Kashmir, 1947. A Hindu Brahmin leaves his daughter, Shakuntala, with his Muslim friend (Agha Talish) amidst the communal riots while he ascertains how things are across the border promising to return for her. Meanwhile, the Muslim hears of his family’s slaughter the other side. Unknown to him his son has survived, lost his memory and is being brought up by a kindly Pathan. He defends Shakuntala from a mob and becomes her foster father while waiting for her father to come back for her. Shakuntala (Shamim Ara) grows up and falls in love with the Pathan’s son, a truck driver (Ejaz Durrani). The truck driver gets his memory back and is reunited with his father. However, he has forgotten his his love for Shakuntala. Nevertheless, he falls in love with her again. Shakuntala’s father returns having spent years in a mental asylum in India for trying to stop Hindus from killing Muslims. He takes Shakuntala back with him to India. In India, Shakuntala is married off to a Hindu man (Mustafa Qureshi). When he finds out about her past, he decides to call her lover to the border to kill him but Shakuntala goes to the border to warn him and takes the bullet meant for him…
Lakhon Mein Aik is considered one of the most sensitive, balanced and brilliant films to come out of Pakistan. What’s more, this film having a Hindu-Muslim (read India-Pakistan) love story as its central thread is supposed to have ‘inspired’ Raj Kapoor to try his own take on the subject, Heena, which ultimately son Randhir Kapoor directed as a tribute to his father, who passed away before the film could be made.
Sadly, Lakhon Mein Aik is neither sensitive nor balanced. It is, in fact, unabashedly biased. The tone is set right from the opening shot of the film following the credit titles where we see a beautiful scenic shot on which is superimposed ‘Azad Kashmir, 1947!’ In the film, barring the heroine and her father, every Hindu is depicted as negative. And the father suffers for his kindness towards Muslims by having to spend years in a mental asylum. He was put away by the Hindus for trying to stop them from killing Muslims in Kashmir. The Hindu man the heroine is made to marry is the villain of the film. The priest who arranges this match is corrupt and greedy. On the other side, the kind Muslim saves the Hindu girl when the mob wants to kill her and becomes her foster father, the Pathan who brings up the girl’s foster father’s son after his family is slaughtered by Hindus is a kindly soul and returns him gladly to his real father, and the hero, of course, is Mr Nicest Guy. And that’s not all. In the climax when the villain goes to the border to kill the hero, our heroine sacrifices her love and dies in the process. After all she might have been brought up by a Muslim and loved a Muslim, but she has now become ‘impure’ having married a Hindu. She has to thus redeem herself not only by dying but dying while trying to save a Muslim. To think that this film was scripted by no less than Zia Sarhadi, an unaffiliated Marxist inspired by the IPTA style of filmmaking (Hum Log (1951), Footpath (1953)), makes it all the more surprising. Sure, patriotism is one sided and biased and Indian films like Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001) have done their share of Pak-bashing from this side of the border but they make no claims to being impartial.
Anyway, coming back to Lakhon Mein Aik, the screenplay is weak, predictable and cliched while technically and aesthetically, the film is one of the better made films across the border but then that isn’t saying much at all. The performances, rated so high in Pakistan, are cringe-worthy in many sequences and especially so in the developing love story between Shamim Ara and Ejaz Durrani. So as the cute village belle, she overacts like there’s no tomorrow, walks about with a lamb in her hands and playfully sticks her tongue out at the hero. But yes, Shamim Ara is adequate enough and more at home in the more serious portions of the film. Ejaz was never a great actor to begin with and he doesn’t change your perception of his histrionic ability with this film. Agha Talish as the Muslim foster father of the girl comes off best and Mustafa Qureshi makes a striking enough screen debut as Shamim Ara’s villainous husband thus starting off on a glorious career of villainy in Pakistan.
No complaints with the music though. Lakhon Mein Aik has some wonderful songs composed by Nisar Bazmi and rendered amazingly well by the one and only Noor Jehan. The songs are some of the finest songs she has sung in Pakistan – Chalo Achha Hua Tum Bhool Gaye, Ho Sun Sajna Dukhi Man ki Pukar, Bahut Mushkil Se Hua Tera Mera Pyar Piya and Man Mandir ke Devta among others. Mehdi Hassan gives fine support with his rendering of Dil Diya Dard Liya. Man Mandir ke Devta, a bhajan, was banned by Radio Pakistan but the records sold like hot cakes. However, its placement in the film and picturization just leaves you speechless, coming as it does on the ‘suhaag raat’. Mustafa Qureshi roughly pushes Shamim Ara aside after she tells him she loves another – the classic “you may possess my body but never my heart” type of dialogue! What follows is gobsmacking. The film arbitrarily cuts to the song wherein Shamim Ara dances in a temple before a deity which becomes Ejaz. As the two look dreamily into each other’s eyes, Mustafa Qureshi enters and shoots at Ejaz with Shamim Ara coming in front of him! And then we come back to her having just been pushed aside by him. What were they thinking?!
The film went on to be a huge success at the box office in Pakistan and won Nigar Awards for Best Actress (Shamim Ara), Best Supporting Actor (Saqi), Best Sound, Best Camera, Best Female Singer (Noor Jehan) and Best Lyricist (Fayyaz Hashmi).
Of course, critics in Pakistan lapped up the film and even today claim it to be superior to Heena (huh?!) but if you actually want to see a Pakistani film dealing sensitively with India-Pakistan issues, watch the partition drama Kartar Singh (1959) instead.
Urdu, Drama, Black & White
Header Photograph courtesy Omar Ali Khan