Pakeezah – The Courtesan’s Classic

What can one say about a film that took 16 years to make, its genre no longer popular when released, and its main attraction looking jaded, only a sad reminder of her resplendent beauty?

Well, you can say that despite these and numerous other debilities, it remains a classic that has grown with time. Fifty years after its release, Pakeezah (The Pure) continues to be viewed and debated by the discerning in the new century.

India was in a triumphant mood after the 1971 war when Pakeezah was released on February 2, 1972. People had no stomach for its deep melancholia. Romantic and opulent historical and “Muslim socials” of 1950s-60s (with notable exceptions Shatranj Ke Khiladi-1977, Junoon-1979 and Umrao Jaan-1981) were yielding place to contemporary themes. The “angry young man” was knocking at the cinema door.

After many expensive fits and starts, writer-director Kamal Amrohi barely managed to complete filming Meena Kumari, his estranged wife and muse. Both knew she was dying. Despite its rich artistic content and popular songs, Pakeezah flopped commercially. It marked the end of a life-time dream. Until…

Re-released after Meena Kumari died, just eight weeks later, on March 31, it stormed the cinema theatres. Not only were the fortunes revived and the fame restored, Pakeezah and Mena Kumari became synonymous. They overshadow her earlier acting triumphs and for that matter, also Amrohi’s outstanding films, with and without her.

Although it loses out in most departments except in music, Pakeezah often gets compared with Mughal-e-Azam (1960), a magnificent story of another bygone era, arguably one of the greatest films ever made in India.

ALSO READ: Unparalleled Reign Of Mughal e Azam

Many stories, real, apocryphal, even autobiographical, fuelled the making of both the films. Amrohi, appointed as one of the four writers for Mughal-e-Azam, abandoned Pakezaah because both had similar themes drawn from the Anarkali legend. Separated for five years from wife, he considered replacement. But he couldn’t imagine Pakeezah without Meena Kumari, and gave up again. Friends Nargis and Sunil Dutt helped their patch-up.

To lighten his burden, Amrohi engaged Satyen Bose, but couldn’t quit direction. Signing writers Akhtar-ul-Iman and Madhusudan led to disputes. He had to pay a fine to disengage with the latter. So, no Pakeezah without Amrohi as well.

The film’s German cinematographer, Joseph Wirsching, died in 1967. Technology switch was needed from Black & White to Eastmancolor. Composer Ghulam Mohammad died, requiring Naushad to complete the soundtrack, finally ‘arranged’ by Kersi Lord.

Pakeezah is the story of a tawaif, a courtesan. Unable to marry her lover Shahabuddin, she begets a girl-child before dying. Her sister Nawabjaan raises the child, grooms her as a dancer. The love story repeats, this time between Sahibjaan and Salim, a forest officer, also a nephew of Shahabuddin.

Family patriarch, common to both situations, rejects Sahibjaan. He shoots Shahabuddin who, shamed by Nawabjaan, wants to redeem himself. After this blood-letting, Salim has his way. He marries Sahibjaan, his Pakeezah. A poignant ending with justice, a rarity, for a courtesan.

Thanks to frustrating time-loss in production, Ashok Kumar, signed to play Salim, grown old, had to play Shahbuddin. From ‘stars’ of the day — Dharmendra, Raaj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt, and Pradeep Kumar – Amrohi chose Dharmendra as Salim. But well into shooting, he found the wife getting on “too well” with Dharmendra, enough to distract filming. There were rumours galore. The possessive husband-director dropped Dharmendra.

It was finally Raaj Kumar. He sees Sahibjaan sleeping on a moving train. Smitten, he leaves a note between her foot thumb and finger: “Aapke paon dekhe, bahut haseen hain. Inhein zameen par mat utariyega… maile ho jaayenge” (Your feet are really beautiful. Do not step on the ground… lest they be soiled). The dialogue is rated as one of the most romantic/erotic scenes in Indian cinema.

When released, the courtesan culture, the kothas of Lucknow et al, were passé. Not that there was no room for romanticism. But India was ready for another theme, Garam Hawa (Hot Winds-1973), about the plight of a Muslim businessman and his family, in the aftermath of the 1947 Partition. Only a year separated it from Pakeezah.

