SYNOPSIS - PAKEEZAH
("PURE OF HEART")
- Nargis (MEENA KUMARI), the younger sister of
courtesan and brothel-owner Nawabjaan, captivates all with her dancing
and singing. She dreams of a man who will come to take her away from
the hell that is her life as a courtesan. Finally the promised night
comes: her lover Shahab-ud-din arrives to take her back to his noble
household as his bride. Nargis is in disbelief.
- Shahab's family repudiates Nargis as a whore.
Distressed, Nargis runs away, taking up residence in a graveyard. Shahab
searches for her, wracked with guilt.
- When buying bangles, Nawabjaan sees one of her
own bangles -- she is told that the owner of this bangle has been living
in the graveyard out back for months. Nawabjaan, realizing it is Nargis,
rushes out -- but it is too late. All that survives of Nargis is her
tiny daughter, whom Nawabjaan takes.
- A man who buys a book finds a note inside for
Shahab and takes it to him. In reading it, Shahab discovers he has a
daughter. He goes to Nawabjaan's brothel, where she gives him the cold
shoulder: he's come after all this time, 17 years? Does he wish to destroy
the daughter as he did the mother? Go ahead and take her, Nawabjaan
invites, but she is already "out" -- performing as a courtesan,
so she says he must take her openly from this notorious bazaar, which,
she taunts, would surely be an action far beneath his noble self.
- Nargis's daughter, Sahibjaan (MEENA KUMARI),
performs. (SONG: INHI LOGON NE.)
- Shahab returns the next morning for his daughter,
but Nawabjaan has packed up the entire brothel and absconded to parts
- On a night train, a young man (RAAJ KUMAR) accidentally
enters the wrong compartment, where he spies Sahibjaan sleeping and
is awed by her beauty. The next morning, Sahibjaan finds a note between
her toes that reads: "I accidentally entered your compartment.
Your feet are very beautiful. Don't place them on the ground lest they
get dirty. Signed, a fellow traveler."
- At the home of Nawabjaan's friend. Nawabjaan
is determined to keep Sahibjaan out of Shahab's hands. Her friend counsels
her to buy the pink palace belonging to a former courtesan (which is
being auctioned to clear her debts), and to use it to entertain clients.
Meanwhile, Sahibjaan will pose as that courtesan's niece, making it
virtually impossible for Shahab to track her down.
- Meanwhile, Sahibjaan's reputation as an amazing
dancer and singer has preceded her: gentlemen are lining up, and one
in particular is assured by a servant that Sahibjaan's fire scorches.
She gives her first performance there, with explosive results. (SONG:
- Sahibjaan is haunted by the note left between
her toes. She cannot sleep (classic sign of love, as anyone who reads
the lyrical translations knows!), and moons over the sound of passing
trains. Meanwhile, the naughty nawab who caused so much trouble at her
first performance sends a splendid carpet in recompense. It is clear
that Sahibjaan has acquired a very ardent admirer.
- Her admirer appears to an empty hall. He apologizes,
fearing he is responsible. He is assured that a moonlit night is brighter
than a night with hundreds of stars. Sahibjaan emerges and charms him
anew with her heartfelt ode to her mysterious note-leaver (SONG: CHALTE
- Sahibjaan acquires a locket in which to store
her precious note. She confides to a friend at the brothel in town that
for several days now she has felt as if she were on some strange journey,
one which will take her away from everyone she's known. She shows the
note to her friend, who gently reminds her that this message isn't for
her, but for whomever the man assumed her to be (i.e., a well-born lady,
not a courtesan). If her anklets (symbol of a courtesan, as back in
these days courtesans alone danced) had been on her feet, the friend
says, no one would ever have told her not to put her feet on the floor.
- Sahibjaan's admirer, having purchased her services,
is concerned because she's not been acting herself -- as if, even though
he's bought her, he's lost her; as if she's a stolen thing which it
is a crime to buy. She asks him to change the subject; he requests that
she sing a song. Happily, her virtue is preserved by a pack of stampeding
elephants who upset the boat. (Call this chapter, "When Elephants
- Sahibjaan, wandering the shore, finds a tent.
Lo and behold, within is a journal belonging to none other than her
mystery admirer from the train! He's as obsessed with her as she with
him -- he wonders why. She realizes the truth: it's love! (SONG: MAUSAM
- Her mystery admirer, Salim, returns to his tent
just as Sahibjaan grows convinced that she's about to die and will never
lay eyes on him. Salim is weirded out by the novelistic coincidence.
