City Scape DOODLE


Watching CKC on Prime Video last night, I realized how little I had understood of the dialogue the first time I saw the movie. I had a general idea of the plot but couldn’t understand more than one word in ten. 

I knew it was a great classic. That’s why I agreed to see it. I hadn’t expected to like it much. I didn’t like the highly mannered acting of Hindi commercial cinema. CKC was certainly stylized and extremely sentimental. But: beautiful and moving too. I discovered that I loved it.

That was maybe 30 years ago, in Bombay.


Last night, there were subtitles, so it was possible for me to follow the conversations. The opening scenes were ridiculous. There was middle-aged Johnny Walker pretending to be a youthful buffoon. The crowd of young women twittering like sparrows at dusk, calling to one another in high-pitched squeaks. Rehman, one of the two romantic leads, handsome but not young enough to be convincing. All the secondary characters were card-board stereotypes.

Then the story got underway. I began to fall under the spell of that vanished way of life. The gracious language, the sweet-silly pranks played by full-grown adults upon one another. The vast homes with shining floors and high ceilings. The slow, sad songs mirrored in the languorous pace of life. 

The story is too well-known (to all South Asians, anyway) to be worth repeating here. I’ll confine myself to three observations:

  1. The Irony-proof Sweetness of the Male Characters. They’re presented to us as men who gladly spend their entire lives pursuing light pleasures. This is the story of three men who are completely obsessed with the near-prospect of marriage. Rehman’s character, Pyare Mian is seen choosing jewelry and fine fabrics for his bride-to-be, his face radiant with delight. Guru Dutt’s character Aslam is the main romantic lead. We see him literally “dressing his wife” (the maid complains about this behavior, finding it weird) as they prepare to go to Pyare Mian’s wedding. They don’t seem interested in sports or any extreme physical activity. They wear embroidered, lacy or see-through cottons, they spout poetry, they cry easily. I cannot imagine any Western male characters – of any ethnicity – playing similar roles in a movie. Except, perhaps, as parody. 
  2. Unexpected Gender Stereotypes.In spite of everything we’re shown about the gender-segregated lives of all the characters … I felt the over-whelming flavour was female. Not only are the households brimming over with women servants and flocks of younger female relatives but the older women seem to wield absolute power over the men in their households. The central figure is, of course, Waheeda Rehman’s character Jameela. The film is named for her after all: she is the Full Moon of the title. Oh she’s beautiful, of course! But she has a quality of grit that isn’t modern: more like primordial. 
  3. The Dancing Girl. The third friend of the trio, Shaidad (Johnny Walker) is more complex. His beloved is a dancing girl. What a character she is! I found her magnificent: her self-confidence, her poise. She wasn’t the heart-of-gold type of scarlet lady; nor world-weary, nor naïve. She seemed, to my eyes, to be that rare being who is in the right place at the right time. At the top of her game. In a brothel. Gladly.
  • Nikhil Desai
    May 1, 2021 at 2:30 pm

    She is a dancing girl, not necessarily a sex worker.

    Minoo Mumtaz is the sister of Mehmood.

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