However, these “hot winds” couldn’t dampen the romance of Pakeezah and its songs. They also blew across the border from an aspiring India to a just-truncated Pakistan. Thankfully, Pakeezah helped a catharsis between the neighbours.

End-1972, I witnessed an India-Pakistan border “flag meeting”. A Pakistan Army officer, with roots in India’s Moradabad, half-seriously urged his Indian counterparts tasked to remove the explosives on the minefield, to “leave one mine only to be cleared by me, with a gramophone record of Pakeezah songs concealed underneath”.

India’s Doordarshan telecast Pakeezah from its Amritsar centre on September 29, 1973. Columnist Ibn-e-Imroze wrote in Daily Imroze: “The day Pakeezah was televised, Lahore cinemas wore a deserted look. Black-marketers sold their tickets even below the face value. Lahorewallahs had resisted (India’s) 1965 and 1971 attacks, but surrendered to this invasion of 1973. People invaded TV shops. Those who could not get one, fixed bamboo antennae on the roofs of their houses (to watch direct telecast), to console their frustrated feelings. Traffic came to a halt, pockets were picked, even doctors said to their patients: ‘If you remain alive till then, I’ll see you tomorrow. Today I am going to see Pakeezah’.”

To anyone with an ear for music, the film’s pull is undeniable. Among those gems, alas, Inhin Logon Ne seems plagiarised. It can be heard on Youtube in Shamshad Begum’s voice, sung for a 1941 film Himmat. The lyric is by Aziz.

Film analyst Gautam Kaul writes: Majrooh Sultanpuri had stolen the lyric from Aziz for Ghulam Mohammed, a contemporary of Pandit Gobind Ram, the original composer from the Lahore School.

Cut to 1972. Kaul notes: “It is the same kotha, the same assembly of men, the same musical score, the same song, the same Kathak style, but it is Technicolour, and a bloated Meena Kumari, with leathered skin due to constant drinking, is attempting to dance. The dancing isn’t a patch on the rendition by the light-footed young actress Manorama in the original.”

Truth be told, Meena Kumari was too sick to dance. She was filmed sitting. Padma Khanna performed all her dance movements, not credited to any choreographer.

None of these prevented the film’s earning five times the sum spent on production. Its soundtracks sold the best across Asia and topped the popularity charts of Radio Ceylon’s Binaca Geetmala, then a decisive benchmark.

Chalte Chalte, “Aaj hum apni duaon ka asar and Thaade rahiyo, for which she designed the costumes, remain the most memorable song-and-dance performances. A storm of protests from the film fraternity damned Filmfare that denied awards to Pakeezah because its leading contenders were dead.

In 2005, the British academic Rachel Dwyer called Mena Kumari’s character a “quintessentially romantic figure: a beautiful but tragic woman, who pours out her grief for the love she is denied in tears, poetry and dance.”

Meena Kumari’s fee for acting in Pakeezah was one sovereign gold coin. Kamal Amrohi gave that to his dying wife. She clutched it till she passed away, never able to see it or the released film. Pakeezah was truly, Meena Kumari’s film.

The writer can be reached at

Ashok Kumar

Ashok Kumar: Accused, tortured, spat out 

The June 22 murder of a Class 9 boy by another one from Class 10 at a Vadodara school is eerily similar to Gurugram’s Ryan School murder of last year. While the focus remains on the schoolboys accused of murder in both cases, the bus conductor accused of the Gurugram horror has been largely forgotten. Lokmarg went to meet 42-year-old Ashok Kumar at his home in Ghamroj village of Sohna Tehsil in Gurugram district. This is what we found.

Barun Chand Thakur’s agony will never end. Not even after justice is served for the brutal, wanton murder of his seven-year-old son Pradyuman in Gurugram’s Ryan International School on September 8, 2017. But what of 42-year-old Ashok Kumar, the man wrongly accused of the murder, propped up and sashayed before baying television camera packs, and subjected to interrogation and imprisonment on the basis of what now has been swept aside as a murder probe gone terribly, horribly wrong?

