Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mehboob Khan's Epic: AAN - The Untold Story, Part 2.


Destiny herself plays strange roles. As is well-known, Mehboob Khan wanted Nargis to be his leading heroine in AAN. It was he who had first introduced and directed Nargis in TAQDEER (1943) and also later in HUMAYUN (1945) and ANDAZ (1949). However, with her busy schedule for RK’s AWAARA, (1951), Nargis could not give dates to Mehboob Khan. (In fact, she would be working exclusively for Raj Kapoor for the next five years and returning to Mehboob Khan only in 1956.) As such, there was some misunderstanding between the two. But the details regarding nature of this “misunderstanding” cannot be openly divulged for obvious reasons. The fact remains that Mehboob Khan was pissed off and he swore that he would bring in a new girl in place of Nargis to do that challenging role. It was under these circumstances that Mehboob Khan set out to find the heroine for his movie and thus discovered a reluctant Jewish girl of Iraqi descent, Farhat Ezekiel, better known as Nadira, who was to be coerced, cajoled and groomed as the “dream heroine” by Sardar Akhtar, the wife of Mehboob Khan. The blockbuster AAN would zoom Nadira to the star-status in her very first movie.

Comedian Mehmood whose fortunes would change only after 1960-1961 (CHHOTI BAHEN and SASURAL) was almost on the verge of landing the plum role of prince Shamsher Singh but for Premnath’s sudden interest to do a negative role for which he chose AAN. Mehboob Khan was glad to oblige the famous hero the negative role of a villain.

AAN’s shooting began in or about 1949. Mehboob Khan made it a point that the dream sequence in AAN would be more opulent and spectacular than the one in AWAARA. He ensured that AAN had a stunning scenery and so the outdoor shots were taken at different locales having the background of the rugged mountain, peaceful lakes, cascading waterfalls, floating clouds, blue skies, the crimson and orange sunrise and sunsets, beautiful flowers, lush greenery, water-logged paths in the woods, and golden harvest. If memory serves me right, most of the shooting was done in western MP’s Narsinghgarh in District Rajgarh. The song, AAJ MERE MAN MEIN KOI... was shot in the Devgarh village. DIL MEIN CHHUPA KE PYAAR KA...was shot on a small bridge near Indore.

As the shooting progressed, a time came when Mehboob Khan completely forgot about the warning of the Seer. The readers will surely remember the scene where Nadira is shown precariously hanging by the cliff. There is a waterfall in the background, which falls down the cliff. During the shooting of this song, Nadira actually slipped and fell down into the stream and was carried away by the currents. She was ultimately rescued and admitted to the hospital where she soon recovered. Mehboob then remembered what the Seer had said.


At last the shooting was completed. AAN was India’s first full-length technicolour movie and had its premiere at the newly opened Liberty Cinema, Bombay, in 1952. AAN was out and out a swashbuckling adventure movie of epic proportions, with an enthusing story of romance and revolution, highlighting a new politico-socio order where the subjects become the rulers and good triumphs over evil. Additionally, fabulous sets, exquisite jewellery, colourful costumes, imaginative camera work, strong direction, the tight script, crusty editing, brilliant dialogues, attractive choreography and art direction, the riots of colour, backed by the fine performances of the main actors and thousands of extras and even animals such as snarling lions and tigers, and scores of camels and stallions and the object of dispute – a mare, ensured that AAN was made in the mould that rivalled top Hollywood cinema of its golden era.

The magnetic presence and charm of the matinee idol, Dilip Kumar, who was then appearing for the first time in a dashing, swashbuckling role, further ensured that the picture was a thunderous success all over the sub-continent of India and Pakistan. In this new Avatar, in addition to exhibiting a streak of masochism vis-a-vis the fiery princess, he combines in himself the derring-do’s of Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster, leaping around the balconies, battling the palace guards who attempt to thwart his entry to the bedroom of the savage princess, and then engaging in a gruelling sword-fight with the villain, Premnath, who comes off as the suavest of villains in the role of prince Shamsher Singh. By the way, Aan was the first film to have fight coordinators for action sequences, and S. Azeem and M.H. Douglas had done a good job of coordinating action sequences, including fisticuffs and fencing for the movie stars.

