1956 – Heer-The eternal love story of Punjab

Much above average movie, surprising to see it in the list of flops. The cast headed by legendary Nutan, the second movie after her return from the Correction Facility (the first being Seema). The bud that opened the petals in Seema is now in almost full bloom, after just another year. Seema was more of an intense romance. Concentrating on the protagonists internal conflicts. The heroine was having a bit of limited role. The hero being almost father figure, she couldn’t logically essay the acts that a girlfriend does, of course she didn’t either. But here with a younger hero, she could now be more ‘friendly’, and did she do it!

It may be unnecessary to mention for Nutan, but here for the first time she got the chance to act in all the roles that a consort is supposed to, after the polish she got during the rest. Only one role she failed. Of course she could never get that role in her arsenal till end, the art of seducing the hero. She was unfortunately too sweet and hence even if she tried to, on screen it would still look as the playful and teasing girl, not one to be seductive.

The story asked for a romantic, heroine, she was that, it asked for a coy and sheltered girl, she did that, it asked for an intense, hurt, wronged, wanting to rebel but the upbringing denying her to, and the stress in her as the two parts fight, she could express it, when she was forced to marry Saida, unable to deny her father, who threatened to commit suicide unless she did.

And the acting went on to the songs. Not many actors would be able to convey the feelings while lip synching to the play-back singers. It isn’t that others didn’t but there we have songs of a particular mood. Nutan’s capability came out when during a song she has to pass through several moods, as per the lyrics or as per the situation. And not in many occasion she had slipped, to portray her condition while singing, even in this movie.

The next strong point (or was it its weakness?) was the music. It is a musical, packed with about 15 or so songs.  Anil Biswas has done an exceptional score, with play back singers – Geeta Dutt, Hemant Kumar, a few by Rafi, lata, Asha etc ending with a haunting Lata song ‘O mere Ranjhna..”  It is unfortunate that the songs are not heard in the broadcast media (fortunately all are available in Youtube).

With good and meaningful lyrics, to the situation, despite the number of lyrics it was never an hindrance. If the lyrics carried the movie forward, the pratogonists act to the situation, they become part of the story. Only when they fall in an impromptu dance around a park or a tree the story is interrupted. This wasn’t one of the cases.  

Third strong point was the villain, the maternal uncle of Heer, played by Ulhas. Does one look evil ! from the point of entry to the end.  

The others, the hero, Pradeep Kumar, strict but loving father Mubarak, supportive mother- Lalita pawar, played their roles well.

The second villain, the husband Saida, probably played by Darpan, who would become a big star in Pakistani movies later, was a bit confusing, at least to me. He, no doubt lusted after Heer. But after marriage, there was several instances where he didn’t look vengeful, but rather it looked that he cared. For example, while Heer resisted on the wedding night to his advances, he was almost ready to rape her, but when she fainted, suddenly he looked forlorn. In the dungeon, or after the snake bite, in every occasion Heer was on deathbed, he didn’t look like a wronged husband, but rather a confused person, attracted to the point of love, but unable to forgive either. May be that was what he was supposed to be? Not a tyrant, or rather a tyrant in genuine love? It was only in the end of the movie, he had been completely ruthless and murdering cruel to her.

The movie moves without discontinuity and is well formed, as I said despite multitude of songs. So, once again, I am surprised by its miserable performance in the box office.    

Strengths: of course heroine, music and songs, villain.

Weaknesses : ?

My score : May be around 8 –  I don’t like tragic ending movies much

The story of the legendary star-crossed lovers’ Heer and Ranjha is based on the epic poem by Waris Shah (1766) . The most famous of the bollywood version is brough by the Legendary Chetan Anand, starring Priya Rajvansh as Heer and Raaj Kumar as Ranjha with the melodies composed by another legend Madan Mohan.


Another 25 years and quite a few movies later the story once again lit up the screen.  This time the Hamid Butt chose aristocratic Pradeep Kumar to live as Ranjha, and still not legendary, but adorable Nutan as Heer, her immediate movie after graduating with Seema.

