Hindi cinema has, over the years, borrowed liberally from English literature. Shakespeare (Hamlet, and in more recent years, Angoor, Omkara, Maqbool, and Haider), Agatha Christie (Gumnaam), Arthur Conan Doyle (Bees Saal Baad), AJ Cronin (Tere Mere Sapne): Hindi cinema seems to have drawn inspiration from a lot of authors, whether or not that inspiration has always been acknowledged or not.
Here, then, is another film derived from a literary work by a writer in the English language. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, published in 1847, has spawned a number of cinematic adaptations (one of the first I ever saw starred Orson Welles and featured a very young Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns; one of my favourites stars the brilliant Toby Stephens as Rochester). In Hindi cinema, too, Jane Eyre was made into a film: Sangdil. I’ve been wanting to watch this for a while, and when recently I finally got around to reading the complete, unabridged version of Jane Eyre, I decided it was also time to watch the film.
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.
Muslim socials are among the genres I can never have too much of. Back in their heyday, they had some of the best music around (remember Chaudhvin ka Chaand? Barsaat ki Raat? Mere Mehboob? The inimitable Pakeezah?) There was the chance to savour the mellifluous sound of Urdu; to peek into a social structure and lifestyles that often went otherwise unexplored in cinema; and to see women in shararas and men in achkans[the latter, like military uniforms, equipped with some inexplicable means of making even Bharat Bhushan and Rajendra Kumar look good].
Bunny Reuben’s biography of Pran, as many Pran fans would know, is called …and Pran: A Biography, a nod to the hundreds of credit sequences in which Pran—invariably one of the most prominent artistes in whichever film he was in—was listed at the end of the credits. A nod, not just to the fact that his character was more often than not at odds with the hero and heroine and their parents/friends/well-wishers listed first in the credits, but also that Pran deserved to be credited separately. A sort of ‘leaving the best for the last’? I like to think so.
In this film, even though he plays the title role, it’s no different. And Pran asHalaku.
The other day, a fellow blogger, mentioning her distaste for Manoj Kumar’s films said that while she has “nothing against the man himself”, she really hates his films. I know what she meant (at least I think I do): I hate that insufferably xenophobic “all that is Indian is good, all that is Western is bad” philosophy espoused by films like Upkaar or, even worse, Purab aur Pachhim.
But I tend to shove that lot of films to the boundaries of my recollection of Manoj Kumar’s films. For me, his best films are the outright entertainers, the romances and suspense thrillers he worked in. Especially the suspense thrillers: Woh Kaun Thi?, Anita, Gumnaam—and this one.
Today, November 11, is the birthday of Mala Sinha, so I decided to finally watch this film—not because it’s one of her best, but because it has three elements I’m partial to: it has music by C Ramachandra, it’s a historical, and it stars Mala Sinha.
I have to admit my love for Mala Sinha sees ups and downs, based on which film I’m watching. In a film like Pyaasa or Gumraah, where she has good roles (and good directors), she shows just how good an actress she is. And in an all-out entertainer like Aankhen, she’s equally unforgettable as the feisty, glamorous spy. These are the films I prefer to stuff like Anpadh, Hariyali aur Raasta, or even Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi—because the melodrama is kept in check.
But one thing I’ll happily admit: I think Mala Sinha is lovely, and I’ll watch most films just to see her.
The main reason I wanted to see this film was that it starred Shammi Kapoor and Geeta Bali—and her not in a mere item number, as in Mujrim, but in a much more substantial role.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t realise was that it’s Mala Sinha who’s paired with Shammi Kapoor in Rangeen Raatein, while Geeta Bali is in the role of a man [what was the director Kidar Sharma thinking of?!]
After all the unhappiness over the past week or so – first Ravi’s death, and then Joy Mukherji’s – you’d think the last film I’d want to see would be one that starred the ultimate tragedy couple: Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari.
But, thanks to Anu, who assured me that Azaad was loads of fun, I decided I should try watching this one. And yes, Anu: I loved it. Loved Meena Kumari’s pretty peppiness. Loved Dilip Kumar at his swashbuckling, handsome, thoroughly attractive self. Loved the smoke rings (almost perfect circles) that Pran blew. Loved Sai and Subbulaxmi’s awesome dancing. Loved C Ramachandra’s fantastic music.
My sister and I were discussing, with much fondness, my father’s love for classic Hindi cinema. When my parents bought a DVD player, I offered to look out for old films that I could buy for them. “Any particular favourites you’d like me to buy you?” I asked. Papa’s list included Sangdil, Daag, Anari, Ratan, Andaaz, Albela, Sone ki Chidiyaand a bunch of other films—all of them selected mainly because they had superb music.
And I am very much my Papa’s daughter. It takes just one good song for me to rent a film (I may not go so far as to buy it, though). I’ve done it with Akashdeep, and I’ve done it again with Bhai Bahen. Here, fortunately, I was a little luckier. Even though the best thing about it is the lovely Saare jahaan se achha, Bhai Bahen is, overall, an interesting and rather offbeat little film.
A consumptive is told by his doctor that his days are numbered. An orphan who doesn’t even know what his parents looked like, finds himself unwanted. A man who loves a dancer/singer is forbidden by his stern father to marry the girl—and she acquiesces. The man sinks into despondency, alcoholism and debauchery, ending up being blackmailed by a gold-digger with an eye on his wealth.
Meena Kumari. Ashok Kumar. Nasir Hussain.