Greatest Film Scenes
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Pakeezah (1972)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Pakeezah (1972, India)

In writer/director Kamal Amrohi's romantic melodrama (with music) - one of the best Bollywood films of all time, and India's first Cinemascopic color film - with incredible, complex and elaborate set-production design:

  • the film's main setting, a red-light district brothel (or katha) in North India (Lucknow) at the turn of the century, where nautch-girls or tawaifs (prostitute-girls who sang and danced for rich noblemen in exchange for money) could be seen far into the distance and background on various multi-storied levels of the brothel
Red-Light District Multi-Level Brothel
  • the back story: a Muslim courtesan named Nargis (the director's wife Meena Kumari) had attempted to elope with her lover Shahabuddin (Ashok Kumar); when rejected by Hakim Saab (D.K. Sapru) - the patriarch of Shahabuddin's family, Nargis fled to a graveyard to live there; on her deathbed after delivering a baby, she wrote him a letter (never delivered) asking him to come for his newborn daughter
  • the main protagonist in the current day - young, pure at heart Sahibjaan (or Sahib Jaan) (also Kumari), Nargis's grown-up daughter, brought up by brothel madame Nawabjaan (Veena), her mother's sister; the young girl entranced male visitors to the brothel with her beautiful dancing and singing, but was not allowed to fall in love
  • the scenes of Sahibjaan's forbidden romance with aristocratic, wealthy prince Salim Ahmed Khan (Raaj Kumar), Shahabuddin's nephew, who renamed her "Pakeezah" (meaning 'pure one or girl') in order to legally marry her - although his offer of marriage was refused because of parental pressure (the same fate as her mother!)
  • the film's conclusion - ironically Sahibjaan was invited to dance a mujra at Salim's wedding to another woman, where she performed on broken glass (symbolically seeking a destruction of their love); during the ceremony, she met with her lost father, Shahabuddin, who gave his dying permission for Salim to marry Sahibjaan ("Pakeezah")
  • the final view was of a 'real' Pakeezah, another young brothel girl watching from another balcony, who was trapped, as she watched 'Pakeezah' taken away by Salim; in contrast, she would never have a man who loved her come into her life and take her away from the brothel

Daughter Sahibjaan Performing on Broken Glass at Wedding

Sahibjaan ("Pakeezah")

Young Brothel Girl Watching


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