Sunday, 12 April 2009

Yahudi (1958)

After two movie with Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari which were rather fluffy and ended happily, I thought it about time for one were this is not the case. Also, due to a delay in getting this written up, it now seems rather seasonal (well, somewhat). Yahudi is a tale of doomed love, but before we get to that part of the story, we are treated to a lavish title sequence of lovely drawings including a war elephant.

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and we are informed that we are in:

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The concept may seem a bit odd at first and I have certainly never seen Rome quite so flower-patterned:

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I suspect this of having been really, really brightly coloured:
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However, Hindi-speaking Romans are really not stranger than English-speaking Romans, and I had managed to persuade my inner ancient Historian not to be overly critical or drive me mad by trying to figure out when this was meant to have taken place, it was a very enjoyable movie.

We are transported to the Jewish quarter of Rome long ago, where we meed Elijah (Master Romi). He is a bit of the unruly side, and is trying to escape Emmanuel (Ramayan Tiwari), his father's servant and a bit of an unlikely nanny:

Cunning disguise:
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not working so well:
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After a stern lecture by his father, Ezra, (Sohrab Modi) on how he is a big boy now and needs to act more responsibly, he goes out on the balcony to watch the governor of Rome, Brutus (Nasir Hussain), pass by. Unfortunately, one of the stones works loose, and Elijah is arrested on the charge of having tried to kill Brutus (now, where have I come across that story before?).

He is evil:
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Ooops:
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Elijah is arrested and taken to be thrown to the lions. His father pleads before Brutus and his daughter Lydia, but after numerous insults, he is taken down to the prison and has to watch his son's execution even though Lydia has tried to intercede for Elijah.

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Oh dear:
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These events leave Ezra in a very bad shape. Emmanuel feels guilty, and tries to avenge Elijah's death by abducting Brutus's daughter Lydia. While he encourages Ezra to kill her, Ezra's paternal instincts are roused. When the Roman soldiers come in search of Lydia, he escapes with her while Emmanuel gives his life to protect them.

The plans for revenge are somewhat derailed:
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Nobody expects the Roman inquisition:
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Things then go downhill for the Jewish population of Rome as they are expelled from the city and we have our first song. As the song ends, the beard of the singer has turned white, as has Ezra's and we learn from their conversation that it is now Rome long ago: 15 years later

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Lydia is now called Hannah (Meena Kumari) and has grown up into a stunning beauty who is very fond of her father and doesn't seem to remember that she is adopted:

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A big announcement is made that there are going to be celebrations for Pincess Octavia's (Nigar Sultana) birthday. She is the niece of the emperor of Rome and meant to marry his son, Prince Marcus (Dilip Kumar). All shops are to be closed for three days in honour of her, a edict which doesn't endear her to the shopkeepers. Back at the palace, the celebrations are about to start but Prince Marcus is still absent. He may be aware of the chair that awaits him:

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Octavia, however, doesn't seem to mind:
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As a matter of fact, the prince has been out hunting and has met with a (not too serious) accident. He is briefly taken care of by Hannah, who leaves when other Romans arrive as she fears that she might get into trouble with them. These brief moments, however, have been enough to kindle a passionate love in Marcus's heart (this must be one of the swiftest love at first sight meetings ever).

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It is kind of hard to blame him:
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He is so smitten, he starts seeing little inserts of her:
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Octavia notices that Marcus is rather distant and comes to his room to try and entice him to become a bit more affectionate, with no success. She then enlists Marcus's friend Antonio (Anwar Hussain) to try and find out what is going on with Marcus.

Yes, this is clearly foreshadowing a happy married life:
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She is having no effect whatsoever:
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Antonio is also perturbed by Marcus's distinct lack of interest in Octavia's charms, and tries to convince him in his own manner that women really aren't all that bad by presenting him with a bevy of beautiful dancers. I am not entirely sure that this is what Octavia had in mind, however, Marcus is not going to be distracted from his brooding.

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After Antonio has left Marcus decides to do something about the source of his distraction. He dresses up as a Jew (I know this because a change of clothes renders him unrecognisable to even his most loyal servant Leo who wonders how this Jew ended up in the palace) and sets out to the Jewish quarter to look for Hannah.

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Before he finds her, he stops to take in a rather nice song-and-dance performance. Hannah, meanwhile, is choosing some flowers, but has attracted the unwanted attention of two Roman soldiers. Of course, Marcus comes to the rescue, and she is very impressed with him, and obviously doesn't recognise him as the mud-covered Roman from earlier on.

That's not a good idea:
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Our hero (it's not easy to look menacing in what looks very much like a stripy bathrobe):
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Hannah takes her rescuer home to her father were he is received with open arms. Marcus calls himself Moshija and claims to be from Alexandria and looking for an apprenticeship. Before very long, he finds himself employed by Ezra. Hannah is rather pleased by this development.

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So much happiness, this early in the movie ....
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Before long, Hannah and Marcus are very much in love and tease each other in her father's garden chaperoned by her rather fierce parrot and occasionally separated by greenery. Hannah is soon driven to express her joy in song.

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Marcus's frequent absence from the palace doesn't go unnoticed, though he does his best to escape Octavia's attentions. She finally sends Antonio to spy on Marcus, which he does with the time-honoured ploy of flirting with the maid.

Never has an undercover mission been quite so floral:
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Hannah delights us with another song expressing her happiness, but there is trouble on the horizon. The emperor (Murad) has come back to Rome (we never get to know where he was all this time, maybe on one of these endless business trips the movies tend to be so fond of). Octavia immediately informs him of Marcus's absenteeism and his solution is to get the two married as soon as possible; because nothing cures disinterest in another person as quickly as marriage.

