Looking back at the six years this blog has been in existence, I find myself surprised that I’ve never done a post on Geeta Dutt. Geeta Dutt, née Geeta Ghosh Roy Chaudhury, the woman with that beautifully melodious, faintly nasal voice, who was known for singing bhajans and other songs with a classical or folk lilt to them—until SD Burman chose her to sing Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana de, and opened up to millions of listeners across the years the astounding versatility of this glorious voice. Geeta Dutt, who could sing with equal finesse everything from club songs to wandering minstrel ones. Geeta, who sang some of the most achingly beautiful songs in Hindi cinema.
Considering ‘arranged marriages’ were—and still are—so common in India, the fact that old Hindi cinema tended to focus mostly on ‘love marriages’ seems rather odd to me. It’s more romantic, I suppose, to imagine that one will fall in love and end up, after various trials and tribulations and having encountered sundry obstacles, married to one’s sweetheart.
There were exceptions, though, the occasional film about people getting married first, and falling in love later. There was Ghoonghat, Saanjh aur Savera, Blackmail, or those examples of child marriages, Chhoti si Mulaqat and Ji Chaahta Hai. Most of them about people who are forced—because of their own submissiveness, and because they can’t pluck up the courage to say no to bossy elders—into getting married to near or complete strangers.
Unlike this one. Mohabbat Zindagi Hai is one of the few examples (Mr & Mrs 55 was another) of someone getting married for a very mercenary reason. And, as in Mr & Mrs 55, the heroine here is an heiress who needs to get married in a hurry in order to inherit. No husband, no money. But, unlike Mr & Mrs 55, the heroine here doesn’t marry because she thinks she can easily divorce her unwanted husband soon after; she marries him because he’s on death row. He won’t be alive three days after their wedding.
I am not a one to make New Year’s resolutions; more often than not, it’s just something I silently tell myself I should attempt to do over the course of the coming year. At the start of 2014, I decided I should read more classic fiction this year—and, importantly, more fiction that wasn’t originally in English. Since the only two languages I am fluent in are English and Hindi, it meant that the only untranslated works I could read would be in either of those two languages. So, after many years (if I remember correctly, I last read a Munshi Premchand novel in school), I decided to read his landmark novel, Godaan.
…and didn’t even know, till a couple of months back, that it had been adapted into a film. When I discovered Godaan on Youtube, I bookmarked it immediately (noting, though, with trepidation, that it starred two people I’m not especially fond of: Raj Kumar and Kamini Kaushal). And I vowed to watch it as soon as possible, at least while the novel was still fresh in my mind.
Who would’ve thought that the Ramsay Brothers’ first production was a historical worthy of a Sohrab Modi [granted, it does have two far-too-chubby leading men and its fair share of violence, but still; Rustom Sohrab is no horror film, not by a long shot]? But yes, Ramsay Productions—famous for its B grade horror films of the 80s and 90s—did make this rather surprising debut, a film based on the Persian epic poem Rostam and Sohrab (part of the famous Shahnameh).
One day in August, I checked my blog roll and discovered that not one, but two, of my favourite bloggers had posted reviews of films based (even if only in spirit) on The Arabian Nights. Anu had reviewed Ali Baba aur 40 Chor, and Ira (aka Bollyviewer) had reviewed The Thief of Baghdad. Coincidence? Planned? If the latter, then why hadn’t I, the third of the three soul sisters, been included in the plan?
It turned out to have been sheer coincidence, but Anu, Ira and I decided it would be a good idea to actually do a themed set of posts. And what better theme than the one Ira suggested: long-lost siblings, such a favourite trope in Hindi cinema.
So here goes. Head over to Anu’s blog to read her review of the delightful Yaadon ki Baaraat (singularly appropriate, considering the link between Anu and me) and to Ira’s blog to read her take on another extremely popular (and superb!) lost-and-found-siblings film, Seeta aur Geeta. And here, of course, is mine: a review of a film which just manages to make the cut for my blog when it comes to time period. A classic story of long-separated brothers who grow up, unknown to each other, on opposite sides of the law.
…which could probably have been more appropriately titled How to Jump to Conclusions and Mess up Lives. Or Never Trust a Sinister Mamu. This is one Muslim social – a genre I have long admitted to being very fond of – which has been recommended to me so often, I’ve lost track of the recommendations. On the one hand, I wanted to see it because it has some lovely songs; on the other, the thought of watching Meena Kumari in one of her last few films – well, that wasn’t something I was really looking forward to with anticipation. But all those recommendations tilted the balance.
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.
There were various reasons for my wanting to see this film. One was that it’s a historical (okay, faux historical, considering it’s set in some undefined supposedly Middle Eastern land named Sherqand). The other was that its music was scored by Sardar Malik, one of—in my opinion—Hindi cinema’s very underrated music directors. The main reason, however, was Shammi Kapoor. Though still in his moustached pre-Tumsa Nahin Dekha days, he is one of my favourite actors. So just about anything starring Shammi Kapoor is, for me, worth watching at least once.
I have never—in all the years this blog has been in existence—compiled a list of my favourite Madan Mohan songs. An oversight, and one for which I have no explanation to offer: just reparation.
Born Madan Mohan Kohli in Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) on June 25, 1924, the young Madan Mohan returned with his family to their home town of Chakwal (in Punjab) when he was 8 years old. His parents went on to Bombay, where his father, Rai Bahadur Chunilal, entered the cinema industry: as a partner at Bombay Talkies Studio, and then at Filmistan Studio. Madan Mohan too moved to Bombay, where he finished school and eventually joined the army—only to finally leave soldiering to become a music director. The first film for which he provided the score, at the age of 26, was Aankhen (1950).
Those who frequent this blog have probably figured out by now that I have a soft spot (a very soft spot) for Muslim socials. So much so that I will watch just about any Muslim social out there, even if it features people who aren’t among my favourites. Even if it has a fairly regressive theme, and even if I end up not agreeing with half the things in the film. So, when I come across a Muslim social that stars some of my favourite actors (Sunil Dutt? Meena Kumari? Rehman? Prithviraj Kapoor? Rajendra Nath? Check, check, check), has lyrics by my favourite lyricist (Sahir Ludhianvi), and had its songs composed by one of my favourite music directors (Madan Mohan—and how appropriate, too, for a film called Ghazal to be scored by the Ghazalon ka Shahzaada): to not watch this would be a crime, I thought.