Starring: Meena Kumari, Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, Rehman, Sapru, Dhumal, Nazir Hussain and others
Director – Abrar Alvi
Story – Bimal Mitra
Screenplay – Abrar Alvi
Lyrics – Shakeel Badayuni
Music – Hemant Kumar
Cinematography – V K Murthy
Editing – Y.G. Chawhan
Art Direction – Biren Nag
Costumes – Bhanu Athaiya
A group of labourers is breaking down an old haveli under the supervision of site in-charge (Guru Dutt).The in-charge sits down in a corner of the haveli and is drawn into the past , remembering how his life in Calcutta had begun from this very Haveli.
Bhootnath (Dutt) arrives in Calcutta in search of work and stays with his brother-in-law in the zamindar’s haveli. He gets work at the mohini sindoor factory where he builds a rapport with the owner’s daughter Jaba (Waheeda Rehman).Inside the haveli; Bhootnath observes the dissolute lifestyle of the zamindar’s. His companion is Bansi , the servant of the zamindars. One night Bansi takes Bhootnath to meet choti bahu (Meena Kumari) who asks him to bring her mohini sindoor as she believes it will help in keeping her unfaithful husband (Rehman) home. The magic of mohini sindoor does not work for the choti bahu and eventually she begins to drink so as to give company to her husband, thus succeeding in making him stay at home. However she soon becomes an alcoholic herself. Bhootnath meanwhile joins a construction company and leaves Calcutta. When he returns he finds that the haveli is now in ruins and choti bahu has become an alcoholic. He also comes to know that he and Jaba were engaged as children. One night choti bahu asks Bhootnath to accompany her to a nearby shrine. However the elder zamindar (Sapru) suspects choti bahu of having an affair and gets her killed; Bhootnath is knocked unconscious. When Bhootnath regains consciousness in the hospital; he is told that the choti bahu is missing and her husband is dead.
The site in-charge is drawn out of his past as he is told by the labourers that a skeleton has been found. The jewellery on the skeleton tells Bhootnath that it is that of choti bahu.
The last scene shows Bhooth and Jaba (now his wife) going away in a carriage.
The Guru Dutt – S D Burman- Sahir partnership had already been broken in the previous Dutt film Chaudvin Ka Chand, its music was done by Ravi. However Guru Dutt still wanted S D Burman and Sahir for the music and lyrics but Burman da was not well while Sahir declined the offer. Finally Hemant Kumar was chosen as the music director while the lyrics were to be penned by Shakeel Badayuni.
The songs composed for the film were:
“Sakiya Aaj Mujhe Neend Nahin Aayegi”, “Meri Jaan O Meri Jaan”, “Bhanwara Bada Naadaan” and “Meri Baat Rahi Mere Man Mein” sung by Asha Bhosle.
“Piya Aiso Jiya Mein Samaaye Gayo Re”, “Na Jao Saiyan Chhudaake Baiyan” and “Koi Door Se Aawaaz De Chale Aao” sung by Geeta Dutt.
“Sahil ki Taraf Kashti Le Chal” sung by Hemant Kumar.
The song “Sahil Ki Taraf Kashti Le Chal” was edited out of the film and Hemant Kumar later reused the tune for the song “Ya Dil ki Suno” in Anupama(1966)
The Inside Story
After Kaagaz Ke Phool turned out to be a disaster, Guru Dutt film company was in financial trouble and was unable to pay salaries to its employees. During this phase Guru Dutt permitted Alvi to work for other banners to sustain his income. Then one day Alvi got a call from Guru Dutt asking him to write the screenplay for Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam ; which was originally Bimal Mitra’s novel. The novel being in bengali, Bimal Mitra the writer was called from Calcutta to work with Alvi – a bungalow was rented out for one year in Khandala. Alvi made some deviations from the original novel which was agreed upon by Mitra and finally the script was ready.
After it was decided that Alvi would be directing the film, the focus was on finalizing the cast. Dutt and Alvi new that it would be the character of choti bahu which would be the focal point of the film and they needed to be absolutely sure when they finalized the actress for this role.Nargis and photographer Jitendra Arya’s wife Chhaya Arya were considered for the role and Waheeda Rehman also wanted to play the role of chhoti bahu. She even did a look test but V K Murthy realised that she was too young for the mature role. Eventually the role went to Meena Kumari as only she could portray the sorrow which was required for the role.
After Shashi Kapoor and Biswajit could not be finalized for Bhootnath; it was Guru Dutt who cast himself as Bhootnath, the Ghulam. However Alvi’s condition for taking Guru Dutt as the hero was that Dutt would shave off his trademark moustache so as to look like a simple countryman. Alvi offered the role of Jaba to Waheeda which she accepted knowing that it was a secondary role to Meena Kumari.
Rehman and Sapru were chosen as the two zamindars; however the big deviation that came across was that Mehmood and Jhonny Walker were not part of the film. Alvi had already made a big error in casting Walker as an english speaking gentleman in Kaagaz Ke Phool; also he did not want to mess around with the novel by adding a new role.
The film was shot at the Dhankuria Mansion near Calcutta but Meena Kumari didn’t come to the haveli, its interiors were recreated in a Bombay studio.
During the shoot, Meena being a method actor was deeply involved in her role as choti bahu; who makes her first appearance into the film after almost fifty minutes; however takes centre stage starting from her first scene itself. The first scene is when she meets Bhootnath for the first time; as required by Alvi – Meena renders the scene with a touch of motherly love in her voice. Alvi confirmed that the scene could not have been done any better while Meena noted that Abrar drew out the best in her. There are many other heart touching scenes in which Meena Kumari showcases here great histrionic abilities which were indeed required for the role of choti bahu. One of the scene which stands out is when choti bahu is asking her husband to stay back for the night and her husband (Rehman) asks if she could drink with him all night.
Abrar realized that Meena Kumari was an artist capable of rising to greater heights if the role demanded it.
The performances of Rehman and Sapru were also appreciated. In fact Alvi deliberately kept few dialogues for Sapru and asked him to rely on facial expressions to build up his character as the cruel zamindar who finally orders killing of choti bahu.
The film was a big success and the credit was given to Meena Kumari’s masterful performance as choti bahu, which is regarded as one of the best performances in the history of hindi cinema – a performance which immortalizes Meena Kumari as the tragedienne of hindi cinema.
However it was unfortunate that many declared Abrar as a ghost director, stating that the film was directed by Guru Dutt himself. However this is incorrect and has been confirmed by many members of the team of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam including Waheeda Rehman.
The film won four Filmfare awards:
Filmfare Award for Best Movie – Guru Dutt
Filmfare Award for Best Director – Abrar Alvi
Filmfare Award for Best Cinematographer – V. K. Murthy
Filmfare Award for Best Actress – Meena Kumari
In fact all the three nominations for best actress that year went to Meena Kumari for “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam “, “Aarti” and “Main Chup Rahungi”.
The film was also nominated for the Berlin film festival and was also chosen to represent India at the Oscars. However it was not accepted as a nominee and the academy wrote to Guru Dutt stating that a woman who drinks was not a taboo in the western culture.
(Ref: ‘Ten Years with Guru Dutt – Abrar Alvi’s Journey’ an authorized biography by Sathya Saran