Ten of my favourite female duets

Hindi cinema has seesawed wildly when it comes to the depiction of women: on the one hand we’ve had films that glorify womanhood (even if it’s long-suffering, almost-always patient womanhood, as in Mother India); on the other, we’ve had appalling stuff like Suhaagan, which made no bones about telling women exactly where their loyalties lie.

But let’s lay aside the filmi angst and sacrifice for the time being, and celebrate International Women’s Day—with a list of female duets. While bromances have been so very popular with film makers, it seems rather surprising that the number of songs in which two men get together are relatively few. But put two (or, even better, more) women together, and—hey, presto—they burst into song.

Sai and Subbluaxmi in Aplam chaplam chaplai re

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Ten old Hindi films I’d recommend

This post came about because of my recent review of Rangeen Raatein. Another film-lover, an American, noticed that post and said that she thought it was time she began branching out into watching Hindi cinema too (she’d already seen a good bit of Satyajit Ray’s work). She thought she’d begin with Rangeen Raatein. I was quick to dissuade her, of course—even I, die-hard Shammi Kapoor fan that I am, probably couldn’t stomach a rewatch of that film.

But it made me think: if I had to introduce a newcomer to Hindi cinema (or, more specifically, pre-70s Hindi cinema, since that’s what I love most), which films would I recommend? They would have to be films that are available with English subtitles, of course.

So here it is: my list. I do not claim that these are the best Hindi films of that era; by no means. They just happen to be ten of my favourites. These are in no particular order.

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Ten of my favourite Shammi Kapoor songs

My sister keeps a stack of CDs in her car. Often, when she gives me a lift, she puts a CD into the stereo and we listen as she drives along. The CDs are a mixed lot: Harry Belafonte, Simon and Garfunkel, 3 Idiots, Wake up, Sid!, The Best of S D Burman… and The Best of Shammi Kapoor. The others are in reasonably good condition; the Shammi Kapoor CD is battered and scratched and sadly in need of replacement.

I can understand why.

Shammi Kapoor is, for me (and I think I can speak for my sister too), one actor on whom some of the most fabulous songs in classic Hindi cinema were filmed. Funny songs, sad songs, romantic songs, madcap songs, rock-and-roll songs: he did them all, and memorably. And – somewhat unusually for an actor – he took a great interest in the music of his films. (There is an oft-repeated story of how Shammi Kapoor was so biased in favour of Shankar-Jaikishan’s music that he at first refused to let R D Burman compose the music for Teesri Manzil. But RDB, by insisting on playing a couple of the tunes he’d already composed, won Shammi over).

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Professor (1962)

The first time I watched this film was on TV, back in the mid-80s. Luckily enough, our TV was hooked up to a VCR, and a blank tape was in the VCR – so we recorded Professor. I loved the film so much, I rewatched that tape again and again over the next 15 years. By that time, VCDs had come to India and I’d just gotten married. My husband and I bought a VCD player. And guess which was the first VCD I bought?

Now I have the DVD, and I have seen Professor so many times that I know each scene. I remember a lot of the dialogues, and I still love the film as much as I did way back then the first time, as a starry-eyed, Shammi Kapoor-loving 12 year old.

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Ten of my favourite Shammi Kapoor roles

It seems a bit of a paradox that Tumsa Nahin Dekha was both good and bad for Shammi Kapoor. Good, because it turned him from a wannabe to a big star. Bad, because it created a certain persona – the fun-loving, completely madcap yet good at heart rebel.
Bad? Was that ‘bad’?

I think so. In film after film, Shammi Kapoor ended up doing pretty similar roles. (Even the films had similar names: Junglee, Jaanwar, Budtameez, Bluffmaster…). You wouldn’t expect a Raj Kapoor, a Dilip Kumar or a Rajendra Kumar to debase themselves by making faces and leaping about like Shammi Kapoor was willing – even eager – to do. The result? Shammi Kapoor got typecast. ‘India’s Elvis Presley’, ‘the rebellious star’, the man who could dance and sing and do comic scenes and romances. But if emotion was needed, directors turned to other stars.

So, when I decided I wanted to do a list of my ten favourite Shammi roles, I began to pick out films in which one can see glimpses of what a fine actor this man actually was. Roles that allowed Shammi Kapoor, even if he was prancing about and singing in places, to show off his skill as a thespian.

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An Eye Candy Post to Begin Shammi Kapoor Week

Over a year ago, my husband remarked, “You’ve done special weeks on Robert Mitchum and Tyrone Power. You’re also going to be doing one on Johnny Walker. But what about your favourite actor? Don’t you think you should be doing a Shammi Kapoor Week sometime?”

Of course, I said. I just wanted to time it well – in time for Shammiji’s 80th birthday, which would be on October 21st, 2011. That would be quite an occasion, and the right time for me to spend an entire week gushing about my favourite film star.


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A mere coincidence—or what?

The other day, watching Mr and Mrs 55 for the nth time, I found myself realising that it shares a few details with the equally delightful Shammi Kapoor starrer Professor (1962).

For starters, both films have a poor, unemployed hero called Pritam:

Guru Dutt and Shammi Kapoor as Pritam Continue reading