Saturday, 27 June 2009

Uran Khatola (1955)

Apologies for the even longer than usual gap between posts. It's mainly due to holidays; mine (which were excellent) and other people's (which mean that I have to spend more time at work and less time watching movies).

Uran Khatola starts in a very promising fashion with a disclaimer:

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Though I would rather fancy a country where this is a common mode of transport:
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After a lovingly hand-crafted title sequence we are dropped right in the middle of what turns out not to be the plot, but the framing narrative. There is a stormy night and a ship in distress, and when the next day dawns, there is a sole survivor (who rather looks like he has escaped from a silent movie) stranded in a remote place with a wild forest inhabited by all sorts of unpleasant creatures. He is therefore relieved when he notices a house on the horizon, even though it doesn't look like the most inviting of places. As he approaches the house, he hears some ethereal music. Unfortunately, the subtitles are less than poetic.

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The print of my Dvd wasn't great, so the pictures are somewhat on the obscure side.
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Well, I suppose it beats spending the night with the snakes in the forest:
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Inside he finds an elderly man (Dilip Kumar), who, while not talkative, gives him persmission to stay the night (which seems to have fallen rather quickly). The room gets to stay in is somewhat less than inviting, but our intrepid traveller nevertheless tries to settle down to sleep. However, before long, the ethereal singing starts again, and when he gets up to investigate he is confronted with a heavenly vision.

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I think she is stunning and beautiful:
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He seems to find her rather scary:
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When the apparition notices the traveller, she hastily leaves, much to the distress of the elderly owner of the house. The traveller, not unreasonable asks for an explanation; and his host, abandoning his silent ways (and a good thing he does, too, otherwise we would have a distinct lack of plot), recounts a tale which takes most of the remainder of the movie.

Once he starts talking, he isn't easily stopped:
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Several decades earlier, he was traveling in a plane across a remote country when his plane met with an accident:

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Before this dramatic occurrence the arrival of the plane was greeted by a group of young women on horseback led by Soni (Nimmi) riding in a chariot with a very bouncy and cheerful song. Of course, Soni is one of the first to arrive at the crashed plane and its injured and unconscious pilot is taken to her house to be looked after by her and her brother Hira (Agha).

This is obviously not where the special effects budget went:
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Unfortunately, things are going to get worse for all involved:
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When he regains consciousness he gets a glimps of Soni who then hides from him. He is somewhat puzzled by this behaviour but Hira explains that she is shy and that according to local custom girls don't talk to men other than relatives and the one they have choosen to marry. In fact, if a girl talks to you it means she wants to marry you and there is very little you can do about it. Furthermore, the law of the land doesn't allow strangers to stay for more than eight days, and Kashi's (for that is the pilot's name) time has already passed. He may get permission to stay longer, as all the roads are blocked and sending him away at the moment would be sending him to his certain death. Soni, who has reappeared, is very much in favour of the stranger staying longer, and her brother points out that the chances are good, as the chief priest of the land is actually their father. Before much more conversation can happen, the stranger is summoned to present himself to the priest.

Not a bad sight to wake up to:
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Confused and worried:
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On the way to the city, Kashi learns a bit more about the country he so unexpectedly finds himself stranded in. The local god is presented by a smoke-breathing statue, if the sins of the people increase too much he will start to breath fire and a storm will descend destroying the entire settlement. Also, the laws are very harsh and include one which forces women accused of promiscuity to walk across fire (I wonder whether either of these pieces of information will be in any way, shape, or form relevant to the plot later on?).

Worried and puzzled:
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The local deity appears to be a chain-smoker:
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And look who has spoken to Hira, who is not too happy about this:
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The meeting with the priests goes well, but he points out that the final decision whether the strange can stay lies with the queen, who rules the area in worldly affairs. Also present is a court official, probably called Shango (Jeevan), who is obviously interested in Soni, who is obviously not interested in him but in the stranger. (Jeevan, for once, is not trying to take over the kingdom, but he causes enough harm by his determination to get married). The meeting with the queen (Surya Kumari) is at first not very promising, mainly because Shango got there first and reported that the stranger seems dangerous, but also because the queen is deeply suspicious of any strangers, and especially men. We first meet her throwing knives at the torso of a male statue. She has, however, a sudden change of heart when she turns round and sees the stranger for the first time. Therefore, his is granted permission to stay but he is warned not to get too close to any of the local young women. Alas, it's a bit late in the day for that.

