1982 saw box-office triumphs like Prem Rog, Vidhaata and Namak Halaal and critically-acclaimed films like Shakti. But the one film that managed both was BR Films' Nikaah. Like Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots in later times, BR Films' Nikaah ushered in a change in society by its gripping, yet moving storyline that challenged orthodox norms. The beauty of it all was that it was done without hurting anyone's sentiments, spurring controversies and extra-legal hassles. No one disrupted screenings, held morchas or resorted to agitation.
It is entirely thanks to producer-director and Dadasaheb Phalke laureate B.R.Chopra that this issue-based film managed this tough tightrope. This writer, not being a film critic then, could not for various reasons watch this film till it was running well past its 40th week in 1983 (yes, it completed a Golden Jubilee run and was among the five highest-grossing movies of that year!) and the matinee show was packed!
Of course, a huge chunk of its success was also due to the beautiful music by Ravi, Chopra's most repeated composer, who had returned to the banner nine years after their last collaboration in Dhund. Sahir, Chopra's favourite lyricist since the '50s, was no more, so Hasan Kamaal stepped in.
And Ravi staged the most successful comeback in Hindi film history among legends. Every song in the film was a rage, with Salma Agha's 'Dil Ke Armaan Aansuon Mein Beh Gaye' leading the charts. Composer Ravi rarely composed a song unless the lyrics were finalized, and he made 16 tunes for 'Dil Ke Armaan' but could not either satisfy the filmmaker and do justice to Salma Agha's limited range. So he had to make a 17th tune influenced, according to him, by European music, and that's the song we hear today as a pure ghazal!
Mahendra Kapoor's duet with Salma, 'Dil Ki Yeh Arzoo', the qawwali 'Chehra Chhupa Liya Hai' (with Asha Bhosle and Salma), his solo 'Beete Hue Lamhon Ki Kasak' and Salma's stunningly atmospheric 'Fazaa Bhi Hai Jawaan Jawaan' are all objets d'art that have stood the test of time.
An additional novelty was the incorporation of Ghulam Ali's evergreen ghazal, 'Chupke Chupke Raat Din' shown playing on a record, probably the first time in a Hindi film that a Pakistani song was integrated with official license! But this was not like any contemporary case where an 'additional' music director was asked to infiltrate into another's domain for a 'hit' track because the filmmaker had no faith in his composer. The words and mood were perfect for the situation.
Story the star
Though B.R.Chopra had made Insaf Ka Tarazu, the 1980 super-hit social, with the same leading men, Raj Babbar and Deepak Parasher cast in a romantic triangle with Zeenat Aman, the two heroes were not exactly superstars. Though a section of the media had buzzed that Zeenat too was to play Nilufer, the protagonist of Nikaah, Pakistani actress-singer Salma Agha was signed instead. So Nikaah's biggest star was the story and its script (including the Urdu dialogues) by writer Dr Achala Nagar.
Salma Agha, also a Pakistani, was introduced to Chopra by his brother, the DOP of the film Dharam Chopra – as she was an aspiring singer. One day, her looks, body language and general tehzeeb made Dr Nagar and Chopra realize that she would be the perfect choice as their heroine too! The composer wanted Asha Bhosle to sing her songs, but Chopra convinced him that he did not want the lady's bud-duaen as she had essentially wanted work as a singer!
The plot was simple: Nilufer, an educated Muslim girl, marries childhood love Wasim (Deepak Parasher), who is studying Architecture in England. Wasim is rich, so college-mate Haider (Raj Babbar), a poet, does not disclose his own love for her.
Haider gives her moral and psychological support and Nilufer is drawn to him. Wasim realizes his blunder, but under Islamic law, he can only get her back if another man marries and then divorces her. Haider is willing to be the scapegoat, but Nilufer revolts, asserts that she is not a toy to be acquired and discarded at will just by uttering three words and decides to be with the man who has always loved her.
How it happened
Says Dr Achala Nagar, "The take-off point for Nikaah was a news report about how two leading film stars had reportedly married, divorced and remarried just to achieve a certain professional objective. Both these actors were Muslims and I was very curious about the laws governing marriage and divorce. I consulted a gentleman named Baba Khan about this and wrote a story that I also made into a radio play for Akashwani (All-India Radio). I never knew that Chopra-saab had read this story, till by sheer chance, I got an assignment to interview him for radio. When I met him, he asked me about the story. I told him that I had also written a radio play on it. Chopra-saab asked for the play and told me to call him after two days, which I never did because I thought he would never read it!"
Chopra initially was planning to make a tele-film on it, but later decided to make a film. But he did not know the writer's whereabouts! Luckily, Dr Nagar and he met by chance at a producer's place.
Though Achala was thrilled that her story was being made into a feature, she was more than a shade apprehensive when Chopra told her that she would be writing the entire film (screenplay and dialogues). "I had dabbled with literature, radio as well as theater, but had never done cinema," she says. Chopra suggested that they write 10 scenes everyday, and the fifth draft of the script was finally approved. Dr Rahi Masoom Reza, the veteran writer who was to later write Chopra's Hindu epic Mahabharat, had been called in as 'Literary Advisor' and Chopra also brought in an Islamic scholar, Omar Khayyam Saharanpuri as advisor on religious matters. Whenever Chopra was not satisfied with Achala's lines, would tell Achala, "Accha to likha hai, par BR ke liye nahin! "
A record 34 cases were filed against Nikaah and its makers upon release, despite Chopra's precautions. There were posters put up in certain Muslim-dominated areas of Mumbai, but Chopra was unruffled. He assured his writer – who was scared that her new career would be over before it began- that she had nothing to be afraid of as she had done nothing wrong.
Overnight, he arranged to show the film to all the clerics and priests across the nation and got written clearances from all of them that the film did not offend either Islam or Muslims. "The posters disappeared immediately!" recalls Achala.
Nikaah remains one of the biggest hits from the BR banner and neither the composer (after this comeback) nor Salma Agha saw that success again. Technically brilliant too, it remains a benchmark even among Muslim socials, which were normally romantic musicals, as the first film in this genre to make a very powerful statement. In an industry known to be secular, it was a triumph for the writer, filmmaker and composer to be so authentic to the genre and succeed in generating awareness and debate on the Personal Law of another religion without offending anyone. If ever there was a nikaah between entertainment and message in a blockbuster, it was in this film!