Director: Modhu Bose; Writer: Khirode Prasad Vidyavinode; Producer: Baijanath Ladia; Cinematographer: Bibhuti Das, Geeta Ghosh; Editor: Shyam Das; Cast: Modhu Bose, Sadhona Bose, Suprava Mukherjee, Indira Roy, Bibhuty Ganguly, Preeti Majumdar, Kali Ghosh, B.P. Mehra, Kamal Biswas
Duration: 01:54:15; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 55.106; Saturation: 0.057; Lightness: 0.366; Volume: 0.213; Cuts per Minute: 14.563; Words per Minute: 51.618
Dancer Sadhona Bose made her feature debut in Modhu Bose's acclaimed Arabian Nights
musical. Vidyavinode's play, first staged in 1897 by the Classic Theatre with Nripen Basu and Kusum Kumari, remained one of the most popular pre-WW1 Bengali plays. It tells of the Baghdadi woodcutter Alibaba (M. Bose) and his magic 'Open Sesame' formula; of the hero's jealous brother Kasim and of the slave girl Marjina (S. Bose). The film adapts the Calcutta Art Player's orientalist stage version, giving it a Hollywood-derived exotic flavour. An improvised 'modern' dance is inserted, Sadhona Bose's trademark due to her theatrical work with composer Timir Baran. The slow mannered acting and the frontally framed tableau shots are enlivened by the dance scenes, esp. the Marjina-Abdallah sequence which long set the standard for film musicals (cf. Lila Desai's dance in Bidyapati, 1937
). The surviving copy is probably incomplete.
Release date: 13 February, 1937 (Rupabani)
Sri Bharatlakshmi Pictures
Length of film: 3657 metres
Reels-12; Certificate no. 1492
Gauge of film: 35 mm
Sri Bharatlakshmi Pictures
The opening sequence of 'Alibaba' starts off with the iconic image from the tale the film, and the play it is based on, is inspired by - the forty thieves and their leader riding back to the cave of treasures. Much acclaimed at the time of its release for its sound and its music, these two elements juxtapose here. The music and the beat of the marching thieves create a unique rhythm which then gradually dissolves into a sort of marching rhyme as the thieves reach the cave.
Bollywood class 8
Marjina's owners are introduced, the primary anatgonists initally. The enmity between the two brothers, the selfishness of Kasim and his wife and the fact that Kasim has reached where he has through his wife's money drives the first half of the film and is what leads to the intrigue in the second.
The Head, Alibaba and his family, on the other hand, are portrayed as a complete opposite of that of Kasim's. Alibaba's wife Fatima is naive and simple compared to Sakina although she is in no way stupid. She submits to Sakina's manipulations because she knows that losing them as clients would be a death blow. She patiently tolerates Sakina trying to cheat her at every turn. Kasim and Sakina, despite their riches, look for every opportunity to take advantage of the other family's poverty, swindling them of the money they deserve in exchange of wood. Sakina knows the whole game, yet remains quiet, much to the irritation of Marjina. In fact, this brings one to an interesting aspect of the dynamics of these two families - the fact that the slaves, led by Marjina, despite being bonded to Kasim are obviously sympathetic to the plight of the poor Alibaba and look to support them at every turn. The scene is intercut with shots of Marjina's annoyed expression as she witnesses the one-sided deal.
Marjina in the film is portrayed as immensely intelligent. Whenever she has to put forward an opinion that might be considered blasphemous considering her status as a bonded slave, she does so with a self-effacing hesitation that automatically serves to make the other person let their guard down. Fatima, for her part, is shown to be equally intelligent, when she admits understanding Sakina's intentions and her inability to do anything about it.
