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Monday, January 24, 2022

Dilip Kumar was unmatched as he played a villain in Mehboob Khan’s Amar

Starring Dilip Kumar, Madhubala and Nimmi in the lead roles, Mehboob Khan's Amar is the story of a man who is struggling with his demons after he rapes a woman.

Written by Sampada Sharma | New Delhi |
Updated: December 11, 2021 11:45:29 am
dilip kumarBollywood Rewind revisits Mehboob Khan's Amar.

In this weekly column, we revisit gems from the golden years of Hindi cinema. This week, we revisit the 1954 release Amar.

Even in the make-believe world of movies, there are certain crimes that are simply unforgivable. Iconic screenwriters Salim-Javed, who have written some of the most popular Hindi film villains of all-time including Gabbar, Mogambo and Shakaal, famously believed that their villains could be horrible, immoral people, but they could have never been written as lecherous men. Their reason was that once a man starts lusting after a woman on screen, he loses all respect, even as a villain. While Salim-Javed followed this rule for their own creations, one can see in hindsight that a male villain who lusts after a woman, or worse rapes a woman, has sinned beyond the point of redemption. Hence, it was no less than a shock when Dilip Kumar played one such man in Mehboob Khan’s 1954 film Amar.

In the film, Dilip Kumar plays the titular Amar, who is introduced as a well-respected lawyer. He is shown as a charming man who thinks on his feet and mesmerises Madhubala’s Anju in an instant. The director makes you believe that he is the definition of a ‘good guy’, until that stormy night. The village belle Sonia, played by Nimmi, is introduced as an innocent Disney princess-like woman, who talks to her many pets and respects Amar, for his kind nature and how he appears to be helping the needy.

dilip kumar Dilip Kumar’s Amar is engaged to Madhubala’s Anju in the film.

The night of the local fair, where Nimmi dances with abandon, she finds herself being chased by a local goon. She runs for her life, hides in the bushes, swims across the lake and lands up at Amar’s house so she can ask the ‘nice man’ for refuge but what happens instead is something that she, or the audience, never sees coming. Amar is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who rapes her. This particular scene is harrowing, haunting and leaves you in utter shock as the film does not prepare you for Amar being a wretched man. The sharp cuts, the windows clanking against each other as the storm intensifies outside his mansion create a violent atmosphere and even though you don’t see any violence, the scene leaves you bruised.

The film then follows Amar as he struggles to come to terms with the sin that he has committed and while Amar and Sonia both don’t say it out loud to another soul, his dilemma as to whether he should confess his misdeeds keep you hooked. Amar is the classic ‘seems-like-a-good-guy’ who appears to be a respectable, stand-up citizen. Villagers call him a ‘devta’ but Amar is aware enough to know that he does not deserve that title. In a scene where he is contemplating about coming clean to his fiance Anju – the two distinct voices in his head are fighting for attention. As the camera zooms in on each of their faces, you hear Amar’s voice debating one argument over another. When he finally starts talking, he tries to shirk away from any responsibility and attempts to blame Sonia by calling her ‘barbaadi ki aahat’ but ends up not confessing.

dilip kumar movies Nimmi’s Sonia walks away from her wedding claiming that she is already married.

Dilip Kumar is at his finest here. His joie de vivre lights up a scene when we meet him at the start but as the film progresses, we see him devolve into an outer shell of the man he once was. His stoic silence as he gazes into the horizon is a constant reminder that Amar has committed a crime that cannot be undone. Dilip Kumar was one of the most popular names in the movies in the early 1950s and though he entered the big league with later films like Devdas, Naya Daur, Madhumati, Gunga Jumna among others, Amar was a brave attempt from an actor who was already a well-known star at the time.

While the subject of the film was quite brave for its time, the film bows down to problematic social conventions for its resolution. In a film where the titular character is a rapist, we see a baffling love triangle come into play. Sonia comes from a world where she has been conditioned into believing that getting into a sexual relationship, even if it was not consensual, equals to getting married. She starts believing Amar is her husband and her saviour who has to accept her to validate her existence as she says “Mera byaah ho chuka hai”, while walking away from a wedding mandap. Even after he tries to kill her in a fit of rage, Sonia prays for his betterment. This portrayal is extremely discomforting to watch, especially because it reminds you that a male-dominated society forgives its rapists, but not the women who have been raped.

The film does not expect you to fall in love with Dilip Kumar’s Amar but it makes enough room for him to move on with his life. All it expects him to do is – accept Sonia as his wife and legitimise her unborn child, which is a bizarre consequence for a rapist. When he finally says ‘Main hi voh aadmi hun jisne Sonia ki zindagi barbaad ki hai’, he breathes a sigh of relief making it seem like accepting his wrongdoing somehow absolves him of his crime.

It is significant to be noted that it was Mehboob Khan who upheld female power in his 1957 film Mother India but in Amar, he seems to be permitting his lead character to live a blissful life. Of course, Amar does not end up with the woman he loved but that’s the only consequence he has to face for his actions.

Watching Amar in 2021, the film makes you wonder how a subject like this would be treated in present-day Hindi cinema. Of course, the treatment of a rapist character cannot be the same as it was in 1954 but it also begs the question that which actor would actually take up this complex role. The film deserves applause for picking up a bold subject but loses a lot of points for turning its antagonist into a saviour in the end.

Bollywood Rewind | Kala Pani | Mr & Mrs 55 | Aar Paar | Haqeeqat | Woh Kaun Thi | Junglee | Yaadein | Sujata | Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje | Jagte Raho | Baazi | Bees Saal Baad | Dosti | Mughal-e-Azam | Mother India | Anari | Chaudhvin Ka Chand | Boot Polish | Do Bigha Zamin | Devdas | Baiju Bawra | Shree 420 | Pyaasa | CID | Madhumati | Naya Daur | Awara | Sharada | Do Aankhen Barah Haath | Bandini | Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam

Amar is streaming on ErosNow and YouTube.

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