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11 August 2011

Naulakha Haar (1953)

Directed by: Harsukh Jagneshwar Bhatt,
Bhalchandra Shukla
Music: Bhola Sresht,
Starring: Durga Khote, Meena Kumari, 
Nirupa Roy, Arvind, Jeevan
Okay, what made me buy this one? For one thing, it had Meena Kumari. And Jeevan.* And palaces and kings and queens and magic and conspiracies and above all a naulakha haar - a necklace worth nine lakhs. And when you think of the period in which this film was set, and adjust for inflation, that nine-lakh necklace would be worth a mind-boggling amount. Heck, nine lakh rupees (nine hundred thousand rupees) today is a heck of a lot! So well, to answer my own question, curiosity and a penchant for the raja-rani movies (magic is a bonus), and yes, well, Meena Kumari.

Mahil Rai Padiyal (Jeevan) is visiting a fair where he runs  into Kiriya Rai (Ishwarlal), the crown prince of Mandhavgarh.
Kiriya has come to the fair to buy something unique, but hasn't found anything worth his interest. Mahil points out a woman wearing the eponymous naulakha haar. 
He doesn't let Kiriya Rai know that this is his eldest sister, the queen of Mohba. Kiriya Rai tries to steal the necklace in the middle of the night, but is captured by a vigilant (and feisty) woman, who is quite adept at handling a sword.
She reclaims the necklace, strips Kiriya Rai of his turban and sword and lets him go declaring that if he was the son of a  true Rajputani woman, he would take back his belongings without further ado. Kiriya is humiliated, but has no option but to leave; his lackey consoles him by saying that he should thank his stars that hecame back alive. 

While this conversation takes place, Mahil comes to visit - and to rub some salt into his wounds. He also informs him that his sisters (for the queen of the Banafurs is his eldest sister) were resting for the night at Purva, three kilometres outside the boundaries of Mohba. There is no army to worry about, and if Kiriya wanted to avenge his humiliation, this would be the best time. 

And there are wheels within wheels: Mahil's father had been defeated by the ruler of the Chandelas, Parmal in the war of Mohba. To save his kingdom, the chieftain married his elder daughter Malna to the victor. While Parmal Singh was encouraged by his wife to remain in Mohba, her father and brother had to move to a small Jagir called Urai. When King Parmal's sardars Desh Rai and Bach Rai defeated the Mandhavgarh army, Mahil's other sisters Devla (Durga Khote) and Tilka were married off to them much against his wishes. The Banafurs were rulers, and the (should-be) ruler of Mohba - Mahil Rai Padiyal - is forced to remain an ordinary jagirdar under their protection. 

He is hoping to get his kingdom back, but is the planner, not the doer. And so, like Iago, he reminds Kiriya about the humiliation and exhorts him to do the dirty deed for him.

Kiriya agrees, and in the dead of the night, enters the camp with his men. There, he beheads the army commander in front of Devla's eyes. (He is her husband).
Devla is shocked, but has never been one to sit and cry.
She picks up her sword and challenges Kiriya; unfortunately, she is outnumbered, and is tied to a pillar. Now it is her son's and nephew's lives at stake, and discretion being the better part of valour, she gives in, and parts with the turban, the sword and the necklace.
But not before warning Kiriya that he will have to pay for blood with blood. He laughs, and leaves but not before taking the necklace and the severed heads of the two chieftains with him.

Widowed, the two sisters return to Mohba, where their sister and brother-in-law  are suitably upset. The King suggests that they attack Mandhavgarh, but is dissuaded by his priest (and Mahil) who tells him that the stars are not in favour of Mohba. Devla and her sister want to commit Sati, but the queen reminds Devla that she is pregnant, and it is her duty to stay alive until such time as the prince (how are they so sure it is a boy) is born, and is old enough to avenge his father.  (And why couldn't her older son Alha have done the needful? Beats me!

In the meantime, a victorious Kiriya has returned to Mandhavgarh; his father is overjoyed at the spoils of war - a war elephant, a flying horse, the nine-lakh necklace
and the court dancer of the Banafurs - Lakhi.
Kiriya's mother, however is less pleased - it  is a shame, she declares, that any son of hers, and a Rajput to boot, should behave so despicably as to wage war on a sleeping enemy. Her husband is made of sterner stuff - 'All is fair in love and war" he declares, and the Baghela queen of Mandhavgarh departs in a huff.
Lakhi has decided that she will stay at Mandhavgarh, and try to earn their trust, until such time as the heirs of Mahoba come to retrieve the heads of their fathers, and avenge their deaths.
Soon, nineteen years pass, and the two sons of Devla are grown into strapping youth, much interested in hunting and other such royal pastimes. Devla is hesitant to relate the past - they are young, she tries to convince herself.
Soon, Udal, the younger prince, is off chasing a deer. Just as he aims, an arrow ends the deer's life. And he nearly comes to blows with a comely youth, who is curt and arrogant.
Of course, it takes his friend Deva (Sunder) to inform him that the 'youth' is, in fact, a girl, (Bijma / Meena Kumari) and a rather beautiful one, at that.
Our hero and the princess meet again - when she falls - literally - into his arms; and love blossoms. Pouf! Just like that! And the princess hums a song, confides in her maid (Lakhi, for whom time seems to have stood still), and the good woman, knowing who the young man is, is not averse to furthering the connection. She sets up a meeting, another song ensues, and they are exchanging bangles and rings.
In the middle of all this, of course, they have forgotten one important thing - they haven't told each other their names. (Hey, don't ask me! I am not that romantic.)

