Kohinoor (1960): No matter the guise...

Bulandi chaahe insaan ki fitrat main ho posheeda,
Koi ho bhes, shaan-e-sultani nahin jaati.

No matter the guise, the glory of royalty doesn't fade
with concealment of its eminence (within kingly instinct).

While I cannot vouch for the absolute accuracy of this marvelous couplet by legendary Urdu poet Jigar Muradabadi (1890 - 1960) -- it's been a while, my memory fails me, and search engines aren't helping much with the specific poem that carries this -- it is probably a fitting poetic expression nevertheless, that is a microcosm of what Kohinoor Baba (Dilip Kumar) must feel in this gem of a film (pun intended).


This article suggests Muradabadi served as mentor to Hindi cinema's very own lyricists Majrooh Sultanpuri and Shakeel Badayuni, the latter the poet for Kohinoor. And that's integral to any discussion on the film (initiated by me, at least), because if I had to pick one (and only one) song from Hindi cinema that's my all-time favorite, this would more than likely be it. (Vocals: Mohammad Rafi; Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni; Music: Naushad Ali)




It exudes purity, eloquence, indeed sheer excellence, including in the segment of the film immediately preceding. It has soul. Independent of caste, gender, and material wealth. Soul. Rooted in religion and universal in applicability. Soul. Carrying an uncanny ability to nourish the power of thought. Here's Rafi singing it live (low quality audio and video, but worth checking out).

I'm just glad and excited the song led me to the film, because there is much, much more to the S. U. Sunny-directed Kohinoor. As much a fairytale as any other film, it tells the story of Prince Devinder (Dilip Kumar) who flees a kingdom to whose throne he is the rightful heir for fear of death. Of course, there is a princess -- Princess Chandramukkhi (Meena Kumari) -- from another kingdom with whom he shares love. And of course, there are those (like the ever-unreliable Jeevan) in both kingdoms whose lust for power, wealth, and woman makes it near-impossible for our prince and princess to unite. But wait. There's also an intriguing love triangle (Kumkum is almost always up to something interesting) and sacrifice in the name of love that'll keep audience guessing until the very end, with a big question looming -- will the prince and his throne survive?

It's an epic in its own right, the lightheartedness through two-thirds of which caught me off-guard by quite a bit. And 'off-guard' is exactly what I was before the ravishing Meena Kumari, who did a fine job balancing the unequivocal and the comic. She's simply stunningly beautiful. Please feel free to share recommendations other than Pakeezah (1972). Until then...a 'Haaye Allah' in record time ;)


The music is the shining star in all of the subtle but classy glitz and glamor that accompanies this true fairy tale. It retains the narrative within, and that is where its value is most evident. So whether it's a fantastic Holi song in Rang Lo by Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar to kick things off, or songs that appear much later, e.g. Zara Mann Ki Khivadiya Khol (Rafi), Dhal Chuki Shaam-e-Gham (Rafi), and Dil Mein Baji Pyaar Ki Shehnaiyyan (Lata), it's a treat all over.

My other favorite from this soundtrack is the immortal Do Sitaaron Ka Zameen Par (Rafi and Lata again), which captures the initial meeting of the lovers and is beautifully choreographed under [what we can assume is] a moon and starlit sky, true to the lyrics. I think it's a matter of sheer poetic brilliance to analogize the world with a bride:




Koi Pyaar Ki Dekhe Jaadugari (Rafi and Lata) follows, and is beautifully picturized as well. Chalenge Teer Jab Dil Par by the best duo in the business once again is one I'd never listened to, but found wonderfully well-integrated. Like the other songs, it is extremely well-written. I have hardly seen many movies from the era, but it couldn't have been common practice to have a rotating base (or even the camera trick, if that's what it is)!


The film is full of unexpected delights, such as commentary on loyalty...


...with respect to pets.


And a villain who isn't shy to smile (it's Robert from Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)!).


Beat the quality of this presentation, ye social-networking, face-loving, web ;)


She's checking out something very interesting.