Father and daughter:
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In my book, Soni choose wisely:
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She is impressed, but not overly friendly:
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I am impressed, too:
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The queen's palace is highly decorated with lots of statues, swishing curtains and a musical bridge. I don't usually hanker for colour in a black and white movie, but this one makes me curious what the sets would have looked like in colour.

This, for example:
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or this:
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and another impressive set:
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That night, Soni celebrates the stranger's arrival and continued stay with a song and dance. He has adapted to local customs and doesn't talk to her until she gives him permission and there romance is well under way. However, things are not going to go smoothly, as soon afterwards Kashi is summoned to the palace. Soni is deeply troubled by this development and decides to follow him, dressed as a man. The queen has asked Kashi to sing for her. She is very, very interested in him, but he tries to let her down gently by singing a song about how one has to be careful in love. She is very impressed with his singing, and doesn't seem to pay any attention to the words. The meeting ends abruptly when Soni shoots an arrow into the room. She is captured but manages to make an excuse. She also impresses the queen's maid, Shamiya.

He seems to be enjoying himself:
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So does she:
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I am not sure I would have worked out the was meant to be a man if the movie hadn't told me:
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The first of many arkward meetings:
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We appear to have been subject of an assassination attempt and we are awfully calm about it:
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Before things can get too serious, which are re-united with Hira, his fiance and a guy in a bear suit for some comic relief:
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However, this gaiety can't last for long. Soni and Kashi have agreed to meet at night on a hill overlooking the sea. When Kashi sees a woman swimming in the sea, he assumes that she is Soni, and sings to her. Unfortunately, she is actually the queen who decided to go for a swim and who is convinced that Kashi sang for her. He tries to disabuse her of this notion without implicating Soni, but doesn't make much of an impact. Sonis is angry, too, but at least that misunderstanding is cleared up comparatively swiftly. However, when they embrace to celebrate this, they are seen by Soni's brother who is all set to kill the stranger, until Soni convinces him that the stranger his her choice and she wants to marry him. Hira is reassured and even promises to help getting permission from the marriage from her father.

I detect a hint of symbolism:
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The bed!
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Hints are not going to help:
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All in all, not the best night of either of their lives:
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Back at the palace, the queen is having visions of Kashi, and is more than ever determined to make him her own. Both she and Soni prepare to spend an evening with him. It is also very obvious who he would rather spend an evening with but that is not to be, as he is summoned to attend the queen. Soni follows them, and watches as the queen flirts with the stranger. She is almost noticed, but when the queen throws a knife into a moving curtain (thereby proofing beyond any doubt that she is truly evil) she manages to kill one of her servants (which doesn't seem to bother anybody). Soni tries to escape but is spotted and pressed into playing the harp for the only 50 % happy couple. Harp-playing seems to be a common skill in this country and we get another song. Kashi realises fairly soon who is singing and is becoming rather concerned.

This is not a good sign:
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Their happiness worries me:
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She may be evil but she definitely makes an impression:
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Soni demonstrates her musical ability:
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Before Soni can giver herself away, the queen decides that she wants to show the stranger her picture gallery. Soni follows them and is noticed by Shango, who tries to convince her, that the stranger has given in to the advances of the queen. She isn't convinced until she sees a ring on his finger, which the queen has given him. It never seems to cross her mind that, given that he has only been in the country for a week or so, he may not know what the rings signifies.

The ring of doom:
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Soni is allergic to ostentatious jewellery:
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That night, Soni takes the ring from Kashi while he sleeps, and returns it to the queen in her disguise as a young hunter, using Shamyia's infatuation with him/her to reach the queen. The queen is angered by this rebuff of her advances and orders Kashi to leave the kingdom, which still means certain death as the roads aren't clear yet. He tries to plead with her but to no avail. In the end it is Soni, in her male guise, who manages to persuade the queen to let her friend stay, and who also gets permission to stay in the palace. This leads to another comic interlude with her brother, who visits her in the palace. The only person who recognises her, apart from Kashi, is Shango (does that mean he can't really be in love, as love would make him blind). That evening the queen orders her young guest to play the harp for her and the stranger in yet another attempt to win the strangers heart. The attempt is not successful but we get another rather nice song (no, of course nobody notices that "he" has the same voice as the maid who sang the other evening, but thanks for asking).

Stunning, shame about the homicidal tendencies:
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I don't think he is interested in either you or your grapes:
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We briefly check in with Hira and his finace, who obviously is a friend of more hands-on (or rather rope-on) solutions. We continue with him pretending to be his sister and making fun of Shango (whose eyesight appears to have drastically deteriorated), getting him to play horse for him, and making him sit on the cage of a rather aggressive chicken.

