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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Quaint quadrangle (Benazir)

The high point of Bimal Roy's Benazir is Husn ki beharein liye. Not only is this a brilliant ghazal from S D Burman, rendered with haunting precision by Lata Mangeshkar, Shakeel Badayuni's lyrics also point out the poignancy of Benazir's state. Here is a woman, seen as a fallen one by society, torn between her love for a young man and her gratitude for the favours she has been receiving from his elder brother. As much as Benazir would love to declare her affection for Anwar, she is forced to stay mum because she is bound by her promises to the Nawab. And of course, her innocent love would be regarded as crafty lust by the world.

Benazir's song lacks the joyful bounce of a love ballad. In fact, in all its beauty it evokes the cravings of unrequited love. Somewhere, deep inside, you know that Benazir's love will never be close to fruition. There will be many a slip between the cup and the lip. No matter how much this woman sacrifices, she will have to make way for others. She will have to perish so that other lovers can meet and stay happy. In a way, though Anwar softens up after witnessing her dedication towards him and recuperates after she nurses him wholeheartedly, I constantly feel that Anwar is chosing to stay with her out of pity rather than for love. And that takes way from the joy of seeing the two together. I am willing to see this woman alone, rather than accepting someone's pity. For me, Benazir is beyond the favours of Anwar, or even the Nawab. She rises above all expectations for her deeds. She becomes the great one after she has united one and all...
Benazir is a wonderful love story set in Lucknow. This 1964 film is unconventional, sweet and packs in great performances by the ensemble cast. And yes, there's the gorgeously handsome Shashi Kapoor as Anwar. The womenfolk make a pretty picture (Meena Kumari is edging towards her bloated avatar but is beautiful nonetheless), Tanuja is ebullient and Nirupa Roy is surprising quite attractive. Tarun Bose is fabulously restrained and Ashok Kumar has a very different part. The music is good and there's no inane comic interludes cutting into the narrative. The screenplay highlights some intrinsic Muslim traditions that make the film even more entertaining.
Nawab (Ashok Kumar) is married to a beautiful woman played by Nirupa Roy, who is seen giving birth to a baby boy. He has a younger brother called Anwar (Shashi Kapoor), who has just completed his graduation from Aligarh Muslim University. The whole town is aware that the Nawab keeps a mistress called Benazir (Meena Kumari) and swears his undying love for her. There is a disparity in the Nawab's personality here. He professes true affections for Benazir and helps her with money and other favours but cannot imagine of marrying her (that would of course sully his honour). Benazir is fully aware that there is no meaning to their relationship and serves the Nawab just because he helps her with everything. The Nawab is extremely possessive of Benazir, too, and cannot imagine losing her to anyone else. Least of all his charming brother, whose one sight is enough to play havoc with Benazir's heart and senses.
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Here's the catch. Anwar loves Shahida, Nirupa's sister and both are going to get married. But some deft wicked moves made by Shaukat (Tarun Bose) give rise to a huge cloud of misunderstanding that separates the Nawab from both his brother and Benazir. The Nawab has a serious heart attack. Anwar's engagement with Shahida is broken and he leaves home for the city. While Nirupa Roy prays for the recovery of her husband, Benazir nurses him back to health only to reveal to the patient later that it is because of his wife's relentless prayers that he is alive and he should realise his duties towards her. Saying this Benazir leaves for the city, too.
All this while, she is in love with Anwar, who she meets in the city by chance. A drastic accident forces Anwar to be cared by Benazir and he too realises that this lovely woman is not all that bad actually. The twists in the tale are seriously good. Anwar rejects Shahida's hand when all is well only to stay back with Benazir. But will that be possible?
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Here I would like to say that Tarun Bose floors me with his dexterous act. Stung by jealousy and his pride hurt at being rejected as Shahida's groom, his devious moves are so sudden and subtle, yet so effective. He does not resort to loud melodrama that is so characteristic of usual Hindi film villains but plays his cards too softly to be obvious. Instigating the Nawab at one point and bluntly lying to Anwar on the other, he seriously balances his innocent face with his devilish character very well.
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But the film belongs to Meena Kumari. Even though she is almost past her prime, there is a melancholy air about her that increases her charm. Every song, picturised on her, is good and she emotes darn too well. How true is she when she says that she dances for the world against her will, but that doll dances just for her. A sad soul, she knows too well that ultimately her love will not be honoured. She has no expectations. She just loves and serves. And hides her sorrows with her charming smile...


  1. Here is an incident which I would like to recount. My brother and I were little kids and dad had taken us along to the sets of Benazir. We were recently watching Benazir when my brother recalled this incident(I have no memory of this incident). My dad introduced us to Ashok KUmar and left us alone for a while; the set was that of the Nawab's home and my brother and I coolly went and sat down on one of the diwans placed there, Ashok Kumar very patiently and affectionately explained,"This is a set we are shooting here why don't you kids sit somewhere else."

  2. @Shilpi: Oh thanks for sharing the anecdote :)

  3. Benazir certainly is a "beautiful love story" but I feel that a less drink-affected Meena Kumari would've been so much better! I loved her in this, but can never help wondering what if Benazir was played by Waheeda Rehman or Nutan. They wouldn't have been able to do shaayari as well as Meena Kumari, but they would've been a whole lot more expressive!

  4. @Bollyviewer: Isn't it sad how Meena Kumari withered away under the influence of alcohol!!!