You see, the film is tremendously self-aware, and for the better.


Among the other highlights are Mukri (this would be just as funny without the subtitle), whose character is extended to the prince's loyal companion while in the enemy's abode in disguise.


A special appearance by Tun Tun, sprightly as ever. (I wonder how this would be perceived nearly five decades later.)


A well packaged entertainer it certainly is, which makes up for its length. I've mentioned Meena Kumari, but Dilip Kumar is quite remarkable in this as well, of course. With melodrama, comedy, and sword fights, as a prince and as a saint, his effortless depiction of each speaks to his versatility. One could go on and on about this film, but it's probably best to save it all (and there's plenty) for you to discover. Its grandeur had me wishing we could see all the hard work that went into the art direction, in color.

Movie rating: 4/5 (Excellent)
Meena Kumari...here I come :)

Music rating: 5/5 (Phenomenal!)

Also see: Kohinoor (1960) at Dances on the Footpath

And finally...
The Urdu word 'kohinoor' is derived from the Faarsi (Persian) term 'koh-e-noor' which means 'peak of illumination' (literally, 'mountain of light'). When both definitions are applied to parts of this film and most definitely its music, one can see why the title is hardly out of place despite the theme bearing no direct semblance (the indirect will always be there) to the more popular Kohinoor, of which you can read more here. (It was also in the news a couple of months ago.)

34 comments:

sunil said...

Absolutely LOVED the way a half-terrified Meena Kumari goes around bonging the guards on their head with that pedstal. :)
And wow, talk about macho Dilip Kumar in that same scene: "Woh Dust tum par hadh dalleygain aur main konay main tamasha dektha rahoonga? :)

Mukhri, with his, "Guru where are you?"

The humour is WAYYYYY ahead of its time.

theBollywoodFan said...

That scene with the half-terrified Meena Kumari came from nowhere, and it was so well executed! Agreed on the humor, although I must admit I was concerned for the outcome during the last 30 minutes.

That build-up throughout, using that brand of comedy (which worked very well, as you say!) in a film of this genre, is something that must've been quite rare, regardless. Thank you for stopping by, Sunil.

sunil said...

And about "Madhu Ban": Muslim singer, Muslim actor, Muslim Music Director, Muslim lyricist and yet, :) Lagaan's "Radha Kaise na jalley" seems almost like a conscious tribute to the spirit behind THIS song. Both songs make the bold (and correct) assertion that the entire cultural legacy of this country belongs as much to the Hindus as to the Muslims. :)

sunil said...

Forgot to add: For Meena Kumari, you need to watch the absolutely fabulous "Baijju Bawra" too. Really cool movie. "Tu Ganga ki mauj, main Jamuna ka dhara". Uff!

theBollywoodFan said...

Absolutely, Sunil. I agree on the magnificent (and electric) 'Radha Kaise Na Jale'. It's interesting how the film industry has been a believer in that cultural legacy belongs equally, and has almost set the example ever since independence (perhaps since before then too, but I don't enough to speak to that).

The L.A. Times had an interesting article on this after 11/26, basically illustrating that Bollywood seems to have remained, for the most part, resistant to the political drama that aims to divide people based on religion. One example was of how the industry remained solidified against the call by you know which 'Brigade' to ban the 'Khans' from film around 1992/93. Can't find the article online, I have it in print somewhere.

I'm an absolute believer in art transcending the silliness and divisiveness our politicians (and some times, even our religious leaders) unjustifiably associate with any religion, and am happy with the way the film industry at least gives the appearance of calm and unity. It's in the 'soul'! :)

Back to Meena Kumari...I'll definitely check out Baiju Bawra, thank you!

memsaabstory said...

Meena was so beautiful and NOT weepy in the 1950s. If you can find it (KMI released it) "Mem Sahib" (1956) with Shammi Kapoor and Kishore Kumar is absolutely wonderful, very funny and she is gorgeous. Plus "Miss Mary" from 1957 (with Gemini Ganeshan) is a sweet bit of fluff with gorgeous music.

