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Taj Mahal 1962

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Bina Rai, Pradeep Kumar, Veena, Helen

This film comes with a bouquet of memories, of the time when love was gentle and leisurely, and time allowed you the luxury of a free expression of emotion. Being in love did not necessarily mean shouting from the rooftopor wiggling your hips, just a feather touch would do. That was the time when director M. Sadiq came up with “Taj Mahal”, starring the beautifully sculpted Bina Rai, who did a handful of films after this one, before becoming Mrs. Prem Nath. And Pradeep Kumar was a regular on the period film circuit. It was a timeless love story, and right up the sleeve of the inimitable Sahir Ludhianvi, who inverted the very notion of art with his lyrics here. The art and the artiste merged, with the art stemming from the angst of the artiste.

Sahir himself had been in a relationship twice, both not quite culminating the way he would have liked. Here he has used all the emotions of a lover's heart, of a heart that has experienced the joy of union, albeit fleeting, the longing of being one with the beloved, and the ache of separation. His words provide life and blood to the film. If “Taj Mahal”, narrating the love story of prince Khurram and Arjumand Bano — later Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal — against the backdrop of court politics merits a rewind, it is purely because of Sahir's heart-wrenching lyrics and Roshan's soothing music which drew from classical nuances with a rich foray of Indian instruments.

Used pretty early in the film, Sahir's very first song, “Jo baat tujh mein hai teri tasveer mein nahin”, reveals the anxiety, the passion of a love-lorn man. “Rangon mein tera aks dhala, tu na dhal saki” could not have come from the pen of a man who had known no sorrow. “Sanso ki aanch, jism ki khushboo” were the words of a man who had tasted the fruit of union.

Immediately after that comes “Paon chhu lene do”, a personal favourite of Lata Mangeshkar, where the melody queen keeps pace with the irresistible Mohammed Rafi. Beautifully picturised with fine close-ups of Bina and her dainty feet bedecked with jewels, the song yet again shows what poets have been telling us since time immemorial: love is impatient of both rivals and delays. So, as delicate Bina sidesteps the flowers laid out for her by her royal friend, taking more time to reach his waiting arms, the lyrics convey it all: “Itna ruk ruk ke chalogi to qayamat hogi”! So beautiful, so subtle!

Soothing as these songs are, they are not the best known from the film. The credit goes to “Jo wada kiya woh nibhana padhega”, that love anthem which for some time competed with “Pyar kiya to darna kya” from “Mughal-e-Azam” as the favourite of romantics. Here, Sahir's lyrics are more than well complemented by Roshan's music. Incidentally, Roshan could play the dilruba and the flute pretty well. He brings in all the subtleties of his classical grooming into play here. Such is his mastery over the medium that the song makes an appearance thrice in the film. Add songs like “Jurm-e-ulfat pe log hamein saza dete hain”, “Chandi ka badan” and “Na na re na na, haath na lagana”, and you have a musical feast that more than compensates for any frugality of the film.

Talking of frugality, it all starts with Qamar Jalalabadi's story that has as much novelty or suspense as the daily weather bulletin. Agreed, it is a period film relating the love story of a Mughal prince, but there is absolutely no attempt to probe the mind of Noor Jehan, a manipulative woman who knew how to pull a few strings to achieve her ends. Similarly, the lead pair is just about okay. While Bina looks beautiful, she hardly ever allows any emotion other than a sugary smile to cover her face. Whether she is experiencing the pain of parting or the pleasure of union, she is too conscious of her beauty to let the character sink in. And Pradeep Kumar, her hero from “Anarkali” days, looks a little too old for a man who picks up the picture of his beloved and sings a song to it.

Where Sadiq scores as a director is in the backdrop of the film. He focuses a little bit more on the political manoeuvring at the court with some good results. Similarly, his sets or the characters' costumes never overwhelm you with their grandeur. And the narrative is suitably slow without being too leisurely. As good as Sadiq gets as a director, “Taj Mahal” is still Sahir's film with Roshan a close second.

ZIYA US SALAM

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