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Badshah (1954) – Review


Taking inspiration from Victor Hugo’s immortal tale “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, Amiya Chakrabarty gives another interesting and purposeful picture in “Badshah”. As adapted from the Hugo classic, “Badshah” is a vigorous tale of love and lust, passion and devotion, beauty and ugliness, tyranny and revolt—emotions and expressions which are the same all over the world and the only setting they need is a human heart and a community of humans. Love is love in any language and among any people and tyranny is tyranny whether the tyrants be French or Indians. Hugo’s French classic, therefore, looks no strange tale in its Indian adaptation as far as human emotions are concerned.


Proving that there can be found lustrous beauty of character in a most lowly and ugly man and that a most exalted man can be a hideous symbol of degradation, the picture shows an imaginary theocratic state ruled by Dharmraj, a pious ruler proud of his power, austere in his life, rigid in his justice, and despotic in his rule and who is feared and worshipped by his subjects only a little less than God. Dharmraj occasionally addressed his people from his balcony but on one such occasion when he comes to his balcony to cast his usual spell on the people, he has a spell cast on himself by an attractive and youthful gypsy girl, Gulabi, who dances on the occasion to please the ruler and his assembled people.

As he gets his first glance of Gulabi, Dharmraj finds his piety and austerity falling to pieces before the suddenly excited desire to possess her. Though devoted to celibacy, Dharmraj cannot resist his desire and quietly orders his slave called Badshah to kidnap Gulabi at night and bring her to him. Badshah, a hunchback slave, is an unfortunate human being horribly ugly in the face and deformed in shape who lives a miserable, cringing existence of a slave limping about on Dharmraj’s orders and tolling the huge bell atop the tall sanctum of Dharmraj.


Though afraid of his conscience Badshah is more afraid of Dharmraj and so he reluctantly goes to kidnap Gulabi at night. But while trying to kidnap her Badshah is arrested by Bhaskar, the young captain of the guards, and brought before Dharmraj for justice. To impress the people with his justice Dharmraj coolly and cruelly lets his own crime be foisted on Badshah and orders his public flogging. Badshah silently suffers for his master but his suffering turns into a sweet memory when the same Gulabi whom he had tried to kidnap brings him water as he groans in agony under the whipping and sun’s heat. From that moment Badshah begins to cherish a deep gratitude and a quiet love for Gulabi.

Gulabi, however, loses her heart to her savior Bhaskar and after a few meetings Bhaskar also begins to love her intensely, though he was already engaged to Malti. When the news of their love reaches Dharmraj, he tries to use his authority to make them give up each other’s thought but not succeeding at that he stealthily stabs Bhaskar who sat cuddled to Gulabi at a tryst. After his dastardly crime, Dharmraj runs away and Gulabi is arrested for stabbing Bhaskar. While Bhaskar lies in bed waiting for his wound to heal under Malti’s care, Gulabi comes to believe that he is dead. She is tortured into declaring herself guilty and sentenced to death at the end of a month.


In the intervening time Dharmraj unsuccessfully tries to lure her into yielding before him and exposes before her the devil in himself. After spurning and humiliating Dharmraj, Gulabi is locked up with a demented woman who turns out to be her long-lost mother. Gulabi escapes her fatal punishment at least temporarily when Badshah, remembering his silent love and gratitude for her, decides to revolt against Dharmraj and snatches Gulabi away right from the scene of her execution. He gives her sanctuary in the temple where Dharmraj’s evil arm could not reach. Badshah gets her food and clothes but he cannot get her Bhaskar because Bhaskar had decided to forget Gulabi.

Relentless Dharmraj schemes again and tricks Gulabi out of her sanctuary when she is re-arrested and marched to the execution post. Bad-shah tries to stop the execution by shouting Dharmraj’s crimes but he fails and Gulabi loses her life. The furious Badshah chases Dharmraj and closes an evil chapter by killing him. The end sees Badshah lumbering along with Gulabi’s corpse in his arms as the wedding procession of Bhaskar and Malti passes by.


The picture moves interestingly and provides many entertaining and dramatic moments. And though the setting and some of the happenings of the tale appear slightly quizzical at places, the theme and emotions are easily appreciated. Amiya Chakrabarty, however, could have adapted the original story more freely to suit the Indian setting and could have used more clarity and subtlety in delineating the two main characters of the evil ruler and the noble slave. There is inconsistency in Badshah sometimes speaking clearly and dramatically and sometimes only making wild incoherent sounds like a dumb person or a chimpanzee. Dharmraj’s role also slightly suffers because in it the sudden metamorphosis of a pious celibate into a lusty brute is not clearly defined and he appears only a voluble, grumpy man rather than a powerful man reduced to a helpless victim of a consuming passion. But, on the whole in spite of its crude and cloudy passages, “Badshah” remains an
interesting portrayal of a fascinating theme.


The production values are quite good. Sets are many and varied and serve the purpose. Photography is averagely good while sound recording is generally satisfactory. Lyrics are the usual stuff while the dialogue is mostly stilted. A better dialogue could have made the picture more interesting. The music is entertaining and a couple of tunes are quite catchy. Amiya Chakrabarty’s excellent direction succeeds in putting over the theme interestingly though the camera could have been used more effectively in places.

Usha Kiron as Gulabi makes an attractive gypsy girl and acts with her usual poise and competence. Pradeep Kumar as Bhaskar fills an odd costume but hardly makes any impression. Ullhas as the hunchback slave is quite effective in spite of his none-too-effective make-up. He appears familiar only when he has to bawl in the later scenes. K. N. Singh as Dharmraj surrenders meekly before a cliches-ridden role. His role is bad but his performance isn’t good either. The newcomer Mala Sinha as Malti looks pleasant without being attractive and does rather amateurish work. Agha as a comic character does his usual tricks while Achala Sachdev as the mad-looking mother of Gulabi is rather over-enthusiastic with her hysterical role.

In short, “Badshah” is an interesting portrayal of a fascinating theme which entertains a good deal a good way. It is a picture worth seeing.

Year – 1954

Language – Hindi

Country – India

Producer – Mars & Movies

Director – Amiya Chakraborty

Music Director – Shanker

Box-Office Status

Cast – Hari Shivdasani, K. N. Singh, Pradeep Kumar, Usha Kiran, Ulhas, Agha, Mala Sinha, Achla Sachdev

Miscellaneous Information – Not Available.

Songs List

SongYearSingersMusic DirectorLyricist(s)
Aa Neele Gagan Tale Pyar Hum Kare, Hilmil Ke Pyar Ka Iqraar Hum Karein1954Lata, Hemant KumarShankar JaikishanHasrat Jaipuri
Gul Muskaara Uthaa Bulbul Ye Gaa Uthaa, Baaghon Mein Agayi Bahaar1954Lata, ChorusShankar JaikishanHasrat Jaipuri
Jaage Mera Dil Soye Zamaana Mehfil Door Nahin1954ApareshShankar JaikishanHasrat Jaipuri
Jab Pal Bhar, Jab Pal Bhar Chain Na Paaon Re Balam, To Kaise Bitayoon Din Ratiyan..1954LataShankar JaikishanHasrat Jaipuri
Le Gaya, Le Gaya, Dil Le Gaya Dil Mere Sapno Mein Aake1954Lata, ChorusShankar JaikishanHasrat Jaipuri
Rula Ke Chal Diye Ek Din, Hansii Ban Ke Jo Aye Thay.1954HemantShankar JaikishanHasrat Jaipuri
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