Sagarika (1956)

Every now and then, when I’ve reviewed a Hindi film (Mamta, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, Kabuliwaalah, Khamoshi) or even mentioned one (Devdas, Chori Chori), someone or the other has popped up and either informed me (or reminded me) that this film was originally made in Bengali.

It was a little different with Sagarika. This film nobody told me about. I happened to be trawling IMDB checking out the synopses of all of Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar’s films, and realized—even as I read the plot of Sagarika—that this was exactly the same story as one of my favourite Hindi films, Bimal Roy’s lovely Prem Patra. Could I resist the temptation to watch it? No.

Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen in Sagarika Continue reading

Sabz Burj

Next up on my list of occasional articles on little-known tombs of Delhi. Yes, macabre as it may sound, Delhi does have a lot of medieval tombs, mainly because—like mosques or forts—tombs were among the few buildings which could endure because they were usually built of stone; ordinary buildings such as houses were often of wattle and daub, or of brick, and therefore less likely to last long. This time, it’s Sabz Burj. Not exactly little-known, since it’s very visible: it stands on the traffic roundabout outside Humayun’s Tomb, at the intersection of Mathura Road and Lodhi Road.

A view of Sabz Burj.

A view of Sabz Burj.

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Ten of my favourite ‘male pianist’ songs

Some time back, I received a request from a blog reader and long-ago professor of mine: would I do a post on songs sung at pianos? Hindi cinema, back in the good old days, invariably had a song at a piano per film, often more. I had to inform my ex-prof: I had already compiled, some time back, a post on piano songs: specifically, women pianists. But this gave me an idea: how about a post on male pianists? After all, there has been no shortage of songs picturised on men sitting at pianos.

Male pianist Continue reading

Rear Window (1954)

Friend, blog reader and sometime fellow blogger Harvey nudged me gently last week with a bit of information I hadn’t remembered. August 13th, 2014 was the 115th birth anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock. Was I planning to post something Hitchcock-related to mark the occasion?

And how could I not? Hitchcock – in my opinion, one of the best directors cinema has ever seen, regardless of time and place – is a firm favourite of mine. I’ve reviewed several of his films; in fact, one of the first films I reviewed on this blog (The 39 Steps) dates from Hitchcock’s early British period. I’ve reviewed a hilariously black comedy (The Trouble with Harry); I’ve reviewed classics like Rebecca, and relatively little-known ones (among those not Hitchcock aficionados, I hasten to add) like Strangers on a Train or Lifeboat.

Time (and occasion) therefore, I concluded, to review one of my favourite of Hitchcock’s colour films, in the classic suspense mould. Rear Window, about a photographer stuck in his tiny apartment with a broken leg…

James Stewart as LB Jefferies 'Jeff' in Rear Window

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A little-known Sufi saint, and an unidentified tomb

Most of the tombs I’ve listed so far in my on-and-off series on little known tombs of Delhi have been tombs I’ve been aware of for at least the past 15 years. It’s time, therefore, to move on to a tomb I got to see for the first time just about 6 years back: the tomb of Yusuf Qattaal, near Malviya Nagar.

The Tomb of Yusuf Qattaal.

The Tomb of Yusuf Qattaal.

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Book Review: Sathya Saran’s ‘Sun Mere Bandhu Re: The Musical World of SD Burman’

To say that I am fond of Sachin Dev Burman is to put it mildly. Along with OP Nayyar, SD Burman was one of the first music directors I heard of—thanks to my father, who is a devoted fan of the music of these two very different composers. It was my father who, when I was still a pre-teen, first drew my attention to the beauty of Thandi hawaayein lehraake aayein, Hum bekhudi mein tumko pukaare chale gaye, O re maajhi, Dekhi zamaane ki yaari, Yeh mahalon yeh takhton yeh taajon ki duniya, and dozens of other songs, each more wonderful than the last.