But the fat is soon going to be in the fire - Mahil's sidekick has seen the whole ring-bangle-exchange, and rushes off to give the joyful news to his master. Whereupon, Mahil decides to visit Kiriya to inform him that 'gold and woman need to be guarded'.
Bijma is put under house arrest, and Udal is left to wonder why his love hasn't come to him as promised. Upset at her continued absence, he and Deva get into an argument at the village well, and then with their cousin (Mahil's son, and responsible for a horrible comic side-plot), and Udal proceeds to break his cousin's arm. Incensed at his son's mistreatment at the hands of Udal, Mahil provokes him into avenging his father's death. 

(Now here is where the DVD inexplicably took a darn leap. So excuse me while I fill in plot holes from reading the back of the DVD cover.)

Udal goes to Mandavgarh, only to realise that Bijma, the girl he loves, is the sister of the vile Kiriya who had killed his father and uncle. When she learns of this, Devla insists that he forget her. But this is more than Udal can promise. Disguised as a sanyasi, he makes his way back to his love - she gets Lakhi to sneak him into her room. But Kiriya finds out. When he knocks on Bijma's door, she turns the disguised Udal into a parrot,
but Kiriya catches it, wrings its neck, and throws his sister into the dungeon. 

(Back to the movie.)

Lakhi, takes the pitiful corpse, mounts the flying horse (so that is why it was there!) and flies to a copse with some ancient God - and revives the parrot using some magic water. She then flies back, only to be captured by Kiriya's men, but she manages to let the parrot escape. She is thrown into the dungeons too (can't say much about the man's originality).
When their mother objects, Kiriya informs her that her daughter is hellbent on sullying their 'izzat' by falling in love with the son of their enemy. She visits her daughter in the dungeon and berates her for being a blot on the old escutcheon. A spirited Bijma asks her who the real blot is - she, or her brother, who had killed unarmed men while they slept?
The queen, who really is a decent soul at heart, tells her that she must indeed turn the parrot-prince back into a human. So that Udal can meet Kiriya on the battlefield. If Udal wins, then Kiriya will have died an honourable death. If Kiriya wins, then he will have wiped off the 'daag'. Bijma is overjoyed. But her mother has a condition - Bijma must forget her love. 

Bijma is aghast. But Lakhi argues that she cannot be selfish. It is important that the prince regain his human form. Sorrowfully, Bijma agrees, and the duo make their way to the prince's camp, where the belaboured parrot (having been chased by Kiriya on the flying horse) has sought  safe haven in Deva's tent.
Bijma changes the prince back, but remembering her promise, soon returns his ring and flees.
Udal stops Lakhi from following her. When Udal returns, a joyful Devla announces that they will march toward Mandhavgarh - she, Lakhi and Udal will head one troop, while Alha, Deva and her nephew (no name) will head another. Lakhi takes them into the Mandhavgarh fort through a secret tunnel, while the others attack the main gates. 

Smashing sword fights ensue inside the fort, while mayhem rules outside its gates. Everyone is fighting everyone else. Lakhi and Devla are quite good with their swords.
Udal is busy fighting Kiriya - first with swords....
then, when Kiriya, drops his sword, chivalrously throws his own aside so they can fight with daggers...
and the elephant mows down quite a few Banafur soldiers until Devla reminds it of its former owners, whereupon it changes direction and mows down Mandhavgarh soldiers...
the flying horse doesn't get to do anything at all, and Jeevan has made his way back to Urai. 
So, will Devla avenge her husband? Will Udal succeed in fulfilling his mother's oath? Will love triumph over enmity? And what will happen to Lakhi? 

(I realised after watching the movie that Jeevan doesn’t really have anything to do; and there isn't much 'magic', which is a shame considering the promise of the DVD summary!

A couple of decent songs, though the music is nothing much to write home about.   Hilarious shots of the fighting - especially when soldiers take turns to die - one Banafur soldier, followed by one Mandhavgarh one - and shout 'Aaaaah' each time an arrow hits. The parrot being chased by the flying horse was a hoot, and so were the 'heads' that rolled onto the floor when they were beheaded. 

This released soon after Baiju Bawra, which makes me wonder why Meena Kumari signed this at all. She was good though, and showed the talent that was to make her a legend. Durga Khote was a revelation. I quite liked her character, spunky and more given to action than sitting around wringing her hands. Nirupa Roy is beautiful!  Really! And no, she is not crying. She isn't misplacing children. She is strong, and not beyond some devious manipulation of her own. 

No, the necklace, 'naulakha' or otherwise has nothing to do with the story. And as for the rest, don't worry about logic. There isn't any. 

© Anuradha Warrier 

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