Lentils and mosques: Moth ki Masjid

Delhi has a vast number of mosques (not unusual, considering the many centuries this city was ruled by Muslims). They’re large and small, obscure and prominent. And some of them have really odd names: the Imliwaali Masjid (‘the mosque of the tamarind’); the Amrudwaali Masjid (‘the mosque of the guava’), and the Randi ki Masjid (‘the prostitute’s mosque’, formally known as Masjid Mubarak Begum, but called by its unsavoury epithet because it had been built by General Ochterlony’s extremely unpopular Indian wife Mubarak Begum).

And then there’s the Moth ki Masjid, near South Extension: the ‘mosque of the lentil seed’.

The Moth ki Masjid, near South Extension.

The Moth ki Masjid, near South Extension.

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Somewhere in the Night (1946)

What if you woke up one day to find that you couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, and—even worse, perhaps—had no idea who you were? And that when you set out to find out, you opened up a can of worms? That every other person you met seemed to be wanting to beat you or kill you (or ended up dead)—and you had absolutely no idea why?

Some years back, watching Hitchcock’s excellent Lifeboat, I was fascinated by John Hodiak. It was the first time I’d seen this actor, and I wanted to see more of him. After some searching, I discovered this intriguing example of film noir which starred Hodiak as the amnesiac who sets out to discover his identity—and ends up with some even more baffling answers.

John Hodiak in Somewhere in the Night Continue reading

Ten of my favourite spring songs

The other day, looking at the stats page for this blog, I saw that somebody had arrived at Dustedoff as a result of searching for spring songs. I don’t know which post they ended up at, but it reminded me: spring is here in Delhi, and I’ve never yet done a post on songs about spring.

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Baazi (1968)

The first time I began watching this film was on Doordarshan, many years ago. It surprised me, largely because it featured Waheeda Rehman in a very Westernised avatar I had never seen before. It also had an intriguing story. And Dharmendra, always one of my favourites. And Helen. And Johnny Walker.

Waheeda Rehman in Baazi Continue reading

Jalsaghar (1958)

There is a scene well into Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar (The Music Room) in which the protagonist, a reclusive and close-to-bankrupt zamindar named Bishwambar Roy (Chhabi Biswas) stands outside his crumbling palace and looks out towards the riverbank, where his elephant Moti—his only asset worth anything—is standing. Bishwambar Roy’s stance, the squared shoulders, the raised chin, shows his pride: his pride in the elephant, his pride in the many generations of wealthy aristocracy that he can lay claim to, his pride—as he tells someone in another scene—in his blood.

Even as he looks out at his elephant, a truck, with the name of Ganguli (Roy’s wealthy, ‘self-made man’ neighbour) on it comes along. It’s heading towards the riverbank too, and as it proceeds, it raises clouds of dust, obscuring the river, the land, and the elephant. Blocking out Bishwambar Roy’s view of that last vestige of his wealth, and prompting him to take what turns out to be a decision that will prove a turning point in the story.

Bishwambar Roy looks out at his elephant Continue reading

Book Review: Bhaskar Chattopadhyay’s 14 Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray is a name that appears inevitably on any list of great Indian film directors. And often enough (or at least, it should, as far as I’m concerned) on lists of great film directors, regardless of nation or language. For me, half the joy of watching a Satyajit Ray film is not in in the breathtaking beauty of camera angles or the performances he managed to coax out of actors; it’s in the stories he told through his films. Stories very varied, stories that range all the way from whodunits to romances, to tales of human frailty, injustice, and more. You can never say of Satyajit Ray’s films that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay's 14 Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray Continue reading

Gigi (1958)

I have firmly believed, for the past few years, that Hollywood would have been a lot poorer had it not been for its Europeans. All the way from writers and composers to directors—and, of course, the most visible, actors. Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Hedy Lamarr, Rossano Brazzi, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Michael Caine, Curt Jurgens… and, one of my absolute favourites, the very handsome Louis Jourdan. I remember, as a young teenager, being completely bowled over by him in Decameron Nights, Three Coins in the Fountain, and The Swan. And this film, the quintessential Louis Jourdan one, about a wealthy young man who finds love in an unlikely place.

Louis Jourdan as Gaston Lachaille in Gigi Continue reading

Tiny but exquisite: the Bada Gumbad Mosque

A view of the mosque's interior.

Some days back, I’d written about one of Delhi’s large but little-known mosques, the massive Begumpuri Masjid, near Malviya Nagar. In a turn-around, this week’s (or fortnight’s, whatever) interesting medieval mosque is one that’s much more visible, even though most … Continue reading

Ten of my favourite cloud songs

The other day, thinking over the themes for song lists that I’ve posted over the years I’ve been writing this blog, two came forcibly to mind: rain songs (a list, in fact, which has proved very popular—I was even interviewed about it by a Canadian radio station); and wind songs.

Rain. Wind. And what goes with that? Clouds. Clouds, which are so common in Hindi film songs. Clouds, as harbingers of rain. Clouds that thunder, clouds that pour. Clouds that symbolize everything from relief and coolness to bleak despair. Time, I decided, to do a list of cloud songs that I like a lot.

Cloud songs from Hindi cinema Continue reading

Sunday in New York (1963)

This is a somewhat belated tribute, to yet another star of the silver screen. Aussie actor Rod Taylor (January 11, 1930 – January 7, 2015) arrived in Hollywood in the 1950s, and though he never achieved the fame of fellow countrymen like Errol Flynn (and, much later, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, etc), he did star in several big films, including Hitchcock’s The Birds, The Time Machine, Young Cassidy, 36 Hours (and, his last outing, Inglourious Basterds, in which he played Winston Churchill).

Rod Taylor as Mike Mitchell in Sunday in New York Continue reading