This is a tale of our times, and that it has been forgotten till major developments take place in the unfolding prosecution of the case is largely a function of the unpeopleness of the family torn apart by botched police work. For Ashok Kumar is no Deepak Talwar. Kumar, a slightly built bus conductor with all the meekness that his poverty marks him with, was freed on November 22 after the Central Bureau of Investigation that took over the probe on September 22 said he was not an accused any more.

He lives in Ghamroj village, a settlement of less than 5,000 people in a rocky barenness that stays sandwiched between the millenial development of Gurugram and the aridity of Mewat district. Ghamroj clings to the nearby forested haven of Bhondsi village for survival, be it a functioning ATM or the nearest post office. As the first anniversary of the beginning of his ordeal approaches, Kumar is not well.

He hasn’t restarted the life his innocence provides. He’s practically bedridden, suffering from severe lower back pain. Laying down in a cot in his little single storey house, he points to the region between his lower spine and hip.

What Happened at Ryan International School? 

Pradyuman Thakur was found murdered in a bathroom of his school on September 8 last year. The police zeroed in on Ashok Kumar, a bus conductor who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kumar has alleged intimidation and torture by the cops who are also at the receiving end of a supplementary chargesheet that the CBI has filed against them, officers named and included.

It took the CBI two days of investigating the crime to conclude Kumar was innocent and that a teenager who reported the dead boy in the bathroom to a school gardener was the real culprit. The Class 11 boy was kept in a juvenile home as per the law but a court last month allowed his prosecution as an adult. The prosecution continues, at a surprisingly good pace by Indian standards.

“There is severe pain in my lower back. It is very hard for me to sit on the floor or to stand up quickly. The doctors have referred me for immediate surgery but I do not have enough money for it. So I am staying home,” he says as the sun beats down on the earthern courtyard of his simple but clean dwelling, a guava tree in the centre providing the only island of shade. Kumar walked free on bail on November 22, a day after it was granted.

In the runup to the bail hearing, residents of Ghamroj started a collection for Kumar’s bail, hundreds and fifties and some thousands adding up to all of ₹2 lakh. He was finally acquitted of all charges on February 28 this year. “Almost six months of hell,” says Kumar. The most difficult phase was Kumar’s remand period with the Gurugram police when they “injected sedatives and brutally assaulted me for a crime that I had not committed”.

Kumar’s skills are limited; he can drive a van or work as a bus conductor. Only, he can’t even do that anymore. “The third degree torture of Gurugram police is responsible for this pain in my lower back and therefore I am unable to do any physical work.

I am completely dependent on my father and wife who are employed in village’s Vivek Bharti public school and earning for our livelihood,” he says. Kumar’s father Amichand enters the conversation: “My son had faced police torture and jail but it has disrupted the entire family. We suspect any stranger we see coming to our house,” he says. “We hope the trial concludes as soon as possible and that the real culprit is proven guilty in court.” Kumar’s father makes about ₹4,000 a month; about the same as his daughter-in-law.

“Besides, there’s ₹1,600 coming in every month because of the old age pension that Ashok’s grandmother is entitled to,” he explains. That’s a total of ₹9,600 to run a seven-member household, including Kumar’s two schoolgoing sons. “The low earnings of our family does not allow us to get Ashok’s lower back surgery done despite its immediate recommendation by doctors,” says Amichand. Kumar’s lawyer, a man who’s fought heroically to save his client, has said he will move court for compensation. But that remains far away, and Kumar remains stricken.

