“Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” asked the vain Evil Queen in Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Since then, more than for anything else, mirrors have come to symbolize vanity.
That’s fine, but beware the revenge of Nemesis
There have always been beautiful people on Earth, but before mirrors came about, people were not directly aware of their own beauty; they had to be told by others. Pools of still water were there of course, and these did give people a rough idea of their appearance. A Greek myth tells us the fatal story of a handsome young man called Narcissus. His beauty was admired by everyone, but he rejected all overtures. Over the years, he grew conceited in the knowledge, so much so that he didn’t consider anyone worth his time.
This was seen as hubris—excessive pride or arrogance in one’s appearance or abilities—which was an insult to the gods. For such offenders the goddess Nemesis had a portfolio: deliver poetic justice. She lured Narcissus to a pool one day and left him there. The young man went about gazing at his reflection, falling in love with it. He was dying to possess the other. Finally, when he couldn’t obtain the object of his desire, he drowned in the pond. The gods had served him just desserts: no one would be able to admire him now.
After he died, they placed a flower near the pond and named it after him: Narcissus Poeticus, the botanical name for Poet’s Daffodil. The Persians call this flower Nargis, from which Urdu has borrowed the same word for use on our subcontinent. Consistent with this punishment Dr Allama Iqbal wrote:
Hazaaron saal Nargis apni benoori pe roti hai
Badi mushkil se hota hai chaman mein deedahwar paida
(Roughly “For eons the Narcissus bemoans her unnoticed situation. Very rarely is one born who appreciates her beauty”).
Vanity and pride
Vanity and her junior partner pride are often used interchangeably, and they do mean somewhat the same thing. But people generally agree that vanity is pride that travels with the excess baggage of arrogance. Pride is content with her accomplishments without making a Press Conference of it. She may respect others but has a fair degree of quiet self-respect. But vanity is contemptuous of others. Ironically, it thrives on applause and admiration intensely. Vain people fly high and are cocky about their highness.
To cite an example from our films, there is a Lata Mangeshkar song in Samrat Chandragupta (1958), which goes thus: “Mujhe dekh chaand sharmaaye, ghata tham jaaye, Main nikloon to kahe haaye—zamaana kahe haaye!” (“The moon blushes when he sees me, the cloud misses a heartbeat, and the world goes wow when I step out”). Some vanity, that!
No harm if we take a look at articulations of vanity through songs in Hindi cinema. The vain actor is listed, and the lyricist too. Relevant words are mentioned where found necessary:
- Maan mera ehsaan are naadaan (Shakeel. “Meri nazar ki roop na bharti dhoop to hota husn tera bekaar”. Dilip Kumar in Aan, 1952)
- Main bahaaron ki natkhat raani (Hasrat Jaipuri. “Saari duniya hai mujhpe deewaani”. Chand Burque in Boot Polish, 1953)
- Main to chaloon pashchim purab chale duniya (Shailendra. “Meri qismat pe jale saari duniya”. Cuckoo in Mayur Pankh, 1953)
- Apni ada pe main hoon fida (PL Santoshi. Sandhya in Teen Batti Chaar Rasta, 1953)
- Main ghareebon ka dil hoon (Hasrat Jaipuri. “Husn bhi dekh kar mujhko hairaan hai”. Premnath in Aab-e-Hayaat, 1955)
- Thandi hawa kaali ghata aa hi gayi jhoom ke (Majrooh. “Aaj to main apni chhabi dekh ke sharma gayi”. Madhubala in Mr and Mrs 55, 1955)
- Mr John (Rajinder Krishan. “Jo koi dekhe mera jalwa ho jaaye qurbaan”. Helen in Baarish, 1957)
- Aaye hain door se (Majrooh. “Meri kya baat hai”. Shammi Kapoor in Tumsa Nahin Dekha, 1957)
- Main sitaaron ka taraana (Majrooh. “Raag mere roop ke tu gaaye ja”. Madhubala in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958)
- Aiye meherbaan (Qamar Jalalabadi. “Dekha machal ke jidhar, bijli gira di udhar” Madhubala in Howrah Bridge, 1958)
