country composing lovely poetry while an equally heartbroken princess Jahan Ara pines for him. The film had scintillating music by Madan Mohan who used Talat's voice to great effect.
The movie fared a terrible fate at the box office. I saw it on the television long time back, during the 80s. It has since been one of my favorites and I never pass up a chance to watch it again.
Chitralekha - 1964
The movie depicts the tussle between dissolute indulgence on one hand and duty and abstinence on another. Chitralekha (Meena Kumari), the court dancer is on one side and Yogi Kumargiri (Ashok Kumar), the ascetic is on the other. The king, Bijgupt (Pradeep Kumar) is seduced by Chitralekha's charms. Will Chitralekha sacrifice her love for the good of the king?
The movie is chock full of all things gorgeous. There are some lovely dances and songs.
Amrapali - 1966
This is the story of Amrapali and Ajatshatru. The movie was based on the story written by Acharya Chatursen, Vaishali ki nagarvadhu. Ajatshatru (Sunil Dutt), the king of Magadh, finds it hard to win over his neighbouring country Vaishali. The denizens of Vaishali are extremely patriotic, and rise up to defend their country. On one of his forays into Vaishali Ajatshatru runs into the beautiful court dancer Amrapali (Vyjayantimala). They fall in love, but Amrapali is not aware of who the handsome soldier really is.
Vyjayantimala looks like an apsara in the film, and dances like one too. Sunil Dutt is magnificent as the arrogant Ajatshatru.
Bahu Begam - 1967
Zeenat (Meena Kumari) is the daughter of a Nawab who has fallen upon hard times. She is in love with another nawabi fellow Yusuf (Pradeep Kumar) who is, luckily, rich enough to marry. There is no impediment in their union as such. But Yusuf has a greedy uncle who tries to break up the couple by deceit as he will have to relinquish his claims as Yusuf''s guardian once he gets married.
In steps Nawab Sikander Mirza, who falls for Zeenat and sends an offer of marriage to her father. The plot is pretty interesting and keeps you engrossed. There are gorgeous women in silks and shimmering jewellery mouthing chaste urdu and singing songs that are out of this world. Lajawab geet presented by Roshan. It is really hard for me to pick one song to display here.
I choose this song - ham intezar karenge - as it is full of the hope of love.
Mehboob ki Mehndi -1971
Shabana (Leena Chandravarkar) is a beautiful, accomplished young lady who has the misfortune of being the daughter of a semi retired courtesan. When her tout tries to induct Shabana into the trade, she runs away from Bombay to Lucknow along with her guardian.
In Lucknow Shabana runs into Yusuf (Rajesh Khanna) who promptly falls for her. She is ready to marry him and settle down to a respectable life, but will her old secrets come tumbling out of the closet just when she is ready to apply Mehboob ki Mehndi to her hands?
Pakeezah - 1972
In grandeur, this film is beaten only by Mughal-e-Azam. This was the opus of Kamal Amrohi, his dream project that nearly got wrecked due to his estrangement from Meena Kumari. Luckily for us, she consented to complete the film. This turned out to be her last.
There is no accounted for tastes. This movie opened to a lackluster box office. The ticket sales picked up, it is said, after the death of Meena Kumari. There are a lot of people who do not like the film. But it ties with Mughal-e-Azam as my most favorite film. I love each and every frame of the film.
Shahbuddin (Ashok Kumar), the cowardly son of Hakim Sahib (Sapru), fails to stand by the courtesan Nargis (Meena Kumari) who he loves and intends to marry. Nargis dies of a broken heart and her daughter, Sahib Jaan (Meena Kumari) is brought up by her aunt (Veena). As fate would have it, Saleem (Raj Kumar), a nephew of Shahbuddin, runs into Sahib Jaan and falls for her. Unlike his uncle, he is a brave man and capable of fighting with the world for his love.