That love for SD Burman has, instead of abating, increased over the years. With that love has arisen a deep admiration for the sheer versatility and genius of this man, without whom the face (or should that be ‘sound’?) of Hindi film music might have been very different. And much, much the poorer.

Not a surprise, then, that I should get so excited when I discovered that a biography of SD Burman had been published: Sathya Saran’s Sun Mere Bandhu Re: The Musical Journey of SD Burman (Harper Collins Publishers India, P-ISBN: 978-93-5029-849-7, E-ISBN: 978-93-5029-850-3, Rs 499, 258 pages). I had read about and heard various anecdotes about SD Burman over the years: that he was a prince of Tripura, of his love for paan and football, and how he skilfully drew inspiration from just about every type of music: Baul, Bhatiali, Rabindra Sangeet… to actually read a biography of the man himself was something I looked forward to with great anticipation.

Sathya Saran's 'Sun Mere Bandhu Re: The Musical Journey of SD Burman Continue reading

Eid Mubarak!

A very happy and blessed Eid to all of you who celebrate!

And, because I can’t resist the temptation to share knowledge I come across while I’m doing my research, here’s a little tidbit about Eid as it was in the time of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’. (The illustration, which dates back to 1843, depicts Bahadur Shah in an Eid procession, with princes and other salatin – distant family members of the Emperor – following on elephants, horses, and on foot).

Bahadur Shah 'Zafar' rides on elephant back in an Eid procession, 1843.

Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ rides on elephant back in an Eid procession, 1843.

Since the date of Eid—as now—was decided based on the sighting of the moon, it was the emperor’s responsibility to ensure that the moon was sighted and duly recorded. For this, he would send horsemen out of the city to spot the moon. If there were clouds, the riders would go further out, to a village or up a hill. Their sighting of the moon would be recorded and signed by a ‘reliable witness’: a qazi, for instance. The news, when conveyed to the emperor, would be transmitted to the rest of the city by means of fired cannons.

Eid, of course, was a very important festival, celebrated with much feasting after the long days of fasting. Traditionally, the emperor would go to the Eidgah, accompanied by the princes, other salatin, prominent officers (and even, in what was definitely a political move, the British Resident in the early 1800s). On the occasion of Eid-ul-Zuha, he would sacrifice a camel at the Eidgah.

Mamta (1966)

While watching Pakeezah some months back (and reading Meghnad Desai’s book about the film), I was struck by how fond old Hindi cinema used to be of the motif of the ‘chaste tawaif’. A paradox, seemingly, because how could a woman be a tawaif – a prostitute, to put it bluntly – and be chaste? But films like Pakeezah and Adalat did just that: they portrayed women who lived in kothas, sang (in Adalat) and danced (in Pakeezah) but were ‘good’ women, chaste and pure, women who may have been lusted after by bad men, but who – thanks to fate, good friends and relatives, kind strangers (both human and animal) – were always able to avoid the fate worse than death: of yielding their chastity to a man they were not married to, or weren’t going to eventually marry, even if only in secret.

Suchitra Sen as Devyani/Panna Bai in Mamta Continue reading

Lilies of the Field (1963)

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

-Matthew 6: 28-29, King James Version

I am very familiar with this passage from the Bible (part of the Sermon on the Mount, this passage is part of one of my favourites—a beautiful little piece of scripture on how futile it is to worry), but when I first heard of the name of this film, the relevance of its title didn’t strike me. When I started watching it, I realized: yes, the lilies of the field are impermanent, evanescent, depending on no-one and yet not even doing anything very visible to keep themselves alive. But they—like all the flowers of this world, especially the wild ones, with no-one to care for them—are amongst the most beautiful of God’s creations.

Not an exact parallel with the protagonists of this heart-warming and sweet little tale, but close. And with some subtly-put messages about being content with one’s lot, yet pushing on, working hard.

Sidney Poitier and Lilia Skala in Lilies of the Field Continue reading