Blast from the past: Malhar (1951)

Malhar. Photo: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: 30dfr malhar

On watching “Malhar”, more than six decades after it was released, one cannot but admire the fundamental laws that govern good cinema, which have stood the test of time, proving that they are inviolate and sacrosanct. Despite the considerable time that has elapsed, “Malhar”, directed by Harish, shows no signs of staleness, at least in certain vital areas. The first of two films to be produced by ace singer, Mukesh (the other being “Anuraag” in 1956) under the banner of Darling Films, it had a young and largely inexperienced cast and crew, for many of whom it was their debut vehicle.

The film is a showpiece of technical brilliance, especially the editing by S. Prabhakar, which is taut and precise, and never allows the narrative to slacken or waver, even in the second half, which, on certain occasions tends to meander. Equally deft is the cinematography by M. Rajaram, considering the equipment available to him.

However, piece-de-resistance of the film is its music score, composed by Roshan, grandfather of Hrithik Roshan, who had made his debut just a year earlier, in 1950. For the current generation of viewers, who, through incessant harping might be deluded into believing that film dynasties do not extend beyond the Bachchans and the Kapoors, this will be a revelation. As will be the trivia that Mukesh was the grandfather of the talented Neil Nitin Mukesh. Or Moti Sagar, who essays an important role, is the father of singer Preeti Sagar.

Each song, led by the remarkable “Bade Armaanon Se Rakha Hai Sanam Teri Qasam, Pyaar Ki Duniya Mein Yeh Pehla Qadam” is a gem. Roshan was undoubtedly helped by the lyricists, debutant Indeevar and Kaif-Irfani- who penned sheer poetry, including “Dil Tujhe diya tha Rakhne ko, Tune Dil ko Jala ke Rakh Kiya” and “Tara Toote Duniya Dekhe”. Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh, needless to mention, made them immortal in their voice.

The story, by S.K. Prem, revolves around the love between Rattan and Reshmi, who grow up in the same ‘badi haveli' after Rattan is brought up by Thakur, Reshmi's father, who rescues the young Rattan when his father, Chaudary, is killed by brigands in a heist. Thakur keeps the vow he took at that time to treat Rattan as his own child, something that is detested by his real son, Anand, who, while receiving education in the city falls into bad habits of gambling, drinking and visiting nautch girls. The spendthrift ways repeatedly land him in trouble, from where he is salvaged by his rich friend, Bihari.

Thakur, on his deathbed, extracts a promise from Reshmi that she will abide by the diktats of her brother, not aware that he has become wayward and debauched. When Anand, on his arrival to claim his father's legacy, declares that he has decided to marry Reshmi to Bihari, the dutiful sister, remembering the solemn promise she has made to her dying father, sacrifices her love for Rattan and relents. Rattan is heartbroken, but acquiesces. Even after this, Anand does not mend his ways and launders his father's property, repeatedly extracting money from Bihari, which creates trouble in his sister's married life to an extent that she is shunned out when she develops tuberculosis after giving birth to a son.

An ailing Reshmi is selflessly looked after by Rattan, who even tries to save Thakur's ‘badi haveli' from being auctioned after Anand looses it in a gambling spree. A spiteful Anand swears revenge. The dénouement is unexpected, as a dying Reshmi has to decide between her sibling and her first love.

Malhar saw the debut of Shammi (as Reshmi) who, in later years became a character actor portraying roles of the best friend, the mother and even grandmother. But clearly, she lacked the mystique, finesse and talent required of a leading lady, which could have helped her to pick nuances of the character at different stages with subtlety.

Spirited effort

To be fair to Shammi, she makes a spirited effort to get under the skin of Reshmi, as she moves from serenading her lover to sacrificing that very love for commitment made to her father, from being a dutiful wife, an obedient daughter-in-law to a suffering mother and then a dying patient. But the portrayal is not seamless and one cannot empathise with the character.

Ironically, while Shammi was to enjoy a long innings in Bollywood, “Malhar” was the only film in which the leading man Arjun was to act. While he had an impressive screen presence, his facial expressions were wooden and the dialogue delivery theatrical, a malady that exposed the chink in the other lead actor, Moti Sagar's (debutant as well) arsenal.

Kanhaiyalal, who also enjoyed a long stint as a character actor, is consummate as ever, albeit, those who have watched him in later years will find his performance very predictable.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 8:43:08 AM |

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