Starring K.L. Saigal, Rehman, Ragini, Nasreen

One only needs to watch Kundan Lal Saigal in Abdul Rashid Kardar's “Shahjehan” to fathom the depth and calibre of this singer-actor, and understand why he was idolised, and his inimitable singing style imitated by many singers.

Although he did not essay the title role, and appeared in a few scenes only, his commanding screen presence was obvious. This coupled with his immortal masterpieces – “Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya”, “Mere Sapnoon ki Rani Roohi-Roohi-Roohi”', “Chaah Barbaad Karegi”, “Aye Dil-e-Beqarar Jhoom”' and “Gham Diye Mustaqil” – made the film highly entertaining.

But the real star of the film was A.R. Kardar, who showcased exemplary mastery over the craft of film making in narrating this love story. Taking three parallel strands in the script, he steadily builds the suspense.

The dialogues, peppered with a heavy dose of Urdu, are a treat to the ears, although they do require a fair knowledge of the language to be fully appreciated.

Undoubtedly, Kardar's vision for the movie was bolstered by the presence of stalwarts – Naushad, who composed music and Majrooh who penned the lyrics – in his team. This was the first film for which Majrooh wrote the lyrics, and his command over the idiom of poetry was apparent, something that contributed to making the songs roaring hits. Considering that the film was made in 1946 the quality of art direction, credited to M.R. Acharekar deserves all encomiums, as does the editing and costume design.

Foster daughter

The story by Kamal Amrohi starts when Shahjehan (a raw Rehman in one of his first releases) is approached by a Rajput chieftain, Jwala Singh, narrating the plight of his foster daughter, Ruhi (Ragini), who is blessed with unheard of beauty. This gives rise to an army of suitors, who indulge in violence to prevent her from getting married by scaring her to-be grooms. Her beauty, confined to four walls of Jwala's haveli becomes part of folklore, and street gossip, through the poetry of Sohail (Saigal) who accidentally catches her glimpse, and falls in love with her.

Exasperated, Jwala seeks the Emperor's assistance, who confers on the subject with his beloved Queen, Mumtaz (Nasreen) and upon her advice asks Jwala to bring his daughter as a guest to the palace from where the most eligible suitor would be chosen by himself.

However, one of the queen's confidants, Jafiza (Sulochana Chatterjee) is disturbed by Ruhi's presence and tries to dissuade Mumtaz, as she fears that the Emperor may take a liking to Ruhi and discard Mumtaz. Meanwhile, Mumtaz, confident of the loyalty of her Emperor, goes ahead and is redeemed when Shahjehan stands by her.

Still not satisfied, Jafiza plots a devious scheme to get Ruhi married to Shirazi (Jairaj) a highly skilled sculptor from Iran, for whom Ruhi develops a soft corner over Sohail, to whom Shahjehan has already bequeathed her hand. This puts the Emperor in a moral dilemma and casts a shadow on the love between the royal couple. Although the matter is subsequently resolved, Mumtaz tragically passes away, exhorting her grief stricken husband from her deathbed to make a unique mausoleum in her memory, who gives the task to Shirazi. After a series of twists and turns, the concept, and ultimate execution of Taj Mahal takes place.

Kardar deserves credit for his courage in giving a platform to new talent in his films, all of whom redeemed his trust, as their subsequent career graph in Bollywood shows. Actors like Rehman and Jairaj provided the vital link in shifting the highly stylised mannerisms and theatrical dialogue delivery to the more restrained, method acting of the 50s and beyond.