Ghazal shines among a long list of movies based on Urdu tahzeeb

Venkat Parsa

Ghazal, the film made in 1964, is an enchanting romance, set in the backdrop of the traditional poetic contest between Free Verse and traditional Ghazal.

It is a poetic theme that is lyrically presented, capturing the old-world charm. In the Golden Era of Hindi Cinema, the hero invariably is shown as a poet. Perhaps it was so because poetry brings about refinement.

Now this is a theme that requires great poetic flourishes. When Sahir Ludhianvi is the lyricist, he is bound to do justice to the theme. Only Sahir could do full justice to it. He breathes life into the theme, with his magical and memorable compositions.

As the title, itself, suggests, there is scope enough for Ghazalslike Naghma-o-Sher ki saughaat kise pesh karun; Ishq ke garmi-e-jazbaat kise pesh karun; and Rang aur noor ki baraat kise pesh karun. Among the other lilting songs are Unse nazareN mili aur hijaab aagaya and Mujhe yeh phool na de.

Ejaaz, a revolutionary poet and an atheist, is dead set against Ghazal. He is not bound by radeef and qaafiyah in his compositions and writes only free verse. Ghazal or Nazm, he will not write in metre.

This avowed policy to oppose the Ghazal goes for a six, when Ejaaz overhears a beautiful, lilting voice singing a Ghazal, Naghma-o-Sher ki saughaat kise pesh karuN. He falls for the haunting voice. The narrative is all about their meeting, the dramatic twists and turns, the inevitable hiccups and the ultimate reunion.

On the other end of the spectrum is Nawab Baqar Ali Khan of Agra, played by Prithviraj Kapoor. The God-fearing Nawab, whose Annual Mushaira is a rage, insists that anyone who does not believe in God cannot compose a good Ghazal.

The Nawab’s daughter is Naaz Ara Begum, played by Meena Kumari, herself a poetess, whose love story with Ejaaz, is set in the backdrop of the Ghazal. Rehman as Nawab Akhtar and Nazima, as Qausar, play stellar roles. Rajendra Nath, often reduced to playing clownish roles, shines in a very different, dignified role.

Interestingly, the love begins during the fasting month of Ramzan that finally blossoms during the Eid festivities.

During the Eid get-together, Naaz Ara Begum recites a couplet to mock her Anglicized cousin, Nawab Akhtar (Rehman), Aise Angrez bane Naam-e-Khuda bhool Gaye, Cake ko khaa kar, Siwwaiyon la mazaa bhool gaya.

Akhtar Nawab compliments her, saying, doosra misra kuch yuhn hona tha ke, Sher ko sun ke Siwwaiyon ka maza bhool gaya.

Seen as the eternal and everlasting monument of love, Shakeel Badayuni paid the greatest tribute to Taj Mahal in the film, Leader, through his Nazm, Ek Shahenshaah ne banwaake haseen Taj Mahal, saari duniya ko mohobat ki nishani di hai.

Through this film, Sahir comes up with his revolutionary response to the Taj Mahal.

Sahir presents his devastating refutation of Shakeel’s Nazm: Taj tere liye ek mazhar-e-ulfat hi sahi

tujhko is vaadi-e-rangeen se aquidat hi sahi

Meri mahboob kahiN aur mila kar mujh se….

Yeh chaman-zar, yeh Jamuna ka kinara, yeh Mahal, yeh munnakash dar-o-deewar, yeh mehraab yeh Taj, ek Shahen Shah ne daulat ka sahara le kar, hum gharibon ki mohobat ka udaya hai mazaakh.

The film opens on a poetic and poignant note. Yeh Agra hai. Yahan ki sar-zameen, yahaan ka zarra-zarra, ghuzarne waale ko aawaaz deta hai ke sambhal. Agar mohobbat ke kooch meiN daakhil huva hai to mohobbat ki haseeN yaadgaar par nazar daal, aur sun, ke aaj tak yeh khamosh mohobat ki zabaan kya kah rahi hai. Kah rahi hai ke humko gor-e-gareeban na samajh. Hum koocha-e-tukda hain, hamara Adab Kar. Ahl-e-dil ko chaahiye gor-e-gariban ka Adab. Yeh bhi ek tukda zameen-e-koocha-e-qatil ka hai.

It links the historic locality of Agra, where 400 hundred years ago, the Persian architect had come and stayed in Agra, who designed the magical Taj Mahal. He laid the foundation for a colourful saga of love.