The Ryan School Murder Case on Lokmarg 

Ryan conductor walks free after 76 days in prison

Turn follows twist in Ryan School murder case

CBI reconstructs Ryan School murder

Dramatic twist in Ryan murder; Class 11 boy held

Ryan conductor walks after 76 days in prison

Ryan International School bus conductor Ashok Kumar, arrested on September 8 on charges of murdering class 2 student Pradyuman Thakur, was on Wednesday released from jail and returned home after 76 days in custody after the CBI found who was behind the crime. “I am thankful to God for delivering justice to me,” he told media after being released. His family said that it was a great reliefas their innocent family member is back home. “Haryana Police forced him to confess to the crime by using third degree force on him.. they also drugged him,” said a family member. His bail orders were provided by lawyers to the jail authority after 3 p.m. on Wednesday and after completing formalities, Kumar was released from the jail late in the evening. “After examination of the legal papers, Kumar was released around 8 p.m.,” a senior jail official told IANS. Prominent persons from his Ghamroj village near Sohna were present the whole day at Bhondsi jail to welcome Kumar when he walked out. The 42-year-old Kumar was arrested on the same day that seven-year-old Pradyuman’s body was found in the washroom of school with throat slit. The Haryana Police had claimed that the child was murdered by the bus conductor allegedly after he failed to sodomise the boy. However, two school employees — bus driver Saurav Raghav and gardener Harpal as well as Kumar’s father Amichand had alleged that he was being made a scapegoat in the child’s murder since he is poor. Amichand said his son was drugged and brutally tortured by police to own up the crime. The state police claim was being questioned right from the very beginning – and more so after the case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. The agency had, on November 8, taken a Class 11 student of the same school in custody for the murder. As per the agency, the senior student killed his junior just to postpone a parent-teacher meeting and unit test that day. Although the CBI has not granted clean chit to the bus conductor, it has also not found any clinching evidence against him. A court on Tuesday had granted bail to Ashok Kumar after his lawyer Mohit Verma filed an application on November 16. Additional District and Session Judge Rajni Yadav granted him bail on Rs 50,000 bond. The CBI was asked to submit the status report in the court after arguments by all parties on November 20, and the judge had reserved the decision for Tuesday. “There was no proof against Kumar and the court granted bail under Article 21 that ensures right to life and liberty to every citizen. There was major conflict between theories of the CBI and the Haryana Police and he was granted bail on the ground of benefit of doubt,” said Verma, adding the decision proved that police probe was shielding the real culprit and Kumar was implicated in the crime.

 (IANS) // ]]>

First suspect in Ryan School murder gets bail

Relative of conductor questioned over audio clip The CBI on Tuesday also questioned O.P. Chopra—a relative of bus conductor Ashok Kumar—for over eight hours vis-a-vis his audio clipping regarding the case. A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) official said Chopra, Ashok’s maternal uncle, was questioned after the agency obtained audio clips in which he was heard saying that “we will put it on the school authorities. Let the situation mellow down”. Chopra told reporters that the audio conversation with a relative of the juvenile arrested by the agency on November 8 “has my voice”. He is heard telling the 16-year-old boy’s relative: “Let me get my nephew released first, after that we will find a way for you and put the whole blame on the school authorities.” (IANS) // ]]>

