Uf Yeh Beevian (Oh, These Wives!) is an Urdu film released in 1977 that racked up more than 75 weeks in Karachi’s cinema halls to bag Diamond Jubilee status.
S. Suleman, a director who seemed to have a knack for producing hit movies, began his career playing the young version of Dilip Kumar’s character in 1948’s popular Mela. After migrating to Pakistan with his brothers who included the matinée idols Santosh Kumar and Darpan, Suleman established a reputation as a socially conscious and sensitive director. Many of his films such as Lori (Lullaby) and Baji were praised and appreciated for their progressive social messages. They were also popular. Baji, which starred both of Suleman’s brothers, attracted 5 Nigar Awards including the coveted Best Picture Award in 1963.
Suleman was not one to sit on his laurels. Conscious of the tendency among his peers to rely on formulas and plagiarizing movies from across the border he deliberately set out to try new things. Comedy proved to be the new frontier he was looking for and throughout the 1960s and 70s he created several well regarded and fondly remembered comic films like Uf Yeh Beevian.
An outrageous early scene which depicts what can only be called a home invasion by a group of clap happy dancers not withstanding,Uf Yeh Beevian begins as a standard middle class social drama. Zahid (Shahid) is informed by his auntie with whom he lives, that arrangements have been made for his engagement to a lovely girl, Nadira (Shabnam) from Lahore. But when they return from the airport trouble is already brewing. Nadira is modern and liberated but rude, entitled and agressive. Zahid and his aunt are horrified and beg her to leave.
Similar disasters unfold when Zahid pays a visit to Lahore and discovers that Nadira is now a panch waqt namazi (prays 5 times a day) and ultra conservative Islamic girl. Zahid is totally confused until Nadira confesses that she’s been testing him and that in fact she loves him and hopes he will marry her. Delighted and relieved Zahid does exactly that and they set the wedding date for after Nadira’s return from Nairobi where she goes to visit family. Tragically, Zahid reads of a plane crashing near Nairobi killing all aboard. Nadira is assumed dead and Zahid sinks into a depression and upon the advice of a friend takes up drinking whisky to drown his grief.
Concerned family and friends arrange another marriage for Zahid with a feisty controlling girl named Najma (Najma) who manages to make Zahid forget Nadira. One day out of the blue, however, Nadira inexplicably appears in Zahid’s house, healthy and ready to pick up where she left off before flying to Nairobi. What follows for the rest of the film is Zahid running between Nadira and Najma in ever more ridiculous circumstances. Shahid most known as a romantic lead reveals an easy way with comedic material and plays the exasperated and increasingly exhausted husband with aplomb. Both wives soon cotton on to the deception and in their own turns express their anger by using their legs and fists on poor Zahid.
At this point one may be tempted to note a hint of the progressive social commentary S Suleman loved so much: women are standing up for their rights and refusing to be belittled by the patriarchy that permits men to enjoy multiple women. But one would be wrong. For very quickly the film resolves the drama in a most reactionary way. Zahid’s driver (Lehri) explains to the angry wives that his boss had kept his double marriage secret because ‘he didn’t want to hurt your feelings. He loves you both.’ When they hear this Nadira and Najma join forces and voices (they speak the same lines in unison) and rescue Zahid who is ready to leap to his death from the top of a building. “We will all live together in the same house,” they assure Zahid and enjoy a final group hug as the films rolls to farcical end.
Zinda Rahein to Kis ki Khatir (For Whom Should I Stay Alive?) is the best song of this otherwise silly movie. Zahid is reeling from Nadira’s apparent death in the plane crash and with his alcoholic friend Mushtaq takes to the bottle at a Islamabad club. The music composed by M Ashraf is modern enough for dancing but sufficiently low key to match the mood of a desperately sad Zahid. Mehdi Hassan gives Agha Hassan Imtisal’s down beat lyrics a suitably melancholy tone. Actor, singer and lyricist work together to make a poignant and moving moment the highlight of the film.