Set in a small village, Babul is a story of a young postmaster Ashok (Dilip Kumar). He stays in the house of a former postmaster and meets his daughter Bela (Nargis). Bela falls deeply in love, dreaming of a life with him. Meanwhile Dilip develops feelings for the Zamindar’s daughter Usha (Munawar Sultana), who reciprocates his affection.
But the heartbroken Bela intervenes, revealing to Usha her own (misguided) belief that Ashok has already professed his love for her; this causes Usha (in a surprising show of class-transcending compassion) to renounce her love for Ashok in favor of Bela’s prior claim, and to accept a pending proposal from the aristocratic son of one of her father’s cronies. As Usha’s wedding approaches, both she and Ashok lapse into depression, while Bela exults (despite recurring nightmares of a black-veiled rider coming to carry her away); a happy ending appears increasingly unlikely, and happily the director makes no last minute attempt to manufacture one.
Babul was one of the first films to establish Dilip Kumar’s ‘doomed lover’ image, best remembered in the iconic Mela. Others like Aan, Andaaz, Deedar, Uran Khatola and Devdas followed, resulting in his being known as the King of Tragedy.
There appears to be no moral to this story, apart from the fact that Fate can be Cruel (and urban boys should be careful about what they say to rural girls?).
The many tropes present—the dispirited DEVDAS-type lover, the rivalry between two women who respectively suggest “tradition” and “modernity,” the sacrifice of personal happiness in order to maintain family honor, and a ludicrous and greedy munshi (the manager of the zamindar’s estate) and his family thrown in for comic relief—appear to be peripheral to the director’s main agenda, which is the evocation of romantic mood.
Though the soundstage sets are sometimes hokily theatrical, the cinematographer achieves great things through atmospheric lighting, especially during night scenes, creating hauntingly beautiful effects suggestive of German expressionism (incidentally, Fali Mistry was the guru of V. K. Murthy, Guru Dutt’s brilliant cinematographer, and it shows).
A score of fifteen musical numbers, mainly devoted to the joys and pains of love, makes this essentially a ghazal anthology in which brief dialogs serve largely to connect and frame each successive lyric. Especially notable are the thrice-refrained Chod babul ka ghar (“Now you must leave your father’s house”), which evokes the vidai (leave taking) songs performed when a newly-married girl departs from her maternal home and village, the lovesong Nadi kinare (“On the bank of a river”) performed by Ashok and Usha backed by a chorus of dramatically-picturized boatmen, and their mournful duet-in-separation Duniya badal gayee (“My world has changed”).
Nargis is pleasing in an ingénue role, but Sultana’s character, though initially vain and shallow, proves to be the more complex, and she renders it effectively. Kumar, well enroute to earning his twin 1950s titles as “King of Tragedy” and “Darling of Millions,” delivers his usual stellar performance, exuding charm and sensuality while still managing to seem like the boyish Postman Next Door.
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 1950, Genre – Drama, Producer – Naushad, Director – S.U. Sunny, Music Director – Naushad, Language – Hindi/Urdu, Country – India, Cast – Dilip Kumar, Nargis, Munawwar Sultana, Tun Tun