Pitu said...

Ooh! This sounds very interesting! Will check it out. May I add Yusufsaab looks DELISH!

Pitu said...

BTW TBF, If you like Meena Kumari, you MUST see Sharda- unbeliveable film!

theBollywoodFan said...

Memsaab: Thank you. I could easily sit through fluff involving Kumari or Madhubala! 'Mem Sahib', I shall definitely see. And on a Shammi-related note, I finally found 'Junglee' :)

Pitu: 'Sharda' certainly seems like an outlier from among the cinema of its time, thank you. The 1950s, I have learned fast, likely offered some of the best films of all time. I should've added more of and on Dilip, a 'thousand apologies' (now tell me you know which old school show *that* is from!). And I must add, O wise Sultan, that Kohinoor is one I think you'll really enjoy given the elements.

Cheers.

Pitu said...

Mind your language!! Yay for Ranjeet and Miss Knitter Jamila lol.

theBollywoodFan said...

Right! I love that show (go Ingrid! :D). And Fawlty Towers. :)

Did you ever manage to catch the inspired (Home TV, if I recall correctly) version called 'Zabaan Sambhaal Ke' (starring Pankar Kapoor in Mr. Brown's role)? It was about okay...

Pitu said...

Porfabor, ZBK was lame :-p altho poor Pankaj tried. Fawlty was cool too altho I was addicted to Allo Allo. Did u get that in India?

Richard S. said...

Hi, BollywoodFan. Very good writeup and thanks for the reference to my review as well as leaving a comment with that post today. If you have a spying statcounter the way I do, you may have noticed that I was here late last night :)... I started to leave a comment but was running short on time (in other words, I needed to get some sleep).

I agree completely regarding the beauty of the soundtrack and the beauty of Meena Kumari - though as I said in my review, Kumkum seemed like a worthy rival in that triangle - she would have won me over with that wonderful dancing alone, plus her character was very spirited and she was overall just adorable.

But Meena Kumari has some great moments in this film too. I agree about the head-bonking scene.

By the way, reading your review, I noticed that you spelled Dilip's character "Devendra." I remembered agonizing somewhat over how to spell his name... My DVD, from the notorious Moser Baer, spells his name in the subtitles as "Devinder," so I did the same in my reivew (or intended to, though last night, looking back at that review, I noticed that I typed "Davinder" a couple of times - but I corrected that.)

Does it matter which way you spell his name? I'd welcome any thoughts on that.
--------------------
P.S. In response to your request for other Meena movies... As I've said before, I thought she was positively devastating in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. I can get pretty weepy myself just thinking about that movie...

Sujoy said...

Krantha Krantha Krantha...Dha Dha Dha...

I cannot write any more tonight, coz I have two courseworks due in the next 7 days, but thanks for reminding me of Madhuban...

theBollywoodFan said...

Pitu: I don't recall ever seeing Allo Allo. Most of what we saw before satellite television was on VHS, and those tapes we got from England (and that's also where I got He-Man and She-Ra tapes from :), but at least Doordarshan showed He-Man ATMOTU.

While we're on the subject of TV shows, there was this show on Home TV called 'Amma and Family', starring Zohra Sehgal as the 'dadi' (grandmother) of the household, which was hilarious. And one called 'Hollywood Se Bollywood' (From Hollywood to Bollywood), in which the host would break down scenes from English movies that were plagiarized by Hindi filmmakers. A couple years ago, I was thinking of how ironic that was, given the host for that show was the one who directed Heyy Babyy :o)

theBollywoodFan said...

Thank you Richard. I missed your post when you first wrote it in March, else I would have seen the film right away!

This was the first film in which I saw Kumkum in a more expansive role, so I'd never realized she could act so well.

And I stand corrected with Devendra v Devinder. They are distinct names. I just played it again, and it is the latter, so do excuse that error. I guess I was too influenced by Dilip's Kohinoor baba persona (one meaning of 'Devendra' is 'chief of the gods'), somehow that's the association I left the film with. :)

My guess (and it's purely a guess; as obvious as it may seem, it might be something else) is the etymology of 'Devinder' would have 'dev' and 'inder', which would lead one to believe the resultant word means one who is able to rise above the physical, in other words, a pure soul.

