Neel Kamal (1968)

Rajkumari Neel Kamal (Waheeda Rehman) is in love with poet/architect/sculptor Chitrasen (Raaj Kumar). He designs a Rang Mahal for her father, and as a reward asks the king to give him Neel Kamal.  Instead he is walled up alive, and the king forbids anyone to mention Chitrasen ever again.

Sita Raichand (Waheeda Rehman) is a nice girl and good student. On a school visit to the ruins of the Rang Mahal she is overcome by a phantasm of music and dance. Thereafter she is afflicted with sleepwalking and has no recollection of why or where she goes.  She just has time for a very fun musical number before the drama kicks into melodrama.

She is lured out into the night by a voice, a voice beseeching his love to return.  Sita is the reincarnation of Neel Kamal, and Chitrasen is still waiting for her.

His voice is impassioned and yearning. This song is used in many scenes, and I particularly like this a cappella version.

The somnambulism is dismissed as something that may ruin her reputation and so needs to be hushed up rather than treated.  Her wedding is arranged with the help of a friendly local guru (David Abraham). As the doctor breezily assured Sita’s father, once she was busy running a household and looking after children she simply wouldn’t have time for any psychological affliction. Poor Sita. The name alone gives a clue that she will be tested over and over.

She marries Ram (Manoj Kumar) and moves in with his mother (Lalita Pawar) and sister Chanchal (Shashikala). Her sleepwalking continues, and no one seems to care about why or what is happening apart from the potential damage to their prestige. Ram is the kind of hero who instantly believes the worst of his wife just because his Ma says so. I have to admit Sita’s ability to walk, accessorise and elegantly drape a saree in her sleep may have made me suspicious, but surely they could have discussed it. Manoj Kumar is adequate but not overly interesting as Ram. I spent most of his scenes waiting for him to do the hand over face thing, but the closest he got was a half hearted effort (at 1 hour 28 minutes if you need to know).

Their relationship, apart from all the judgemental and non helpful rubbish, is affectionate and quite passionate. With Sita’s romantic choices limited to a dead man or a mummy’s boy, I was pleasantly surprised to see her in a more or less happy marriage.  Of course, this also makes her suspect in the eyes of the mother-in-law. If she likes sleeping with her husband there’s no telling what else she might be up to. The floozy!

The Thakurin and Chanchal are the real baddies in this tale, not poor ghostly Chitrasen. Like Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters they take every opportunity to harass and punish Sita, casting her actions in the worst possible light. The word ‘slut’ featured often in the subtitles. Adding to Sita’s woes, Ram goes away on work (after promising a doctor not to leave her alone ever) and the Thakurin sacks all the domestic staff putting Sita to work running the house.

Shashikala is great as Chanchal. She seems to relish her mean character, and her mockery of husband Girdhar (Mehmood) is cruel but funny. All the love (or the pheromones) in the air seems to have quite an effect on Chanchal. She seems destined for dissatisfaction as Girdhar is not quite the soul of passionate romance. Mehmood is both useless and pivotal to the drama. His ‘comedy’ is not even slightly amusing, but the hen-pecked loser of a husband is the one who finally takes action. I like Mehmood in the right doses, but this is not him at his best. Lalita Pawar’s character is more obsessed with izzat than about just tormenting her daughter in law but she teams up beautifully with Shashikala to be really horrid. And they are so mean – they even take all of Sita’s lovely clothes!

Although both Ram and her father profess to love Sita very much, neither of them seems to trust her at all. They easily believe the worst, or refuse to see the evidence in front of them. Neither man seems to place as much importance on her health and well-being as they do on her honour and how it reflects on them. Mr Raichand (Balraj Sahni) eventually makes an attempt to help his daughter but Sita by name Sita by nature; she refuses to fail her ‘test’ by leaving.

Sita is not a doormat though. She is strong although, in my opinion, misguided. She could go back to her father, but lots of dialogue about izzat and a weepy pre-wedding song seems to preclude that. She tries to mend her relationship with Ram, and asserts her rights as his wife, but he doesn’t support her when it counts. The ‘haunting’ by her past life love is really well executed. It is a gradual process, wearing down her energy and resilience so that it is easier for her current day bullies to best her.  Her nocturnal wanderings place her life in danger more than once, and she is often tired and confused by day.  Waheeda possesses an elegant beauty that cannot be disguised by a dowdy old saree. She shows the exhaustion and suppressed emotions as Sita struggles to make sense of it all, as well as the happy, radiant young woman in love. I really like her performance even though Sita is one of the characters I might occasionally like to slap some sense in to.

Raaj Kumar is not an attractive man, but his performance as Chitrasen is quite compelling.  From his brief appearance in the opening of the film he somehow makes a strong enough impression that Chitrasen is very present in the rest of the story. The loss and confusion he feels as he lingers in the space between life and death is palpable. He tells Sita that he was killed for love, but couldn’t die because of that love. He reminds her over and over of who he was to her, and tries to make her recall their life and the happiness they had. On the downside, he is not a dancer. And there are not enough artfully placed pom-poms in the world to distract from that. Warning – the following clip contains flashes of nipple (his).

