Bollywood-ish

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Pakeezah

Directed by: Kamal Amrohi
Starring: Meena Kumari, Raaj Kumar, Ashok Kumar, Nadira
Released: 1972
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing


I love old Bollywood classics and I have a soft spot for all courtesans and tawaifs and their stories full of woe, yet Pakeezah failed to make any impact on me whatsoever. In fact I found it overall such a weak film I´m convinced it´s cult status and classic label are closely bound with the fact it was Meena Kumari´s last movie. A film, originally opening to a lukewarm response, became a hit overnight when Meena Kumari pulled off the greatest promotional stunt ever – she died. Succumbing to a long illness that slowly took her away, she gained a heart-breaking, tragic image, which lasts till this day.

We first get to see Meena Kumari as Nargis, a tawaif with golden hair and light eyes, who is dying out of shame over her profession. Hoping for a new life she runs away with her lover and they get married, but get a shock when his family refuses to acknowledge their union. Nargis thus without a word flees from her husband and settles in a cemetery of all places, where she intends to live without letting anyone know about her whereabouts. She gives birth to a child and shortly after that promptly dies. As we will see, her daughter, dark eyed and dark haired but again with Meena´s face, inherits not only her dancing skills but also her confusing way of thinking with no sense of logic, reality or self-respect. Why Nargis never tries to contact her husband – only sending him a letter knowing she will be dead by the time he will get it – or anyone else, even though she apparently has a sister who loves her dearly? It is just one of the loopholes that you encounter in the film. The sister however finds the child and raises her to also become a tawaif.
"We don´t want a whore in our house."
"Nahiiiiiiiiiiiiin!"
"WTH just happened?"
Eighteen years later the letter from Nargis finally reaches her husband (so stop complaining about your local post service), who decides he wants his daughter back, but before he can take her away from the brother her aunt secretly smuggles the girl out of town. And once the girl falls asleep in her train compartment while traveling, one of the weirdest and least believable love stories I´ve ever seen starts. And drags till the very end. What else do you expect though, considering it is about a relationship of a well-situated man and tawai´s feet. For the rest of the movie you only watch Meena lying down all over the place (indication of her poor health, but very uneffective for the character) and mope, and her moping doesn´t cease at any point, not even when she meets the guy with feet fetish whom she fell in love with through a short written note (mentioning her feet of course), not even when he takes her away with him and tries to marry her, and frankly she doesn´t even look happy at the very end, which is meant to be happy. 
"I´m singing a song...."
"About this creeper on the train..."
"Who gives me the inspiration for some serious moping."
The character is so frustratingly confused it makes it difficult for the viewer to feel pity for her. There is only one scene that I would label as a highlight – when Meena returns to her kotha (after running away with screams from the man he wants to marry her) she holds a short speech about tawaifs being in fact just dead and breathing bodies. We can blame her illness for what seemed a rather half-hearted performance in the rest of the film to me, but at this moment she is brilliant. Even though I cannot agree with the content of her outburst. The only tawaif who seemed a dead body was her, and just moments ago she could have easily get out of there forever. I had a feeling she doesn´t even want to try and be happy. How am I suppose to like a character who has no sympathy whatsoever for herself? She is painfully, annoyingly weak. Her refusal to dance for the guests at one point is not a protest of any kind, she just feels mopy so she doesn´t feel like doing it. There is absolutely no sign of struggle in her, she is just completely resigned and at times even masochistic. Her dancing on the broken glass at the end is no way meant to show her inner strength or desperation. Instead it feels she just wants to inflict more and more suffering upon herself. 
"But it feels so good to feel bad!"
There is no thrill (in spite of a wild elephant attack) and hardly any emotions that would manage to reach out to the viewer. Meena had next to no dialogues and was really just looking sad and more sad throughout, the role of a dancing miracle was also not fit for her as she has to be one of the most awkward dancers ever on screen – and same goes for Padma Khanna, who was her double for the long shots. The male characters are all unsympathetic loosers, but women hardly fare any better. 
"Tss. I´m FABULOUS!"
The film only deserves a shot as the last film of a famous actress, and if anything, it is a sadness over the knowledge the woman you are watching was singing her swan song. And another good reason is the music, very beautiful music. The visual part of the film too deserves some plus points. The pink palace, Meena´s long hair in a fountain, play of colours, that all was beautiful to watch. In the end though Pakeezah was a big disappointment after all my desperate searching for a good copy with subtitles. I did not get an engaging story, I did not get an amazing performance, and I did not get another favourite tawaif. 
But this shot is a classic.....

