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05 August 2011

Azaad (1955)

Directed by: SM Sriramulu Naidu
Music: C Ramachandra
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
Starring: Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari,
Pran, Om Prakash, 
Raj Mehra, Shami
A remake of Malaikallan (MGR / Bhanumathi), a Tamil blockbuster that had released the year before, Azaad proved to be thundering success when it released, making it the biggest box-office hit that year. It was remade in Telugu (Aggi Ramudu) with NT Rama Rao and Bhanumathi the year after, and also in Malayalam (Thaskara Veeran), in Kannada (Bettada Kalla), and in Sinhalese (Soorasena).

A swashbuckling tale of thieves and kidnappers and straight garden-variety villains, written by the famous Tamil poet Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai, it was inspired by Mask of Zorro and Robin Hood. Dilip Kumar looks like he is having the time of his life, Meena Kumari aids and abets him in his madness, C Ramachandra is truly inspired, what more can you ask for? 

This was Dilip Kumar's first movie with a  South Indian production house. In fact, he was very amused by the fact that a Tamil film producer whom he had never met before should come all the way to Bombay to sign him for a movie. 

Shobha (Meena) is an orphan, brought up by her father's friend and his wife. They dote upon her, their own son having been abducted in childhood.
Now that she is a young lady, her foster parents are on the look out for a groom. But unlike most filmi parents, they are fairly democratic about the whole process.

Shobha has a suitor, the wealthy Sunder (Pran), but neither she, nor her parents are very interested in proceeding with the alliance. In a conversation between the foster parents, it turns out that their only son, Kumar, had been abducted when he was a child, and the mother (a very young looking Achala Sachdev), mourns that if he hadn't been, then they would not have had to look around for a groom for Shobha.
(The number of children who seemed to be misplaced / abducted / separated in the hindi films of yore!)

Their collective dislike of Sunder has some basis, though they are unaware of the fact - he is the mastermind behind the nefarious activities of the dacoit Chander (S Nazir - with well-curled and oiled sideburns and mustache).
In fact, Sunder is not going to allow small things like Shobha's dislike and her parents' disapproval to stop him from marrying her - so he sends Chander off to kidnap her. 

The area seems to be suffering from a surfeit of dacoity and the police have been delinquent in their duty, and so, a new inspector has been sent to do something, anything; the problem is, as the harried constable Motilal (Om Prakash), who is only referred to as 441, informs his superior, there are not one, but two dacoits causing trouble; but are they two different people, or just one person in different guises? Hmm...
The inspector (Raj Mehra), under pressure from *his* superiors, is insistent that Motilal help him solve the open cases; Motilal, with two wives and nine children is hard put to take care of his own life, much less worry about work!
As if to prove how right Shobha and her parents were NOT to trust Sunder, comes Janki (Shammi), a girl from Shobha's mother's village - she was seduced by Sunder's promises of marriage, but when she runs away from home to meet him, he turns her away. Now she has nowhere to go; an indignant Shobha and her mother promise to help her get married to Sunder. Wait. Whaa-aat?? Never mind.
A fearful and reluctant Motilal is sent off to investigate both Azaad and Chander. He decides to go meet Khan Saheb, a wealthy aristocrat, taking the inspector with him. And while the inspector is making his acquaintance,
And then Shobha gets abducted. And then, she gets abducted again. It's all very complicated. You see, first, Chander and his men kidnap her. - it's an audacious attempt, since she is kidnapped right from her bedroom. There they are, lugging her along, cot and all, when a second gang beat up the first lot (but not before two of the enterprising gang strip all her jewellery) and take her along. 

In the interim, her father has come back with the parents of a prospective groom and is astonished to find no one at the station to receive him. They go home, to find...
Shobha is tired of being picked up and taken along like a sack of potatoes, but like a sensible girl, feigns a lack of consciousness. The leader of her rescuers (or are they also abductors?) is an old man.
She pleads to be taken home to her parents. The old man tells her it is not safe for her to go home now as Chander's men may be waiting - she thinks that over, and decides that he is right. 

The next morning, there is still danger around; by now, Shobha seems to have decided to enjoy herself, because she doesn't demur - not when the old man takes her on a long trek through hills and across rivers, not even when a leopard attacks them but inexplicably decides to fight a wild boar instead; indeed, not even when the old man places her in a decidedly shady contraption that heaves and shakes its way across the ravines.
They reach the oldman's hideout, cunningly(?) disguised to look like the mountainside. Inside, she is introduced to his family. An aunt, who looks younger than the old man, and two girls, who promptly whisk Shobha away.
When they return, Shobha is introduced to a handsome young man, Azaad whom she doesn't recognise; he has to change his voice for her to do so. Azaad is dashing, debonair and charming, but she is not very impressed.
In the meantime, her father (Badri Prasad) is overwhelmed by his daughter's disappearance, and not at all impressed with the police help (or lack of it) and so he seeks the help of his friend and neighbour Khan Saheb. 

Back at the mountain hideout, Shobha disproves the saying that eavesdroppers never hear any good of themselves. Azaad's family is very impressed with her, though he claims that she has teeth and claws. In fact, so impressed are they with her that Azaad's father is all set to marry them off. 

And Shobha herself doesn't seem too averse to the idea, though she thinks Azaad is a dacoit and a murderer. The next morning, Shobha takes a walk, and sees how the members of Azaad's gang keep themselves fit. Later, she is entertained by Gopi and Chanda, the two girls. 

