This 1958 Pakistani film, made in Punjabi and directed by Mushtaq Hafiz, is an extremely tacky and a pretty blatant yet bland copy of the silly though entertaining Indian Hindi film also called Chhoo Mantar (1956), directed by M Sadiq and starring Johnny Walker as the hero-comedian. This did, however, prove to be extremely popular in Pakistan.
Zarif, an extremely popular comedian of Pakistani films and credited here as Zareef, takes on the Johnny Walker starring role from the Indian original, the great Noor Jehan steps into Shyama’s shoes, Aslam Pervez plays Karan Dewan and Laila takes on Anita Guha’s role. So, as in the original, we have Sultan aka Taan (Zarif) thrown out of his village for flirting with and distracting the women there. In his wanderings, he spies and falls in love with a rich nawab’s daughter, Seema (Laila), who also reciprocates his love. Seema’s father has him beaten up repeatedly and finally gets him thrown into the river in a sack, as he doesn’t approve of the romance. However, he is saved by a poor fisherwoman, Naaji (Noor Jehan), who becomes his ‘sister’ and who herself is in love with the wealthy zamindar’s son, Jameel (Aslam Pervez). However, events lead to Jameel’s marriage getting fixed to Seema…
Forget aping the story, which the surprisingly grim film does almost in entirety without quite capturing the featherbrained mood of the original, even the tune of the refrain that Zarif woos Laila with, Bure Naseeb Mere, seems to be inspired from the Mohammed Rafi-Geeta Dutt duet Tumhin Ne Dard Diya Hai in the same situation in the Indian film. If Johnny Walker takes to dancing in drag with Shyama mouthing the Gori Gori Raat Hai Geeta Dutt ditty, here we have Zarif, in drag, dancing to Noor Jehan’s Tu Ki Jaane Beqadra. To make matters worse, none of the changes made in this version work particularly well either.
In its making, Chhoo Mantar is typical of Pakistani filmdom of the time – just about finding its bearings but still struggling in the shadow of its Indian counterpart due to lack of resources, both technical and monetary. The film is made quite tepidly and shoddily with even basic continuity mistakes between shots. Further, the acting too from the entire cast oscillates between deadpan, stilted and stagey – more like the Indian films of the 1930s and 40s – and this is yet another factor that falls way short of the original film, where there is life and energy in each of the performances.
But admittedly, where the Pakistani film industry got their act together right from the beginning has been their music. Here too, with Noor Jehan in command behind the microphone, Rafiq Ali’s music, even if inspired in places, is by far the best thing in the film. The film, marking his debut as a music director, boasts of some well composed solos for Noor Jehan and these proved to be among her all-time hits. Of the songs, special mention must be made of Aeni Gal Das Deyo Nikke Nikke Taariyon, Tu Ki Jaane Beqadra and Doongiyan Shyaman Aayan among others. Zarif himself ably renders Bure Naseeb Mere, once as a solo and once as a duet with Zubaida Khanum. Still, a little more pep in the songs could have made their picturizations more lively as well. Even the theatre songs are sad ones, more to explore the depth and feeling of Noor Jehan’s voice I suspect.
All in all, it’s safe to say that it’s actually more rewarding to just hear the film’s songs or watch them on YouTube rather than watch the entire film itself.
Punjabi, Comedy, Drama, Black & White
Header photo courtesy Omar Ali Khan