Najma is a pure delight, from the beginning to the end. And unlike with the last 1943 classic that I reviewed (Kismet), I didn’t have to keep telling myself that this film could be excused for plot twists that were cliches because it must have been the first one, etc., etc. It is actually based on a very common theme, the love affair that is ruined by an arranged marriage, but if you don’t mind my adding a SPOILER in the next two sentences… Imagine a film in which that happens where the lovers don’t end up killing themselves, but where they learn to live with it and move on with their new lives (albeit after some pretty big difficulties at first)… I’m not usually one who demands happy endings, since I like deep tragedy. But sometimes I get tired of the tragic ending when I’ve already seen it done to death (so to speak), and Najma ends up steering far away from that conclusion (albeit with a bit of a crash toward the end – but I won’t give that part away now).
I also found the characters in Najma and the actors who played them to be very refreshing. Ashok Kumar, as Yusuf, does another fine job here. He’s not as adorable all the way through as he is in Kismet (though he can be sometimes); in fact, sometimes he’ll piss you off. But, as I have said before, he is a very human kind of actor, once again playing a very human character, and he’s very good. Yakub is a lot of fun here, too. He is one of my favorite character actors in Hindi movies, and he does well here playing Yusuf’s really nice but irritating friend. (He is irritating because, for one thing, he is a bit too much of a practical joker – which is a perfect role for Yakub).
Meanwhile, Veena is magnificent. It’s hard to believe that she’s only 16 or 17 here. (Although I have found myself saying the same thing about a few young actresses in these old films…) In addition to being beautiful (a fact that was apparently much talked about at the time), she exhibits a great amount of grace and maturity in her role as Najma.
(By the way, this video and the prior one above were taken from the highly comprehensive channel Trini Rama. All subsequent videos are from Tommydan333 and are taken from the version of the movie that Tom posted at Tommydan55.)
The character Najma, herself, displays a lot sophistication in the way she handles the changes in her life. Although she mourns her loss of a love affair, she also finds ways to make life better in her relationship with her new husband, Mukarram (played by M. Kumar). One thing that she manages to do is get Mukarram to change his habits and come home to her instead of staying out with his friends all night. And he is a Nawab, so, especially in the world of Hindi/Urdu films, that is very impressive!
(By the way, aren’t the dancers in this scene sweet? There is nice dancing in this film, though there should have been more by the woman who will be mentioned in a minute.)
Meanwhile, Yusuf continues to make his own new wife miserable. And that is a shame, because Razia is quite a woman, played by none other than the great Sitara Devi.
As always, Sitara is very dynamic here, as well as unique. Unfortunately, she doesn’t dance all that much in this movie, but she sings well, and she’s a good actress, too. She is quite believable in her role as the illiterate cousin from the village, a character who is obviously not intellectual or sophisticated but who is highly talented and awfully clever. And she is great when it comes time for Razia to sweetly annoy Yusuf after he has ignored her and insulted her for a while. (The scenes between the two are probably the funniest in the whole movie.)
Razia seems to be a bit of a victim at first, but she is driven to the point where she does some very not-nice things in her attempt to prevent any further interactions between Yusuf and Najma (that is, after she finds out that Yusuf has been visiting Najma’s house to help cure her of a likely psychosomatic illness). Eventually, Razia visits Najma directly and starts making unkind accusations that are overheard by Mukarram to nearly disastrous results. And then the last part of the film turns out to be a lot of fun. (I have seen some of this stuff before, but not done quite the same way…)
And now that I have given a fairly extensive plot summary of the part near the end, I would like to make a brief comment about the beginning… That is the part where we get to see some of the explicit social/political commentary that we can often find in films that were made by the director/producer who had a hammer-and-sickle emblem. It’s here where we hear people overtly advocating for a society to treat everyone equally, and where we get to hear a nice prayer that is not at all flattering to the upper class.
But, interestingly, the rest of the film revolves around very affluent Muslim families and dwells on the social mores of that class. (One review that I read cited Najma as the film that created a “blueprint” for the genre known as the “Muslim Social – although there were Muslim Socials that came out earlier, such as Khandan (1942).) It is clear that Yusuf’s family has had a mixed class history (Razia is actually his cousin – and that is the reason that he is forced to marry her). But Yusuf’s father is a very successful doctor and Najma comes from older wealth, and the film takes place almost entirely within the houses of the rich. Reflecting upon this contrast, I, myself, felt that there was a slight disconnection between some of that material in the beginning and the rest of the movie. (Maybe it would have been better if the poor orphans in the beginning had been brought back a little later? Just for a little bit – I am not saying that this should have been turned into an early version of Boot Polish!) On the other hand, though, because he was focusing so much on rich people’s houses, that gave Mehboob an excuse to work with some beautifully designed sets, which complement all the other very nice elements in this highly enjoyable film.
P.S. I should not post this review without mentioning that the music also provides a lot of pleasure throughout. And I’d like to add an interesting point of trivia, that the composer of that music, Rafiq Ghaznavi, is the man whose voice we hear behind the Mehboob emblem at the beginning of the opening credits. (Thank you for that information, Memsaab!)