It was a musical with about 15 songs, composed by the Legendary Anil Biswas, with gems of songs, sadly forgotten now, played back by the legends Geeta Dutt and Rafi, Asha and also a few by Hemant Kumar. The lyricist for the movie was Majrooh Sultanpuri, with a couple of songs penned by by Rajendra Krishna.

Surprisingly the movie didn’t seem to have done well in the box office, despite the songs. It wasn’t badly made or directed, the story flowed well without gaps. Also it is quite unbelievable that none of the songs featured in the annual parade of Binaca Geetmala of the year,and I have to quote the legendary Bard—

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Interestingly Nutan and Pradeep Kumar pair didn’t have had a single successful movie – Heer (1956), ZIndagi Ya Toofan (1958), Mangetar (1972) or in their evening years Sajna Saath Nibhana (1986).  For the movie’s director, Hameed Butt, the brother of a legend, Zohra Sehgal, this seems to be the only directorial venture.  However the main affected person, Sasadhar Mukherjee (Husband of Ashok Kumar/ Kishore Kumar’s sister, Sati Rani and father of Joy Mukherjee), survived the shock, along with his Filmistan Studios, and brought out hits like Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Paying Guest, Dil Deke Dekho and a string of others .


The movie starts with the making of the villain. Kaido, the only son of the chieftain of a dominant tribe, tries to abduct a girl of a neighbouring tribe. He chooses a dark night to satisfy his lust. However the girl, not being dumb cries for help and the village, not deaf or uncaring, promptly comes to her rescue.001

The villagers are least impressed with Kaido’e credentials, and at the direction of their chief, Kaido is mercilessly beaten up by the mob and is left in the forest with his one leg badly and permanently disabled. Of course our Kaido (Played by renowned Ulhas—he sends a shivering down the spine by the acting of pure evil), though unable to get up isn’t going to take the things lying down. He swears revenge on the tribe, and especially the chieftain of it.

002He somehow manages to come back to his tribe and instigate his warriors to take the revenge of his insult. Properly roused up the villagers take to arms and attack the neighbours. The neighbours aren’t sleeping either, they too take Kaido’s army face on. Bloodbath follows with no winner.


It actually proved to be a loss for him. When he sneaks back home, he is confronted by his upright father, who aware of the whole happening promptly disowns him and bequeaths his property and title to the only child of Kaido’s sister Malki (Lalita Pawar).


This for a moment angers Kaido, but he still had an arrow left in his armour. If the child, Heer, is out of the way, automatically everything comes back to him. In the dark night he tries to snatch the child and kill her. But luck didn’t favour him in second girl-snatching either. The Mother, Lalita Pawar was a light sleeper, and woke up by the rustling even before he could touch the child. Disappointed but not disheartened Kaido had to retreat, in face of suspicious mother’s queries.

After Kaido’s father, the anointed queen, Heer, being too young, the responsibility of governance was taken up by Heer’s father Chuchak (Mubarak). This too was a setback for Kaido, but he decided to live in his sister’s house and wait for the opportunity. The opportunity didn’t come and Her grew up to be the beauty, Nutan.

Enemies too had their trouble. Of the four sons of the chieftain (Chaman Puri), the favourite, and only one he considered capable was the youngest, Ranjhna (Pradeep Kumar). This wasn’t obviously well received at home. The brothers were unhappy, but the sisters in laws were vengeful and plotting.

Though the conservative society, where women’s face were always covered in veil and unseen by strangers, the beauty of Heer couldn’t be hidden and she occupied, though never seen, the prime place in the hearts of all the eligible youngmen, the enemy Ranjhna included.

The Kingdom’s annual fair approached, where there would be competitions between the tribes and the most valiant of the warriors would be handsomely rewarded. It was hosted in the King (Murad)’s presence and he would himself award the champion.

None of the braves could forego the chance and our Ranjhna, was no exception, whose exploits were legendary and was expected to win hands down. He too moved with the fellow tribesmen, braves, cheer leaders and spectators, to the capital.