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One day, Octavia's chariot breaks down outside Hannah's house (and I thought the Romans were famous for their roads) and she is welcomed by Ezra and Hannah. Of course, this presents a problem for Marcus, who solves it mainly by acting somewhat crazy and hiding is face. Hannah notices and is puzzled by his behaviour, but he claims that Octavia's maid was trying to flirt with him and that he got embarrassed.

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Back at the palace, Marcus is given a stern talking to by his father, the emperor, reminding him of his duty towards the empire which does include marrying Octavia.

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Back at Ezra's house it is time for a religious ceremony. Hannah notices that Marcus doesn't participate properly, though nobody else does, She follows him out into the garden and challenges him, asking him whether he really is a Jew. However, talking with her father close at hand is obviously rather awkward, so he asks her to come to some ruins nearby that night.

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While Marcus is waiting he sings a plaintive song about his love, which is really very nice and gentle. Hannah manages to sneak out and meet him. After a bit of evasion, he finally admits to being a Roman, though he still doesn't tell who he is precisely. However, being a Roman is bad enough, especially for Ezra, who noticed his daughter leaving and has overheard the entire conversation. He tells Marcus that he can have Hannah, but only if he converts, something which Marcus isn't prepared to do.

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Temporary re-union
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Hannah returns home to her fathers, and Marcus deals with his grief as men do in the movies, he drowns his sorrows. However, before he can get very far, Ocatvia comes to see him to remind him of his duty towards the empire, and he then finds himself accosted by the voices of his ancestors, hammering home the point that he needs to be a dutiful prince and marry Octavia.

Probably not the person he wants to see right then:
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My goodness! Hearing your ancestor's voices appears to be rather traumatic.
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Hannah isn't particularly happy either, and expresses her sorrow in song, at night (they must have very tolerant neighbours)
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A date for Marcus's and Octovia's wedding has been set, and it is going to be a public affair, to which all Roman citizens are invited. Ezra persuades Hannah to got and attend the wedding. What will happen when she finds out just who Marcus really is? Will the fact that she isn't Ezra's real daughter ever become important? Do any more people end up as a snack for the lions? Why is this object so important?

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And could somebody please take Brutus's curling irons away from him.
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As somebody, who enjoys a good melodrama, this movie and I were made for each other. The acting is good, the story moves a long at a fair pace, especially in the first half to two thirds. Towards the end, it gets somewhat bogged down in people given long speeches about Roman law and justice, and Marcus and Hannah take more of a back-seat, while Ezra, Brutus and the Emperor trash out their differences. This isn't uninteresting, but re-watching it I was really surprised to see how much especially Marcus, who is very much the central figure up until the wedding, is sidelined towards the end. There is a good reason for this within the story, but it was still noticable. The other thing that struck me as odd (though I may have been watching too many Hindi-movies) is the absence of any mothers. There isn't even an elderly aunt

I watched Benazir shortly after I had seen this, and enjoyed Meena's performance more here, but I think that is because here her character is actually happy for a while. Her love can't end well, but she doesn't know that yet, so we get to see her being very in love and sweet.

Of course, if you hate melodrama this isn't a movie I would recommend, and the setting demands a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, but it is well made, often looks extremely beautiful and has an engaging story,

One more picture of the two star-crossed lovers:
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3 comments:

Bollyviewer said...

I thought the movie ends happily for the two lovers, at least. So its not all doom and gloom.

The whole movie was about the persecution of Jews and Ezra's fight against this injustice, so Marcus getting sidelined was inevitable as he isnt part of the oppressed people. Guess the presence of Sohrab Modi explains the long speeches Ezra gets to make - he was famous for his great voice and did these speeches very well.

I did wonder if the movie was an adaptation of a classic play by some European writer, because it seemed a bit odd for an Indian writer to write a story set in ancient Rome! It may be that, but I guess its also a metaphor for the Hindu-Muslim relations in India which were rather strained as a result of a very bloody Partition just a decade before this film.

antarra said...

Bollyviewer -- They both survive, so the ending is more upbeat, but the future does look quite bleak given that her father is dead and Marcus is really not in a fit state to take over her father's business, and there is no indication that she would know how to (unless I am being to realistic here).

I suppose Marcus is more a catalyst, enabling the final confrontation between Ezra and Brutus, it is just odd to watch, because he is actually present in that scene but literally does nothing. It just struck me as odd that he even is there.

I think it is unlikely to be an adaptation of a European play, because it is free from Christians. Also, the way ancient Rome works here is just not the way ancient Rome ever worked. There never was a Governor of Rome, women were not allowed in the Senate, let alone a dance performance. Not that European plays set in ancient Rome are always historically accurate (far from it), but to me it felt like somebody liked the idea of using ancient Rome as a metaphor for Hindu-Muslim relations and then did a minimal amount of research. I have to say, I rather liked the result.

rahul said...

There is an opera somewhat on the same lines Halevy's 'La Juive'. It is not set in Rome but medieval Europe and it is a conflict between christians and jews. Stolen (chrisitan) daughter (Rachel) in love with a prince. The prince is a thorough coward and marries the princess to whom he is engaged. The jewish father (Eleazar) before he is about to get killed reaveals to the cardinal that he knows about his daughter's whereabouts, but refuses to reveal it. Getting angry with it the cardinal kills Rachel and just before eleazar is pushed in a cauldron full of boiling oil, he reveals Rachel's true identity! Gory, what?