After the failure at the box office of Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Guru Dutt had let M. Sadiq direct his Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960) before making this elegiac movie which he credited to his long-term collaborator and scenarist, Alvi. Taken from a classic Bengali novel, the story is set in the 19th C. zamindari milieu of the Choudhury household. It is seen through the eyes of the lower-class but educated Bhoothnath (Dutt) who arrives in colonial Calcutta looking for work (while British troops loot the shops). Through his city relative Bhoothnath finds accomodation in the Choudhury haveli (ancestral mansion) while working at the Mohini Sindoor factory, which allows the narrative to move from the aristocratically indolent world of the zamindars to the more prosaic one of the Brahmo Samaj. The plot has the hero being fascinated by the lady of the house Chhoti Bahu (M. Kumari), whose husband (Rehman) prefers the company of dancing-girls and all-night drinking bouts. The film gradually gives way to a darker mood as the family loses its fortune and descends to ruin while Chhoti Bahu becomes an alcoholic. At times compared to Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar (1958) as a commentary on Bengal’s decaying feudalism, Dutt’s film is a romantic and somewhat nostalgic tale about a bygone era, presenting the past and the future through the contradictory attitudes of two female figures. Meena Kumari’s skilful performance, redolent with sensuality (e.g. the scene where she entices her husband to stay by her side through the song Na jao saiyan, sung by Geeta Dutt), is counterpointed by Waheeda Rehman’s robust and girlish presence (esp. in the Bhanwra bada nadaan number sung by Asha Bhosle). The film itself is told entirely in flashback and the long shadows of history invade the images in sequences such as the Saakiya aaj mujhe neend number (sung by Asha Bhosle) where all the dancers are seen in shadow while the singing courtesan (Minoo Mumtaz) is bathed in light.
Did you know?
When the film was submitted for the Oscars, the academy wrote a letter to Guru Dutt saying a woman who drinks was not a permissible taboo in their culture. Read More