Once out of the shackles of his father (Chaman Puri), he slipped out quietly and headed towards the enemies, to fulfil is immediate desire, physically seeing the legendary Heer, with the reputation of which, like all others he had fallen in love with. Heer too was not passive, she too had heard of the exploits of the brave Ranhjna and secretly, though known to her close friends, desired him.

The presence of the enemy in their midst and the likely mission became known, and Kaido went in search combing the forest. Heer too was in the forest then with her friends, and we are rewarded with the first in the series of the extremely melodious compositions, as Ranjhna , rendered by the legendary Hemant Kumar, pleads the coy Heer to show herself, just once to him.


“Ek Chhand Ka Tukda

The shy maiden doesn’t accede to his wish, but at last he does to our, and lights up the screen with the glorious and happy face, aware that the beloved is nearby.  Here, usually in songs, we find what makes the difference between a great and not so, actor. Not many actors are able to change the expressions to the words or the situations in the song, while synchronising the lips and trying to look pretty.

In this song, she is ecstatic due to the proximity of the beloved, shy to show herself due to theupbringing and mortally scared that her uncle is hot on trail, and if Ranjhna is captured by him, he would be summarily killed. All the emotions play on her face in the song, during different interludes. In a moment the happy smiling face becomes apprehensive when she hears the commotion of the troop nearby, scared when she finds that it is from where Ranjhna was a moment earlier, again relieved and happy, finding that he has successfully made his escape.

Though Ranhjna is disappointed and forced to escape without having a view of her, he wasn’t going to give up. Even when the wily Kaido had packed Heer off to a boat-house in the mid of river to spend her night, he swims to the boat to meet his beloved. She though isn’t so brave and as he gets into the boat, she escapes and bolts herself to a room.

Meanwhile the fair has already started and Heer along with her parents, uncle, Kaido, and the tribesmen moves towards the capital. Disappointed Ranjhna too follows suit, to have at least the champion’s shield under his belt.

Another tribes-prince Saida Khera (Darpan Alias Syed Ishrat Abbas, later Pakistani Movies superstar ?) is in his way. And while Ranjhna has been whiling the time in search of Heer, he has already defeated all the warriors and won the King’s heart with his valour.

The champion, Saida, approaches King for his reward, which is, to her utter mortification, Heer. Unaware of the realities, the King (Murad) asks Heer to come on Dias and get betrothed in Royal presence. With no choice, Heer is forced to go andto her relief, just before the royal decree is proclaimed, Ranjhna arrives to challenge the champion.


The final war for Heer was scheduled for the next day. Aware that Saida can’t win against Ranjhna, our Kaido has to act, and to save the ignominy of his and his tribe, he makes a plan. He allows Saida too have a look in the night at as yet unseen by any one Heer, and when he is enamoured by the view of what he had only heard, he advices Saida to drug the steed of Ranjhna, during the change of the steed. Heer, not been yet asleep, hears some whispers and seeing the two suspects some nefarious plan.


She goes out in the dark to meet Ranjna and requests him to withdraw from the fight, which of course is promptly refused, though she identifies herself. Obviously there has to be another song..

“Aa jao tumhe Ishq ka afsana sunana hai..”

In the first half of the duel it is completely Ranjha to utter delight of Heer. Then the exchange of the steed and the sword is ordered. SAida feeds the drug to the horse , before the exchange, missed by all but the watchful Heer. However she is unable to do anything and the recalcitrant horse throws Ranjha down and drags him out of the arena. Saida is declared winner but at the condition of Ranjhna, Heer faints and is no condition to be betrothed and once again escapes the fate.