There might well be other meanings to it. Perhaps someone reading this could help?

theBollywoodFan said...

Sujoy: Good luck and have fun with all the coursework!

Pitu said...

"A couple years ago, I was thinking of how ironic that was, given the host for that show was the one who directed Heyy Babyy :o)

-- Irony is a bitch ;-)

As regards Devendra and Devinder, most of the Punjabi pronounciations and spellings of names you will read are actually colloquial versions of the Sanskrit originals. When I studied Sanskrit, they taught us a process called 'Sandhi-vicched' which is a process to break up conjunctions that have formed a separate word.

Examples would be-

Suresh= Sur (melody) + Ish (Lord).
Thus, Suresh = Lord of Melody i.e. one of the 1000 names of Vishnu.

Following that process,

Dev = God, Indra = The deity known as Indra or the God of Rain (Indu = Drop of water/rain).
So Devendra = Dev+Indra i.e. The God Indra.

Devinder means the same thing, it's just colloquialized. Same formula applies to

Dharmendra/Dharminder
Rajendra/Rajinder
Mahendra/Mahinder etc.

Sry abt the wordiness.

sunil said...

And if you are a sucker for a well made Muslim social (I know I am) check out Bahoo Begum. I have always confused the storyline of this movie with Pakeezah - both movies are just so similiar and it doesn't help that they both have almost the same actors and characters.

Reason I didn't mention it earlier - the blogging ladies have expressed a distaste for weepy Meena Kumari, is why. :)

theBollywoodFan said...

Thanks for the background on the terms! I have always found Hindustani (i.e. the blend of Hindi and Urdu) to be fascinating, with both bringing with them their influences from much older and much, much more complex languages (one of which you've studied, which is awesome!).

It's interesting, when saying 'Devendra', for instance, that the 'ven' is almost pronounced as 'vain', with 'in' as in Indra, and 'va' as in 'Siva' (Siva has a strong presence in the film)! So many possibilities.

I don't know how it works in Sanskrit, but in Arabic/Faarsi/Urdu, there are several possible meanings for most words. No punctuation's used, and the meaning is derived from within the context of the sentence it's used in, as it's read.

And haaye Allah, you didn't just use the b word? LOL. But I do agree, Heyy Babyy was...well...never mind.

theBollywoodFan said...

Sunil: Thank you! There was some info on Muslim socials in the comments section for this post on Chaudhvin Ka Chaand (1960). I absolutely find the genre to be very interesting.

A weeping Meena Kumari = unfair! :'(

theBollywoodFan said...

All: As you might already have noticed, the comment form format was changed to be included in a pop-up window, since my understanding is that a form embedded in the page caused issues for some of you. I hope you find this approach more reliable. :)

Pitu said...

"No punctuation's used, and the meaning is derived from within the context"

Ya, that happens in Sanskrit too, often leading to 'punny' situations :-D

Uff, hukum maaf karo, humne B word use kiya, hum aap jaise susheel nahi hain ;-)

*channels her mom* BHASHA! BHASHA! ROFL!

Richard S. said...

It is very interesting reading about the etymology of these names and to get some confirmation about colloquial variations. Also interesting to see the pronunciations broken down...

There are some names that I've gone through great pains to learn how to pronounce properly. I think I finally have a sense of the right pronunciation for "Padmini," though I still hear a little variation regarding how much the second syllable is accented, even among Indians.

Regarding Sunil's concern about the reception for weepy Meena... Well, I guess he and I make for at least two blogging gentlemen who like weepy Meena just fine too. Maybe the blogging men will be happy to look at Meena no matter what mood she's in. :)

BollywoodFan, glad to see that you changed to the pop-up window for comments. That usually works better at Blogger. OK, time to confirm that...

Bhargav Saikia said...

