There’s something soulful about Guru Dutt. Chaudhvin Ka Chand, or Full Moon as it appears on Imdb.com, is the third of his films I’ve seen and in each one the actor brings an intensity, but also a sense of sadness, to his characters – even in a fun and frothy film like Mr & Mrs ’55.
In this he stands out from other legends of early Hindi cinema like Raj Kapoor, with his Chaplinesque energy, or, particularly in his early films, the matinee idol presence of Dilip Kumar.
This intensity of Dutt’s is evident in Chaudhvin Ka Chand – and not just because of the internal conversations he has with himself towards the end.The film is the story of three friends – Aslam (Guru Dutt – who also produced the film), Pyare Miyan/Nawab Sahib (Rehman) and Mirza Masaraddik Shaiza (Johnny Walker – again playing a comic sidekick, but in a more developed and well-rounded role than usual). Together they have ‘one soul – three bodies’, as Shaiza puts it.
The orphan Aslam feels morally indebted to Pyare Miyan for saving him from financial ruin, and it is ultimately this point on which the film and its climax rests. But before that it starts as an easy to watch romantic, comedy drama (as usual multiple adjectives required to match a Bollywood film’s twists and turns).
In the market one day Pyare Miyan spies a beautiful woman he sets his heart on. She only lifts her burkha for a moment and he subsequently loses her.
He then unknowingly persuades Aslam to marry the woman – Jameela (Waheeda Rehman), who in a reference to her beauty is the ‘full moon’ of the title.
‘A full moon emerging from dark clouds,’ as Aslam says on seeing Jameela’s face for the first time when she lifts the veil on her burkha after their marriage.
This sets the scene for Aslam’s conflict in the second half of the film when he realises his wife is the subject of his best friend’s unknowing attentions, her identity unknown to Pyare Miyan. The tension of Aslam’s dawning realisation is built up well and afterwards the film gradually piles on the tension and emotion to its climax, whose meditation on the price and value of true friendship I can only describe as a real downer.
Set in the Islamic culture of Lucknow, the film uses male/female divisions put in place by the veil and purdah to great dramatic effect – much more so in fact than Mere Mehboob, a similarly-set film that was shown in last year’s Bollywood Classics season on Channel 4.
There is one aspect of the film which I’ve yet to work out, and that’s why a black and white film would have just two scenes, about an hour or so apart, colourised. Presumably it’s for dramatic effect, but that’s not how it appears.
But putting that aside, Chaudhvin Ka Chand is an engaging, enjoyable film, so little wonder perhaps that it won three FilmFare awards on its release in 1960 (Best Art Director – Black and White, Best Lyricist and Best Playback Singer, the latter for Mohammad Rafi for the title song).