The titular Alibaba and his son Hussain. Alibaba is obviously unhappy with the compromises with they have to make for Kasim, in a way unable to understand what his wife clearly sees - that they cannot afford to make enemies out of Kasim and Sakina. Fatima knows very well that, should they choose to, Sakina and Kasim could stop paying them for wood altogether. It is clear that Kasim's family is ashamed of their connection as brothers and would do anything to undermine them. Hussain for his part seems hardly a help, portrayed as a bumpkin. In fact, the only narrative role Hussain plays is his potential infatuation with Marjina, and her rebukes for his uselessness.
One of the many instances when Hussain clumsily attempts to make his feelings and intentions known to Marjina, who side-steps him.
The arrival of Abdullah throws a wrench into Hussain intentions. In fact, Abdullah is the one who is more content with his lot as a slave, knowing it has advantages that can be deftly used even better than the slave-owning rich men of the city. He keeps trying to tease Marjina about her aspirations and Marjina keeps threatening him with dire consequences. However, neither of them possess the wide-eyed gullible naivete of Hussain.
Alibaba in the forest. This crucial scene sets the narrative in motion whence Alibaba discovers the cave of the thieves and its treasures. The scene is accompanied by the familiar marching tune that now denotes the thieves.
Kasim, shown in his usual daily pursuits of wine and revelry with a court of flatterers hanging onto his every word. The elaborate choreography is by Sadhana Bose.
Fatima, hysterical with worry as to why Alibaba has not yet come back, is greeted with not only his return but with a shower of wealth unlike any she has ever seen. Justifiably, she goes a little hysterical. In one of the many funny scenes in the film, Fatima, till then threatening to cry because Alibaba has not returned, actually starts crying when she learns they are now rich. It is worth mentioning here that the actors of the film were mostly from amateur theatre, though looking at Suprabha Mukherjee in this scene, one would hardly be able to make any sort of disparaging comparison with the more established cine-stars of the time.
Hussain is just as incapable of reigning in his excitement as Fatima, but this adds to his own emotionally inept character through the film.
Marjina, despite her rebuke of Hussain, is obviously attached to him. Or perhaps, in a rare moment when they let their guards slip, this wonderful song could also be about the secret desire for freedom.
The arrival of Fatima asking for a measurer. She is dazed and confused and that is used to comic effect when she tries to hide the truth from Marjina and says a series of absurd things. Marjina for her part has understood everything completely and warns Fatima to be careful. Unfortunately, Sakina has heard everything and is further convinced that something is not right when she notices Fatima's skittishness from inside. She devises a cunning ruse to find the truth about Sakina's nervousness.
The true purpose of the measurer is revealed. Sounds of dropping coins and their hysterical laughter mixed together without any dialogue.
Another musical interlude, Marjina singing of love and separation.
As a perfect foil to the earlier song we see a repetition of the earlier scenario one had encountered at Alibaba's house - Marjian teasing Hussain, Hussain flustered and about to admit to his feelings, and Abdullah interrupting their interlude, this time with the alarming news that Kasim and Sakina have come to know of Alibaba's sudden luck.
That is exactly the scene we encounter immediately after. Kasim and Sakina have found out about Alibaba's wealth, and much like Sakina in the earlier scene it is Kasim's turn to become hysterical. Kasim does not know what he should do now, and Sakina for her part begins by rebuking Kasim for his treatment of Alibaba, something she herself had instigated.
The state of their masters sends the slaves into fits of mirth.
A scene at the cave of the thieves. Seemingly unimportant, the scene is in fact crucial because it underlines how ruthless the thieves' code of honour is, especially when it comes to fairness, honour and revenge - something that sets the stage for what is to follow. It is ironic that the leader calls the cave the treasury of the gods where they are the sentinals. Also, his reserved punishment for anyone breaking the code is ominous.
Almost on cue, the person who probably has broken that code by taking some of their wealth is shown. Alibaba and Fatima are facing a new, albeit hilarious, set of problems - what to do with their wealth. They are so used to being poor that this sudden elevation in social status through money does not seem to sit well with either, especially once they run out of new ways to spend their money. It probably does not help that they keep going back to their old habits, for example, relinquishing a banquet in favour of puffed-rice. The song at the beginning laments that more the money, more the trouble.
