[Well, I finally found a copy of the Friends DVD that works, or a new computer with which the DVD will work, or a little of both, though sometimes the song or scene selection menu just won’t work, but never mind.]
I finally watched Ratan, and it’s time to throw the Kleenex box into the recycling bag. Oh, and by the way, that’s not the first box I’ve gone through either. If you like melodramas about denied and heartbroken lovers, you should enjoy this film. (And if you don’t, why the hell are you watching old Hindi films in the first place? OK, maybe you watch them for the music…in which case, this is definitely a film for you too!)
The story is somewhat familiar (but just remember that this film came before most of the other ones you might be thinking of): Two people who’ve been childhood sweethearts finally fall in love as maturing adolescents, but they are of different castes and their respective parents are worried about what “society” will say. So, the girl gets stuck with an arranged marriage with someone who is considerably older, who will supposedly provide her a good life because he is an editor. (True maybe in India in 1944… It probably wouldn’t be such a sure thing in the U.S. today.) Her new husband is actually a pretty interesting character, because he is completely sympathetic to the wife’s plight and feels that since he has reached an old and undesirable age of 40(!), he will never bring his young bride happiness, because her “heart” is too young. He doesn’t even know about the denied romance, but he is even more sympathetic when he finds out about it (only it’s a bit too late). The denied lovers meanwhile sink further and further into depression. The boy ends up wandering the jungle, singing sad Naushad songs in front of a big stone head.
There are shades of quite a few other movies that you might recognize in this one, though once again, remember which one came first. I thought not only of Baiju Bawra but of also of Mela (1948). (I wasn’t really that crazy about Mela – except for the Naushad music and the excellent performances by its stars, but I’m seeing a little of Mela in a lot of things now, so I guess it was a memorable film after all.) Ratan came four years earlier and it shows in some ways… Ratan’s actors, Karan Diwan and Swarnalata, are not as good as Dilip Kumar and Nargis, and I guess Ratan contains more than a little of that overly theatrical acting that a few of my blogging colleagues have mentioned with regard to the films of the ’40s. (Though I think Karan Diwan is far more guilty of this here than Swarnalata, who is pretty good. Interestingly, Diwan’s acting seems quite different in Teen Batti Char Rasta, made just nine years later.) That having been said, I found Ratan to be very moving anyway.
Of course, Ratan has many, many songs. Another common critique of the old films would certainly apply to this one: It probably has more songs than is good for proper maintenance of the dramatic flow. But as with other films of the era that had Naushand as music director – such as Anmol Ghadi and Baiju Bawra – I would have happily welcomed more songs. Also, the frequent songs become especially welcome during the slow and less interesting part near the middle of the film. (In other words, I didn’t care that this part of the film wasn’t so compelling, because I just loved the songs!)
Naushad was clearly the real star of this film. This was his breakthrough soundtrack, and deservedly so. It is less overtly spectacular than Baiju Bawra, but I think that’s why I’ve gotten to like it even more – there’s something magical about the way Naushad created such great music in such a relatively simple environment.
And I do love Zohrabai Ambalewali! She wasn’t quite on the level of Noor Jehan or Lata Mangeshkar but she did have a beautiful voice and singing style.
I also appreciate Amiribai Karnataki and Shyam Sunder, who sing on my second-favorite song in the movie, “O Jane Wale Balamwa.” The dancing in this scene is fantastic, too. (Who is the male dancer? He is great!)
And I like the expressions on the faces of our dear stricken-and-denied lovers. “Ankhiyan Milake” is, of course, the great classic, but this clip of “O Jane Wale Balamwa” provides another brief glimpse of Ratan in its best moments, showing why this film was very enjoyable even if it wasn’t exactly flawless or earth-shattering.