Ultimately Neel Kamal/Sita can’t continue being torn between two lives. Will the past be too strong for Sita? And if Chitrasen wins his Neel Kamal, what happens to Sita? And what will happen with Ram and Sita and their marriage?

Despite finding much of the story quite trying, I really do enjoy this film. I’m not sure how to articulate this other than to say it is an engrossing and atmospheric film with the supernatural and reincarnation aspects flavouring the everyday drama. The sets are stunning, with ornate design and statuary, very nice chandeliers and excellent moody lighting. My DVD looks terrible in screencaps or I would inflict many many more interior design details on you. Waheeda’s performance is lovely, her costumes are beautiful and suit her character. The music by Ravi builds a mood of love and regret and Mohd Rafi is just perfect as the voice of loss and sorrow. It’s a pleasure to watch, even though I occasionally want to slap a few people rather hard.

I do have to make some small deductions for Ram being so annoying, the poor mental health practices, too much teary self sacrifice, and some witless comedy.  3 ½ stars!

Heather says: I was a little disappointed by this film. The opening credits led me to expect something a little more eerie and the lack of any spooky ghosts or macabre happenings was a bit of a letdown. Then the movie skipped forwards in time and any hopes of suspense were totally lost when no-one seemed to really care why Sita was sleepwalking or where she was trying to go. Since I also knew why she hearing a haunting melody and wandering around there was no suspense in these nightly outings either. I really got very little sense of atmosphere from the film apart from in the first rendition of the beautiful tujko pukare mera pyar song. To compensate for the rather pedestrian story though there were some wonderful performances. Manoj Kumar was very appealing as Prem even if his character did seem to be a bit of an idiot at times. Waheeda was beautiful and periodically did manage to get across the confusion and mental disruption than Sita was experiencing. However, like Temple I was frustrated by her continual acceptance of the abuse from her mother-in-law and sister-in-law without even attempting to either explain her problem or object to their treatment of her. It made her character a bit of a wet blanket which I don’t think was the intent. I also found that the story veered off into overly dramatic scenes and declarations just when it would have been more effective to cut the melodrama and concentrate on the more simple interactions between Prem and Sita. The worst issue though was the constant interruption of the main story by the characters of Mehmood and his wife. Although I love Mehmood, and some of his scenes with the excellent Shashikala were genuinely funny, these breaks in the main story totally disrupted the flow of the film for me.

I loved the opening scenes though and Raaj Kumar was fantastic as Chitrasen. He had so much charisma and it was a shame that there was little interaction between him and Waheeda until near the end, as they did some have convincing chemistry together. I was a little surprised at how attractive he was here actually as I can’t think of another film I’ve seen where he had the same appeal. But I am now looking for more!

The best part about this film was undoubtedly the music. The melodies are beautiful and both Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhosle are at their wonderful best in the duets. Although it’s not a film I would particularly watch again, except for those opening scenes with Raaj Kumar, I love the music and keep playing the songs. 3 ½ stars (which is mostly for the music and a half star extra for Raaj).

3 thoughts on “Neel Kamal (1968)

  1. What a nice review! I feel as I have already seen it :) I had been meaning to watch it one day, mainly because of the tujhko pukare song, but I am sure to feel just like Temple in wanting to give a few of the characters a tight slap! I am not much into self-sacrificing sati-savitris (if you are confused by that statement, it’s how we refer to women who let themselves be sacrificed, Savitri being of the Savitri-Satyavan legend fame). But given your 3.5 stars, perhaps I’ll see it after all. Interesting that Temple finds Raaj Kumar to be an unattractive fellow while Heather found him attractive in this film!! I do love his voice and his bearing (very dignified!) but attractive…hmmm…not in the few films I have seen of him.

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    • Hi Suja :) I don’t know what Heather was drinking when she watched this, but I cannot see Raaj Kumar as attractive even if I have my glasses off and I’m squinting. Did I mention that he tries to dance? I couldn’t help but recall a description of the actor Sir John Gielgud that said he walked like a cat with rickets. The sati-savitri types do annoy me too, but I could see that Sita had a personality and some strength. She just believed the way to demonstrate that was to endure, rather than start administering the slaps. Somewhere between the two is the optimum approach I guess :) It is a very beautiful looking film as well as having wonderful music. Let me know if you get around to seeing it! Cheers, Temple

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    • Hi Suja,
      Despite a lack of alcohol or any other substances, I did indeed find Raaj Kumar to be attractive here – not physically good looking as such, but very charismatic and charming. I’ve not seen him in that light before, and I may never see it again, but he had ‘presence’ in this film.
      I also felt that Chitrasen was one of the more interesting characters, particularly when I started to get irritated with Sita’s never-ending self-sacrifice and Prem’s idiotic decisions. Despite that aspect of Sita’s character it’s still well worth watching for the performances and there is plenty to enjoy :) Even if you don’t feel the same way about Raaj Kumar!
      Heather

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