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Friday, 18 June 2010

Miscast Meena (Chandan ka Palna)

Meena Kumari's Baharon ki Manzil was enough to warn me against her later films. Her lost beauty, her bulky figure, her bloated face, the alcohol-induced heaviness in her voice, the loud makeup, everything about Kumari's persona in this slow thriller was disheartening. It kept reminding me about her faded glory and glamour; her beautiful eyes, her perky voice, her grace and of course, her superlative performances in her heydays. How we wish she would not drown herself in high spirits (pun intended obviously)...
But, something about Ismail Memon's Chandan ka Palna, drew me. Was it the lead pair (Dharmendra and Kumari again), the fun supporting cast, the dramatic plot or the music (RD Burman's score is pretty good)? A relatively unknown film starring Kumari, I was a tad curious about this 1967 classic.

But, I should have cautioned myself. For, after the end credits rolled I'm disheartened again. And this time, not just for Kumari. This apparently light romance turned out to be a tedious discourse on the dangers of a woman being barren...
Radha Devi, a wealthy widow decides to marry her son Ajit to Shobha, the daughter of a respectable and rich gentleman. It helps that both Ajit and Shobha are already in love. Dharmendra is the handsome Ajit and Shobha is supposed to be the young and 'lakhon mein ek' Shobha. Wonder who decided the cast??
Kumari looks appalling. Her romantic expressions are forced. She tries simpering and being coy but fails miserably. She can't help if her face and body has ballooned her to resemble almost a 45-year-old. She lacks the spring in her step, something imperative when the robust Dharmendra is paying you heavy compliments on your beauty. In the song Kis karan, Kumari tries too hard to look interested when her friends are teasing her. In Zulfon ko aap yun , Dharmendra is suitably adoring. Kumari tries her best to portray the smitten damsel, but something is missing. Should we say, the spark, the spunk? But, sometimes her smile reveals flashes of the charm that floored the nation, a few years back, in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, in Kohinoor, or maybe Dil Apna aur Preet Parai.
So, the two get married. There is a beautiful song that Ajit sings to his bride on their wedding night. Tumhe dekha is evocative and passionate. But Kumari looks so out of place and old in Dharmendra's arms. It's the same feeling I had when I saw Phool aur Patthar and Baharon ki Manzil. And, these two actors were then allegedly having an affair, right?!?!?
Shobha gets domesticated instantly and proves to be a loving wife and a dutiful daughter-in-law. Her mother-in-law tells her that she soon wants an heir so that she can rock him in the chandan ka palna, the cradle that once belonged to Ajit.
Five years pass but Ajit and Shobha's love bear no fruit. Radha Devi is disturbed and exasperated. Her heart breaks when the gynaecologist tells her that Shobha might not be able to become a mother ever. Even the temple priest gives the same diktat. Despondent Shobha, who overhears both conversations, decides to end her life so that Ajit can remarry. But, the priest gives her an alternative to incurr the wrath of her loved ones. This would help her ease her way out of the household...
The film, dull and boring till here, picks up pace. Shobha launches a charade of misdemeanours that makes everyone misunderstand and hate her. She chops off her long tresses, wears clothes not suitable for a respectful, married woman and inundates all and sundry with her harsh behaviour. Kumari is a fireball in these scenes. Soon, she succeeds in being separated from Ajit, who after being pressurised by his mother, marries again. This time the young bride starts expecting soon. But, during childbirth, this wife, whose name we don't even get to know, dies.
Shobha, who had duly sacrificed her happiness for her husband's family, prays to God that the newly married couple are blessed with a child. When the mother of the newborn perishes, the temple priest reveals to Radha Devi and her son about Shobha's benevolence. Thus, Ajit and Radha Devi realise their mistake and make peace with Shobha. She retains her position as Ajit's wife and is overjoyed accepting the infant as her own. How convenient!!!
So, what went wrong? Firstly, why did the doctor not ask Ajit to go in for a test? I guess, it would be too much for the audience if Memon hinted at the idea of a man's impotency. I found this part extremely regressive. So, is a woman only to be blamed if she was not being able to mother a child? The priest confidently proclaims Shobha to be barren! Ajit is hardly shown supporting his wife during her traumatic phase (barring one altercation with his mother)!! How can a man readily agree to get hitched so soon after being divorced from his first love???
When Shobha's personality changes for the worse, how come her family does not question the reason. The change is too sudden and too drastic. But yes, Kumari shows flashes of her past genius in the scenes where she is rude, scathing and harsh. She shuns her husband's feelings when he tells her that he loved her long hair, with utmost disgust and ridicule. She doesn't think twice before heaping insults on Mahesh (Mehmood in a fantastic role), Radha Devi and the old servants.
Despite that, it's difficult to focus on Kumari. So loud is her makeup and so dowdy are her clothes. She sports a hideous wig, garbs herself in garish costumes (that are supposed to reflect uber-modern tastes but actually look like the dresses worn by orthodox Muslim women) and has her already disfigured face caked in foundation and rouge. Her voice gives away the abuse she inflicted on herself with alcohol and her frame is disgustingly broad. It still stuns me why she was chosen for the role. In fact, when you see Mumtaz in the near vicinity of Shobha you immediately start comparing the two. Mumtaz as Sadhana, is voluptous yet charming, dressed in smart casuals and is exuberant. In the song Oye mastana, oye parwana, she just shines in her orange and black spangled costume. In Baat karte ho she is lovely in her sea-green dress. Her dialogues are funny, too.
The film, extremely backward in its thoughts and ideas, was lifted by the funny support of Mehmood. He plays Mahesh, a Bengali obsessed with Indian classical music, who has quick one-liners perenially at the tip of his tongue. He is best in the jugalbandi with Dhumal. Nir ta ta dhang showcases the mastery of Mohd Rafi and Manna Dey. Both the singers handle this classical gem with utmost ease. Mehmood is hilarious with his spontaneous Bengali dance. But, I was stunned by Dhumal's delicate Kathak moves and facial expessions. Didn't know this diminutive comedian had this in him. RD Burman blends eastern and westerns notes in Oye mastana superbly. Sample the combination of the sax and the flute, the drums and the dhol, in this bouncy track.
While Asha Bhonsle makes Mera naam sharabi catchy, Lata Mangeshkar renders O ganga maiyya soulful. In the first one, I can't help saying, Kumari looks scary. She looks thoroughly uncomfortable in her supposed inebriated avatar and her forcibly pained looks do not suffuse enough poignance in O ganga maiyya. Very sad...
An obsure film, the only good thing about Chandan ka Palna is that it moves fast (you don't feel that it is more than 2 and a half hours long). Not much time is wasted with overt melodrama. Perhaps, that is one of the main reasons why I was able to sit through this otherwise inane drama...

