Year – 1956
Language – Urdu
Country – Pakistan
Producer – Anwar Kamal Pasha
Director – Anwar Kamal Pasha
Music Director – Rashid Attre
Box-Office Status – Superhit
Cast – Meena Shorey, Sabiha Khanum, Santosh Kumar, Asif Jah, Ghulam Mohammad, Rakshi, Allaudin, Nazir Bedi, Naeem Hashmi
Miscellaneous Information –
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Nigar Pictures’ Sarfarosh is based on a theme of universal appeal and one which has drawn writers and storytellers of all lands and all ages. Presenting the revolt of the weak and the oppressed against a powerful tyrant, the theme can hold a variety of entertaining material – adventure, romance, and sentimentalism. The emphasis generally in such themes is on the character of the person or persons who dare to stand up against oppression. In Sarfarosh the emphasis, though partly still on characterization, is on a broad interpretation of a way of life. The writer has presented the Islamic character as he understands it.
It is a story of medieval Baghdad, governed by a corrupt and cruel Prime Minister, who holds the kind Sultan in his hand. When his high-handedness can no longer be tolerated, some of the victims are driven to lawlessness with the purpose of avenging their humiliation. Among these comes a wounded young man Suhail (Santosh Kumar), flying before the Prime Minister’s (Allaudin) cavaliers. He is brought to the group’s headquarters by the leader’s pretty daughter Zarina (Meena Shorey). The first love affair is there in the first sequence and the presence of a rebel who loves Zarina lays the foundation of crucial developments towards the end of the picture.
Suhail proves his worth to the rebels who commit dacoities to procure provisions, means of expansion, and money for the poor. Suhail is soon established as the star dacoit of the party. He makes bold to raid the Kotwal’s house. In his audacity he selects the morning prayer time as the time to carry out the mission, with the result that as he is making his exit from the Kotwal’s room, with his bag full of money and valuables, the officer’s younger daughter is just waking up and the “muezzin” is calling the faithful prayers. Then comes the sight of Suhail offering prayers right at the spot he hears the ‘azan’, with his loot on one side and his sword on the other. Only a bold director could do that. So far Suhail has been a successful dacoit and a good Muslim and apparently without much to worry about. But the encounter with the Kotwal’s daughter creates complications. He forgets Zarina’s kindness and comes to Bano’s room every night. He is seen there and arrested. Bano successfully plans his release but the act costs her father his liberty. Anyhow the matter goes to the Sultan and with the lure of a promise of pardon and a heavy cash prize, the search for Suhail becomes intensive. But the man who takes the lead is Suhail himself who, through a clever strategy, defeats the Prime Minister’s designs and wins both freedom and the hand of Bano.
The Prime Minister means trouble, but the rebels are ready for him. Consequently, there is a wild fight in the palace hall in which a number of players bow out. There is something more in the fight for the Prime Minister has a dagger which does away with Zarina and Suhail can marry Bano without any embarrassment.
With Baghdad of Arabian Nights as the background of the story and the plot modelled as a fairy tale, the treatment perhaps could not have been modern. The film is remarkable in the sense that it can show what the people here miss in not having a stage. Several scenes in the film are reminiscent of the Indian theatre of the early decades of this century and there is a lesson in them for the audience as well as the producers. The director is very particular in this respect. Of his own he introduces as element of the fantastic in the plot and for comedy purposes a bit of farce. Once his point of view is grasped the audience may be able to understand the strange aspects of Islamic culture as presented in the film and may not find anything incongruous in the Desert Sons paraphrasing Napoléon’s saying and famous Urdu verses, or maidservants wishing their mistress good night at day break.
Sarfarosh, we are told, is a reaction to the people’s failure to understand the social and psychological treatment of themes by Director Anwar Kamal Pasha in earlier films. There is no pretense about the new picture’s contents and no claim to artistry. That makes the critic’s task a bit easier but, even if the latter part of the argument is true, the producer would not find many sensible people to support his contention. Further, loose treatment of a theme is not the same thing as catering to popular demand. Even making “mass appeal” pictures requires concentration and study. Negligence on this score has resulted in some unhappy features in Sarfarosh.
It may bring money to the producer but it has done positive harm to the prestige of Anwar Kamal Pasha, who has the reputation of being one of better-educated film-makers in this country.
It may not be out of place here to point out the difference between presenting a cultural background and exploiting popular sentiments. If Islamic culture means only repeated chanting of “kalma” and shouting of empty slogans, then this culture may better go unrepresented. Sincerity is absolutely essential while treating themes of this category. In Sarfarosh, piety smacks of hypocrisy and there is the spirit of profitable compromising throughout. For instance, the film includes three dances: One by the desert beauty Zarina in honor of Suhail, second by Bano in her own room, and third (a distant and crude imitation of Dance of Seven Veils) by a courtesan. All these three dances have the same basic movement; the creation of Bombay dance directors, none of which has anything to do with Islamic or Muslim traditions.
In mobility of expression and freedom, Meena leaves everybody far behind. She has interpreted the role fairly well, but her performance lacks restraint. At moments the audience wishes there was someone to check her a bit. Santosh Kumar’s Suhail does not have a dash of the character. Sabiha and Allaudin have unhelpful roles. Ghulam Mohammad as the Kotwal gives a fine portrayal in his characteristic style. Naeem Hashmi work as one of the rebel leaders is impressive. Nazir Bedi’s Sultan is a dignified characterization. His voice is a rice asset to him but it should be adequately supported b physical bearing.
The film’s technical values are satisfactory. The photography is fair, the lighting is especially commendable. The processing is of standard quality.