Art & Culture

Why Mirza and Saheban are a timeless tale of tragic love

Deepa Gahlot
Deepa GahlotOct 10, 2016 | 14:07

Why Mirza and Saheban are a timeless tale of tragic love


Before Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Mirzya, there have been a dozen films about Mirza and Sahibaan, the star-crossed lovers of Punjabi folklore. One of the early films, was the hugely popular Noor Jehan-Trilok Kapoor starrer Mirza Saheban (1947), directed by K Amarnath.

As the legend goes, Saheban's family was opposed to her romance with Mirza; when she eloped with him on her wedding day, her brothers followed in hot pursuit. When the two stopped to rest under a tree, Saheban, caught between her family and her beloved, broke the bow of the ace marksman Mirza to protect her brothers. The unarmed Mirza was murdered by them and Saheban killed herself.


Every film has made changes to the story, and this one has its own version too. Mirza is Saheban's cousin - the son of her father's sister. As a kid (Master Laxman), he is an obnoxious prankster, breaking the village women's matkas, and generally harassing everyone in sight. His uncle (Misra) offers to take him to his village to educate him and turn him into a good human being.

Mirzya dies in Saheban's arms.

Mirza is besotted by Saheban (Baby Anwari) even as a schoolboy and insists on sitting next to her, pushing out the fat classmate Bumman, who grows up to be his nemesis (Gope). They grow up together (Trilok Kapoor-Noor Jehan), singing playful songs till the dreaded "jawani" (youth) arrives, which means their friendship is now frowned upon.

The whole village starts gossiping about the two, and Bumman fans the fire by instigating Saheban's mother (Gulab) and brother Shamir (Ibrahim). The word used most often is "badnaami" (disrepute) that Sahiban's dalliance with Mirza is bringing to the family's izzat  (honour). Still Saheban finds a way of jumping the wall and evading her brother's watch, to meet Mirza. Her father does weakly protest and asks his wife why Mirza and Saheban cannot marry, but she keeps harping on the izzat Mirza had wrecked and keeps pushing her own nephew Bumman as a more suitable groom for her daughter.


In time-honoured tradition, Sahiban has a best friend Noora (Roopmala), who goes out of the way to help her and Mirza meet, even if it means she has to flirt with the awful Bumman.

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Mirzya.

What does separate the madly-in-love pair for a while is emotional blackmail by her father, who dramatically puts his turban (the symbol of honour) at Mirza's feet, begging him to leave his family alone. Mirza's mother (Amirbano) and sister Chati (Rekha) are none too happy about the suffering Sahiban has caused him, driving the young man to such deep despair.

On the day of her wedding to Bumman, Noora gets Mirza to ride in to rescue Sahiban. While riding away, with Shamir and the villagers after them, Sahiban breaks Mirza's bow, and he is stabbed in the back by Shamir. A grief-stricken Saheban stabs herself with the same knife.

As was the tradition of films of the time - their spirits emerge from their graves - built side-by-side - and, smilingly, the lovers ascend to heaven together.

The film was a hit, mainly because of its popular songs (composed by Pandit Amarnath and Husnlal Bhagatram) like "Aa ja tujhe afsana, Haath seene pe rakh do, Hai re ud ud jaaye, Kya yehi tera pyaar tha". (And yes, Cuckoo had an "item" number too - without a dance by her, no film could be a sucess, or so movielore has it.)


The light-eyed Trilok Kapoor, Prithviraj Kapoor's brother, made a handsome Mirza. Noor Jehan, doing her last film in India before emigrating to Pakistan was criticised for being older and overweight for the part, but it was largely due to her popularity that the film was a success.

Interestingly, a decade later, Shammi Kapoor and Shyama acted in Ravi Kapoor's flop Mirza Sahiban.

Last updated: October 10, 2016 | 14:07
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