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16 July 2021

Kohinoor (1960)

Directed by: SU Sunny
Music: Naushad
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Starring: Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari,
Jeevan, Kumkum,
Mukri, Leela Chitnis,0
M Kumar, S Nazir,
Wasim Khan, Tuntun

When times get too depressing, I send an S.O.S to my partner-in-crime, Shalini, asking if she is in the mood to watch something light. She usually is. This time, Shalini suggested Kohinoor, having never watched it before. In the light of Dilip Kumar’s demise earlier this month, it seemed apropos.
The story begins in the kingdom of Kailash Nagar, where the Diwan, Veer Singh (S Nazir), is ending his regency. It is time for Prince Devendra Pratap Singh to ascend the throne. It is clear the Diwan disapproves of the prince. And it is equally clear why – Devendra makes his way into court with his pet mongoose on his shoulder.

Veer Singh’s wife (Leela Chitnis), who had brought Devendra up and loves him like she does her own son, is proud of him. Their son, Surendra (Wasim Khan) is equally delighted, much to his father’s disgust.

Veer Singh’s wife is also planning to get the prince married off – to Princess Chandramukhi of Rajgarh. Bah, says the prince. Chandramukhi, Suryamukhi, Jwalamukhi… they all end up bhayanak in real life! But just as he’s speaking, the attendants bring in the princess’s portrait, and…

S: Not bhayanak at all!
Anu: I loved the way his expression changed when he saw her portrait.

In Rajgarh, Chandramukhi’s father (M Kumar) tells her that she’s to wed Prince Devendra; one look at his portrait and she’s smitten. 

Much to the chagrin of the senapati (commander-in-chief; Jeevan), who has plans for the kingdom – and Chandramukhi. But the princess has his measure and refuses his company on her journey to Kailash Nagar for Prince Devendra’s coronation.

Meanwhile, back in Kailash Nagar, Veer Singh doesn’t see why the kingdom he’s ruled so well over the years should be handed over to a dilettante prince.

S: The Diwan is kinda stupid. Why not kill Devendra when he was young and defenceless rather than waiting until he’s all grown up?

Devendra is well aware of the Diwan’s machinations, and his oblique references alarm the Diwan enough to make him caution his fellow conspirators.

Meanwhile, Devendra has ambled off in pursuit of more convivial entertainment. He wanders into a competition venue, where a young dancer named Rajlakshmi (Kumkum), furious that veteran musicians refuse to play for a ‘kal ki chokri’ has just issued a challenge – if she cannot dance to the tune that any musician plays, she will hang up her anklets!

Devendra takes up the challenge and so begins Madhuban mein Radhika naache re… But we never know just who wins the challenge ultimately because the Diwan’s men let loose a cobra right then. Devendra’s pet mongoose makes short work of it.

The prince, no fool, has his suspicions cemented when a gang of armed soldiers enter his bed chamber to kill him; he swings his sword to good effect and routs them all, even chasing one man into the Diwan’s chambers. There, he makes it very clear to the Diwan that he’s welcome to the throne – Devendra wants no part of it. 

But, he says, if there’s any justice in this world, he will be king.

The Diwan has no faith that justice will forget all about the rightful heir, so he sends his men to finish a job they have already botched twice over. This time, though, they have more luck – Devendra hurtles over a cliff and the men are sure he could not have survived.But… (of course!) Devendra survives, hanging on to a bough for dear life.

Clambering up, he stumbles through the forest until he comes across a well-lit camp. The garrulous young lady (Tuntun) he meets informs him that Princess Chandramukhi is resting here on her way to Kailashnagar.

S: Dilip is so good at playing the rogue… naturally charming and rakish.
A: Yes, I love the twinkle in his eyes.

For some reason, Devendra doesn’t announce his presence. Instead, he chops off poor Tuntun’s tresses to disguise himself as a sadhu and informs Chandramukhi that she will meet the man she loves when the moon rises over the horizon.

