Book Review: Sidharth Bhatia’s ‘The Patels of Filmindia: Pioneers of Indian Film Journalism’

I have a confession to make: despite my love for cinema, I’ve never been too keen on film magazines. When I was a child, my parents never bought film magazines, and by the time I’d grown into my teens and had the freedom (and pocket money) to buy whatever reading material I chose, all my major interest in films had shifted to films made before I’d even been born.

As a result, I never knew of Filmindia (or, as it was later renamed, Mother India) until a few years ago, when I read, on Greta’s blog, about Baburao Patel and his film magazine, Filmindia. Reading excerpts on Memsaabstory from Filmindia (and, more often than not, snorting out loud at Baburao Patel’s irreverence), or gushing over the fabulous artwork, I couldn’t help but think: if there’s ever one film magazine I would want to read, it would be the erstwhile Filmindia.

When I heard that Sidharth Bhatia was going to be releasing his book on Baburao Patel and Filmindia, I knew this was right up my alley. Not so much for Baburao Patel (who, I had convinced myself, after having read some of his writing, I did not like—not a nice man), but for the art, the ads, the feel of the 30s, the 40s, the 50s. Even the 60s. The golden age of Hindi cinema. That—the cinema—was what I wanted to read about, what I wanted to see.

Sidharth Bhatia's 'The Patels of Filmindia: PIoneers of Indian Film Journalism'

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The Day of the Triffids (1962)

I watch a lot of contemporary science fiction movies. Everything from Interstellar to Oblivion is grist to my mill (not to mention monster movies). The other day, happening to see a list of ‘best alien invasion movies’ on IMDB, I glanced through it quickly to see which ones I’d seen. Most of the newish (post 1980s, and Alien) ones, I realized, but none of the old ones. And there were so many of them, all those old films I’d heard about but never got around to watching.

Shameful, I decided, considering I am such a devotee of old cinema. So, a sci fi flick. And one which I decided to watch after first having read the book on which it’s based.

Very loosely adapted from John Wyndham’s novel of the same name, The Day of the Triffids begins with a rather boringly delivered (but thankfully brief) voiceover about carnivorous plants. The Venus flytrap is mentioned, and we’re told about another carnivorous species of plant known as the triffid (which looks rather like a mutated tulip, as far as flowers are concerned, and has a stem reminiscent of a palm tree). After that, we move further into the Royal Botanic Gardens in London, where this particular specimen of triffid is housed in a glasshouse.

The triffid, we are told, was brought to Earth on the Day of the Triffids. [Which, once we launch into the story, begs the question: then what is it doing in the Royal Botanic Gardens, before the ‘day of the triffids’?]

A triffid at the Royal Botanic Gardens

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Ganga ki Lehren (1964)

Ganga ki LehrenWho, in case you’re curious, include Dharmendra, Kishore Kumar, Nasir Hussain, Kumkum, Hari Shivdasani, Rehman, Asit Sen, Azra, and Aruna Irani, besides Telugu star Savitri. With, in smaller roles, everybody from Tuntun, Brahm Bhardwaj, Mridula Rani, Manorama and Jankidas, to child star Master Shahid. [All that was missing was wonder dog Tommy]. Continue reading

Ten Ganga songs from classic Hindi cinema

My husband and I are avid travelers. Give us a few days’ holiday and some funds, and we’re eager to race off somewhere. This past year, however, has been unbelievably hectic, what with one thing or another, and after an entire 365 days of not travelling anywhere, we were ready to crack. So we eventually took a holiday—to The Glasshouse on the Ganges, an idyllic little place we’ve visited before, just slightly above Rishikesh. Sitting there one evening, with my feet lapped by the cool waves of the Ganga, I was humming Ganga behti ho kyon (yes, I’m not making this up; I actually was doing that!) when it struck me: there are several songs in Hindi cinema about the Ganga. And that’s where the idea for this post originated.