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It is probably better if you don't ask:
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Meanwhile, back at the palace, Kashi and Soni are trying to find a way, how they could end up together, without antagonizing the queen. Before they can come to any conclusion, the queen appears, and Soni has to hide. She manages to escape and find refuge in Shamyia's room, who doesn't mind his/her presence at all, though she displays some unexpected attitudes:

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The two find themselves near the sea, and come across the queen and Kashi who are about to take a romantic boat trip on the moonlit sea. Soni manages to come along to row them, which gives us opportunity for another song complete with naval chorus, but in the end she can't bear the advances of the queen on Kashi any longer and capsizes the boat. Of course, an attempt on the queens live can't go unpunished, and Soni is threatened with execution. When Kashi's pleading proofs futile (he isn't a very successful pleader, is he), he starts whipping her, which satisfies the queen's thirst for revenge. However, Soni is also thrown out of the palace.

Personally, I would find my boat trip more romantic without them:
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The tastefully appointed torture chamber:
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Before she leaves she is threatened by Shango, but also makes Kashi promise her to meet her that night. Shango, who is in charge of palace security, tries his best to make it impossible for Kashi to come, which gives Soni the opportuninty to express her longing in song, but in the end he manages to reach her by jumping out of a window into the sea. Shango uses the opportunity to blacken Kashi's and Soni's reputation with the local moral purity preservation committee and the next morning the two find themselves confronted by an angry mob wielding stones. Before anything too untoward can happen the priest (who has been curiously absent all this time) intervenes.

More longing, this time without a harp:
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Ah, symbolism:
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He actually comes with his own halo:
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He manags to calm the mob, but nevertheless the matter has to be brought before the queen, who insists that Soni undergo a trial by fire. What will happen next? Will Soni's innocence be prooven? Has Shango any other dastardly ploys up his sleeve to get Soni? Why has Kashi spend the last several decades in a tumbledown hut in the middle of nowhere? How many more songs are there going to be?

What is in the giant cup?
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And why is he so angry?
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I really enjoyed this movie. The story is somewhat on the predictable side, but the music is excellent and draws one into the movie. Of course, if one doesn't like 50s film music, this is best avoided as it manages to have 11 song in just under 180 minutes. It is also refreshing to see nobody behaving like a complete idiot (well, apart from the comic relief), but rather have people attempting to make the best of what is basically an impossible situation, even though the premiss of the story requires some suspension of disbelief. There were a couple of instance where I wondered whether the scene had been shot, and then the story changed slightly, so that is made less sense now, but these are really minor quibbles. Dilip Kumar is great as the slightly confused traveler trying to fend of the unwanted advances of someone who holds his life in her hands. Nimmi hams a lot less than in some other movies I have seen her in, and she looks very beautiful, when she isn't doing the flared nostrils and bug-eye face which seems to indicate distress of and form or shape. Surya Kumari is absolutly stunningly beautiful and does a very good job, managing to keep the queen human despite all her actions. Does anybody know of any other movies with her?

All in all, a movie well worth even giving up a sunny afternoon for.

Random pictures:
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5 comments:

Bollyviewer said...

Sounds like a story Rider Haggard would write (except for the tragic part) - though the planes there would definitely crash over Africa, not unknown land in India! I love the songs in this one - especially O door ke musafir and Mohabbat ki raahon pe.

Anarchivist said...

This is the first disclaimer I've ever seen for a time period!

antarra said...

Bollyviewer -- I didn't make the connection, but yes the queen has overtones of "she who must be obeyed". However, Kashi is really a much more gentle soul than I remember Rider Haggard's heroes to be.

And the music is lovely. I am not a very musical person, which is why I write so little about film music, but here every song is a gem, and they fit very well into the plot.

Anarchivist -- At least it stops one from wondering where and when this is meant to be.

Subhradeep said...

Tanguturi Suryakumari was a far more talented and conspucuous personality than Nimmi. Wikipedia will support the fact in great details if u look through both the women's biographies.

R Nanjappa said...

Willing suspension of disbelief- that is what is required to enjoy these old Raja-Rani stories, as in the case of poetry. Become a child at heart and flow with the story- and the music.My God, what stunning music and lyrics. Just one sample: What is the safest place in the world you will find for your beloved ? Can anything be safer than your heart? Will you not like your beloved to stay there for ever? Now hear the song again: "hamaare dil se naa jaana". Simply beautiful.