I spent part of last week reading fellow blogger Todd Stadtman’s book, Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970s Indian Action Cinema (more on that, along with a link to my review of it, at the end of this post). Todd’s book discusses, in affectionate detail, all the iconic action films—spy thrillers included—of the 70s. In a fit of enthusiasm, brought on by Todd’s book, I told my husband, “I want to see Gunmaster G-9”. To which he replied, “I didn’t like that. What I really liked was Aankhen. That was fun.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Nina Hilger, who works with Dzintars Cers of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Nina said she’d read my list of ten favourite monsoon songs, had been inspired to rent the films in which those songs featured—and wanted to do a radio show on the monsoon in India. Would I be willing to do an interview? Of course, I was very happy to do so—and had an extremely enjoyable hour chatting with Nina and Dzintars, telling them about why I chose those songs, and what the monsoon means to us here in India (both the good and the bad—from hot chai and pakoras, to waterlogging and floods. This was, happily, before disaster struck in Uttarakhand).
It also inspired me to try my hand at another tribute to rain in Hindi cinema. A list of ten rain-related scenes (from pre-70s Hindi films) that I find utterly memorable. These may be memorable for different reasons, both good and bad, but what sets them apart for me is that they’ve stuck in my mind over the years.
Today is the 90th birthday of one of Hindi cinema’s greatest legends. Dilip Kumar was born Yusuf Khan in Peshawar on December 11, 1922—and yes, they’re celebrating his birthday in Peshawar too.
Most people tend to associate Dilip Kumar only with sombre, melancholy roles: whether it’s Devdas or Aadmi, Andaaz or Deedaar, Dilip Kumar seems to have been the obvious choice to play the tormented protagonist (hardly a hero in some roles). While his acting as the drunk, or the self-pitying cripple, or the doomed lover—or, actually, just about any other character—was faultless, Dilip Kumar was also splendid as the debonair and dashing hero. Or the clown. Or the flawed, but still attractive lover…
Poor Biswajeet must have gotten thoroughly sick of romancing spooky women in the ‘60s. True, in this one, the spookiness is rather more pronounced (Waheeda Rehman was pretty sunny and un-mysterious in Bees Saal Baad; everything else seemed steeped in mystery). But there is the inexplicability of everything around, dozens of very loud and pointed hints of someone haunting an area, and a song that’s sung again and again like a broken record.
Birdsong? No, really. Bird songs.
I spent a bit of last Sunday at Delhi’s Okhla Barrage Bird Sanctuary. The barrage on the Yamuna hosts a vast number of migratory birds through the winter. Most of them are gone by this time of the year, but there’s plenty of bird life still to be seen:
My major complaint against Hindi cinema has been that we’ve never given comedy the sort of status it’s received in the West. True, there has been the occasional classic comedy – Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Dekh Kabira Roya, Dholak and Padosan, for example – but as a genre it seems to have been largely neglected. Which, in turn, has meant that comic actors have also often not been given due respect for their talents. Making people laugh is I think more difficult than making them cry: and Johnny Walker is one of the very few who’ve excelled at the art. Here, therefore, are some of his roles that I find the most memorable. All, of course, from films that I’ve seen.
A Johnny Walker film, but one that’s known for a lot else besides.
I always associate Bimal Roy with the Do Bigha Zameen or Parakh sort of film: deeply rooted in reality, both harshly real and heart-warmingly real. Stories about people like us, people with problems and joys like ours. His films are socially relevant ones that discuss issues like untouchability and corruption, poverty, alcoholism and the plight of those who aren’t economically or socially powerful enough to stand up for themselves.
Madhumati is the glaring exception, the extremely surprising entry in Bimal Roy’s filmography: a film that’s chockfull of everything one doesn’t expect of Bimal Roy. Reincarnation, spooks, multiple roles, atmospheric storms: one could almost think Ramsay Brothers. Thankfully, no; because Madhumati, though in a completely different genre than Bimal Roy classics like Sujata, Bandini, Do Bigha Zameen or Devdas, still bears the mark of a master craftsman. And it’s good entertainment value.
Of all the male singers who ruled the 50’s and 60’s, the one I’ve usually tended to ignore is Mukesh—and for what I must admit is a somewhat prejudiced reason: the most recognisable Mukesh songs, at least for me, are the ones he sang for Raj Kapoor, and nearly all of them just don’t appeal to me. Is it the fact that they’re picturised on RK (whom I, being the iconoclast I am, don’t much like)? Who knows?
But for Mukesh’s birth anniversary (he was born on July 23, 1923), I decided to explore Mukesh’s songs in greater detail—and realised that a lot of songs I really, really like are in his voice.
The other day, after a long gap of 16 years, I met someone who used to teach me in college. I never knew back then that he was a Mohammad Rafi aficionado; and now, chatting with him about Dusted Off, I got a request: do a Rafi post.
So, as a sort of gurudakshina, here it is: a Rafi post. And since I cannot even begin to think of trying to narrow down my favourite Rafi songs to just ten (or even a hundred), I’m taking the easy way out. Rafi, in ten moods. Ten songs that showcase the breathtaking versatility of this man and his voice. There will always be dozens of other Rafi songs out there that reflect the same emotions behind these songs, but these are my favourites. And, in keeping with the rules I always set for myself, they’re all from the 50’s and 60’s, from films I’ve seen.
I’d been toying with the idea of this list for a while, and memsaab’s recent post on Bhoot Bungla reminded me of it, what with Aao twist karein and its very obvious resemblance to Come on let’s twist again.
I am—and my family and friends know this by now—absolutely and completely enamoured of old Hindi film music. Especially of the 50’s and 60’s. What singers we had! What lyricists! What music directors! What inspiration! The songs were often derived, in small part or large, from a wide range of sources: folk music, classical ragas, Western music, even the rhythmic hoofbeats of a cantering horse. Sometimes the inspiration wasn’t too obvious, or the end result was such a change from the original, it was hard not to give credit to the music director. Other songs were shameless ‘lifts’ from originals.
So here goes: my favourite ‘inspired’ songs, all from 50’s and 60’s films that I’ve seen. And to make the scope more manageable for myself: tunes that were originally Western. These are in no particular order.