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27 May 2018

Adl-e-Jehangir (1955)

When my partner-in-masala-watching-crime gave me a homework assignment – erm, sorry, ‘encouraged’ me – to ‘watch Adl-e-Jehangir and write a review’ (she thoughtfully provided me with a link as well), I was only half interested (because – Meena Kumari). The story was somewhat similar to that of Sohrab Modi’s Pukar which I had reviewed some time ago. Much to my surprise, I didn’t recognise any of the songs either. And then of course, I completely forgot about it. Recently, Shalini gently (relative, that) took me to task for forgetting Meena Kumari in my new-found love for the likes of Deepika, Alia, Parvathi, et al. My head hung in shame, I owned up to my slippery slope of cinematic infidelity and promised to make reparations.

First of all, you have to like a movie that starts like this. 
Secondly, this is nothing like Pukar! Now that we’ve established that, onwards…

The film opens with a woman ringing Emperor Jehangir’s famed bell of justice. In response to her complaint, the Emperor accompanies her to protect her daughter from the attentions of his kotwal. The man is defeated in a quick sword fight but is drunk enough to throw a dagger at his monarch when the latter’s back is turned.
It is Hidayat Khan, the Princes’ tutor who saves his liege’s life at the cost of his own. As he’s dying, he commends his widow, Salma, and his little daughter, Zarina (?) to the Emperor’s care.

Jehangir gives Salma a royal proclamation – if, at any point in her life, she feels the need, she’s to use the decree to remind him that he had promised to look after her interests. 
The sympathetic Emperor also takes Zarina, to meet Prince Khurram (?). Zarina is soon being given lessons, though one is not too sure whether she profits from them. She is more interested in Khurram’s harp.

Meanwhile, Salma has had a message from her father; he is seriously ill and would like to meet Zarina. Salma cannot leave before her husband’s funeral rites are completed, but if she could send Zarina with her mother? So, the little girl sets off under armed guard; unfortunately, they are set upon by a gang of dacoits – only Zarina manages to escape.
She’s discovered by a man (?) and his son, Shiraz (?) – who take her home with them. The man’s wife is sharp-tongued but kind-hearted and Zarina finds a loving home. Back in the palace, Salma is heart-broken. So is Khurram.
Zarina (Meena Kumari) grows up to be a feisty young woman who, though she doesn’t give Shiraz (Pradeep Kumar) the time of the day, is nevertheless extremely fond of him. She will not admit it, though, squabbling and teasing every chance she gets. He, of course, is forever expressing his love for her.  What will he do when she goes away, she teases? Where? Oh, to her own home. 
Zarina still remembers the home she had left behind in her childhood, though her memories are faint and she doesn’t know where it is – she remembers someone who played the harp, she tells Shiraz (who’s quite a pest, really).
Meanwhile, a grown-up Khurram (Darpan?) is also lost in the memories of the little girl who loved to hear him play the harp, when he receives the Emperor’s summons – he’s to proceed at once to secure the borders; there’s news of a rebellion brewing there. A bed-ridden Salma begs Khurram to look for Zarina whom she’s sure is still alive.
Meanwhile, Zarina and Shiraz are still squabbling, but one watery rescue (and a couple of alligators) later, the rift in the lute is mended and Zarina cannot help but admit her feelings. Soon, our intrepid pair are cooing like Wodehouse’s turtle doves and singing love duets
Of course, that means the two of them return home very late and are caught red-handed by Shiraz’s parents who decide that the best punishment is to get the two of them married.Shiraz is sent off to town to get the ornaments and trousseau. While Zarina is unexpectedly troubled about his proposed trip, Shiraz promises to return by dusk. 
However, her foreboding comes to pass – a young hooligan (Mehmood) who had propositioned her only to be roundly abused, kidnaps Zarina from the dale. Her foster father is beaten up when he tries to help her, and soon tied and gagged, Zarina is taken off in a doli. Ironically, Shiraz who’s returning from town, ends up lending them a hand to carry the palanquin towards the river.
But help is at hand for Zarina – Prince Khurram arrives just in time to save her. Meanwhile, Shiraz has reached home only to discover that Zarina has been kidnapped. And that he had unwittingly delivered her to her kidnappers.
Meanwhile, at camp, Khurram is playing the harp – the music tweaks Zarina's memory and draws her to him. Khurram is ecstatic when he realises that this young woman he rescued is his childhood playmate. He informs her that her mother is seriously ill, clinging on to the hope that her long-lost daughter is alive and well. If Zarina doesn’t return with him to the palace, Salma will certainly die.
Zarina acquiesces, but asks to meet Shiraz at Noor-e-watan; his parents brought her up. Khurram demurs – Noor-e-watan is far away from the camp and every moment is precious. But he will send Sardar Banke Khan to bring Shiraz and his family to Agra. Thus comforted, Zarina agrees to leave for Agra where, she hopes, her mother will approve of Shiraz.
While Zarina is happily reuniting with her mother, back in Noor-e-watan, an unshaven, clad-in-tatters Shiraz is glooming around, singing sad songs. Who should he run into but Banke Khan who, upon realising who Shiraz is, puts two and two together.
Back at the palace, Khurram wastes no time in intimating his affections to Zarina. She is awkwardly placed – he is her childhood playmate after all, and moreover, she is grateful to him for saving her life. 
Nevertheless, she summons up the courage to mention Shiraz; before she can tell him the truth, they are interrupted by her mother. Khurram is open about his intentions, Salma is delighted and Zarina is discomfited. She’s still holding out hope for Shiraz’s arrival.