The fair over, all now start back for their home, Heer in a palanquin with her friend, sings the Geeta Dutt – Hemant Kumar duet of separation –

“O sajana – chhuta hai jo daman tera”

Again there is interplay of emotions in the song, depressed – to happy and expectant, hearing the voice of her beloved, following her caravan in the forest and sad and despondent when after the initial happiness, the situation hits her, “When the life of love becomes lonely, my eyes would search in the dark for you, my whole future is dark, as I take the pain of you with me”

While she is back home, pining away for Ranjha, Ranjha, by now unconscious lays by way side. From there he is rescued by his team, frantically searching for him everywhere. He is taken back home, where in grief his father is on deathbed. Leaving him there, despite his father urging, Ranjhna can’t go in search of his Heer. Both pine away visiting various religious places (Mazars) praying for their union- (Lata Mangeshkar)

However He wasn’t going to grant them the favour so soon. Meanwhile Ranjhna’s father dies, anointing him as the future chief. However he is in deep gloom at the twin bereavements, of his father, and the sister’s in law keeps him in a gloomy mind reminding of the impossibility due to the enmity and that Heer was practically under detention. However, they advise him to go to some witch doctors who could, may not be bring back his father, but could bring Heer to him.  Though sceptical, for once Ranjhna, thinking what is to lose by it, accedes to their proposal, and goes to the travelling Gypsy witches, bribed by the brothers to get rid of him.

The witches give him a potion, which makes him lose consciousness, and then they carry him to the boat where Heer lived, despondent, lost in the thoughts of her beloved, despite the best attempts by her friends to cheer up. Out of the blue she suddenly finds unconscious Ranjhna, at her own room, placed there by the conspirators, sure that he would be  captured and killed there. Heer finding the beloved in deep sleep, sings cajoling the beloved to wake up.

Nutan is one actress who doesn’t lip synch to the playback artists, she acts, and sings to Geeta Dutt’s voice, and does she look almost a child here! This is one superb song, and when I heard it for the first time, I couldn’t understand the reason of this being one of the hummed today category. With the pictured it even more endearing. Lovely song with the wordings,

“Dekho meri nazar mein, arman machal raha hai,

Shamma jal rahi hai, Parwana so raha hai”

“Look at my longing eyes, as the flame watches the sleeping moth” while she peeps through the lace,

Of course she had one draw back, she could never be conventionally sexy, even when she had grown up, and hence the highly suggestive words lose the suggestion,

“Kahti hai bequrari yeh raat hai hamari..” –

“My impatience is crying out, this is our night, and you are sleeping it off !”

The wordings the actions could have been sexy on others but unfortunately she is too sweet to be sexy. The same thing occurred next year in Paying Guest, where she is a hotel singer, technically cabaret, (Chupke Chupke Rukte Rukte- after all she had been employed for that) but it ended up as a soother. With her stretching, words and the act suggestive on any other, but not on her!

Finally Ranjhna wakes up, and the lovers have a tete-a-tete, Ranjha telling her that he is now a homeless beggar, obviously Heer doesn’t mind that, and any way (not spelt here) she was the clan-chief in waiting?

Next morning Heer takes him with her to her father and gets him a job in their farm, as a cowherd. Heer’s father is impressed and Heer is mesmerised the way he calmed down the most recalcitrant of the cattle, Laila, by his flute (Wanjli). Now free to meet, they meet daily, and even Heer brings food for him in the field, where he tends the cattle, and playes his flute and she hears mesmerised by it and the love. A playful song comes up, when once Ranjhna had to change his shirt, in her presence,

“The heart started beating wildly and the eyes involuntarily looked down, whenever I found him in front of me”

Not surprising, considering topless, Pradeep was in front of the sheltered maiden.

Obviously the life can’t be smooth, with Kaidu there, he had a doubt on the happenings and he finding the goings ons has to act. He asks Lalita Pawar to send Ranjhna to Dharampur, Saida’s village, and tell him that the marriage between Saida and Heer won’t take place.

Ranjhna enthusiastically accepts the responsibility and goes on to Saida.  Things move exactly to the plan of Kaidu, who has planted assassins on the way to apprehend and kill Ranjhna.  Meanwhile he had arranged that Saida immediately starts for the marriage and while Ranjhna is taken care of, the wedding would be over. Heer overhears, but is helpless, can’t do anything, The only avenue she had is to pray ,

Ranjhna is accosted on the way, by Saida, but this time of course he has no previous handicap (of drugged horse) and easily takes care of the gang and rides away.