Marjina enters with Hussain. The latter has been out at night thrashing random strangers because he does not know of a better way to hide his excitement about their wealth. Marjina knows everything but at her wake arrives Kasim who has clearly come to enquire about the wealth. There a small telling instance when Fatima refers to the scared Marjina as her daughter-in-law, signalling that the freedom Marjina has always dreamt of may not be too far away.
Kasim has come to enquire about the wealth. He automatically assumes Alibaba has stolen it and threatens to have him indicted. Alibaba, good-naturedly, tells him everything. Kasim's attitude now changes completely. Alibaba now exchanges his entire wealth for Marjina, in a way freeing her. The scene is intercut with shots of Marjina's shocked expression and Hussain's jubilant grin.
Marjina, now free, breaks into song which is rather telling: it basically says, "I won’t let the master go for useless work,
Will send him to the forest and get treasures instead". Once free to be with Hussain, who is a far weaker individual than Marjina, it is very obvious who will hold the reigns of everything with her faithful Abdullah by her side. The iconic choreography of this scene is by Sadhana Bose herself.
The greedy Kasim on his way to the cave is trying different tricks to remember the words that open and shut the doors of the cave. However, once there, the lure of the wealth is such that he does not for once think that he will forget the words. Indeed, he becomes almost insane at the sight of so much wealth, claiming he will take everything and not leave a single piece of anything behind.
Kasim's scenes are intercut with Sakina, tense and worried at the palace. She is restless, feeling that something is about to go horribly wrong. Marjina and Abdullah seek to comfort her. One is obviously at a climactic juncture in the film. The first conflict of the narrative is now resolved. Sakina has a change of heart about her past behaviour and apologises to Marjina.
Immediately, the scene fades to black and then fades in to reveal Kasim who has forgotten the magic words to the cave door in his excitement. He tries a variety of nonsense words, all potentially funny, but such is the tense nature of the scene that rather than invoking laughter all it does is to invoke a sense of fear and dread. That fear is eventually proved true when the thieves suddenly return and true to the leader's earlier vow they cut Kasim to pieces.
Fade in to Sakina who has probably by now realised something bad has happened. Alibaba attempts to placate her. As he is about to leave in search of Kasim, Sakina begins singing a song of despair. The song is considered iconic for it is the only instance when the renowned singer Indubala Debi lent her voice to playback.
Alibaba, back at the cave of thieves, discovers Kasim quartered body hanging from the ceiling.
Marjina sings a song about love; unlike the previous one, this one is about acceptance and affirmation.
True to form Abdullah turns up and begins to tease her, this time about the laments he has heard from Alibaba's house. He makes her believe that it is Hussain who has died, much to her shock and anxiety. Eventually, however, it is revealed that it is Kasim who has died. Two things are worth noting here: Marjina's caustic comment that she will not remain a slave forever but will get married and Abdullah's sarcastic roster of what happens to rich men's wives when their husbands pass away.
Sakina is there, obviously in grief.
The thieves realise there is someone else who knows the way to the caves and swear revenge.
An interesting scene where the true brilliance of Marjina's mind is revealed. Much like the slaves of old Greek or Latin comedies, the slave-girl here comes to the rescue of her bumbling master and his family. She suggests a ruse whereby they would sew up Kasim's body, call the doctor and eventually declare that he has died of natural causes. At the same time she thinks of a clever ploy to restore order to the family which has been thrown into turmoil. Alibaba has developed a soft spot for the widowed Sakina much to the anger of Fatima. However, cunningly, Marjina manipulates the events in such a manner that Fatima herself agrees to accept Sakina as her husband's second wife, effectively uniting the two families under one head. One cannot help but wonder what would the eventual power dynamics be in this new domestic scenario, where Marjina is clearly the one who knows how to control each and every member of this bumbling family. The song she sings to Hussain could very well be a declaration of intent.
