Humayun (1945)
India Before 1950
Directed by Mehboob Khan.

According to the back of the DVD case, Cecille B. DeMille called HUMAYUN a "masterpiece of lighting composition." And I must admit, after watching the production, the lighting really is damn impressive. Some of the sets are breathtakingly beautiful, and the outdoor location shots, which include massive battle scenes featuring calvary, cannons, and elephants, are great spectacle.

HUMAYUN is a pretty straightforward biopic of Humayun, the second Mughal emperor, who reigned from 1530-1540, then another two years a bit later, after being kicked out of India, and returning again with a big army. Shortly after becoming emperor again, he slipped down a flight of stairs and died ingloriously. The movie, wanting to end on an upbeat note, conveniently concludes before his final tumble. But beore that there is Babur, Humayun's father, who sweeps in from the steppes and conquers the Rajputs, making him king of central India. But he's a nice King, and after conquering the Rajputs, tells them they can keep their religion, their money, their cities, and everything, I'll just happen to be you're King is all. A foreign invader occupying the country, you say? Nonsense! It was a long time ago, and hey, at least he wasn't British.

Unfortunately, Humayun killed the Rajput chief in one of the battles, earning the Rajput Prince's undying hatred. He vows to kill Humayun. He is so pissed off his eyeballs look set to bulge out of his head. (Later, I come to realize that's just the way this damn fierce actor looks). But meanwhile, the woman he is betrothed to marry has become Humayun's foster sister and Emperor Babur treats her as a daughter (and made her queen of the Rajputs in her deceased father's place). What's a vengeful Prince to do?

Well, eventually it's to war. Meanwhile Humayun, charmingly played by Ashok Kumar with humor in his eyes and a pencil-thin mustache on his lip, falls hard for a ordinary girl (Nargis). She rejects him, though, and he despairs. When his father passes away and he ascends to the throne, he seems to do a pretty crappy job at it, tries to give it away a few times, then loses his country to help his sister in law. He gets it back, and another chance to woo the girl, too, before the fateful, off-screen stumble of death. Never read and walk down stairs at the same time, my mother always said. Sound advice.

The battle scenes are spectacular, and I couldn't help comparing them to the massive fights in RETURN OF THE KING (Peter Jackson, 2003). The difference being that all those elephants and infantry running about in HUMAYUN were actually, really there, not painted in afterwards. The movie might be recommended based on these scenes alone. Which is just as well, as the script is much less spectacular, somewhat clumsily cramming too much story in too little running time, then relying on an omnicient narrator to move things along when there seems no other way to advance to the next scene (taking place years later).

Ironically, just a couple years after this love story about the eternal friendship between the Mughals and the Rajputs, India was torn in half, the friendship broken, and the new borders of Pakistan were consecrated in blood.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on December 06, 2004.

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