Now to the mortification of Kaidu, he comes to know that the servant was Ranjhna, the son of his sworn enemy. He plans for an immediate marriage of Heer, so that not only the avenue is closed but also Ranjhna is sure to come and Kaidu would be waiting for him.

Left with no other choice, as the groom’s party arrive, and the whole family is busy in getting dressed and looking at the bride-gifts, Heer quietly goes up to her room , to commit suicide, by drinking poisoned milk,

“Chhedi maut ne shanai..”

“The flute of the death are on, oh beloved, come now, to see Heer waiting for you with in the veil of coffin”

However her attempt was thwarted by the arrival of Ranjha who jumped the walls to come over, but the happiness was short lived and he was bundled off by first Kaido, who came to check the delay and then her parents. She was married almost by proxy. Lalita Pawar for a rare instant was in support of his daughter, but prodded by Kaido, on the ‘honour’ of the tribe, the father went against, and he threatened to end himself unless Heer went ahead, the fainting ‘Aah’ of hapless ‘Heer’ was taken as ‘Yes’ and the ‘Nikah’ was solemnised. Poor Ranjhna went away wasting himself wandering the montains and forests,

“Le jaa uski duyaeen..”

“Take the best wishes of the one who couldn’t be your”

However it really didn’t gain anything for Saida. On the wedding night Heer refused to cooperate and when he tried to force, she fell down in a dead faint. Scared Saida, thinking her dead, brought his mother (Zohra Segal) and Sister (Who was she?). In faint Heer mumbled Ranjhna’s name and promptly thrown into the family dungeon to preserve the family honour.


Months passed in separation with both souls longing for each other, one in the dungeon the other wandering in the forests and wilds.  

While wandering, Ranjhna runs into a group of saints. They tried to convince him to be on the way of God, than get entangled into earthly, Heer. He could give him all the happiness not only of the world but also of the next. He tells him that if he wishes to win his love, he has to love Him, and sacrifice himself.

However Ranjhna tells them that what they are searching for, he has already seen in Heer’s being. Ranjhna however, despite not being on same wavelength, stays with the saint and his disciples for some time. In the end, the saint accepts his true love and tells him that Ranjhna isn’t aware of the power, that the God has given him and he should go to his love, and go as a saint, disciple of love.

Ranjha starts for, where his love is.  Meanwhile pining away from Ranjhna Heer is almost on the deathbed, and the preparations of her last rights are being planned, when Ranjhna reaches there, as a Yogi,

At his voice, Heer comes out of the deathly state and gets up to find who is the Yogi singing. She walks out and finds her beloved in the garb of a yogi. Just as they meet, sister of Saida finds them talking and insults him and makes him go away.


She later realises the sin she had done by insulting a Godman and to avoid his anger goes to him with food and presents. Ranjhna taunts her, whether she was to bribe him with a handful of grains? And when she removes the cloth from the tray, she finds that all the presents, the foods, sweets that she brought have really turned into rice grains.

Convinced now that she has insulted a real God person, assuming him to be a fake, she pleads for forgiveness and promises to do whatever he asks, if he doesn’t put a curse on her, and forgives her, taking back whatever curse he might have put into her when she had insulted him.


With some pleading Ranjhna accepts her apology provided she manages to unite them. Then as per their plan, next day, Heer pretends to be unconscious and Saida’s sister calls out that she had been bitten by a snake. Only way to save her would be to call some fakir. Promptly Ranjhna is sent for and he declares that she is no more. Then as per plan, he made with the sister, on the pleading of her, he declares that if she is brought to his hermitage, and kept there for three days and nights, he would try to resurrect her. 


With certain misgivings Saida accepts and brings her to the hermitage. (Does Zohra Segal , the mother smells fishy? It looks like) – Ranjhna obviously asks him to go away, so that he could do the needful. With reluctance Saida goes back. When Ranjhna comes to Heer, he finds her actually almost dead and not likely to survive (Why???). He then uses his Yogic power, which his Guru has told he has, due to his devotion to Heer, and thereby to God, and resurrects her. However next day as they are wandering around, suspicious Saida who has come to check, catches them and promptly asks his troop to kill Ranjhna.


