Tuesday, March 12, 2013

10 Splendid movies

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.


  1. of the list have seen Mughal-e-Azam many times....other movies must have seen because the story sounds familiar but yaad nahin!!!

    Old movies had a story a plot!! Aaj kal woh baat hi nahin hai!

  2. Great list, Ava! Out of the ones you've listed, the only ones I haven't seen are Rajhath and Bahu Begum (I know, I know... everybody keeps saying I should watch that one). And Chitralekha I watched too far back to really remember. And the rest of your list - oh, I agree with completely!

  3. Great list, Ava! I have seen some of the movies you have listed, such as Pakeezah, Mughal-e-azam, Taj mahal and Mere Mehboob and have loved them all. They made great viewing - great songs, costumes, decor etc. I can remember listening to the songs over and over again and knowing all of them. Now I am going to hunt them down on Youtube and watch again.

  4. Excellent post, Ava.
    And I don't mean just the collection of movies. Lovely introduction for each movie - makes me want to see some of them again, especially those I watched a long time ago, like Bahu Begum.

  5. I love this so much. Ava, people like you and Madhulika are determined to make sure my "I am dying to watch that!" list grows much, much faster than I can manage to actually watch movies. Of these I have only seen Mughal-e-Azam and Pakeezah. I will never ever run out of Hindi movies to watch. Thank you!

    carla (filmi geek)

  6. Well interesting list, what I noticed about your list was that all the films have wonderful songs.But then those were the days of beautiful songs. I personally would leave out Mehboob Ki Mehendi for I did not like the songs of that film but as they say pasand apni apni, khayal apna apna - Shilpi

  7. Smita: Right. Old movies are much more interesting to watch. If there is nothing in it, it has some interesting actors and great music.

  8. Madhu: I liked Rajhath very very much. There is Madhubala and of course- Sohrab Modi. Then there are all those lovely songs.

    Meena Kumari looks a bit jaded in Bahu Begam. Ashok Kumar was definitely not young and I wonder if Pradeep Kumar ever really looked young. Despite that, all that urdu and nawabi tehzeeb, the interesting story and above Roshan saab ka kamal keeps me glued to the film everytime I watch it.

  9. Lalitha:

    Thank you. :) Hope you have fun chasing these films on yt.

  10. Raja, Thanks. I had seen some movies quite a while back, but as I started writing the post, quite a lot came back to me.

    You must see some of these again. They are eminently re-watchable.

  11. Carla, I am quite sure there are many more of these kind of movies that I have not seen.

    I hope you get to see them, they are all wonderful ones :)

  12. What a lovely post!
    I have only seen Mughal-e-Azam, Mere Mehboob, Taj Mahal,Mehboob ki Mehendi Mere Mehboob, and Pakeezah from the list. And that too on doordarshan long ago. I just remember the plot summary and the songs.
    So many movies to watch and so little time. When will I get to watch all these :-(

  13. Shilpi,

    Yes, all these films had superb music.

    I love the songs of Mehboob ki Mehendi. But of course, we have our own reasons for liking music, or not. It would be a boring world if we all liked the same thing.

  14. That is a good list Ava!
    Beautiful films with beautiful music!
    Unlike the films of today, where there is more stress on settings and all, these films had good sets but also had good content, though at times melodramatic. But those were the times.
    My fav costume dramas (I do prefer to call them that) would be all by Sohrab Modi: Sikander, Prithvi Vallabh and Pukar!
    Somehow I have always missed on watching Rajhath. Others I saw on DD, way back when I was small.
    Mughal-e-Azam I saw few years back, but it didn't impress me much. I liked Pakeezah nevertheless, more than the story I loved the cinematography. Simply breathtaking!
    I didn't like M ki M much. Bahu Begum had an interesting story, but the lead actors didn't look their part at all. But trust Meena Kumari to save a film.
    Amrapali and Chitralekha, I haven't seen yet. Kedar Sharma had directed another Chitralekha as well, I think. If I am not msitaken with Mehtab, would love to have a dekho at that.

    Thanks for this wonderful list, Ava!
    Looking forward to more from you!

  15. Yesss Harvoo.

    Maybe you did not see Mughal-e-Azam in the right frame of mind. Or maybe your expectations were kind of different. Whatever!

    I like Pakeezah on many levels. Best of all, I like the 'dard' that is infused in the film.

    Haan, when I was scouting for imdb links, I saw the older Chitralekha. Also there was an older Amrapali as well.

    Bechari Mehboob ki Mehendi. Maybe you would like Rajasthan ki Mehendi eh :)

  16. @Harvey (in your own words, or should I say translation) : Promise on you the henna of beloved :-P

  17. If promise on me the henna of my beloved, then beloved be my henna's promise!

  18. Mast hai. a newbie who wishes to get a quick intro of that era can be referred here.

    Surprisingly, I have seen most of them. I did not like Jahan Ara maybe because Bharat n Mala are the 2 boring actors for me in the list of many other boring actors.

  19. Archu: Filme dekhna bada kaam hai. Time hi nahi milta

  20. Bharat Bhushan to boring lagta hai. Mardood ko kai badhiya films mil gayin isliye chal gaya.

    Mala Sinha kabhi theek lagti hai, kabhi nahi.

  21. What an amazing list, Ava!! I've watched exactly half of the movies on the list and your post makes me want to watch all of them now. And what mind-blowing songs they have.. no words can do justice to the quality songs and music these movies have.

    From the ones I have watched, my most favorite one would have to be "Mere Mehboob" for such high-quality romance, closely followed by "Pakeezah" for divinity in love that it portrays and Raj Kumar's style/adaayen and Meena Kumari's gorgeous feet and then "Mehboob ki Mehndi" for it's utter simplicity and gorgeous Leena and RK and "Jahan Ara" for its high-impact songs with some of them with minimal music and the epic "Mughal-e-Azam" for it's grandeur in ALL aspects. Can't wait to see the rest of them on the list. I already love the music of Chitralekha, Taj Mahal and Amrapali. Sigh, they don't make movies like these any more. Thanks for taking me through the stroll of the golden cinema.

  22. Kanan, Thanks.

    :) I can watch such kind of movie any number of times.

    The lovely music and fabulous stories and surroundings just make me go "ahhhh".

  23. Taj Mahal,Mere Mehboob and Chitralekha are favorites of mine.Taj Mahal for its superb songs and lyrics,Mere Mehboob for its charm,innocence and elegance(of course also because of Rajendra Kumar and Sadhana!),and Chitralekha for Meena's superb performance....

  24. Coolone,

    I need to re-watch Chitralekha. It has been a while now.