Nadira, as the savage princess, has her finest moment only towards the climax of the movie when she loses Jai Tilak. That scene, where she had nearly lost her life in real life, is to impact the viewers about the heroine’s moment of truth that she found true love only to lose object of desire: MOHABBAT MILEE AUR TUU KHO GAYAA which is from the song: TUJHE KHO DIYAA HAMNE PAANE KE BAAD... After having realised the murderous intent of her brother Shamsher, she lets everyone know whose side she is by exposing him and his plan to the people by shouting out repeatedly to the point of becoming hoarse that Maharaja is alive. Shamsher orders that she be burnt alive at the stake. The climax showing the princess tied at the stake and her own brother lighting the fire to the huge pile of dry wood, while the hero Jai Tilak fights the villain in a breathtaking sword-fight in the arena is surcharged with emotions and is the piece de resistance of the movie. The scene where after the villain is killed, Jai Tilak rescues the princess when for the first time she breaks into a genuine smile in the arms of Jai Tilak, saying: JAY TUM JEET GAYE is very touching indeed! No more the perpetually raised eye-brows and no more popping out the eyes there by Nadira – no more The Savage Princess.

Nimmi’s performance as Mangala in jilting the lusty overtures of prince Shamsher Singh and throwing herself out of the window to save her honour and dying at the feet of her childhood sweetheart, Jai Tilak, is outstanding. No doubt, the European crowd was impressed by her performance so that she was called the “Unkissed Indian Beauty” by the Londoners, while the French knew AAN by her name, Mangala. Her innocence shines out in the early scene when the Maharaj asks her: “Jai Tilak Tumhaara Kaun Hai,” (who is Jai Tilak to you?) and she hesitantly blurts out: “Hai naheen. Ho Jaayegaa” (He’s not mine at present but soon will be) is not without the many compelling humour that the movie has.

Songs and music had their own influence too in the success of the movie. Music Director Naushad had introduced a 100-piece orchestra for the first time in AAN. The playback songs of Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and Shamshad Begum became super-hits. There were nine songs! DIL MEIN CHHUPAAKE PYAAR KA TOOFAAN sung for the charismatic Dilip Kumar, is still vivid in public memory. The lilting song, MAIN RAANEE HOON RAAJA KI (Shamshad Begum singing for Nimmi) was picturized very imaginatively, showing Mangala’s defiance of Shamsher Singh who calls her “Janglee Phool” and shows off a Cadillac in the countryside. The song also has the background bleating of the cattle and the camera panning the skies and the far horizons that bring the countryside atmosphere alive. Then Dilip Kumar singing TAKRA GAYAA TUMSE while tied to the post after being whipped was also a trend-setter. Even as later as 33 years, a same sort of scene was enacted by Amitabh Bachchan in MARD. MOHABBAT CHOOME JINKE HAATH is a delightful song sung by Rafi Sahaab for Dilip Kumar who adds sexuality to the scene by holding an arm of Sheela Naik,  who plays the princess' maid, telling her that his songs are not for the princess. As for MAAN MERAA EHSAAN ARRE NAADAAN..it meaningfully advances the story. However, the camera focuses on the Nadira’s shapely posterior in her jodhpurs for quiet sometime, adding erotic symbolism.

And the earlier song, AAG LAGEE TANN-MANN MEIN is lip-synched by Sheela Naik who plays the princess’ maid-in-waiting, while the princess bathes in her fancy royal pool. The bare shoulders of the princess and a huge floating flower, shown hiding her breasts, must have sired the erotic fantasies of the people who were not used to seeing such scenes in an Indian movie of that era. Both those scenes must have luckily escaped the scissors of the draconian Censor Board at a time when the moralist Morarji Desai became the Chief Minister of the Bombay State in 1952.According to Naushad, the first recording was done in London and his symphony was widely appreciated and even played on the BBC.  For some reasons, a beautiful Rafi Sahaab number: TERAA HUSN MAANAA BA.DEE CHEEZ HAI MERAA DIL BHEE AAKHIR KOEE CHEEZ HAI was deleted from the movie - probably owing to the length of the movie. 

