How Mehboob Khan Flipped The Vamp Trope With Amar

The film's commentary on privilege, class and gender made it groundbreaking for its time
How Mehboob Khan Flipped The Vamp Trope With Amar

The following article contains spoilers.

Dilip Kumar played Amar, the eponymous character and the "hero" in Mehboob Khan's 1954 film. Madhubala played Anju, the heroine and Nimmi played Sonia — the vamp. The trope demands the vamp to seduce and attract the hero towards herself. However, Mehboob Khan has something radically opposite in store: the hero rapes the vamp. What follows is her journey of finding a place of dignity in the patriarchal society.

There will never be a director who can portray such a disturbing tale as sensitively, realistically and in as nuanced a manner as Mehboob Khan did in Amar. An hour of screen time is utilized to establish the world and acquaint the audience with the characters and their dynamics. Amar is an elite yet righteous lawyer, who becomes the hero of the villagers by winning a case against Sankat, who is trying to usurp the land on which the village mela takes place. Amar is in love with Anju, a fellow elite member of the village but constantly bumps into Sonia, a milkmaid who is subtly attracted to Amar's powerful personality. Sonia, in turn, is being pursued by Sankat (portrayed as a typical bollywood villain), who desperately wants to marry her. One hour into the film is enough to fall into the director's trap. We start perceiving these characters through the lens of the various stereotypes they are presented through. Sankat, as expected out of him, wants to beat Sonia up when she dances in the mela. Sonia flees to Amar's place to find shelter, assuming that the hero will rescue her.

What follows is a slap on the face. Amar, instead of rescuing Sonia, rapes her, changing the lives of these four characters forever. During the first half of the film, the audience is left guessing about the identity of the rapist and immediately, we suspect Sankat. The director never tries to hint at the fact that a "hero" like Amar could be capable of committing such a heinous crime.

The film's commentary on privilege, class and gender was groundbreaking for its time. Amar is an upper-class, upper-caste, rich, educated and a man. He's so rich that he demolishes his own house because it doesn't "please" him anymore and builds a new one (literally and metaphorically). Because she is "touched" by another man, Sonia won't marry anymore. She is carrying a child and is banished by society but still refuses to disclose the name of the man who is responsible for the way she is treated because the man, for her, now holds the position of her husband. Despite witnessing these atrocities happening to Sonia, Amar can't muster up the courage to admit his crime till the final beat. Instead, he enjoys his luxurious life, trying to avoid the mess he has created. The way Dilip Kumar makes the audience hate him with his nuanced performance can't be described briefly. His performance itself shall require another article to analyze.

Anju, Amar's wife to-be, is privileged as well. But she is aware of it and tries to use it to bring a change. Initially, she wants to provide justice to Sonia, but when she is informed of the truth, an internal conflict ensues. On the other hand, Sankat, who we perceive as a bad guy, understands consent, selflessly loves Sonia and is willing to go to any lengths in order to provide justice to her.

Mehboob Khan and Dilip Kumar came together to not only create a character who is profoundly grey but also a realistic world where every action is defined by social structure, class and gender roles. Sonia accepting the man who raped her as her husband makes you question the society she's living in. Amar going scot-free even after committing such a heinous crime makes you question the societal structure he's influenced by. It is difficult to judge the people in Mehboob Khan's world. He flipped a staple masala trope and came up with a timeless classic. And that's where his genius lies.

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