"Mirza Ghalib," Sohrab Modi's eagerly awaited production, was released at a glittering premiere in Bombay on December 10, at the Minerva, Excelsior and Palace cinemas.
Inspired by the tragic romance between the great poet Ghalib and Moti Begum, the dancing girl-whom the poet fondly named Chaudavin - J K Nanda's adaptation of Manto's original story closely follows the pattern of the lives depicted there, the departures from recorded fact being dictated by dramatic considerations and regard for the censors.
Directed and produced by Modi on his usual lavish scale, the film magically re-creates the poignant love story of the Poet and the Dancer in the atmosphere of the magnificent court of the last of the Moghul emperors. He has with deftness preserved the atmosphere of the times and those aspects of life which inspired the wistful ghazals of Ghalib.
The film sympathetically depicts the torments suffered by the poet in his love for two women. Torn between his sense of duty towards his lovely wife Umrao Begum, and his love for Chaudavin, his troubles and frustrations increase and assume the proportions of tragedy.
Sohrab Modi's direction is unquestionably inspired. Not only has he re-created the world of the Moghuls, but has paid due tribute to the poet in a film which is as warm and dignified as the story it tells. Ghalib's exquisite ghazals and couplets have been admirably incorporated into the narrative and they richly embellish an already masterly production.
Bharat Bhushan is superb as the poet, Ghalib. Enacting his role with quiet restraint and dignity, he presents both the genius of Ghalib the poet, as well as his shortcomings as a man.
Suraiya beautifully brings to life the fascinating Chaudavin, drawing every ounce of sympathy through the character she portrays. The skill she displays in her rendering of Ghalib's exquisite ghazals together with the flexibility of her voice enables her to reach the depths of meaning in the poet's words and draw out their subtlety to the full.
Nigar Sultana as Umrao Begum and Durga Khote as Chaudavin's mother are both in their character roles, while Brij Sharma as Fiddan the opium-eater turns in a noteworthy performance.
Ulhas, the villain of the piece, is convincingly evil and lecherous, Iftekhar with regal dignity almost instinctively lives his part of the Emperor, Bahadur Shah, and Mukri contributes a fine cameo of the self-important but kindly money-lender.
Rajinder Singh Bedi's expressive dialogue registers much of the elegance of speech characteristic of Moghul times. Ghulam Mohammad's music and Shakeel Badayuni's lyrics give further evidence of their creative talents.