Dopatta is regarded as one of the best films to ever come out of Pakistan. Certainly the film, a musical masterpiece, is an engrossing enough watch and not as tacky and stilted as most Pakistani films of its time, but still lacks the overall technical finesse and finish that the better Indian films had acquired by then. The film marks the Urdu film debut of Noor Jehan in Pakistan, her second film there, and it proved to be an even bigger success than her first Pakistani film, Chan Wey (1951), made in Punjabi.
Dopatta is directed by Sibtain Fazli, who had already directed films in India including the Nargis starrer Mehndi (1947). In Dopatta, Fazli tells us the main story of Bulbul and Roshan through a series of flashbacks narrated by an old doctor to a young woman. The device works well enough in that you see key moments in the narrative and their relationship while the filler scenes are done away with. For instance, you see the first meeting between Roshan and Bulbul thanks to her 'dopatta' and then when you come back to them in the next flashback sequence, they are already in love!
Fazli shows a fair sense of control over the medium as he tries to tell his story cinematically. At least, one feels there is an effort to work out transitions between the present and the flashback to tell the story as effectively as one can. For example, the doctor and the young woman have tea in the doctor's office as he tells her the tale of Bulbul and Roshan. The woman offers to make the tea and as she hands the cup over to the doctor, the film cuts to the flashback to Bulbul giving her son a glass of milk. Or the doctor smokes while narrating the story and as he exhales, Fazli dissolves from the smoke to the misty mountains. The film involves you enough as Bulbul and Roshan fall in love and set up their happy home but once Roshan is called to war, the film falters. On another level, Fazli also tries to use the various seasons as part of the story to show passage of time, which again is an interesting effort. He is somewhat effectively able to show an urbane Western influenced strata of Pakistani society that village belle Bulbul enters through the art direction and characteristics and habits of Roshan's uncle and aunt who have a colonial house and eat continental meals. Incidentally, the film shows Roshan going off to fight in World War II (1939 - 1945). The uncle dances with the aunt humming the Rita Hayworth starrer Gilda ditty Put the Blame on Mame and Gilda released in 1946!
The film is unable to avoid certain cliches. In our older films, a heroine on her own either becomes a school teacher in some little village or a nurse as does Noor Jehan here. The narrative drags on too long after Roshan is thought dead and even with his re-entry as the disfigured soldier, who is not recognised by Bulbul, the film fails to reach the emotional heights it should have even though a potentially interesting situation has been set up. In fact, this part of the film leading to its happy ending is rather clumsily structured. Too many plot points are too convenient and easy. Bulbul's change of behaviour towards acceptance of the 'stranger' is abrupt and should have been worked out better. Some plot points come across as even implausaible or unwarranted as the aunt who accuses Bulbul of flirting with the doctor and kicking her out or the uncle's death track, which is left unresolved and adds nothing to the story. Also, the young woman comes to the doctor after her husband has survived an accident but got disfigured. The doctor tries to discourage her from going in for plastic surgery saying he wants her to listen to a story. It is fairly obvious that he is going to tell her a tale about true love going beyond physical looks. In that sense, the story he tells her, the main body of the film, is much too long, to come to this obvious point. And even so, in the main story itself, it is fairly predictable that Roshan, thought dead in the war will return with a disfigured face. Of course, ultimately Bulbul will accept him as he is. In fact, the film ends with this scene of their reconciliation without returning to the doctor and the young woman at the end which appears incomplete as one thought the aim of the whole story is to get her to realize that she should accept her husband for what he is. Oh well, one supposes she got the point.
Coming to the central performances, the performances of the men, low key and free of melodarama, have held up much better in comparison to Noor Jehan's melodramatic suffering-woman act. And this, when she is controlled by the director and is comparitively restrained as compared to her act in films like Neend (1959) or Koel (1959), where her performances are highly stilted and stagey to say the least - the song O Bewafa...Maine Tujhse Pyar Kyon Kiya in Koel is embarrassing to watch today for her 'acting' on stage. Ajay Kumar, in particular, makes a dashing hero and gives a decent performance as the smart, good-looking officer, Roshan, whose face gets disfigured in the war. Sudhir has a one-dimensional, undemanding role of the good, supporting doctor which he does efficiently enough. Dopatta was his breakthrough film, making him a star in Pakistan and leading to a career as a leading man for over three decades!
The biggest asset of the film is undoubtedly its memorable musical score. The film is a hat-trick of brilliant musical success from music director Feroz Nizami and singing star Noor Jehan following Jugnu (1947) in India and Chan Wey. Each of the songs in Dopatta is regarded as among the most memorable songs to ever come out of Pakistan and rightly so. Certainly Chandni Raaten, Tum Zindagi ko Gham ka Fasana, Sanwariya Tohe Koi Pukare, Main Ban Patang Ud Jaaoon and Jigar ki Aag are all deservedly included in any 'Best of Noor Jehan' compilation. Noor Jehan is in brilliant voice, singing all 8 songs in the film with her rendering of Chandni Raaten, in particular, unsurpassed. The immense popularity of the songs of Dopatta, in both Pakistan and India, gave tough competition to Indian film songs at the time, featuring regularly in the top ten of the Binaca Geetmala programme broadcast from Radio Ceylon.
Brilliant as the songs are, their picturizations however leave a lot to be desired as the songs are shot mostly in full figure and mid long shots with long static takes and very little camera movement to complement the music. And since the older films in the sub-continent insisted on having a good number of songs in them, a song like Mere Man ke Raja Aaja for instance, great as it is compositionally, suffers from bad placement in the film and fails to have the effect it should have had. Another problem with the songs as they've been used in the film is that when Noor Jehan waits for Ajay Kumar, there are 5 sad songs used to show her state of mind before the happy reconciliation, which though making for great listening, seems repetitive and brings the narrative to a grinding halt. The background music is a disappointment, hardly ever adding to the film.
Apart from being one of the most popular films in Pakistan film history, Dopatta was also released in India and was reviewed quite positively by Filmfare.