Prithviraj Kapoor, Bharat Bhushan, Mala Sinha, Shashikala, Om Prakash
The Hindi film industry has an abiding passion for the historical genre, especially about the life and times of the Great Moghuls, which has stood the test of time since “Shahjahan” was made by Abdul Rashid Kardar in 1946. As most of these films are based on the doomed love story of prince Salim and Anarkali or Shahjahan's eternal love for his queen, Mumtaz, which led to creation of the Taj Mahal, other important characters in the dynasty have been sidelined. It is in this aspect that “Jahan Ara”, with Mala Sinha in the lead role of the eldest surviving child of prince Khurram (later Emperor Shahjahan) and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum (Mumtaz) gains significance.
Undoubtedly, “Jahan Ara” is one of the most interesting and charismatic princesses of the Moghul dynasty, a connoisseur, who was an adept painter and an accomplished poet, the inspiration behind her father's awe-inspiring architectural moorings, even as she enjoyed significant clout in the royal court, especially after the death of Mumtaz. She had a predilection for her brother Dara (played by veteran actor Chandrashekhar) over the dogmatic and radical Aurangzeb, who ultimately usurped the empire after imprisoning Shahjahan (Prithviraj Kapoor continuing with his act from “Mughal-e-Azam”) in the Agra Fort, where it was Jahan who cared for him till his death. Had Jahan succeeded in ensuring Dara's ascension to the Moghul throne, the course of history would have been different.
To be fair, Mala Sinha does make a valiant attempt to get under the skin of the multi-layered personality of Jahan Ara, for which she was nominated in the Best Actress Category in the Filmfare Awards, although the coveted trophy went to Raj Kapoor's Radha in “Sangam”, the versatile Vyjayantimala. However, she fails to capture the subtle nuances of Jahan Ara, the power, the erudition which she would have exuded in the court and the royal harem. Vinod Kumar, the first-time director, is no match for K. Asif, whose 1960 magnum-opus “Mughal-e-Azam” is several notches above anything else made in the genre. Despite the interesting subject, with an amazing scope for interpretation, he fails to conjure up any significant drama or interest in the proceedings.
There is neither the intensity of love nor the intrigue of conspiracies, which were the hallmark of this tumultuous phase in the empire's history. Although the film is shot entirely in Eastman colour, the sets are tacky and the dialogues hardly riveting.
The film is essentially a litany of tears between Mirza Yusuf Changezi (a sleep-walking, mouthing-his-lines-in-a-stupor Bharat Bhushan) and Jahan Ara, who are childhood friends.
The two transgress a royal decree — in place since the time of Akbar (although reasons shown in the film are more trifling) whereby, men are forbidden to meet the princesses under any circumstance — and meet surreptitiously with the help of the royal help, Karuna (Shashikala in a rare positive appearance). However, the vows for marriage taken in the seclusion of the zenana are dashed as Jahan promises her dying mother (Achala Sachdev) to look after the inconsolable emperor. Mirza is dejected and wanders like a vagabond, longing for his lost love, for the rest of the film, even as he is repeatedly approached by a nautch girl (Minoo Mumtaz), who does a mujra for the royal eyes in the company of a fresh-faced Aruna Irani.
The comic interludes, totally unnecessary and devoid of any humour or substance, by Sunder and Om Prakash are jarring and ill-timed. Besides, they do no justice to the considerable talent the two have, specially the livewire Om Prakash.
However, it was Madan Mohan, the music director, who infused a modicum of interest in the film, which faltered at the box office. “Aye sanam aaj ye qasam khayen” (Talat Mahmood, Lata Mangeshkar), “Baad muddat ke yeh ghadi ayee” (Mohammed Rafi, Suman Kalyanpur), “Main teri nazar ka suroor hoon”, “Phir wohi sham wohi gham” and “Teri aankh ke ansoo” (all sung by Talat Mahmood) are soulful numbers written by Rajinder Krishan, which have stood the test of time and changing taste of listeners. Through the film, Madan Mohan tried to resurrect the faltering career of Talat Mahmood, as he faced the onslaught of Rafi's genius, but it was to be the singer's last hurrah. Interestingly, a Talat number, “Tum juda hokar hamen kuchh aur pyaare ho gaye”, was part of the album “Tere Bagair” that was released by Madan Mohan's son, Sanjeev Kohli, decades after his father's death.
It is also an ode to the formidable acumen of Madan Mohan that he was posthumously credited for the music of Yash Chopra's “Veer Zara”, based on his unused tunes.
Through the film, Madan Mohan tried to resurrect the faltering career of Talat Mahmood, as he faced the onslaught of Rafi's genius, but it was to be the singer's last hurrah.