The Ganga flows for a distance of 2,525 km, all the way from the Himalayas (it begins, officially, at the point—in Devprayag—where its two major tributaries, the Bhagirathi and the Alaknanda, join). Most devout Hindus consider Gomukh, at the foot of the Gangotri Glacier, where the Bhagirathi arises, as the birthplace of the Ganga. The fifth most polluted river in the world, this one is one of Earth’s major rivers (it even appears in classical Western art—the imposing ‘Fountain of the Four Rivers’ sculpture at Rome’s Piazza Navona includes the Ganges). Millions of people live alongside it, millions come from far and wide for a dip in the Ganga.

The river.

The river.

And Hindi cinema has embraced it wholeheartedly, all the way from the dozens of filmi children lost at the Kumbh, to Ganga ki Saugandh, Ganga Tera Paani Amrit, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, etc. Plus, the songs. Here are ten songs from pre-70s (mostly, with one minor exception from 1971) Hindi films which mention the Ganga. In different contexts, to different extents. All from films that I’ve seen.

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The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

History fascinates me. Not the dates, not so much the politics (though that can be often very interesting, too), but society, culture. How people lived, and how—if you really think about it—mankind hasn’t, fundamentally, changed too much over the past few millennia.

Look at The Fall of the Roman Empire, for instance: a tale of a dying emperor, realizing that his own son—the heir to the throne—is too debauched, too fond of gladiators and wine, to ever be able to fulfill the dying man’s dream of a united Roman Empire. What ensues—as a seeming upstart is nominated successor, as jealousy and hatred arise where there had been camaraderie and boisterous affection—could be true of anything happening today.

Christopher Plummer as Commodus in The Fall of the Roman Empire

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Majhli Didi (1967)

Let me begin this review with a quick confession: I don’t cry easily while watching films.

I didn’t sob my heart out while watching Majhli Didi either. But I had a lump in my throat during several scenes, and I wiped away more than a couple of tears.

Meena Kumari in and as Majhli Didi.

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Hotel Review: The Glasshouse on the Ganges

Strictly speaking, though, I shouldn’t have named this a ‘hotel review’, since The Glasshouse on the Ganges, like the rest of the properties which are part of the Neemrana Group, prides itself on being a ‘non-hotel’. This one, set amidst litchi orchards on the bank of the Ganga just 23 km beyond Rishikesh (very close to Shivpuri and other places known for the adventure sport of white water rafting), is one we’d visited years ago, when it was still relatively small, quiet, and definitely non-hotel-like. Birdsong and the sound of the river dominated. Lazy hours were spent on the resort’s own private river beach, trailing our feet in the water.

With my feet in the Ganga.

With my feet in the Ganga.

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Kapurush O Mahapurush (1965)

Kapurush O Mahapurush (The Coward and The Holy Man) isn’t one film, even though these two short films—each just over an hour long—were released together, as a sort of ‘combined pack’. Unlike Satyajit Ray’s other well-known set of short stories-clubbed-together film, Teen Kanya, the two component stories of Kapurush O Mahapurush have barely anything in common (except possibly a central male character who drives—or does not drive—the story). I watched these two short films one after the other and thought of writing separate reviews for each—then decided that they’re best reviewed the way I saw them. Together, one after the other.

A scene from Kapurush

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Ten of my favourite Shashi Kapoor songs

Of the three Kapoor brothers—Raj, Shammi and Shashi—Shashi Kapoor is the one who falls in the middle when it comes to my personal preferences. Raj Kapoor I tend to not like (except in the occasional film now and then, like Chori-Chori or Teesri Kasam). Shammi Kapoor I am nuts about and will gladly watch in just about any film from his heyday. And Shashi Kapoor—well, he did act in some films I don’t like at all (Bombay Talkie, Benazir, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Raja Sahib…), but he also acted in some of my favourite films. In Prem Patra, for instance. And Waqt. And Pyaar Kiye Jaa. And my guilty pleasure, Sharmeelee.

He was wonderfully handsome in a boyish sort of way, he was a versatile actor (compare, for instance, his hot-headed young Hindu radical of Dharmputra with the madcap of Pyaar Kiye Jaa), he was extremely watchable. (And, to his credit—or his wife, Jennifer Kendall’s?—remained relatively well-preserved until quite late. Of the three brothers, Shashi had the longest innings as a believable leading man, all the way from the start of the 60s to the early 80s).

Shashi Kapoor

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