12 comments:

  1. Recently I re-watched it as i have almost forgotten it and i agree with you. This time I didn't find this movie engaging. And also the story or rather the situations were not making much sense. It is definitely not the best performance of Meena Kumari. This movie took 12 -13 yrs to complete and this time gap was so evident in the form of changes in her face- in some scenes she is looking young & beautiful and in some scenes age is showing and looking very tired. Music is the high point and sadly same cannot be said about the dancing. But, I kinda disagree with one of your statement 'Meena Kumari pulled off biggest promotional stunt'. I am sure u have written in a light hearted jest but somehow it doesn't sound so good to me. Idk, maybe i am over analyzing it. But, ya i agree that this movie got the cult classic status because of the fact that it was Meena Kumari's last movie.

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    1. I cannot imagine sitting through it all again. I really can´t, considering I was so bored the first time. The time gap is very much evident in Meena and her appearance for sure.

      I´m sorry if you found that sentence offending, it certainly wasn´t meant to sound like it. The truth is though that it was her untimely death that made the film a hit, and as cynical as it may seem it was ironically the best promotion the film could get.

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  2. (Didn´t you get that Sahib-Jaan was Bollywood´s first Emo?) ;)
    When I saw the film for the first time I was, like you, irritated with Meena´s tawaif character. Because she is, like you said, completely resigned and not even trying to fight for happiness.

    But then when she has this whole speech about courtesans being dead bodies and all, I thought that the characterisation was pretty much accurate. Sahib-Jaan didn´t fight because she was already dead inside. She didn´t feel anything anymore, even that tiny little bit of hope for "true love" was worthless in the end because in her mind, she didn´t deserve it. That´s why I thought that the ending is actually a sad ending in truth.

    But you´re right, it is pretty annoying to watch someone like that with that total fatalistic attitude.:)

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    1. LOL! First emo of bollywood. Indeed! :D

      Yes, Sahib Jaan felt dead inside, she suffered from serious inferiority complex and all. But even if we can understand this, it doesn´t make her any more likeable or somehow you can actually relate to. The character is just absolutely burnt out.

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  3. Sorry but this is official, your taste indeed sucks big time

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    1. I suggest you go to other blogs and don´t waste your time over here, as you are apparently one of those who bring nothing constructive into a possible discussion.

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    2. Exactly, why the heck am I wasting my time by debating with low-level fools like you? You just stick to trashing good movies and continue gushing over terrible movies.

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    3. Unlike you I don´t use abusive vocabulary. Unlike you I can actually accept that people have different views. If you simly said you don´t agree and described why we could have actually dicussed it. However I see that you are one of those who think their views are superior to others. You are a person who cowardly hides behind the anonymous tag (and I have a feeling you already have been on this blog ranting - why coming back?), shouting about how much you don´t care, but you apparently care enough to come again repeatedly. Well then, show you actually mean what you say, and please do not reply. I have followers and people who may not agree with me, but they are never rude as you, and I respect their opinions, even if I see things in a different way. You immediatelly jumped at me, hurling insults, and did not care one bit to even try to act polite. It shows you are immature, aggressive, cowardly and insecure.

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  4. LOL look who's talking? You are always run down other actresses to build up Madhuri who has done nothing memorable in her career except for her raunchy dancing and horrible masala films.

    You are nothing but an insecure, biased prick. so STFU and practice what you preach

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    1. Oh, you again? I see you just cannot help it. Deep inside you love me and just cannot stay away. How moving. And more abusive language? Wah. How awesome you are. How intelligent it makes you sound. Your choice of words and calm temper are so admirable. Your tolerance uncanny, your broad mindedness so praiseworthy.

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    2. Why thank you my dear. But too bad the feelings aren't mutual because I actually have great taste. I would've loved you if I had horrible taste. And you are trying to hard to be sarcastic love, but it aint working sorry.

      Ayways just keep on salivating over Madhuri and her wrinkles and keep trashing her rival/peers to big her up.

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    3. And again! Man, you wanted to be out of here fours posts ago. So much hate in you. I feel genuinly sorry for you. Maybe you should finally stop posting here? I apparently do disturb your inner balance a great deal.

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