For the casual Hindi film fan, the only Anarkali they know of is the beautiful Madhubala. She played this character in producer-director K. Asif’s classic, ‘Mughul-e-Azam.’ The film, which took years to make, was a labour of love for K. Asif who spent money like water. The leading pair, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, were also real life lovers who could not marry because of family reasons. , So the romantic scenes sizzled and the music score is remembered to this day.
But there was another film, Filmistan’s ‘Anarkali,’ which preceded ‘Mughul-e-Azam’ by about seven years. It was a product from a highly successful and prolific studio which produced dozens of hits from mid 1940’s to the 1960s. Made in black and white, it broke several box office records. One admiring fan even watched it on 75 consecutive nights.
In this film, Pradip Kumar as the wooden faced hero, Prince Salim, was a liability and no match to Dilip Kumar. ‘Anarkali’ did not have any pre-release controversy and was made on a modest budget. But it had two priceless assets. The music score of C Ramchandra and Bina Rai, whose Anarkali matched Madhubala in beauty and talent.
In fact, Bina won the 1960 Best Actress Filmfare Award beating Madhubala (‘Mughul-e-Azam), for her stunning performance in ‘Ghunghat.’ And her ‘Anarkali’ song ‘Ye Zindagi usiki hain’ was as much a hit as Madhubala’s ‘Pyar kiya to darna kya’ (Mughul-e-Azam).
Bina Rai, Krishna Malhotra in real life, died last week at age 78. She did less than 20 films in a brief career (1951-1968) and was usually paired with second rate heroes. As a heroine, she never made it to the top. But one saw glimpses of her talent in her debut film, ‘Kali Ghata,’ where she was paired with Kishore Sahu who was better known as producer-director than an actor. She got this role after winning a contest that was advertised in the media. At that time, Bina was just a teenager studying in a Lucknow College. Her middle class parents were not enthusiastic about the film offer but finally gave in. The film was okay, but had some unforgettable songs from the Shanker-Jaikishan music duo.
After a few more films, Bina was paired with Premnath in ‘Aurat,’ which was adapted from Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical classic, ‘Samson and Delilah’. Though the film flopped, the reel ‘Delilah’ fell in love with ‘Samson’ and married him.
Premnath, a fairly successful hero, turned a producer with P N Films. Its first venture, ‘Shagufa,’ which revolved round a doctor and his mentally ill patient, failed mainly because it was ahead of its time. The Prem-Bina jodi failed to click, as ‘Samunder; and the Gevacolour period film, ‘Prisoner of Golconda’ proved to be disasters and P N Films closed down.
Yet Bina Rai could not be written off. Her ‘Anarkali’ was one of the biggest hits of those days before it was eclipsed by ‘Mughul-e-Azam’. She carried the film on her shoulders. it was a heroine’s film. Strangely enough, Bina Rai and Pradeep Kumar were also associated with another hit film, Taj Mahal.’ Perhaps, historical and period films suited her talent.
Bina Rai was also much sought after by South Indian producers. When Gemini boss S.S.Vasan made ‘Insaniyat,’ where he brought matinee idols Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand together for the first time, he cast Bina as the heroine.
Recalling the shooting of ‘Ghunghat,’ Asha Parekh, who had a minor role in it, talked about how serious Bina Rai was about her profession and though a bit aloof, she was always ready to help junior artistes.
Bina Rai, whose appearances became less frequent before she quietly moved away from films in 1968, felt there were no challenging roles for actors of her age. Bina, like Dev Anand’s wife, Kalpana Kartik, was seldom seen in public even as husband Premnath in his second ‘avatar’ as a villain resurrected his career. There were rumours that Bina was suffering from a mental illness though some rare media pictures showed her as a smiling and happy homemaker.
Her end came after a cardiac arrest. People of this writer’s generation can never forget the heart-rending last scene of ‘Anarkali, which showed her buried alive and bidding ‘alvida, alvida’ to her lover, Prince Salim.