CBI team reconstructs Ryan school murder

koi baat nahin (it doesn’t matter) for the Haryana Police on Wednesday when the Central Bureau of Investigation tore their much publicised investigation of the September 8 Ryan International School murder case to shreds. On Thursday, it was karne do (let them) for Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar when asked for a comment on reports that the family of the bus conductor accused—apparently falsely—by the Gurgaon Police of murdering seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur was going to sue the men in khaki. Manwhile, the CBI went about its work, a four-member team of the bureau on Thursday visited Gurugram with the 16-year-old student accused of killing a Class 2 student of Ryan International School here to reconstruct the sequence of events leading to the gruesome murder. CBI officials took the accused, whose name is being withheld, to the Sohna Market where he is said to have purchased the knife used in the murder of seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur. The Class 11 suspect is also from the same school and is said to have murdered Pradyuman in a bid to create a situation whereby the upcoming examinations would get postponed. The CBI’s stunning revelation has derailed the Haryana Police version of the gory crime which led to the arrest of a school bus conductor, Ashok Kumar. Pradyuman’s family had always insisted that the conductor was being framed. On Thursday, Gurugram Police Commissioner Sandeep Khirwar was on the defensive. He maintained that Kumar was arrested on the basis of “evidence” but that the investigation was far from over when the CBI took over the case. A CBI source said that “the CBI team and the accused first visited the Sohna Market where he bought a knife and then went to the school to recreate the scene of crime… how he carried the knife to the school, where he kept it and how he killed Pradhuman”. The accused student, who is the son of an advocate, informed his interrogators in his six hours questioning that minutes after killing Pradyuman, he had informed a gardener and a teacher, saying “a boy was lying injured in the toilet of the school premises”. It was the same toilet from where Pradyuman was found with his throat slit on the morning of September 8 – minutes after his father left him in the school. The CBI said it has questioned over 125 people in connection with the case, including some current and former employees of Ryan school. Asked over the Haryana Police initial probe in which two knives were claimed to be found as suspected murder weapons, the CBI clarified: “We were handed over only one knife by the police along with all the case property. The knife was recovered by the Haryana Police from the toilet box.” The arrested student has been handed over to the CBI by a juvenile court for questioning. Question the school founders, says murdered boy’s family The family of the seven-year-old boy murdered in the Ryan International School campus in Gurugram has demanded that the CBI must question the Pintos, the founders of the school, and that the arrested 16-year-old student of the school, now a prime suspect, should be tried as an adult. “The CBI should grill, interrogate and arrest the Pintos’ family,” Barun Chandra Thakur, father of murdered Class 2 student Pradhuman Thakur, said. He also said that the Pintos should not be given any “leeway” just because they are “high and mighty”. “They should not go scot free from this incident (murder). Earlier on two occasions they have been able to go scot free pertaining to the deaths of two kids in other branches of the school,” he said. The CBI in the Punjab and Haryana Court had opposed the anticipatory bail plea of Ryan Augustine Pinto, CEO of the school. The owners of the Ryan School —Francis Augustine Pinto, Grace Pinto and Ryan Pinto—had filed the anticipatory bail petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court which granted interim bail to them till December 5, which has been challenged by Thakur in the Supreme Court. Thakur, a resident of Madhubani in Bihar, said that it should not happen again in this case. He said CBI should not leave any stone unturned to bring out the actual culprit behind the murder. The probe should go into aspects like negligence, lapses and deficiencies in the school premises, which have been confirmed and acknowledged by the CBSE in its fact-finding report, he said.

Read at Lokmarg
Dramatic twist in Ryan murder, Class 11 boy held

“The case was baffling and it is still baffling now. The entire CBI theory should legally sustain and should be established because after the Aarushi Talwar case the institution of the CBI as a whole and its credibility is in the dock,” he said. “The bungling that happened in the (Aarushi) Talwar case should not happen in this case. We want that justice should be delivered to all in this case,” he said. Thakur said he “hoped” that the CBI has taken all forensic, scientific and circumstantial aspects into consideration while reaching the conclusion that a Class 11 student of the school is the prime accused. Commenting on the prime suspect, Thakur said, “I would like to say one thing clearly that this boy is a major, and not a minor since he is 17 years old.” “And as per the new amended Juvenile Justice Act he has to be tried as an adult and Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) has to constitute a medical board to ascertain the mental framework, culpability and criminality of this 17-year-old,” he said. He also said that he will not leave efforts to get the suspect student tried as an adult and to be given the “death penalty” because it is a “heinous and gruesome crime that comes in the rarest of rare category”, Thakur said. Commenting on the Haryana Police probe into the case so far, Thakur said, “It is pathetic, it is shameless on the part of the Haryana Police to frame someone to get out of the bind because of public outcry.” “The theory propagated by Haryana Police was totally unbelievable for us and, therefore, right from day one we have demanded a CBI enquiry and even approached the Supreme Court seeking it,” he said. School bus conductor Ashok Kumar was arrested by the Haryana Police a day after the murder of the Class 2 student. Pradhuman’s parents and two other staffers have maintained that the conductor was being made a scapegoat and that someone else committed the crime. Thakur also said that he was satisfied with the current CBI probe into the case. His remarks came a day after the CBI brought a new twist to the murder of Pradhuman in Gurugram on September 8. The CBI on Wednesday said that the crime was committed by a 16-year-old student of the same school who wanted the upcoming exams to be postponed. The revelation by the CBI completely derailed the Haryana Police’s claim that a bus conductor, Ashok, in jail since then, was the killer.


(Reproduced tweets do not reflect Lokmarg editorial policy)
(with IANS) // ]]>