Starring Meena Kumari, Nasir Khan, Nana Palsikar, Janki Das, Kammo, Roopmala, Pratima Devi, N.A. Ansari and Kamal Amrohi
A totally forgotten by-product of romance, starring the greatest tragedienne of mainstream Hindi cinema, Mahajabeen Ali Bux, aka Meena Kumari and writer-turned director Syed Amir Haider Kamal Naqvi better known as Kamal Amrohi basking under the success of his maiden directorial venture, the Ashok Kumar-Madhubala starrer “Mahal” (1949), “Daera” (‘Circle’, literally) released at Bombay’s Naaz cinema with much fanfare and, hailed by the discerning and disarming, knowledgeable critics of the time, actually tanked at the box office. Though daring in certain ways it can’t really be called exceptional at a time when mainstream cinema all over the country was high on content, and bold in treatment though devoid of intellectual pretence that “Daera” was labelled to be.
It was ostensibly, or loosely based on their own love story described by many as elegiac. Meena Kumari first tasted stardom with “Baiju Bawra”, and reportedly soon after came into contact with Kamal Amrohi who happened to be around during the making of one of her starrers, and was instantly impressed with his literary aptitude. She was 19 and he was 34. They fell in love and married in 1952. Mahajabeen thrived on penning her thoughts in verses, and after meeting Amrohi wrote:
Dil saa jab saathi paya
Bechaini bhi woh saath le aaya
When I found someone like my heart
He also brought restlessness with him
The narrative deals with the dreams and aspiration of a 16-old-girl, Sheetal (Meena Kumari) caught in the vortex of uncertainty and morality. Desperate for engagement with her neighbour, Shravan (Nasir Khan, late brother of Dilip Kumar) who is equally drawn towards her but she is forced into meaningless wedlock with a sick old man (Nana Palsikar). Also high on symbolism, exquisite light and shade effect in black and white (later perfected by V K Murthy especially in ‘Kaagaz ke Phool’) complimenting the likely turmoil the two young protagonists are silently bearing, especially the opening shot that introduces the young lovers with the bhajan in the background and the camera charging from surface to a terrace. One of the major highlights is Meena Kumari’s six-and-a-half minute close-up.
Unfortunately, the narrative also suffers from needless pontification and reflections on a multiplicity of issues: suppression of women and disdainful male chauvinism.
Unable to adjust to prevalent social norms and latent sexuality Sheetal commits suicide. With hardly any substantial dialogue to deliver, she essayed the role of a young suffering girl with great conviction, her face registering every possible acting nuance that an encyclopaedia might offer without any lines to back up, Meena Kumari did leave a lasting impression with her performance, the kind that became her USP in her later career.
Made under the banner of Kamal Pictures, the 140-minute black and white film has had some insipid and uninspiring lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri-Kaif Bhopali set to inept compositions by the never-heard-again Jamal Sen. Strange because Amrohi was supposed to have an ear for music which was later proved in both “Pakeezah” and “Razia Sultan”.
The only somewhat redeeming composition was the devotional “Devta tum ho mera sahara maine thama hai daman tumhara” in raga Bhoop that also serves as the first face to face of the two lovers (Mohammed Rafi-Mubarak Begum, and chorus).
Other songs include “Door ho kar aise roya mera pyar” (Mukesh); “Aansoo to nahin hai ankhon mein”; “Aa bhi ja meri duniya mein”; “Aai chand sitaron khamosh nazaron” (Talat Mahmood); “Daayi ankh bole kabhie” (Devki Pandit); “Palakain to chhupaiyo suno mere nain” (Mubarak Begum). Unfortunately, it can only be watched in patches on the Net for even a CD is not easily reachable.