[We grin at Dilip’s “Pardesi par paap ki nazar daali?” to a bereft Tuntun, and his remedy to take the hair of a black mare to replace her shorn locks. By the time Meena asks – seriously – “Safed ghodi ki nahin chalegi?”, we're cracking up.]

At the appointed place and time, who should be waiting for her but Devendra, now shorn of his facial foliage?

S: I didn’t realise this duet comes before the two are truly in love… they haven’t even met yet!
A: DK looks rather dapper. My heart is feeling a twinge.

But just when we are settling into the romance, comes a band of masked horsemen who cart Chandramukhi off.

[We agree that the kidnapping coming after the song makes it believable that Devendra would go chasing after his lady love.]

Devendra manages to capture one of the men and grab his clothes – and his mask – and catches up with the gang just as they deliver Chandramukhi to the villainous senapati.

[We were both pleased that Chandramukhi looks more angry than frightened.]

The senapati makes it clear that he intends to marry Chandramukhi. The princess makes it equally clear that she has no intention of doing any such thing. Miffed, the man goes off, leaving Chandramukhi under an armed guard – one of whom is Devendra.

When the guards relax, Devendra makes his way into the princess’s chamber and quickly makes her aware of who he is. But he can’t resist teasing her much to her consternation.

“Ye bhi koyi waqt hai baatcheet ka?” she asks, as he continues to flirt instead of attempting to flee. “Kuch karo, na?” To which, the naughty Devendra quips, “Kya karoon?”

A: I like how she’s so agitated and he’s so cool.
S: And he’s so pleased every time she hugs him, the rascal!

Finally, Chandramukhi manages to push him out of the room, and arming herself with a big stick, proceeds to hit everyone she meets on the head. Devendra acquits himself honourably with his fists as well, and having tied everyone up, the duo are finally free.

They continue to flirt adorably with each other (“Meri nakal kyun karti ho?) but unfortunately, their joy is short-lived. The senapati’s men catch up with them again, and this time Devendra is locked up in a shed which is set on fire, much to Chandramukhi’s shock and horror.

But Devendra’s horse manages to break down the door and drag his unconscious master away from the fire, carrying him to the town where Rajlakshmi lives.

S: Where would Hindi films be without intelligent, loyal animals?

Rajlakshmi, who had already been attracted to Devendra at the contest, takes him in and looks after him. By the time he recovers, she’s head over heels in love with him.

Meanwhile, back in the fortress where Chandramukhi has been imprisoned, the senapati is getting increasingly frustrated. His loyal henchmen, however, insist that he’s going about it the wrong way – bring her everything her heart desires; surround her with flowers, music, dance… and she will eventually fall in love with him. 

So the senapati sends his men to invite Rajlakshmi to dance for the princess, but she refuses outright. However, Devendra, who overhears the men, now knows where the princess is imprisoned, and sets off to rescue her.

Now begins a series of delightful escapades where Devendra stands in for the senapati’s reflection, Chandramukhi shows her aptitude with flower vases Kohinoor baba nearly gets beaned with a vase, but spouts gibberish nevertheless; Chandramukhi shows why she would be an exceptional bride for the mischievous prince of Kailash Nagar, and the senapati rues the day he listened to his henchmen…

Kohinoor is a sparkling farce, and maintains its light-heartedness even through what are tense, or even grim, scenes. It’s a film where the story, script, acting, direction, songs et al came together in one harmonious whole.

Dilip Kumar, so dashing [though Shalini insisted that he was a bit long in the tooth, Nah!], so light-hearted, so filled with mischief. Dilip’s character, despite being a prince, cannot take anything seriously, and it was refreshing to see him cut loose and surrender himself to the sheer tomfoolery and madcap humour that infused the script. He disguises himself, indulges in some purely physical comedy, and all the while, micro expressions flit across his face like quicksilver.

It was a master class in acting, and as we watched, Shalini and I, Amitabh-bhakts both, could point out his influence on AB. 

