Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review: Pakeezah by Meghnad Desai

Title: Pakeezah - An Ode To A Bygone World
Author: Meghnad Desai
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 160
Price: Rs 250
Genre: Non Fiction / Film
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

About the Book [from the blurb]

An entertaining look at one of the landmarks of Hindi cinema.

Meghnad Desai tracks the film’s tortuous journey and reveals fascinating, little-known aspects of it. He foregrounds the craftsmanship, perseverance and perfectionism of its maker, Kamal Amrohi, who would wait weeks for the perfect sunset. The director even took on MGM, because the CinemaScope lenses they supplied were out of focus by 1/1000 mm.

Desai sees the film as a ‘Muslim social’ set in a ‘Lucknow of the Muslim imagination’; as a woman-centric film with a dancing heroine at a time when they were a rarity; and above all, as a film that harked back to an era of ‘nawabi culture with its exquisite tehzeeb’, a world that is lost forever.

Pakeezah: An Ode to a Bygone World is a fitting tribute to a film that Meghnad Desai calls ‘a monument to the golden age of Hindustani films’.

My thoughts:

I love reading about films, especially Indian films. I feel there is a dearth of literature in this genre despite the fact that so many films are made every year in India and the fact that we recently completed 100 years of Indian cinema. I think it is commendable that HarperCollins India saw the need. This book is part of the recently released HarperCollins India’s Film Series, which also includes books on Amar Akbar Anthony and Mughal-e-Azam.

The author of this book, Meghnad Desai, says that “if there has been a film which has captured Muslim culture of a certain period albeit with contemporary resonance, it has to be Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah.”

His approach is methodical in analyzing ‘Pakeezah’ - what makes this movie iconic. He discusses every aspect of the film to offer a complete perspective - the story, the origins, the making, the rewriting, the many themes in the movie, the man behind the movie - Kamal Amrohi, the stars of the movie and the unforgettable music. Take for example, the story. By culling information from various sources about the film, he speculates on what the original story might have been and how it must have been modified over a period of time, considering the movie took 15 years to complete, Meena Kumari’s health deteriorated towards the end and interpersonal dynamics changed a great deal between Kamal Amrohi and his wife, Meena Kumari. Did you know that the movie initially did not get a good response on its release? But probably Meena Kumari’s untimely death within a month of its release piqued people’s curiosity and they started queuing up to watch the great tragedy queen in one of her most memorable roles of her career. If Pakeezah could not have been made without Kamal Amrohi, it is hard to imagine Pakeezah without Meena Kumari as well.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading about films. After all, the making of a movie is as fascinating as the movie itself; more so, a classic. Imagine we are talking about the times when scripts weren’t finalized before filming; they were developed on the sets, on locations, under the influence of a lot of things. At 150 pages, this book isn’t too long, though may be a few times repetitive. Nevertheless, I personally loved it. It offers a lot of insights, observations and information about the film, and at the same time quite easy to read.

Review Book courtesy: HarperCollins India 
Image source: Flipkart


  1. I must confess that I have not even seen this movie (you have permission to *gasp*) :) But this is one genre of books, I am keen to try at least once :) So someday I WILL see the film and read this book as well :)

    1. It is not a path-breaking movie so to say. The book actually analyzes what made this movie a classic. I love Films genre. I have read a few books recently and can't wait to get my hands on more.