Forget bored, Shobha doesn't seem to be in any hurry to go home, though she asks Azaad about it on a regular basis - there she is, singing another song, and flirting with her handsome abductor / rescuer. (Well, if it is a choice between going home and being abducted by a hirsute villain on the way, and flirting with a presentable young man, which would you choose??) Their flirtation ends in some shyness on the part of the heroine, and a rather pleased look in Azaad's face, he takes off,
but Shobha continues to wander around the jungle and is faced with another of those pesky animal fights - this time, it is a tiger fighting a bear. It is interesting that none of these animals seem the least interested in humans.... and why are they there in the film in the first place??

Our intrepid heroine climbs a tree...
until she is 'rescued' (again!) by Azaad.  Grateful, she sings and dances (again?! I'm beginning to worry about this girl.) and Azaad is to-tully besotted. But he promises to escort her home, and does so; of course, it is important to while away the journey... 

In the meantime, Khan Saheb has come under police suspicion. His carriage has been seen going toward the forest, and the police are keeping a keen watch on it. So are Chander and his men. A melee ensues, and in the confusion, the carriage goes amiss - but Sunder is in for a surprise himself.
The police are hot on the tracks of the carriage, and Sunder is forced to think on his feet. His explanation, which does not convince the inspector one bit, is that he found the horse wandering around and decided to tie it up before setting out to let the police know.
Shobha, meanwhile, has finally reached home. The next morning, when the police arrive and tell her father that they think she is a prisoner in Sunder's house, they are taken aback to see here large as life and twice as natural. 

The inspector is nothing if not tenacious. He comes back to meet Shobha and ask her for details about her abduction. She promptly disabuses their mind about her having been abducted. And no, she doesn't know where Azaad's hideout is, thankyouverymuch, because she was blindfolded all the time she was there. Hasn't she heard Jhoot bole kauva kaate??
The inspector is sceptical, and after hearing Shobha's story is even more  suspicious about Khan Saheb. The latter is very polite and uppercrust, but insists that Azaad (who is a good friend of his) is NOT a thief, a murderer, what have you.
In fact, he promises to bring proof of Azaad's innocence, and the inspector decides to give him a long rope to hang himself.

Azaad is back in his hideout; his father is not well, and he cannot go to the city to meet Shobha, so he sends Gopi and Chanda to find out how she is. Which they do. Shobha is troubled. There has been no news of her father for three days. Aunt Paro promises to let Azaad know.

You haven't forgotten Sunder in all this confusion, have you? Well, he is still eager to marry Shobha, and tricks Janki (Ha! forgot her, didn't you?) into bringing her to his house. But Janki is still an obstacle. Sunder summarily disposes of that! However, Shobha needn't despair - help is on the way. And quite a dishy 'help' at that!
After doing his good deed for the day, Azaad makes his way to his father's bedside. He is followed by Sunder and his chamchas, who try their darndest to stop Azaad from crossing the valley. But good always triumphs over evil, my friends, and Azaad reaches in time -
- his father wants him to marry Shobha (now if all deathbed wishes were so attuned to what one wants!) and to renounce the life of crime. (Why? He seemed perfectly happy to live that life until then...)

Azaad uses Khan Saheb to return the stolen goods, but there still remains the pesky matter of some murders...
and of the missing Charandas, Shobha's father. You haven't forgotten Sunder again, have you? Well, the man doesn't know the meaning of 'Give Up' (that explains the perfect smoke rings).
And sensible too. He decides that if abducting the daughter did not work, then it might make sense to abduct the father and threaten him with his daughter's life instead. But Khan Saheb warns the police and Azaad deals with Sunder...

And yes, the murders... well, the 'corpses' were rather too lively to be dead. Azaad is innocent! So is Khan Saheb.

Now there is a small matter of getting Azaad and Shobha married. Her parents are appalled at the idea of their daughter marrying an erstwhile thief.
But who will Shobha marry? Will her parents accept Azaad? And who is Khan Saheb? What about Kumar? And how does Sunder blow such perfect smoke rings? Will Motilal be promoted because of the successful conclusion of the case(s)? Picture abhi bhi baaki hai, mere dost!

C Ramachandra composed all nine songs for this film in one month, and the title sequences were some wonderful shadow paintings. The Meena-Dilip pairing that had worked so well in Kohinoor, worked superbly in this movie too. Their bickering, the chemistry, everything was perfect. Now, only if the comedy track hadn't been so long, and inserted in all the wrong places!

You can watch Azaad online on Tom Daniel's channel.

© Anuradha Warrier


  1. Though it sounds horrendously convoluted, it also sounds deliciously entertaining! :-) And just that first little note of yours - that the story was inspired by The Mask of Zorro - had me hooked. I've watched the Tyrone Power movie (The Mark of Zorro) a couple of times, and simply love it. Reviewed it a while back, too:


    Even if it were simply for the songs, and for that gorgeous Meena Kumari-Dilip Kumar jodi, I'd watch it. This goes right up to the top of my list! Thank you. :-)

  2. Madhu, it is actually much less confusing when you watch it. Really. And yes, do watch it for the Meena-Dilip jodi. When I think of how good both of them were at comedy, it makes me tear my hair out to watch the heavy, tragedy-ridden roles both of them were saddled with! (And I am talking the tearjearkers, not the serious movies.)

  3. Anu, I must put this on my to-watch list at once, thanks to your wonderful write-up! I loved the duo in Kohinoor.

  4. Ruhi, thanks for the compliment; and welcome back. Yes, do watch this one - they are so good together.


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