Dilip was equally good in the few intense scenes and delightful in the romantic ones. It’s a shame, really, that we didn’t get to see him romance so light-heartedly more often. 

Meena Kumari… sigh! So lovely. So sparkling. So… so… so…  

She looks bashful, flirts adorably, and immerses herself in the spirit of inspired mayhem. She also gets to indulge in some very physical humour – the scene where she chases 'Kohinoor baba' (who doesn't yet realise that his disguise has been breached) with a heavy brass vase in her hand is comedy gold.

She looked lovely even when she was sulking, or angry.

The romance in this movie is also very refreshing. The two leads are so equal in their relationship, and their love is not marred by misogyny or false coyness. 

Humour runs through their courtship as well, and it appears that they get to know each other – and love each other more – as they muddle through this adventure.

It was also the rare Hindi movie where the secondary characters had a wonderful narrative arc – instead of Kumkum playing ‘random danseuse’, just there for the requisite songs, or Jeevan being a cardboard villain, they both had nuances that didn’t look tacked on.

Kumkum’s Rajalakshmi, for instance, is in love with the prince, and feels betrayed by his love for the princess, but she’s also the woman who can both exact her revenge and the one who can proudly stand up to the princess’s accusations. [There’s one major WTH moment involving her and a pertinent plot point, but I must forgive a film that treated her character with so much respect, giving her character a proper conclusion.]

Jeevan’s senapati is villainous, of course, with his eye on the kingdom where the king is weak, and he is besotted by the princess whom he wants to make his own. But he will not force her against her will, and in fact, listens to his henchmen’s advice. He even objects to the princess being beaten – that’s no way to treat a woman. 

A huge shoutout to the dialogue writer and scenarist, Wajahat Mirza (the story is by Ramanand Sagar) for the severely tongue-in-cheek and most often, deadpan humour in the dialogues. It was hilarious to hear Dilip and Meena squabble (prettily, in the latter’s case), with Dilip saying, “Na todoon?” and Meena’s long drawn out, coquettish, “Naa!” Or Kohinoor baba’s attempt to get his lady love to understand him [Bhaagam bhaag ka programme], as well as his deadpan, , “Ten ten fish!”, “Kal hai tomorram”, or “Dem fool”. Or even his “Daadi lagaa kar pyaar karna bahut vichitr hai, baalak.”

[S: “I’m surprised Meena K hasn’t strangled DK yet. He’s SO bad!”]

When Devendra accuses Mukri’s character of looking for the princess only because of his “inaam ka lobh” Mukri quips, “Nahin to main ulloo ka pattha hoon?”  He even lapses into English at one point, crying piteously, "Guru, where are you?"

Elsewhere, he quips, "Main shudh gaali ka bura nahin maanta par ashudh gaali sahan nahin karuunga.”

The songs – I know Shalini clapped her hands over her ears at the nth song coming in quick succession, but I didn’t mind them at all. Even the ‘worst’ of them were pleasant to hear, and I could always ooh over Meena or Kumkum [Shalini eyed their jewellery in right earnest] or Dilip. Madhuban mein Radhika naache re has always been a prime favourite, but Do sitaron ka zameen par milan, Koi pyaar ki dekhe jaadugari and Jadugar qaatil are all songs that I love.

The songs made me realise yet again what a great ‘song-actor’ Dilip was – from the lip sync to the expressions that are so true to the words he’s mouthing to actually playing the sitar interludes well enough to lend verisimilitude to the scene – he’s amazing.

[In a ‘degrees of separation’ scenario, Shalini tells me that Dilip Kumar learnt to play the sitar for this film from her father-in-law’s guru.]

A huge vein of irreverent lunacy runs right through this movie. It was sheer joy to watch a match between equals, not as a battle of the sexes, but as two people who inspire each other to greater heights of mischief. If intelligent, humorous, light fare is what you are looking for right now, then do watch Kohinoor.

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