8 comments:

  1. I rented this a couple of years back, and HATED it. Most of the reasons you've already listed - how awful Meena Kumari looked, how regressive much of the movie was, etc. Another thing I was shocked by was the summary way in which the second wife was killed off (by the writer, I mean!) to get everybody together again. So convenient. I felt sorry for the poor woman.

    Horrible film. This is on my list of thoroughly avoidable films - others are Suhagan (Geeta Bali), Parivar (Nanda and Jeetendra) and Fauji (I don't remember who - obscure cast, dreadful movie).

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  2. @Sharmi: Nehinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn... just don't want to see a film which propagates 'virtues' practised by khap panchayats.
    And, Meena Kumari past her prime would drive me to suicide. She is, and always will be, Bhootnath's Chhotibahu...
    Nice write-up, though :)

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  3. @Dustedoff: Oh dear...thank you so much for warning me against these!!! There is another Suhagan that you just must avoid (Guru Dutt and Mala Sinha). Stay away from it. Meena Kumari is awful, awful here and Dharmendra is so stupid. Thank God I dint buy this film but watched it on youtube. Plenty of money saved!!! Yes, how come the doctor dint tell Radha anf her son that the wife's life was in jeopardy. The director just knocked her off. Not fair!! I have to now go back to Shammi Kapoor's delights to improve my mood !!! :)

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  4. @Netdhaba: You have to credit me for tolerating this film. I wrote about this sick film and now you got the chance to make this funny comment...I want a treat for that!!! What say???

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  5. I had watched this film when I was in 10th Std and had hated it even then. I don't have the courage to watch it again. I vividly remember most of it. Even at that age, I found the Meena-Dharmendra pairing little too odd and her make-up was loud!!!
    I don't remember the songs, will check them out of youtube....but I am glad that I remember the film name, story and that it was a disaster - at least I won't make the mistake of watching it again!
    I saw Baaharon Ki Manzil last year on sab tv....and only I know how I managed to sit through it. The only reason is I wanted to know how it ended (not that it needed much guessing), but I wanted to get over with it once and never think about it again.

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  6. @Sunheriyaadein: Archana, even I know how I sat through Baharon ki Manzil and this one. The ending of both were so not worth sitting through the films. And oh gosh, Dharmendra and Kumari's pairing is so super bad!!! She looks like his aunty (they remind me of Shahid Kapur and Kareena's peiring!!)
    This was on youtube so watched it. Will never repeat the mistake again. I don't know how Phool aur Pathhar became a hit (since it had the same lead cast). I guess it was the story that did the trick.
    The onlu redeeming feature were some of the scenes having Mehmood!! Thanks for the comment and keep reading :)

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  7. My only question is: why did Meena Kumari sign THIS film after movies like Kaajal, Manjhli Didi, Bahu Begum (all 1967 releases)???
    And, oh well, why did the producers sign Dharmendra-Meena pair in a string of movies, with their eyes shut? just to cash on the rumoured affair?
    I haven't seen Chandan ka Palna, or for that matter, any of Meena ji's later films (after '66) barring Pakeezah. It simply pains me to see her in those useless, regressive roles (maybe, just accepted to rake her out of her impending insolvency)! for me, Meena Kumari is Chhotibahu, Benazir, Sharda, Karuna, lalita (just see her in Parineeta - what a heady mix of beauty and talent)! post '66, her movies were more or less the same, just encashing on her silent-suferer image, with garish make up and dubious casting. What ill-treatment metted out to Meena Kumari!! I'll never forgive those producers for what they did to my most fav. star.

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  8. @Punya: Exactly. After the film was over, I had the same question in my mind!!!
    For me, Meena Kumari is ethereal as Chhotibahu, Karuna, Sharada, Pakeezah and the princess in Kohinoor. I do not want to remember as Shobha in this film or as she is in any of her later films. This was so bad, and then came that terrible Baharon ka Manzil. Ohh!! what a scare. I remember seeing Phool aur Patthar. Even there, Kumari was looking so bad. The saving grace was the story, it was quite compelling! (But, I saw it years back, don't know how it would fare with me now)
    Meena Kumari's tumultous marriage with Kamal Amrohi and her doomed affair with Dharmendra pushed her towards alcoholism, resulting in the ruin of her beauty and sweet voice. I hate how she sounds in her later films. Even in Pakeezah, post interval, you can spot the difference in her looks from the first half of the film!
    What a waste of talent and beauty. And yes, your anger towards those nasty producers is quite justified.
    Thanks for the comment and keep reading :)

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