Surprisingly I have heard these songs! Thanks to Chitrahaar of the 90s! :D

Madhuban Mein Radhika is a stunning composition..when do we get to hear such songs again in our cinema? I love Indian classical..if ever I become a filmmaker (by chance..but I really want to!), I'll make sure that the long forgotten beauty of Indian cinema is back on the big screen. :D

Very nicely written post :)

theBollywoodFan said...

Pitu: Bhasha! Right! :D

Richard: Thanks for getting us started on that discussion :) I think those little variations in pronunciation of names (e.g. syllables in 'Padmini') will always be there, even among Indians. And you're likely right about perceptions of Meena and her moods. I'll hope to report back when I've seen more of her films, and thanks to you and everyone else here, I have great starting points!

Bhargav: Good old Chitrahaar! And remember Chhayageet? The songs here were just amazing. And I'll certainly be rooting for you when you're a filmmaker! Although you'd have to figure out a way to make a commercial film with classical music :)

sunil said...

happy to look at Meena no matter what mood she's inOh absolutely! There IS a reason why she was the box office tragedy queen. :)

bollyviewer said...

You've got some amazing screencaps here. That Meena Kumari one-eye-shut one is hilarious! I need to get hold of this soon. Nothing can be better than Dilip+Meena in a FUN film (their other fun outing that I love is Azaad). They were pretty good in Bimal Roy's Yahudi too, though my favorite there was Sohrab Modi.

Richard S. said...

I agree with Bollyviewer that they were pretty good in Yahudi but Sohrab Modi was even better in that. Yahudi also had excellent dances, with one by Helen and Cuckoo and another Kamala Lakshman.

theBollywoodFan said...

Sunil: Ditto! Again, a weeping Meena is better than no Meena. At least the hope to reverse a trend will always be there. =)

Bollyviewer: Thank you, and you must see that scene in which Meena has one eye shut to believe how wacky it is. And Azaad sounds like fun! I'll definitely check it out.

Richard: And Yahudi as well. Such great recommendations with such great music and dance. Thank you again!

Anonymous said...

I have a question for you. Was this review by the same who did the Daulat Ki Jang review? I don't get how someone could be so different.

theBollywoodFan said...

Yes, it was. All posts here, unless otherwise noted at the very outset (which has happened a couple of times), are authored by me. I hope you enjoy them. The movies get the kind of review I think they deserve. :)

Joss said...

Hi, tBF, I'm still here! Just had computer trouble lately so have fallen behind on my blogs.

I actually saw Kohinoor quite recently, as part of my Dilip Kumar season. (He was of interest in his capacity as Shah Rukh Khan's role model, you see!) I enjoyed the film, especially Kun kun's dancing. Dilip Kumar left me cold, however. Far too baby-faced. My research did, however, lead me to watch Andaz, in which the co-star was Raj Kapoor ... and here I found a hero worthy of my ongoing attentions! What an actor! A true great! I couldn't take my eyes off him, and never before have I wished so much that my Hindi was good enough to do without the subtitles. I have since watched Shree 420 which I loved, and then this weekend Awara, which I watched twice. Let me know if you have done reviews of any RK films as I would love to read them. Richard S would be a good person to ask too.

I hope you are well and keeping on top of work etc. Glad to see you're still posting.

theBollywoodFan said...

Joss! Thank you for stopping by, and it's great that you're back! Which other films did you see as part of 'Dilip Kumar season'? I've only seen a couple so far (this and Naya Daur), and really enjoyed them.

Haven't discussed any of Raj Kapoor's films (your Hindi will get there, just give it some time :), which I'll hope to correct this summer, now that you mention him. But I have seen Andaz and the others you note, and agree he's just brilliant in each. Awara, I think, is my favorite. And yes, Richard does such a tremendous job with films of that era, definitely the subject matter expert.

It's been a hectic month. Between work, travel, and the Southern California beaches (which I am loving), it's been challenging to an extent. Shall keep on moving forward, I hope! Thank you again for your visit and comment.