At last - I've finally got round to it and managed to see a "clean" copy of Pakeezah! Up until now I've only had a mangled scratchy jerky version taped off Dubai TV sometime in the '90's, with quirky English subtitles, dizzying widescreen coverage and a fluid colour with a mind of its own. Having thought the world of such a poor (and short) copy I find the decent one was well worth the wait and the full 140 minutes even more of a pleasure than I thought possible.
This was the lovely Meena Kumari's film from start to finish, and I believe was planned by her from 1958 on, finally realising it in 1971. What a shame it was that chronic alcoholism finally killed her soon afterwards, and in fact that she was too ill to perform in some of the scenes in Pakeezah, necessitating a body double. In some scenes the strain definitely shows in her face.
The story of Purity versus Adversity I can only treat as fiction having no experience of anything remotely close to it, but I'm led to understand that it faithfully depicts a world now gone that must have been common at one time in India. It's a sparkling and colourful film with a simple relentless epic message, an intense romantic tragedy which is somehow simultaneously feelgood too. But to me it's the peerless golden music by Ghulam Mohammed as sung by the incomparable Lata Mangeshkar - especially Thare Rahiyo - and its part in the unfolding of the story that makes this film so outstanding. I've seldom heard such serious, beautiful, poetic, wondrously sung and played songs on any movie soundtrack. Singin' In The Rain may be my favourite musical film but Pakeezah has my favourite music - yet Lata said that the songs themselves meant nothing special to her. The only pity is that the also unique Mohammed Rafi only had the one song in here, albeit a classic duet with Lata.
Because of all this but not blind to its faults, Pakeezah is my favourite Indian movie, filmed at a time when the Westernisation of India was gathering pace and watched now when Western values seem to be state sponsored and de rigueur. At the very least watch Pakeezah for a taste of what Indian "pop" music had to offer the world before it was all jettisoned for drum machines, the Bollywood Beat and bhangra.
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