Pakeezah is a rare treat of a Bollywood film. While it's full of melodramatic moments and beautiful dance sequences like all "Hooker with a Heart of Gold" films, it also breaks free of the old tradition by highlighting the vicious cycle of prostitution: it is not their own actions that tumble these women in to infamy, but rather the expectations and prejudices of others. Nargis and her daughter Sahib, both courtesans who meet grim fates, are nevertheless driven to improve their lives and find true love. Beneath the majesty of their costumes and the perfection of their makeup, these are strong women who resist defeat. I will always appreciate Pakeezah for that.
But today, the film is best remembered for the fantastic music and the troubles that surrounded production. It took almost 15 years to complete the film. During the break, the incomparable Meena Kumari (the star) and the talented Kamal Amrohi (the director) divorced, the composer and the cinematographer died, and sections of the movie filmed in black-and-white became obsolete, requiring do-overs when filming resumed. By that time, Kumari's body was ravaged by alcoholism; she found it difficult to even move, and a body double had to be brought in for long shots on the final** dance sequence. Kumari died at the age of 39 less than 2 months after Pakeezah was released.
Yet Kumari's pain is never visible, or if it is, it is so artfully transformed in to her character's anguish that it's unrecognizable as anything but great acting. I was able to distinguish some of the portions shot just before Kumari's death by looking closely at her face (they pancaked her quite heavily to mask jaundice and age), but it felt wrong, and I quickly decided against pointing these moments out. It wouldn't be fair to degrade a powerful performance that was over a decade in the making.
It is my hope that this post will encourage classic film buffs and Bollywood fans to give Pakeezah a chance. Here it is on YouTube with English subtitles.
You're going to see a lot of that coral-pink lip in this movie. Also, notice the tips of fingers and toes dyed red with henna: this has apparently become a popular fad amongst western musicians and actresses.
I didn't take too many shots of the clothes, seeing as this is a makeup inspiration post...but feel free to admire some of the beautiful textiles you see here.
One of the little Pakeezah makeup quirks that has always intrigued me is the flicks. The eyeliner isn't sharply angled the way modern cat-eyeliner is; rather it's drawn almost straight out. It's also confined to the top lashline. Interestingly, the brows are given a similar flick, giving the illusion that the Kumari's eyes are more lifted/pointed at the outer corners. Shimmery products were clearly used on her eyes in many scenes, as well as across her skin, probably to give her a more luminous appearance in this pre-HD film.
The top 2 images are sans liner, but they still give Kumari a somewhat feline eye shape by thickening her lashes more at the outer corners. It also looks like they used matte gray and brown eyeshadows to alter how deepset her eyes appear.
Notice the range in lip colors here. Pakeezah has everything from that bright peachy coral to soft pinks to bold reds. Also, the thick, dark lines, particularly when it comes to brows: strong, painted-on brows are a Bollywood trademark to this day.
** There is some disagreement on this point. Some people say that a body double was used on just one dance sequence, while others say a body double was used for the long shots in every dance sequence. I lean towards the latter, seeing as there are often complicated kathak sequences in which the heroine's face is covered with a veil, or where she is filmed from the back and doesn't turn around in the same shot. Still, the switch is seamless, the sequences are gorgeous, and Kumari still does a good amount of the dancing. Case in point: "Inhi Logon Ne."