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In this historic house, there have been equally historic persons, who have all set new benchmarks of love. Now, in this very house lives an equally historic person, Shayar-e-Inqilaab (Revolutionary Poet), Janaab Ejaaz, who is Editor of Risaala-e-Inqilaab.

There begins his characterization as a Revolutionary Poet, who refuses to follow his faith blindly. As a result, he does not observe the mandatory fast during the muqqadas Maah-e-Ramzaan. Even on the day of hazaari roza, Ejaaz has halwa-puri.

Besides he raises the banner of revolt against Ghazal. He says Ghazal has not contributed to the advancement of the country.

The declared policy of his journal is not to publish Ghazal. Ejaaz refuses to attend any mushaira, where it is made mandatory to recite verse in metre.

For the Annual Mushaira of Nawab Baqar Ali Khan (Prithviraj Kapoor), a decision is taken to extend an invite to Ejaaz, just as a matter of courtesy. The Nawab’s son, Dr Mahmood (Rajender Nath), is told to deliver the invite, more as a formality.

There ensues a hilarious sequence of a wordy duel between Ejaaz and Dr Mahmood. Dr Mahmood mocks the Lefty Ejaaz for smoking the branded 555 cigarettes, when the poor can only afford bidis.

Finally, Dr Mehmood concludes by saying Assalam-walaikum. Perfunctorily, Ejaaz friends are about to respond with the customary Wallaikum-Assalaam, when Dr Mehmood restrains the atheists, saying yeh khaalis Islami Salaam haiKhuda aap sab ko raah-e-raast par laye.

The accidental overhearing of the Ghazal of Naaz Ara Begum sends him into a tizzy. As a desperate measure to get to know her identity, he decides to attend the Annual Mushaira, hoping against hope, to get some breakthrough there.

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The organizers are embarrassed at the presence of Ejaaz at the Salaana Mushaira. As Ejaaz enters, Dr Mahmood is seen reciting his composition. Though tinged with comedy, still it is set in metre: Khatte angoor ke baaghaat kise pesh karun, unki Amma ke inaayaat kise pesh karun.

His makhta (the last couplet) is disarming! Doctor sabka huN maiN, aur tumhara huN mareez, nabz dikhlane ko phir haath kise pesh karuN.

When the turn of Ejaaz comes, a veiled warning is issued. Hazraat! Main ek baar phir urz kar deta huN, ke yeh tarahi Mushaira hai. Koyee Sahab ghair-tarahii kalaam padhne ki zahmat gawara na farmaeN. Calling out to Ejaaz, Babuji (Raj Mehra) says, Mujhe umeed hai ke woh Aadaab-e-Mushaira ka khayaal rakhenge.

As a teaser, Ejaaz recites Naaz Ara Begum’s couplet. When it meets with resounding response from the gathering, Babuji tells him, Ejaaz Sahab, log aap ko tarannum meiN sunna chhahte haiN. Then he sings Ishq ki garmi-e-jazbaat kise pesh karuN. … Teri aawaaz ke jaadu ne jagaya hai jinheN, woh tassavur, woh khayalaat kise pesh karuN.

The ploy finally works. Naaz Ara Begum is all fired up at someone stealing her composition. She confronts Ejaaz, who succeeds in getting to see her. He exclaims, Ghazal Irani, Chehra Noorani, Awaaz Roohani. Love between the two blossoms.

To carry it forward, he decides to publish her Ghazal in his journal. He gives the Ghazal for kitaabat. As a result, he loses his job as editor of his journal, for breaking the ground rule of publishing a Ghazal.

The dramatic twist is Nawab Baqar Ali Khan’s opposition to his daughter’s love for Ejaaz. He wants his daughter to marry her cousin, Akhtar Nawab. Due to shock, she loses her voice. She agrees to marry Akhtar Nawab as she feels Ejaaz was attracted to her voice and after losing it, he may not be happy with her.

In the marriage, Akhtar Nawab tells Ejaaz, Meri shaadi mein Sehra padhne ki zahmat gawara farmaeN. Ejaaz obliges with his Rang aur Noor ki baaraat kise pesh karuN.

Hearing a plaintive Ejaaz, Naaz Ara Begum gets back her voice. Nawab Baqar Ali Khan announces that the marriage with Akhtar Nawab is off and his daughter will now marry Ejaaz. Akhtar Nawab frets but is reconciled that when dumb, she was his, when she gets back her voice, she belongs to Ejaaz! 

 Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi

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