Hazar Dastan (1965)
Cast: Mohammad Ali, Rani, Talish, Nazar, Husna, Asad Bokhari, Emi Minwala, Azad, Chham Chham
Director: Aziz Meeruti
Nutshell: Another of the Ali Baba/ Arabian Nights style movies so popular in the 60s with wholesome entertainment for the entire family.
Producer Malik Mushtaq was always a fan of the Arabian Adventure genre and spend much of his efforts cooking up movies in true swashbuckling mode despite being hampered by technical expertise and a lack of up to date special effects. Undaunted he proceeded to dabble with this particular genre enough to gain himself a bit of a reputation as the Man with the Flying Carpets.
Hazar Dastan which translates to A Thousand Tales starts with a gnarled old fisherman bringing back a baby boy to his wife telling her that had he not rescued the child in the storm, the kid would have washed away in the river to his death. So, rather than blame him for stealing somebody’s child she should be grateful that he saved the infants life. The fisherman remarks that the child looks as though he belongs to “good stock”. Meanwhile tears are flowing in the Royal Palaces where the Prime Minister’s wife is inconsolable at the loss in the storm of her beloved child who was washed away by the river and nobody seems able to find him. She is crestfallen and bereft at her loss and her husband does his best to alleviate her pain to no effect.
The fisherman’s son grows up as handsome, brave and rebellious Yousuf, a dab hand with the fishes and known as a lad with a fiery temper especially when there is any injustice in his sight. Yousuf is generally a happy go lucky sort of guy but one day when he finds a royal guard making sexual advances to one of the poor village belles he reacts strongly and lands up at the court of his real father, the Prime Minister though of course nobody knows this fact. The Prime Minister is impressed with Yousuf’s bold manner in speaking up against any sort of injustice and sets him free.
The Princess of the Kingdom arrives with her posse and once again Yousuf (Mohammad Ali) speaks out against a poor man who was thrashed by her entourage. Impressed at his handsomeness as well as his courageous manner, Princess Rani is rather enchanted and Yousuf is terribly excited when he catches her stealing glances at him as her carriage is carried away to the Palace. Later that night Rani is all starry eyed and loved up and her special confidante makes fun of her infatuation with the young fisherman Yousuf and she wonders if Yousuf is also feeling the same way. Soon enough we see that both are equally enamoured of each other even if it is unheard of for a Princess to be courting a lowly fisherman.
Elsewhere Fairy Queen Husna is showering an unusual amount of love on a Pekinese dog who we discover is her suitor Jalal (Asad Bukhari) who has been turned into a dog by the devious wizard Samri. Unfortunately for Asad and for the Fairy Queen the evil magician Samri has his eye not only on the Fairy Princess but also on the ultimate goal which is the Talismi Diamond as whomsoever is in possession of this diamond gets to have all his wishes come to pass. The diabolical Samri carries on all sorts of dubious black magic in his den and also summons his rubber faced genie to advise him about certain events. When he asks about the acquisition of the famed Talismi Diamond, Rubber Face tells him that only the son of the princess will acquire the diamond and that too only when he turns 7 years old. So clearly there may be a considerable wait but Samri starts to plot and scheme and offers Jalal his human form if he follows the plan as devised by the evil wizard.
The plot thickens with Yousuf now a wanted man after he is framed by greedy political forces within the Royal Court. Then Samri restores the buffoonish Kamal (Jalal’s friend who had also been turned into a dog) to his human form and sends him off to assist Jalal with carrying out the Samri Master Plan that involves access to the Princesses 7-year-old boy so that he can get a hold of the Enchanted Diamond.
The bumbling Kamal must now enter the body of the King who has just died but now suddenly revives as a wildly different personality. The Princess is overjoyed that her father still lives while all the others are stunned at the reawakened King and not so much that he has suddenly returned from the dead but more at the major twist in personality that he has undergone. From being a stern authoritarian, rigid, cold and ruthless he seems to have morphed into Shangela in Halleloo mode from RuPaul’s Drag Race with a fierce sense of fun and humour. All the rebellious criminals who were in the dungeons are released at the Kings order including Yousuf and slowly but surely it emerges that this fine young man “who doesn’t look like a fisherman” is in fact the PM’s son but all that fades into insignificance later when the horrible Samri kidnaps the Princesses young son on his 7th birthday and whisks him off to the enchanted land where only he can acquire the Magical Diamond. The child has to go through some deadly obstacles and some particularly aggressive snakes before he finally ends up making it to the Diamond but only for Samri to be eagerly waiting outside. Once Samri has the diamond all will be lost.
It now remains to be seen if Kamal will be able to engineer matters in a way so that the situation can somehow be salvaged. Yousuf is galvanised into action and Asad realizes how he has been used and tricked by Samri and upset his girlfriend the Fairy Princess. Asad now promises to redeem himself but is it all too late? The child has got the diamond in his hands and is moments away from handing it over to the dastardly Samri, waiting in his finest Skull and Scorpion robes and wearing his sexiest lip-gloss for the occasion.
It’s a thrilling end to a roller-coaster ride of a film filled with intrigue, romance, charm, some reasonable songs and solid acting especially from Talish who steals the show when his character transforms after being possessed by Nazar. He turns in a wonderfully unselfconscious performance and lights up the movie with his inane antics with a little help from Nazar who once again is in top form in the movie. Once again Nazar is the pivotal character in the movie and displays his comic range in a thoroughly crowd-pleasing performance. Having watched Nazar perform in a number of films from the 1960s it fairly easy to see why he was the number one comic when it came to Urdu movies and an influence of the great comedian of the 70s who was of course Lehri.
Mohammad Ali looks youthful and fairly fit in this 1965 movie and plays his role with spirit and enthusiasm. The film is laced with a “rebellious” undertone against a corrupt, unjust and authoritarian regime that favours the elite. The script carries a tone which is not so much left wing as much as it is meant to be a crowd pleaser to the masses, and in a country like Pakistan, the majority of the masses are below the poverty line. Rani looks pretty but doesn’t really have the scope she would enjoy in her movies with husband Hassan Tariq where she would dominate proceedings from beginning to end. Here she is merely another cast member and is required to look alluring rather than to display her histrionic range but manages both with ease whenever she is on screen.
Asad Bukhari has a certain screen presence and the supporting cast all do their jobs more than capably with perhaps the slimy politician a little less interesting than the others.
The film could have lost one of the several sword fight scenes and maybe a song along the way but on the whole, it manages to hold attention fairly well and is even rather charming in a clunky old school way with its pretty dreadful but well-intentioned array of dazzling special effects. The props are excellent and some of the flying creatures and the weird magical objects featured along the way add to the rather foolish but endearing charm of the film.
Hazaar Dastan manages to deliver a jaunty, creaky but enjoyable old school ride and is definitely worth a look in for those with an interest in popular Pakistani cinema of an Era considered by most as “The Golden Era of Pakistani Cinema”.