As shown by the presence of 40s Bombay Talkies cameramen Wirsching and R.D. Mathur as well as the composers Ghulam Mohammed and Naushad, Kumari’s best- known film had been planned by her and her husband Amrohi as their most cherished project since 1958, when Amrohi intended to star in it himself. The film started production in 1964. When the star and her director-husband separated, the filming was postponed indefinitely. After some years, during which Kumari suffered from alcoholism, she agreed to complete the film. The plot is a classic courtesan tale set in Muslim Lucknow at the turn of the century. The dancer and courtesan Nargis (Kumari) dreams of escaping her dishonourable life but she is rejected by the family of her husband Shahabuddin (A. Kumar) and dies, in a graveyard, giving birth to a daughter, Sahibjaan. The daughter grows up to become a dancer and a courtesan as well (Kumari again). Sahibjaan’s guardian, Nawabjaan (Veena), prevents Sahibjaan’s father from seeing her or knowing who she is. Later, Sahibjaan falls in love with a mysterious, noble stranger who turns out to be her father’s nephew, Salim (R. Kumar). Salim’s father forbids his ward to marry a courtesan. The film’s climax occurs when Sahibjaan dances at Salim’s arranged wedding where her own father also discovers her identity and claims her as his child. Finally her desires are fulfilled and she marries Salim, leaving her past behind. The film’s main merit, however, resides in its delirious romanticism enhanced by saturated colour cinematography. Includes the all-time Lata Mangeshkar hit songs Chalte chalte and Inhe logone ne.
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Meena Kumari died two months after the film released. Until then, it had had a lukewarm response at the box-office, but afterwards it became a hit and acquired cult status. It also unfortunately acquired the unfortunate distinction of being considered as Kumari's last film. Read More