Marjina's only intellectual equal in this whole scenario is Abdullah, her only confidante. This small conversation they have in rhyme encapsulates that easy camaraderie.
The house of Baba Mustafa: the master cobbler. Marjina comes and unleashes such a volley of charms that the old man is left gasping, unable to do anything but follow her every single whim. She takes him back to Alibaba's where he would sew Kasim's dismembered body back together.
Meanwhile, the leader of the thieves has arrived in the city in search of the identity of the man who has invaded his cave. The market gossip about Alibaba leads him straight to the identity of his intended victim and eventually to Baba Mustafa.
At Baba Mustafa's, the leader threatens and bribes the old man into leading him to Alibaba's house. However, Marjina, who has seen the whole thing, erases the mark he has left on Alibaba's door and hastens, probably to make plans.
Another choreographed dance sequence by Sadhana Bose, this is meant as a wake-up call for Alibaba. He has come a long way since his days of poverty, something he admits himself when he says he has not seen the dawn since becoming rich.
Hussain comes and informs them that a oil merchant en route Tehran has dropped by their place asking to be given a place to stay for the night. Marjina, unlike the others who see no problem with the scenario, clearly anticipates danger.
At the kitchen, Marjina instructs the cook to prepare a grand feast. Her words clearly reveal that the night has more in store than just a banquet.
The oil merchant is the leader of thieves who has come to Alibaba's place in disguise. It is revealed that his pots of oil contain his band of thieves lying in wait for his orders to come out and attack the household. Marjina informs Abdullah of the impending danger. They overhear the leader conversing with the other thieves and their suspicions are confirmed.
At the banquet, the leader of thieves informs Alibaba he cannot partake of the feast because he doesn't consume salt. It is an opaque reference to the fact that if he were to have salt at this household, he would not be able to do them any harm for fear of violating the sacrosanct codes of guest and host. The dancing girls begin the evening's entertainment.
In the kitchens, Marjina is making the cooks boil a huge quantity of oil. They roll the jars of oil containing the thieves into a cellar.
Intercut with the dancing girls at the banquet. Unhappy with the evening's entertainment, Alibaba summons Marjina and Abdullah.
The jars having been rolled into the cellar, Marjina makes the slaves pour the cauldron of oil inside it, killing all the thieves. Accompanied by the howls of the dying thieves, the scene is intercut with a close-up of Marjina with a ruthless expression on her face as she watches.
Closing the cellar door leaving the thieves to their fate, the two answer the master's summons. En route, in an ingenious rhyming conversation like earlier, they inform the other slaves of the situation and ask them to be on their guard.
Dance sequence choreographed by Sadhona Bose; Marjina performs an energetic dance routine with knives, at the end of which Marjina plunges the knife into the heart of the disguised leader of thieves.
While a shocked Alibaba thinks it is an act of treachery by the girl, the dying leader of thieves informs him of the truth, of Marjina's devotion and his own nefarious plans. He gives the signal to his thieves before dying, unaware that they have died too.
The final dance sequence choreographed by Sadhona Bose; it is a celebration of a happy end and new beginnings. Alibaba has obviously taken to his new wife, and Fatima is supportive. Moreover, as Abdullah points out, Marjina finally leaves her life as a slave behind her and becomes a begum; it a perfect circle considering one of the first words spoken by Marjina and Abdullah had been about the former's desire to become the mistress rather than the slave of the household. There is a fleeting moment when Abdullah stops and looks a little lost and forlorn before quickly regaining composure. It could be a feeling of loss, of the the inevitable barrier now placed between him and Marjina, or it could signal the loss of something far more intimate. The narrative does not dwell on such possibilities, instead establishing the restored peace and happiness of the household through the shot of the moon and the happy couple as the screen fades to black.