(He should have seen the elephants!) He asks her name; she feigns amnesia
to avoid admitting the truth about herself. He reminds her of the train
incident. Later, he must return to his estate, but promises Sahibjaan
that he will return before nightfall. At his estate, he orders servants
to go to his camp and give his guest the royal treatment. Meanwhile,
Sahibjaan's people have tracked her down. By the time Salim returns,
she has gone.
- Sahibjaan refuses to perform. Everyone assumes
she hasn't fully recovered from her traumatic experience with the elephants.
- Her former protector shows up, recovered from
the elephant encounter. He assures her that he was very worried about
her; what an odd thing, to have elephants attack! A snake intervenes
and saves the day (wildlife is on Sahibjaan's side, apparently. Also,
the snake is mythically a divine intercessor.). Sahibjaan bolts, and
gets stuck in the train track. Happily, the train stops in time, and
on board is none other than -- Salim!
- Sahibjaan torments herself with speculations
about whether this is a dream; if, when she opens her eyes, she will
only see a wasteland. Salim assures her that when she wakes, she will
see him -- and the true meaning of her dream.
- Salim takes Sahibjaan home with him, to a coldly
surprised reception. Who is she? the women want to know. He admits he
has no clue, that she is sick and has lost her memory. His grandmother
says she appears to be from a good family, poor thing. He announces
that until she regains her memory, she will stay with him. All the women
- Salim's grandfather returns from Hyderabad.
He meets the bride of Salim's brother and urges Salim to get married
before he dies. A servant saucily mentions that he's already chosen
a bride, drawing grandfather's attention to Sahibjaan. Shocked, he dismisses
the women. Salim explains the entire situation, but this does not satisfy
his grandfather. He doesn't believe it, and is concerned about the family's
good name. Salim assures him that any dishonor that might come about
from sheltering a girl with no name and no house will be on his head
alone. His grandfather is infuriated by this: does he have no relationship
to the rest of his family? Salim: Yes, I do, but this matter is no concern
of yours. His grandfather is outraged. If it's no concern of his, then
why has Salim brought this girl to his house? Salim: My fault
-- I forgot that no one could so much as breathe around here without
getting your permission. He takes Sahibjaan and leaves the house. (By
the way, we find out in this scene that Shahab-ud-din is Salim's uncle.)
- Sahibjaan admits to him that she remembers who
she is: a prostitute (SONG: CHALO DILDAR CHALO).
- Salim stops to buy Sahibjaan a garland of flowers.
One of Sahibjaan's old admirers harasses her. Salim fights him. The
police, on learning he is a forest officer of good family and station,
release him with chiding words about his actions not befitting his position.
- Sahibjaan despairs that her notoriety will follow
them wherever they may go. "My inauspicious sky is neverending."
She asks Salim where he is taking her. He says, "To the place where
that sky ends." He takes her to temple and announces to the priest
that he wishes to marry her. The priest asks her name, and Salim replies:
"Pakeezah" (Pure of heart). But Sahibjaan cannot go through
with the wedding; she has too low an opinion of herself.
- Sahibjaan returns to the brothel, telling her
friend that her wandering corpse has returned to be buried in this pink
tomb. All prostitutes are corpses, she says, whose souls die while their
bodies keep on living. They are corpses kept beautiful; their graves
are not covered, but left open for all to see -- and she herself is
an impatient corpse lured by life to run away again and again. But she's
sick of it now; she's resigned.
- Sahibjaan receives a letter from Salim informing
her that he is to be married, and is requesting her to perform there
because he has heard she's widely celebrated for her singing and dancing.
- At the performance. Salim thinks to himself,
"Today I will see those feet which you planted in my heart performing
in front of everyone. Will I be able to look?" (SONG: TEER-E-NAZAR)
- Nawabjaan, who has seen Shahab-ud-din in the
crowd, summons him forth, announcing that Sahibjaan who dances before
them all is, in fact, his daughter. Shahab approaches her; he
is shot (by Salim's grandfather?). Shahab tells Salim that Sahibjaan
is really his daughter. Nawabjaan argues that she is still only
Nargis's daughter until she is married and Shahab himself comes to the
bazaar with the wedding palanquin. Salim says he'll lead the wedding
procession to her, and he'll take Shahab too.
- Sahibjaan, now Pakeezah, is married to Salim,
and Shahab-ud-din dies. The End.