Chaudhvin Ka Chaand
“Chaudhvin Ka Chaand”
(Moon of the 14th Day, i.e. Full Moon)
(1960) Hindi, 169 minutes
Produced by Guru Dutt for Guru Dutt Films. Directed by Mohammed Sadiq. Screenplay by Saghir Ushmani, from his story “Jhalak” (“A Glimpse”). Dialog by Tabish Sultanpuri. Music by Ravi Lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni. Cinematography by Nariman Irani.
Starring: Waheeda Rehman, Guru Dutt, Rehman, Minoo Mumtaz, Johnny Walker.
Our own view of the striking face of one of Indian cinema’s most beautiful stars has the effect of immediately implicating us in the film’s moral tensions: we have paid for our right to gaze freely upon the faces of cinema’s stars, yet this undeniably erotic look – and others the camera will offer us – occurs within the dramatic and cultural context which forbids such invasive views. And while the film is obviously set in a world that supports male privilege, it often complicates matters by regularly shifting its point of view between men and women. In the first elaborate musical number, as the nawab peeks at the women gathered in his home for his sister’s wedding party, the women recognize his presence and watch their watcher. As he hides – blind beneath a sheet – in his room, Jamila and a friend comically dissect his painted portrait which “watches” over the room. Thus begins the film’s rich and varied play with screens, veils, curtains, performances, and disguises, together rendering all of the film a constant circulation between clear-eyed vision and (often preferable, or more alluring) distorted views.
The unfolding of the plot moves from the misidentifications of Shakesperian comedy to the misunderstandings of well-intentioned people that result in tragedy. The nawab’s ailing mother is anxious to see her son married, and has arranged his marriage; still seeking his briefly glimpsed Beatrice, he asks his poor friend Aslam (Guru Dutt) to marry the girl his mother has secured – who is of course Jamila.
The film will then trace the series of errors and obligations that complicate this situation and results in the three friends understanding the prices they have paid attempting to insure one another’s happiness. The film’s long-delayed revelation, when the nawab finally realizes that the woman he desires is his best friend’s wife, is a brilliant sequence that shifts our attention between visual perspectives (as well as external and internal voices) that are intricately composed through reflections in mirrors. The scene summarizes the film’s catalog of visual structures as well as the moral consequences that they generate.
If the extended misunderstandings seem implausible (despite their grounding in a social system that isolates men and women from casual contact), the emotions that link the characters to one another and motivate their attempts to perform extreme sacrifices feel plausible and real. Although Jamila is central to the plot, the film concentrates on the obligations of male friendship (dosti), one of the great topics of popular Indian cinema but rarely given the depth and sincerity of this example: as in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam this film’s ostensible “happy ending” for a couple is outweighed by the painful cost of such joy. (One continually senses that the three friends at the center of the film are playing out their off-screen, longtime affection as well: Johnny Walker’s comic role is especially tempered by moments of convincing affection for his suffering friends.) Friendship forces these fellows to take action by acting: attempting to play the part of the wayward husband that will allow the wife he adores to divorce him and marry his best friend, Aslam’s joyless visits to a brothel make him resemble Devdas, the great Indian romantic anti-hero (Guru Dutt fans will recall that the ill-fated film being made in the ill-fated Kaagaz ke Phool is a remake of Devdas, a story of self-destruction that Guru Dutt’s own life seemed to sadly replay.) Shaida, on the other hand, approaches his roles – and costume changes – with great relish, disguising himself as a elderly holy man to photograph women in the bazaar, and finally donning the uniform and self-important mannerisms of a police inspector.As in all Guru Dutt films, the song sequences are notable highlights, featuring the voices of perhaps Hindi cinema’s three greatest playback singers, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, and Mohammad Rafi, the latter shifting effortlessly between Guru Dutt’s heartfelt and Johnny Walker’s comic songs. Two numbers are given special treatment by being filmed in color (see note below), and Guru Dutt’s tendency to advance his story through songs, with the rhythm of music and editing in collaboration, is as strong as ever.