People slept for days outside the theatres to book tickets in advance.  Black-marketeers had roaring business selling the tickets at a very high price.  AAN was the first film to gross over Rupees 15 Million in India and thus was highest grosser for the year, 1952 – the time when the price of tickets were 5 Annas (31 paise), 10 Annas (62 paisa), One Rupee and Five Annas, and Two Rupees and Four Annas – i.e. the time when even “Duanni’s” and “Chavanni’s” had the purchasing power.

AAN was also the first Indian movie to have a huge release in U.S. and U.K with English subtitles, though with the shortened version called THE SAVAGE PRINCESS. AAN was also the first film to be dubbed in Tamil. The Japanese release was the shortest version. In UK and France, it was Nimmi in her role of Mangala who stole the thunder from Nadira. The London premiere show won her countless fans who nicknamed Nimmi as the “The Unkissed Indian Beauty.”
The French version was distributed in Europe, and the movie was known as MANGALA, FILLE DES INDES,

i.e. Mangala the daughter of India. No doubt, AAN attracted commendations from various quarters of the world, including Hollywood. Cecil B. DeMille, the famous director of the blockbuster Hollywood movies wrote to Mehboob Khan an effusive letter of praise about the film that he enjoyed and where he foresaw the potentials of the Indian Motion Pictures for securing world markets what with all the romance and magic of India. Orson Welles, despite being busy with his OTHELLO, found time to see the rushes of AAN and hear its music too.

Without doubt, AAN (which means PRIDE) is the Pride of India, and one of the greatest Indian classic movies of all times rivalled only by the fabulous MUGHAL-E-AZAM of K. Asif, notwithstanding Mehboob Khan’s own MOTHER INDIA. It’s a pity that the Filmfare Award was instituted two years later in 1954; otherwise, AAN would have surely won many Filmfare Awards for the actors and for its various departments of the film-making.

This article is dedicated to the memory of the Seer, Sayyad Mohammed Ali, who had got the story of AAN changed. He hailed from Rampur and used to stay in the Vanjawadi area of Mahim in Mumbai. He died in or about 1988 at the ripe age of eighty years. He was the maternal grandfather of my friend’s wife. His house still stands at the same place, above Cafe Meraj, near the Paramount Restaurant, where his daughter Farida resides with her family.


  1. Dear Nasir,
    Hello. I lived in 1968 at Mehboob Khan Studios in Bandra. I have started a book, about my 13 months of life and adventure in Asia. My 6 weeks as a guest on Khan studios was an important piece. Unfortunately I have lost all my journals. When I found your site I was so pleased. I need names that I have forgotten. I am giving you my email addresses are: etspike [at]peoplepc.com and etspike[at]gmail.com I await to hear from you. I am very new to blogging. I knew Memboob Khan and I met on many occassions Raj Kapoor. I am attempting to recall Memboob's wife's name was it the actress Nadira? Enough for now I await your response by email.
    Thank you.
    E.T. Spike

  2. Dear Spike,

    Thanks for dropping by.
    In reply to the above questions, you must have received my answers sent by e-mail. If you have further questions, do let me know.
    Have a nice day!

  3. You are so expertise on Aan film. Do you know what happened to Sheela Naik after Motner India? What a pity she did not continue her acting carrer. You may send info to jingfua@comcast.net.

  4. Whathappened to Sheila Naik after Mother India(1957)? This seems to be her last movie. Did she settle abroad? I hope all was well with her.

    If you have any info on her, please share it for the benefit of all of us.


  5. hi nasir,

    i loved the article. i am a big fan of this particular movie. whenever i hear one of the songs played my hair stands.

    i was hoping you would have, in your possession, an srt file for the movie, in any available language: english and arabic especially.

    will be much appreciated

  6. Jude, your request makes me wonder what happened to the English, French and Japanese versions! Of course, the Hindi version is easily available on DVDs. Personally, I don't have the English version. Regarding the Arabic version, my guess is that the same could be available in Egypt since this country was at that time one of the biggest fans of Indian movies

    AAN is a very delightful movie and am glad to know that you love the songs

    Lastly, million thanks for liking the article on AAN.