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At last - I've finally got round to it and managed to see a "clean"
copy of Pakeezah! Up until now I've only had a mangled scratchy jerky
version taped off Dubai TV sometime in the '90's, with quirky English
subtitles, dizzying widescreen coverage and a fluid colour with a mind
of its own. Having thought the world of such a poor (and short) copy I
find the decent one was well worth the wait and the full 140 minutes
even more of a pleasure than I thought possible.
This was the lovely Meena Kumari's film from start to finish, and I believe was planned by her from 1958 on, finally realising it in 1971. What a shame it was that chronic alcoholism finally killed her soon afterwards, and in fact that she was too ill to perform in some of the scenes in Pakeezah, necessitating a body double. In some scenes the strain definitely shows in her face.
The story of Purity versus Adversity I can only treat as fiction having no experience of anything remotely close to it, but I'm led to understand that it faithfully depicts a world now gone that must have been common at one time in India. It's a sparkling and colourful film with a simple relentless epic message, an intense romantic tragedy which is somehow simultaneously feelgood too. But to me it's the peerless golden music by Ghulam Mohammed as sung by the incomparable Lata Mangeshkar - especially Thare Rahiyo - and its part in the unfolding of the story that makes this film so outstanding. I've seldom heard such serious, beautiful, poetic, wondrously sung and played songs on any movie soundtrack. Singin' In The Rain may be my favourite musical film but Pakeezah has my favourite music - yet Lata said that the songs themselves meant nothing special to her. The only pity is that the also unique Mohammed Rafi only had the one song in here, albeit a classic duet with Lata.
Because of all this but not blind to its faults, Pakeezah is my favourite Indian movie, filmed at a time when the Westernisation of India was gathering pace and watched now when Western values seem to be state sponsored and de rigueur. At the very least watch Pakeezah for a taste of what Indian "pop" music had to offer the world before it was all jettisoned for drum machines, the Bollywood Beat and bhangra.
This movie is one among the very few Indian movies, that would never
fade away with the passage of time, nor would its spell binding appeal
ever diminish, even as the Indian cinema transforms into the abyss of
artificially styled pop culture while drill oriented extras take to
enhancing the P.T. styled film songs.
The cinematography speaks of the excellent skills of Josef Werching that accentuate the monumental and cinema scope effect of the film in its entirety.
Gone are the days of great cinema, when every scene had to be clipped many times and retakes taken before finalizing it, while meticulous attention was paid in crafting and editing the scenes. Some of its poignant scenes are filled with sublime emotional intensity, like the instance, when Meena Kumari refuses to say "YES" as an approval for Nikah (Marriage Bond) and climbs down the hill while running berserk in traumatized frenzy. At the moment, Raj Kumar follows her, and a strong gale of wind blew away the veil of Kumari and onto the legs of Kumar........
Kamal Amrohi shall always be remembered with golden words in the annals of Indian Cinema's history for endeavoring to complete this movie in a record setting 12 years. He had to manage filming of some of the vital songs without Meena's close ups, because Meena Kumari, the lady in the lead role was terminally ill and fighting for her life in early 1971.
Without question, this film has to be one of the greatest ........ in
cinematic history. I have it watched too many times to remember, and each
time it is like I am seeing the film for the first time.
Where does one begin?
Meena Kumari's central performance is undoubtedly one of the finest of her career, followed closely by Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam and Phool aur Pathar. Each movement and nuance of her performance, makes any other Bollywood heroine pale into significance. Her masterly interpretation of Kathak coupled with her grace, tragic vulnerability and poetic delivery of Urdhu, is like nothing ever seen on the bollywood screen.
Pakeezah is perhaps the most stylised interpretation of the human condition; the photography, sumptuous cinematography and mise en scene, are so charged with symbolism and meaning, that the viewer is left breathless.
Naushads music, is unsurpassed, his knowledge of the music of the courtesan gharanas is incredible, and the way in which he punctuates the narrative with dark atmospheric motifs and overwhelming romantic melodies is indeed remarkable.
My only advice to anyone who seriously enjoys the spectacle of total cinema, should watch this epic mediation on life and art.