For example, the first major number, Sharma Ke Ye Kyon … (“Why do these women adjust their veils?”) cuts between the nawab and women peering at one another while the lyrics comment upon this action (and the tradition of purdah), all within a tightly organized interchange of sound and image. If this film doesn’t finally achieve the overall impact of an earlier masterpiece like Pyaasa, the technical skills that made Guru Dutt one of the masters of Hindi cinema’s golden age, and unsurpassed in the art of song picturization, are still on display in this penultimate work.
چودھویں کا چاند ہو یا آفتاب ہو ۔ رفیع
بدلے بدلے میرے سرکار نظر آتے ہیں
دل کی کہانی رنگ لائی ہے
برسات کی رات
Hindi, 1960, approx. 142 minutes. Directed by P. L. SantoshiProduced by: R. Chandra; Story: Rafi Ajmeri; Dialogue: Sarshar Sailani; Screenplay: Bharat Bhushan, P. L. Santoshi; Cinematography: M. Rajaram; Editing: P. S. Khochikar; Art Direction: Gonesh Basak; Playback: Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Sudha Malhotra, Mohamed Rafi, Manna Dey, S. D. Batish, Shankar Shamboo, Balbir, Suman Kalyanpur, Kamla Barot; Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi; Music: Roshan
Despite the poor image quality and subtitles on the available DVD (see below)-there are at least three good reasons to watch this under-appreciated gem of a film:
it belongs to the comparatively rare category of “Muslim social which offers a contemporary and essentially secular tale centered around main characters who happen to South Asian Muslims, fairly realistically depicts their cultural and social life, and features chaste and elegant Urdu/Hindi with a rich Persian resonance.
it offers three notably strong female characters, superbly played by talented actresses, including the incomparable Madhubala, then at the height of her career (MUGHAL-E-AZAM).
it has a memorable score, with lyrics by the great Sahir Ludhianvi (an Urdu poet doubtless most in his element when-as here-composing for a film about Urdu poets), sung by a stellar list of playback singers and culminating in a series of dazzling qawwali performances (of love-saturated and Sufi-inflected couplets on the pleasures and pains of love) that are among the best ever filmed.
After a credit sequence accompanied by a charming light-classical song of the rainy season (Garajta barasta saaWan aayo re, “Oh friend, the thundering rains have come [but my beloved has not returned]“), the story opens with the struggling poet Aman Hyderabadi (Bharat Bhushan, i.e., “Bhooshan” in the credits) temporarily lodging with Mubarak Ali of Gulbarga, a qawwali maestro and his two performing daughters. The younger, Shabab (“youth”) is a mischievous flirt, but the elder, Shama (her name means “candle” and refers to the standard moth-and-flame trope in Urdu love poetry) is deeply in love with the young boarder. Their father’s musical career has suffered a setback because of a defeat in a qawwali “duel” with the party of the legendary Daulat Khan, and Mubarak Ali beseeches Aman’s poetic help in winning a rematch. But his own straightened circumstances compel the young man to first return to his home city of Hyderabad to seek his fortune composing ghazals for the local All India Radio station.
While roaming the countryside looking for inspiration for his first commission, Aman takes shelter from a nocturnal monsoon downpour on the verandah of a blacksmith’s cottage, and is soon joined there by a radiant young woman who has been drenched by the storm; a lightning flash causes her to involuntarily clutch his chest, their eyes meet, and then….he lights a cigarette and she departs. She is soon identified (to us) as Shabnam (Madhubala), the spirited elder daughter of the city’s Police Commissioner (K. N. Singh), and an ardent lover of poetry-especially the ghazals of Aman Hyderabadi, whose divan or book of odes she keeps at her bedside. Naturally, she is excited when the radio announces that he will himself now perform a new one, and so begins the film’s remarkable title song (listed on the menu by its opening phrase, as is standard practice; Zindagi bhar nahin), in which the poet soulfully recounts his chance meeting with a beautiful girl during a thunderstorm.
In all my life I’ll never forget that rainy night,
For I encountered a lovely girl that rainy night…
As the verses unfold, their artful rendition of the details of the meeting makes the delighted Shabnam gradually realize that the man she recently met was indeed her beloved poet.
