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Daera - The Failed Experiment

In 1953, Kamal Amrohi and Meena Kumari were desperately in love. Having moved in together, they embarked on their first creative venture. Daera is a film whose failure does not do justice to its poetic beauty. 

Shriram Iyengar

1953 was a good year for Meena Kumari. Her last film 'Baiju Bawra' had launched her into the orbit as a star. She had just signed on as an ambassador for Hindustan Lever, the owners of Lux. Her face was on the covers of magazines across India. Even her love story with director Kamal Amrohi had taken a pleasant turn into marriage. A secretive poet, she would write in her diary about Amrohi                  

'Dil saa jab saathi paaya

Bechaini bhi woh saath le aaya'

(When I found someone like my heart

He brought restlessness along)

Between the genius director and the esoteric actress, they formed one of the most creatively fulfilling love stories to enchant the film industry this side of the East. In 1953, it was still beginning. During this time, Kamal Amrohi was just emerging from his shell as a director who challenged the existing order. One of their earliest films together, Daera, is a sign of their almost philosophical romance and the desire to push the boundaries of the existing order.

A film built on sexual repression, Daera (Circle) is the tale of a young wife married to an old dying man. Moving to a new town, she falls in love with the shy, neighbor across the boundary wall. Buoyed by the success of his previous film, Mahal, Kamal Amrohi filled the film with philosophy and poetry. It proved to be a disastrous mistake. Filled with artistic intensity, the film lacked the commercial element which made Mahal a blockbuster. Its songs, though mellifluous, did not make a mark on the audience. In the voices of Talat Mahmood and Mohammed Rafi, the lyrics of Majrooh Sultanpuri and Kaif Bhopali found a new language.

The highlight of the film is the rise of Meena Kumari's craft as the tragedienne. At the age of 21, she shows the nuance and understanding of the depth of Amrohi's characters. It is this natural gravitation towards sorrow which transformed her into the tragedy queen of Indian cinema. Amrohi captures his muse in the most beautiful lights of chiaroscuro, contrasting the darkness of life with the light imagery of poetry. It is an early pointer of the cinematic craft which would elevate Amrohi to the exalted positions occupied by Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, and K Asif. A highlight of the film is the eight-minute long picturisation of Meena Kumari's face as she contemplates the miseries of her love.

A tragic aside to the film is that it ran for two whole days in the city of Bombay, during which audiences reacted negatively to its long shot sequences and poetic interludes. The slow pace of the story made it all the more unbearable for audiences. Yet, on later viewing, the film dictates the perfect culmination of the unity of Kamal Amrohi's majestic intellect and Meena Kumari's tragic beauty. Yet like all great romances, this too had a tragic ending.