Sometimes PDA makes you awkward; sometimes it makes you scoff. Sometimes it’s hard to believe; sometimes it is plain annoying. And sometimes, just sometimes, watching the ritual of courtship between two magnificent animals makes you believe in the notions of eternal love and soul mates.

Tarana (Ram Daryani, 1951) has nothing much going for it in terms of new story or exciting craft, there are many jumps in the plot which one will however ignore in the acknowledgement of bad DVD edits. But what it has is the absolutely unmistakable chemistry between Tarana (Madhubala) and Moti (Dilip Kumar). She was 18 and he was 29, it was their first film together and the beginning of their love affair. An affair that would end in great bitterness, but quite possibly, a love that never died.

From their first moment together, they light up the screen with the fire within them. Both being master actors only helps, not for a moment do you cringe, giggle or feel indifferent to their love story or their longing for each other, which requires no explanation, no justification. Not for a moment are you tempted to say,  “Ok, fine, but come on, you can move on.”

Of course, for me, Madhubala overshadows even Dilip Kumar not only with her beauty, but also with her talent. She just seems to have such perfect control over her face and gestures. There is one scene in particular, which is a class in acting, by itself. Moti believes Tarana has died, his father’s choice Sheela (Shyama) supports Moti through his distress, and now, they are to be married that evening. That morning,  at the temple, Moti asks Sheela once again whether she will be happy with him; he cannot love her. She is sympathetic, she accepts he can never forget Tarana, that he sees Tarana everywhere, she asks him to see Tarana in her. He looks at her, disbelieving. She says she will be happy to be his Tarana. Moti looks hard at her, and Sheela becomes Tarana in his eyes.

This is a fairly common morphing of images used for the idea of ‘seeing the beloved everywhere’ in our films, Shyama’s face is replaced with Madhubala’s. Madhubala now looks at Dilip Kumar. But what she does here, is play Madhubala as Shyama playing Madhubala, her expressions, her glances at Moti are just that little bit different, she is not herself, but Sheela trying hard to be Tarana. I can’t remember seeing any other actor do this in our films. It’s so subtle, and so effective.

I think Madhubala has not dated also because she uses costumes, hair and make-up to her advantage. Shimmery soft clothes which fall on her gracefully, diaphanous materials that she can play with across her face, usually just her natural short hair blowing around her, and minimal makeup.

‘ Tarana’ is to be watched only for the love sparks flying between Madhubala and Dilip Kumar, and its lovely songs (Music-Anil Biswas, Lyrics – DN Madhok, Prem Dhavan, Kaif Irfani). Here’s my favourite in the film,

I was also getting to like Tarana’s father, Surdas (Kumar), when he stands up to the village panchayat and abuses them for shunning his daughter and himself just because his daughter fell in love with Moti. He compares Tarana and Moti’s love to that of Shiv and Parvati. And he claims his daughter has done no wrong. Just as I am convinced that here finally is a father willing to stand by his daughter, and not give in to the ideas of family honour, he immediately believes the village midwife, when she says Tarana is pregnant. And he burns his entire house with Tarana in it. So much for my hopes.

Though Tote Ram (Gope) does redeem himself by trying to save Tarana and dying himself, confessing that he was the one who spread false rumors about Tarana and Moti. Surdas too then promptly jumps into the fire and dies.  Miraculously, Tarana who has been in the fire the longest survives. An ode to her purity, perhaps? Then she goes from her village to the city, wanders around singing, finds her kid goat, Saiyya, who leads her to Moti’s house, and so on. Just made me wonder what do people in love that can’t sing or have kid goats do.