However, things are moving faster than she expected – the Emperor has already called for Salma to ask her for Zarina’s hand in marriage – to Khurram. Salma is overjoyed – until she returns to Zarina who tells her to wait until Banke Khan shows up with Shiraz. But when Banke Khan returns, it’s with news of Shiraz’s death. A devastated Zarina is emotionally blackmailed into being Prince Khurram’s bride.
Agra is celebrating; Salma is ecstatic at her daughter’s good fortune; the Emperor and his wife are happy in their son’s happiness; Khurram is too much in love to notice his beloved’s distress.
Very soon, the wedding day arrives and Zarina’s tears are hidden behind her sehra. 
Everyone is present – the bride, the groom, the relatives, the kazi… when the bell of Jehangir tolls its call for justice.

What will the Emperor do now? Something greater than his son’s happiness is at stake here – the Emperor’s honour. Will he dispense justice without fear or favour? Or will he listen to his queen’s plea for their son’s future? Bow his head before his son’s rebellion? What will happen when his road to justice is hampered by another oath – of which Salma reminds him?
Pradeep Kumar is eye-candy; so is the actor who plays Khurram. Neither of them are crucial characters. (I always wonder at men who want to possess women who are so palpably uninterested in marrying them. What’s the attraction? Power?)
The story centres around Zarina as their point of conflict, and on Jehangir, whose word of honour and reputation for justice war with each other. Sapru makes a fine Jehangir, though one is accustomed to thinking of Dilip Kumar as the younger Salim.
Meena Kumari gets a better part of the screen time, whether she’s with Shiraz or Khurram. She’s gorgeous in this film and gets to be both serious and sad as well as fun-loving and flirtatious
She makes use of every second of her time on screen and shows just why she is acknowledged as one of the greatest actresses of all time. Young as she is, she nails the performance of a spirited young woman who is aware of her duty but still puts her heart ahead of everything else.

No self-sacrifice for her, even though the going is tough. Despite the emotional blackmail that she is subject to, Zarina speaks her truth in open court. And did I mention she’s pretty?
(As you can see from the overabundance of screenshots.)

The music, by Husnlal-Bhagatram, is excellent, whether it is the sad Ae mere zindagi tujhe doondhoon kahan or the light-hearted Aaj Laila ko or the romantic Chaand sitaare karte ishaare.  All in all, nice entertaining fare with plenty of pretty (as Shalini would say), good performances across the board, and excellent music. What more can one ask for?

So, Shalini, as a 'thank you', this one is for you.

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