Perhaps the most polished and accomplished of all Indian films - Pakeezah
does not fall into any of the traps commonly associated with Bollywood film
(ie tackiness, farce, wholesale and unsuccessful imitation of western film
themes/genres). Pakeezah is indigenous to the Sub-Continent and authentic,
almost Madam Butterfly-like in plot. Characters are well-developed,
direction, although sometimes unrefined by today's standards, perceptive and
convincing. The Urdu-speaking milieux at the time of Pakeezah were masters
of understatement and how the dialogue conveys the subtleties of the age!
The acting (particularly the 'looks' and the dynamic between characters) are
a delight to behold although the nuances may be lost on contemporary viewers
or those not acquainted with the mores and customs of Muslim
Coupled, with a captivating screenplay is a beautiful musical score, enhanced by the protagonist displaying eminent command of classical Indian dance (kathak). As is the case with most romantic tragedies, the heroine must die, but she does not take her leave of the audience without the viewer feeling he/she has been party to a truly memorable cinema experience. Pakeezah is surely the pinnacle of what Indian cinema has produced and is unlikely to be paralleled.
Pakeezah has a very interesting history (which is well documented in
the 'Trivia' section) about how it came to be. It seems as if destiny
conspired to test Kamal Amrohi (the director) while at the same time
secretly desiring to see him complete his masterpiece.
Pakeezah rides on metaphors, poetry and visual elocution. As a result the intensity with which emotions come out achieve a dimension which may not be very real but are very effective and leave an impact on the viewer.
Meena Kumari lives the tragedy of Nargis and Sahib Jaan like her own. The other stars of the film, besides her, are Ghulam Mohammed (the music director), Lata Mangeshkar, Naushad (background score) and Joseph Wirsching (the d.o.p). Their music and cinematography leaves you spell bound.
Pakeezah is a classic in world cinema. It reveals new layers to you every time you watch it again. Kamal Amrohi is one of the rare poets of cinema and he left us all a gift.
The concubine Sahibjaan (Meena Kumari) is the toast of the town, but she
secretly dreams of a life away from the brothel, with a man she never met,
but who wrote an ode to her feet while she lay sleeping in a train
compartment (I kid you not!).
Now here's an epic that has everything an epic needs to have: fantastic sets, great romance, fine songs, beautiful sunsets, elephant-stampedes and plenty of foot-fetishism (okay, that last one isn't strictly necessary, but it's a nice bonus).
Pakheezah is a glorious, sumptuous, cruel and twisted fairy-tale.
This is definitely one of the best movies I've ever seen-- it has everything-- a genuinely touching screenplay, fine actors that make subtlety a beautiful art to watch, an actually elegant romance (it's a shame that that kind of romance just doesn't seem to exist anymore), lovely songs and lyrics (especially the final song), an artistic score, and costumes and sets that make you want to live in them. The ending was only a disappointment in that I was expecting a spectacular film to have a brilliant end-- but it was still more wonderful then the vast majority of movies out there. Definitely check this movie out-- over and over again. There are many details you miss the first time that deserve a second look.
Pakeezah is in my mind the greatest achievement of Indian cinema. The film is visually overwhelming but also emotionally breathtaking. The music, the songs, the sets, the costumes, the cinematography, in fact every creative element is worthy of superlatives.
Besides the fact that it was one of the few movies that I ever shed a
tear over (bye-bye manhood), this is one of the most beautifully
crafted Indian films that has ever been made. From the finely crafted
sets, to those haunting looks Meena Kumari gives, no one can ever
forget it. The music of Pakeezah is amazing, all the more if you can
understand the sublime poetry, and is definitely one of those "OMG, 5
minutes another song" movies. You get the feeling of how trapped
Sahibjaan is in among all the amazing jewelery she wears and fountained
court yard she casually walks past.
A parody of all the dreams you've ever had..........
A great film requiring an acquired taste. If you're into action, wham bam
films and hate serious love stories then its not for you. Otherwise, if
like to sit in front of a good intelligent movie now and again I recommend
this very highly. Easily the best film produced in Bollywood this
The only other Indian film I would give 10/10 for is Dil Wale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Even then it comes second to this masterpiece.
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