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Noorjehan


Dinesh Raheja

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Director Mehboob Khan, who fashioned thought-provoking classics like Mother India, Andaaz and Roti, also helmed the blockbuster love story Anmol Ghadi, in the 1940s. This sometimes maudlin musical is hugely famous for some immortal, gilded era songs tuned by Naushad and vocalised by its three singing stars --- Surendra, Noorjehan and Suraiya --- but like a true Mehboob movie, the film also has its share of deep emotions and some interesting semiotics.

In what is among her last hits in India, singer-actress Noorjehan plays Lata (rather piquantly named considering Lata Mangeshkar was to be her successor in years to come). Lata and Chander (Surendra) have been in love with each other since childhood but were estranged when she moved to Mumbai. A grown-up Chander still ardently treasures her pocket watch.

CREDITS
Producer Director Music Director Stars
 Mehboob
 Khan
 Mehboob Khan  Naushad  Surendra, Noorjehan,
 Suraiya

The not-so-well-to-do Chander's benevolent rich friend Prakash (Zahur Raja) insists on taking Chander and his mother to Mumbai. As Prakash sets up a music shop for Chander, we get to glimpse some nostalgic shots of Marine Drive [in South Mumbai] in the 1940s.

Quaintly, Mehboob refrains from having his hero and heroine speak to each other till a considerable part of the film has elapsed. In Mumbai, Chander and Lata do momentarily bump into each other at a park and feel the old electricity; but Lata's boisterous buddy Basanti (Suraiya) strikes up an acquaintance with Chander when she goes to have her sitar repaired at his shop. Basanti tries to flirt with Chander in vain.

Gorgeous songs tumble over each other in the narrative as we are told that Lata by now has become a famous author under the nom de plume Renu. After reading her fan mail (with her eyes barely skimming the letter), Basanti ignores Lata's badnaami hogi admonishments and decides to meet up an interesting fan in the park. Of course, it is Chander. While replying to Basanti's questions, he gets flustered and drops his beloved watch. Basanti happily picks it up and shows it to Lata who recognises it instantly and warns Basanti: "Bhooli hui cheez ko nishani nahin kehte."

Deliriously happy (and a little dismissive about Basanti: "Bhool jaogi thode dino ke baad," she says), Lata writes to Chander now and the two finally meet.

But they still have to duel with the dual exigencies of class differences and the pull of friendship. Not only is Basanti heartbroken but Lata is also to be engaged to (who else but) Prakash! The film's title is a clever play of words. The pocket watch (ghadi) can be seen as a symbolic embodiment of all the moments (also ghadi) which Chander and Lata spent together. The way Chander treasures the watch suggests that he keeps those moments close to his heart.

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Construed further, Chander's dropping the watch when he meets the attractive Basanti could also indicate a momentary lapse besides serving as a plot device. But the power of the emotions triumphs as Basanti returns the watch to a frantic Chander.

Anmol Ghadi interestingly deals with the psychological fall out of the rich-poor chasm. In one scene Chander even sarcastically argues with and slaps his benign friend Prakash. When he says, "Aakhir ek gareeb ka haath ek ameer pe uth hi gaya," his anger at the affluence which separates him from his love is almost palpable.

Besides the main love story, the film derives some of its throb from the dynamics between Noorjehan and Suraiya's characters. There's an interesting scene where Basanti accuses Lata of having hidden her love story with Chander from her so that she could test whether Chander continues to love her despite Basanti trying to win him. Lata looks stricken --- perhaps because there is an element of truth in it.

The film also captures Mehboob Khan's (who incidentally had the hammer and sickle as his logo) growing fascination for the lifestyles of the rich --- which was to reach its acme three years later in Andaaz with Nargis's baroque mansion and talk of clubs, riding and butlers. Even here, three of the four main characters are rich and Basanti's bedroom is particularly plush.

The film is a product of its time and after today's camera ecstatic times, it feels a bit odd to see a static camera for entire song stanzas.

The acting is a little dated. Surendra with his bushy eyebrows suits the role. Noorjehan's biggest advantages are those sparkling, alive eyes and, of course, that lovely, expressive singing voice.

True to her name Basanti, Suraiya wafts through the film like a rejuvenating spring breeze. She is achingly young and full of beans. Noorjehan describes her in a together scene: "Bharpur jawani aur usspar mohabbat ki halki halki chaashni."

Sidelights
*Surendra and Mehboob started with their Saagar Studio days of the 1930s, when he starred in Mehboob hits like Jagirdar. Even after Anmol Ghadi, they did Elaan and Anokhi Ada together. They could not repeat Anmol Ghadi's success.

Famous songs from Anmol Ghadi
  Song  Singers
  Awaaz de kahan hai  Noorjehan, Surendra
  Aaja meri barbaad mohabbat  Noorjehan
  Jawan hai mohabbat  Noorjehan
  Mere bachpan ke saathi  Noorjehan
  Kya mil gaya bhagwan  Noorjehan
  Kyon yaad aa rahe hai  Surendra
  Ab kaun hai mera  Surendra
  Tera khilona toota  Mohammed Rafi
  Udan khatole pe  Zohrabai, Shamshad
  Main dil mein dard basa layi  Suraiya
  Man leta hai angdai  Suraiya
  Socha tha kya kya ho gaya  Suraiya

Noorjehan was already a star and the success of Anmol Ghadi and its songs elevated her to the top. After Independence and Partition, she migrated to Pakistan. When she returned for a visit in 1982, she was greeted warmly by the film fraternity. For teenager Suraiya Anmol Ghadi was her first major hit. Strangely, she never worked with Mehboob Khan again.

Music
*A R Kardar who was related to Mehboob (the two top directors were married to two sisters) suggested that he work with music director Naushad with whom the former had already been associated.

*It proved another fruitful teaming up for Mehboob after the Anil Biswas connection in his Jagirdar-Aurat-Roti days.

*For Naushad, this memorable score was his forties' crowning glory which came soon on the heels of Rattan (1944) and Shahjehan (1946) lyricist Tanvir Naqvi also came up with some evocative lines like "Chalne ko ab falak pe Taron ka caravan hai'.

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