Students of cultural studies should likewise be delighted with this sequence (and others to follow), in which the (then-still-proliferating) technology of radio serves as romantic go-between and love-medium: as Aman sighs into his studio microphone, Shabnam responsively swoons over her stylish console.
Events soon bring the two together again when Aman surreptitiously sings to Shabnam during a poetic function, (Maine shaayad tumhen, “Perhaps I have seen you somewhere before”), and then is hired to tutor Shabnam’s precocious kid sister. But their budding love cannot be concealed, and it arouses the ire of Shabnam’s stern policeman father, who despises poets and moreover has plans to marry his daughter to one Aftab, the son of a judge-crony in Lucknow. When he banishes Aman from the house, Shabnam escapes to join her lover, and their flight is assisted by the blacksmith at whose home they first met. But before they can arrange a marriage ceremony (and needless to say, they chastely sleep apart while this is pending), Shabnam is recaptured by her father’s minions and brought back to Hyderabad.
As Chand Khan accompanies his new wife Shabab on harmonium, she and her sister match the maestro Daulat Khan verse-for-verse with pointed lessons on the trials of lovers. But when her own inner pain prevents Shama from continuing, Aman takes over, spinning fresh couplets that up the ante into the higher realms of mysticism and religious syncretism, with allusions to Hindu mythology (including, among other things, Krishna and the gopis-alas, these become virtually unrecognizable in the crude subtitles).
Given that the whole contest is being simulcast on All India Radio-Ajmer, and that Shabnam and her family are, naturally, listening in their lodgings, it is no surprise that the ecstatic climax of the qawwali-a sequence that should have all good-hearted viewers practically jumping out of their seats-will also triumphantly resolve the tangled strands of the plot. And if a rain-drenched happy ending were not sufficient grounds for rejoicing, there’s the fact of having witnessed a film that neither tokenizes nor “others” Muslims, that affirms Indian religio-cultural diversity without recourse to preachy platitudes, and that showcases self-possessed women who manage to get their way.
The Samrat Collections DVD of this lovely film is, regrettably, below average on several key counts: in original print used, digital transfer of it, and English subtitles. (One tell-tale indicator of how careless these folks are is the fact that neither of the star images on the DVD box actually appears in this film: that of Bharat Bhushan wearing a forehead-tilak is apparently taken from BAIJU BAWRA-wherein he plays a Hindu musician-and the similarly bindi-sporting Madhubala with umbrella in hand is nowhere seen in a film in which she plays a Muslim girl who twice gets drenched in downpours!) Although subtitles are provided for songs as well as dialogue (something I ceaselessly urge on DVD manufacturers), it is a bit of a mixed blessing here, since the translation is often poor and the English substandard or even confusing. Still, the non-Hindi-knower can manage, and the film remains eminently worth savoring for all the reasons indicated above.
میں نے شاید تمہیں پہلے بھی کہیں دیکھا ہے
چودھویں کا چاند ہو یا آفتاب ہو
نگاہ ناز کے ماروں کا حال کیا ہوگا
زندگی بھر نہیں بھولے گہ ۔ سازینہ۔ مدھوبالا کی تصاویر کے ہمراہ
The exquisitely produced Muslim social Chaudhvin ka Chand seems relatively neglected within the pantheon of Guru Dutt’s late films. Perhaps because it appeared between the now-undisputed masterpieces Kaagaz ke Phool (1959) and Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962), the former the last film Guru Dutt is officially credited with directing, and the latter the final film he produced, Chaudhvin ka Chand shines less brightly in its setting, surrounded by striking gems. Nevertheless, the film was (following the box-office disaster of Kaagaz ke Phool) Guru Dutt’s biggest box-office hit, and his first to play in an international film festival (Moscow, 1962, which Guru Dutt attended). But even Guru Dutt’s greatest champion, Nasreen Munni Kabir, describes Chaudhvin ka Chand as “most conventional in story and in treatment” in her seminal Guru Dutt: A Life in Cinema (Oxford, 1996). However, the film is in many ways a remarkable work that deserves critical rediscovery and reevaluation.