- Aa ra ra ra ra ra main to giri re (PL Santoshi. “Nasha gar chaahiye to humse naata jod do”. Shakila in Post Box No 999, 1958)
- Zara sa muskura doon to rasta bhula doon (Indeewar. “Nigaahen neechi kar loon to duniya bhula doon”. Girija in Chandrasena, 1959)
- Andaaz mera mastaana (Shailendra. Meena Kumari in Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, 1960)
- Uee, itni badi mehfil aur ik dil kisko doon (Hasrat Jaipuri. “Phas gayi jaan meri beshumaar deewanon mein” Helen in Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, 1960)
- Hum jab chalen to ye jahaan jhoome (Sahir Ludhianvi. Sunil Dutt in Hum Hindustani, 1960)
- Mujhe apna yaar bana lo (Hasrat Jaipuri. “Jin raaston se nikloon ik dhoom si macha doon, Jin mehfilon mein jaoon wo mehfilen saja doon”. Shammi Kapoor in Boy Friend, 1962)
- Nazar bacha kar chale gaye wo warna ghaayal kar deta (Hasrat Jaipuri. Shammi Kapoor in Dil Tera Deewana, 1962)
- Jab tak hum hain (Shakeel. “Koi naheen duniya mein apne siwa”. Shammi Kapoor in Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya, 1963)
- Unki pehli nazar kya asar kar gayi (Hasrat Jaipuri. “Din mein sau baar main aina dekh loon”. Saira Banu in April Fool, 1964)
- Tum ho haseen kahaan ke (Rajinder Krishan. “Hum chaand aasmaan ke”. Madhubala in Sharabi, 1964)
- Dil ka diya jala ke gaya (Majrooh. “Ek hi nazar mein nikhar gayi main to, aina jo dekha sanwar gayi main to”. Nimmi in Aakash Deep, 1965)
- Dekhti hi raho aaj darpan na tum (Neeraj. Rajeev to Tanuja in Nayi Umar Ki Nayi Fasal, 1965)
- Maana mere haseen sanam (Anjaan. “Mera kahaan jawaab hai”. Prashant in The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1965)
- In bahaaron mein akele na phiro (Majrooh. “Mujhko ye kaali ghata rokegi kya, ye to khud hai meri zulfon ke tale”. Suchitra Sen in Mamta, 1966)
- Bhai buttoor bhai buttoor (Rajinder Krishan. “Aina dekhoon aur sochoon kya ho gayi main maghroor”. Saira Banu in Padosan, 1968)
- Main albeli pyaar jata kar (Hasrat Jaipuri. “Ek nazar main jispe daaloon ho jaaye ghaafil”. Helen in Shikaar, 1968)
- Muqaabla humse na karo (Hasrat Jaipuri. “Hamaare saamne suraj bhi haath malta hai”. Shammi Kapoor, Helen and Vyjayanthimala in Prince, 1969)
- Bachke kahaan jaoge (Hasrat Jaipuri. “In nigaahon se, in adaon se”. Helen in Yakeen, 1969)
- Main jahaan chala jaoon bahaar chali aaye (Anand Bakshi. Jeetendra in Ban Phool, 1971)
- Duniya ka mela mele mein ladki (Anand Bakshi. “Gaal uske gulaabi, chaal uski sharaabi”. Hema Malini in Raja Jani, 1972)
- Bachna aye haseeno lo main aa gaya (Majrooh. Rishi Kapoor in Hum Kisi Se Kum Naheen, 1977)
- In aankhon ki masti ke mastaane hazaaron hain (Shahryar. Rekha in Umrao Jaan, 1981)
- Bijli giraane main hoon aayi (Javed Akhtar. Sridevi in Mr India, 1987)
Do note that this is not praise from others. These are examples of people admiring themselves.
As for that song mentioned above, Indeewar’s “Mujhe dekh chaand sharmaaye”, from Samrat Chandragupta, it was filmed on Kammo, who was not the female lead in the story. The main female lead was portrayed by Nirupa Roy. She was a Greek princess named Helen who marries the Indian King Chandragupta, and the Greeks know the story of Narcissus with his punishment. On a lighter note, Mrs Helen Chandragupta may have considered her own death by drowning a terrible idea.
Meantime, wonder what’s up with Nemesis? She must be astonished to see so much vanity around these days. Nail art, hair streaking, silicone implants, botox for skin firming, beauty treatments that didn’t exist in her time. All these have helped vanity scale higher platforms. Could it be that she too is getting a makeover?
Featured image on top: Shammi Kapoor in Jab tak hum hain (Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya, 1963)
Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 25 March 2018. Minor changes have since been made. http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-03-25 (page 11)