Tom’s new movie channel is up and running, and the first film that I watched there was quite a treat for me: the ten-hanky atmospheric tragic-love weep fest, Babul. In using the word “atmospheric,” I admit that I have been influenced by an interesting review at Cineplot, which describes “atmospheric lighting, especially during night scenes, creating hauntingly beautiful effects suggestive of German expressionism.” The cinematographer is Fali Mistry, whom Cineplot points out “was the guru of V. K. Murthy, Guru Dutt’s brilliant cinematographer.” And some readers might notice that I have commented on Mistry’s work just recently, while writing about Uran Khatola, where it is even more striking.
I have seen three films now with the specific combination of Fali Mistry, S.U. Sunny (the director), Dilip Kumar, and Naushad: Mela, Uran Khatola, and now Babul. And I can see a lot of similarities among these tragedies. However, I did not find Mela to be quite as compelling or well put together as the other two (though I understand that it is legendary, maybe because it was the first of these films, made in 1948), and it doesn’t contain quite the same amount (or intensity) of dark fantasy. Uran Khatola and Babul are similar in that regard, especially in the spectacular death (and going to heaven) scenes. Uran Khatola has much more fantasy to it overall, and sometimes I think I might I prefer Uran Khatola, because it has a few more original ingredients in the plot and setting. But Babul gets the edge in a couple of other ways, and I have to say that I was more moved by this film. In fact, I think that it should prove irresistible to anyone who likes to plunge into multi-hanky tragic love tales.
Babul probably gets that emotional edge because of the acting. I admit that I don’t consider myself to be a connoisseur of acting, and when it comes to Indian films, I don’t really concentrate as much on the acting as some people (partly because I am so often carried away with the music and/or the dance). However, even I am able to notice the superb acting in Babul. Of course, the main superb actor in this tragedy is Dilip Kumar. He is utterly believable and sometimes quite emotionally provocative in the role of the visiting stranger (i.e., the new postmaster) caught up in a triangle with a rich woman and a poor woman. The plot doesn’t sound like much (especially in terms of originality) and it isn’t. And there is a part of the film, when it gets deeply into the melodrama of the triangle, that could have turned awful if it hadn’t been done by more-than-competent actors. But Dilip seems, actually, to perform above his role.
Nargis does as a good a job as ever; she is a convincing actress, and she works out nicely in the role of the somewhat naive, poor village girl. (And I have to admit that, much as I like Nimmi, I was kind of glad we had Nargis doing this role instead.) Then there is Munawar Sulatana, who is great in this film! Her role as the rich woman (daughter of the zamindar) is interesting, too. At first, I expected her to be a villain, but instead, she turned out to be a very sympathetic as well as interestingly complicated. And Munawar was able to convey the different sides of this character very well. In fact, I was more impressed by her in Babul than by Nargis.
In addition to the acting and cinematography/atmosphere, there is a third major element in Babul that stands out, and that is the gorgeous music by Naushad! This composer simply amazes me, again and again. Some day, I will be able to get together the musical vocabulary to describe exactly why his soundtracks are so perfect. And just coincidentally, I have been listening to the soundtrack of Babul very frequently during the past couple of months. So, I have to say that the music in this film did not surprise me, because I already knew that I loved it.
If I were to do the more “traditional” kind of movie writeup with plot summary, etc., I don’t think I could this film justice. (Not that I am doing it full justice with this rather scattered and rushed writeup either, but anyway…) That’s because, just to reiterate, the plot in this movie is nothing to speak of. But I will grant that the sudden tragedy at the end was something I hadn’t quite seen before (though something somewhat similar happened in Mela), and it was sufficiently shocking. It was also foreshadowed nicely, especially in a dream scene. (By the way, in Babul, we get further proof – albeit briefly – that Awara did not contain the first Hindi film dream sequence.) But if you find yourself wondering why you have immensely enjoyed this movie (and crying certainly can be a form of enjoyment, especially when watching movies), then don’t look for the answer in the plot; look at the other, great things.
P.S. Tom’s individual song clips of the film are great, too, as you can see (though there are some skips now and then, which I’m sure he could do nothing about)… Certainly, it is wonderful to have such clear pictures and English subtitles! But I was disappointed that he didn’t also post the other versions of the song “Chhod Babul Ka Ghar,” and so the only clip we get shows little more than a minute of this beautiful song, in the happy version. Personally, I think the sad version is incredible. There might be a good reason why he didn’t post that version, because seeing it might be a big spoiler. Yet, it also shows a part of the film that is the most fantastic (in all senses of the word). So, here is a combination of all the versions that I have found (there are actually a few clips of this combination up on YouTube). Enjoy it if you want to watch it (have a good cry, etc.), but don’t say that I didn’t give you a SPOLIER ALERT!