He is saved at the nick of time, as the King’s army perchance reaches there and finding a hermit being killed, takes all into custody and brings to court. There despite all the logics, the Qazi rules that as per the religious laws, despite all, Heer is the property of Saida, and she can’t get out. Obviously Saida could let her go, but he obviously wasn’t to co-operate. 


The decree is given and Heer is tied by rope to Saida’s horse and pulled like a slave while Ranjhna is put in a jail, on death row. Heer invokes almighty against the injustice, and for once He helps by raining fire on the city.

The King now accepts the truth of the love and the the blessings by the Almighty for it and promptly declares the Royal decree permitting them to unite.

Heer’s father had some misgivings but finally agrees. Lalita Pawar (the mother) for a change had played a positive character in this movie !) However it isn’t to Kaido’s plan.  He instigates the villagers to rebel and kill Heer, as a honour killing. He forces Heer’s father (Chowdhary) to kill Heer, by giving her poisoned milk. However at the last moment Chowdhary understands what he was doing and backs out, and again Kaido’s plan fails.


Now he goes for ultimate. The villagers become a mob, a part attack’s Heer’s house and the other goes out to meet Ranjhna on the way and kill him. He now walks over to Heer and tells her that only way for her to save her father as well as Ranjhna is to sacrifice herself. 


With no choice Heer takes the poison and in asks now her father to take her palanquin to Ranjha.. on the haunting song of Lata… declaring that her death would make her immortal…

And dies into arms of her Ranjha– who too joins her


Why the audience rejected?  Ultimate win of the evil? But they didn’t think of that when the 1970 Heer Ranjha was screened. Was it because the it couldn’t accept so vulnerable girl to be victimised? Who knows, the box-office has its ways.





6 thoughts on “1956 – Heer-The eternal love story of Punjab”

  1. I’m writing a review of Heer, and was wondering – does the name mean diamond? (I’m referring to Teesri Kasam and the heroine’s name, heera) thanks.

    1. Heer means something which is hard, tough. The diamond is a derivative. In this love story the heroine was shown to be tough and more determined hence she was Heer. Ranjha has something to do with getting – what should I say- coloured? I am not getting the word- emotionally affected is nearest. To get “Ranjh” means to be emotionally attached and enamoured almost to distraction. Here if you see the decision maker had been Heer and not Ranjha.

      1. Thanks for the explanations: would “blushing” be the word you were looking for? Because when you are emotionally affected, the ranj that comes to your cheek is this blush, no?!!

        1. Not exactly- it is the way we say of Meerabai- she is ‘coloured’ in the hue of Lord Krishna type colour. Still I am missing the exact word, but now you must be getting the meaning- it is totally immersed in the beloved’s thought and not having any existence outside it. The Majnu derived most probably from Sanskrit Magna (lost in thoughts of) is nearest word.

  2. One interesting comparison of three love stories (with same theme) name of the protagonists-

    Sohni (beautiful)
    Mahiwal (I assume it is Land owner i.e. powerful?)

    Laila – (this has relation with intoxication and also the night)- so intoxicating person?
    Majnu – one who is “deewana” – crazy in love however if I see in anotherw ay and assume it has Sanskrit influence (possible of linguistic relationship) – then it could have come from the word MagNa or Magan – meaning one who is lost into something (love, god,..)

    Heer – as I said – is beautiful and tough – the word Heera must have come from it and not vice versa.
    Ranjha – exactly the Majnu word- not really crazy but completely devoted. You can say , if you know of Meera as she was for Lord Krishna’s love. Was she crazy? May be but that was in the devotion. The MagNa defines that state. SO much lost in the concept that the world doesn’t exist. And Ranjha too is almost that (just a degree lower) but here in the character of the plot he wasn’t.

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