Allahabad Adventure

A couple of months back, I received an invitation from an Allahabad-based cultural group named Sanchaari. Sanchaari hosts an annual event focused on culture in different forms: food, crafts, the performing arts, and literature among them. One of Sanchaari’s members had noticed my Food and Food Movie project, and decided it might be a good thing to talk about at the festival. I accepted.

So, I was booked to travel on the overnight Prayagraj Express from Delhi to Allahabad, to arrive in Allahabad (yes, I know it’s officially Prayagraj now, but for me, this city will always remain Allahabad) the next morning.

Most lit fests I’ve been to have been fairly predictable: you take a flight or train, you arrive at the destination and are taken to the hotel where you’ll be staying. A volunteer (usually a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed college student) will massage your ego by calling you “Ma’am” and insisting on doing pretty much everything for you. You will be taken to the venue, you will make friends with organizers and others at the fest, you will speak at your session (and before that, have kittens wondering how many people, if any, will turn up for your session).

This one, the Sanchaari Sanskritik Parv, was not destined to follow the norm. This one, as it happened, turned out to be an adventure from the word go.

Near the Sangam at Allahabad: an elephant ambles along.

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Aakhri Khat (1966)

Hindi cinema has, for many decades (much of its existence?) been stereotyped. Mush, melodrama, music. The usual plot of countless films over the years has been dominated by a few given elements, even when the film’s main story may straddle other genres, such as thriller or comedy. You can’t have a Hindi film without romance, song and dance, and melodrama, seems to be the rule followed by most film makers.

Which is why the exceptions to the rule come as such a breath of fresh air. Majhli Didi, Dekh Kabira Roya, Kaanoon, Ittefaq… and this touching, tragic yet heartwarming story of a toddler wandering through the streets of big, bad Bombay.

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Ten of my favourite Songs of Nature

Several years back, poet, friend and fellow Sahir Ludhianvi fan Karthika Nair and I were discussing Sahir’s poetry. After a while, we arrived at the conclusion that, while everybody acknowledges the brilliance of Sahir’s more revolutionary poetry—of the Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye or Chini-o-Arab hamaara—and some of his more angsty and emotional lyrics (Chalo ek baar phir se, anyone?), many people tend to overlook the fact that Sahir was also one of those poets who could describe nature brilliantly.

When I mentioned having studied Pighla hai sona in school (it was in our school textbook), Karthika remarked that, in that song, “nature became an active agent, not a landscape.” That reminded me of a theme I’d been toying with for a long time, for a song post. Songs that celebrate nature, songs that appreciate the beauty of nature. Nature or an aspect of nature should be an important part of the song; it should not merely be an incidental pretty backdrop for romance (or any backdrop for any other emotion).

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Designing Woman (1957)

At the time I got married I was working on a freelance project. The project was nearly complete, but I needed to let my client know some last details. In the course of our meeting, I mentioned that I wouldn’t be available for the next month, because I was getting married and would be away. “How long have you known your husband-to-be?” the client asked after he’d congratulated me. When I mentioned three years, he grinned. “Good,” he said. “I went to a wedding the other day, where the couple had known each other three days.”

We had a laugh over that, and wondered how long that marriage would last. I was reminded, too, of the old adage about marrying in haste and repenting at leisure.

But, really, what risks do you run if you marry someone in the heat of the moment, without really knowing that much about them? What if you later find that you share very little in common? Or, worse, that there are downright scary people in your spouse’s life?

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Seema (1955)

Every now and then, I am reminded of a film which I’ve seen—often, many years ago—and which would be a good fit for this blog. Right time period, a cast I like, music I like. Some of these (like Pyaasa, Mughal-e-Azam or Kaagaz ke Phool) have been analyzed and reviewed so often and by so many stalwarts infinitely more knowledgeable than me that I feel a certain trepidation approaching them. Others are a little less in the ‘cult classic’ range, but good films nevertheless.

Like Seema. I remembered this film a few weeks back when I reviewed Naunihaal (also starring Balraj Sahni). At the end of that post, I’d inserted a very striking photo I’d found, of a young Balraj Sahni standing in front of a portrait of Pandit Nehru. Both on my blog and elsewhere on social media, some people remarked upon that photo: how young and handsome Balraj Sahni was looking in it. And I mentioned Seema, as an example of a film where Balraj Sahni appears as the hero. A hero of a different style than the type he played in Black Cat, but a hero nevertheless.

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Niagara (1953)

Some weeks back, I was reading AJ Finn’s psychological thriller The Woman in the Window, in which the protagonist is addicted to old cinema—especially noir and suspense films. I ended up not liking the book much, but at least I got one good thing out of my reading of it: some recommendations. Including recommendations for films that seem as if they were made by Alfred Hitchcock (who, I should explain, is one of my favourite directors), but weren’t.

Of those, one that immediately caught my attention was Niagara, directed by Henry Hathaway. I had heard of this film before—most memorably on IMDB, where I’d seen its poster and read a brief synopsis about a honeymoon couple running into another couple with marital problems. The poster, with a sultry Marilyn Monroe in a hot pink dress, coupled with that description of the film, didn’t conjure up an image of a Hitchcockian film.

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Ten of my favourite Majrooh Sultanpuri songs

1919 was a good year for Hindi film music (though, at the time, Hindi cinema—then only six years old, since Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra was released in 1913—did not know it). Because this year saw the birth of several people who went on to define the music of the industry from the 1940s onwards. From singers like Shamshad Begum and Manna Dey, to music directors like Naushad and Sudhir Phadke—and three of Hindi cinema’s finest lyricists: Kaifi Azmi, Rajendra Krishan, and Majrooh Sultanpuri.

I have already, in the course of this year, posted tributes to Kaifi Azmi and Rajendra Krishan; today I celebrate the birth centenary of Majrooh Sultanpuri.

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Die-Trapp Familie (1956)

Over the years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve seen many films that were remakes of others—and, like pretty much every homage that’s paid to an existing work, there’s no telling what the remake will be like in comparison to the original, even when the budget, the cast and the crew of the remake would appear to make it have all the odds stacked in its favour.

Too many remakes (Ben Hur is an especially grotty example) are an embarrassing example of someone setting out to remake a landmark blockbuster, and ending up creating something utterly forgettable. At the other other end of the spectrum are films that take an established classic, make a very good version of it, but are rarely remembered—The Outrage, an exceptionally faithful copy of Kurosawa’s famous Rashōmon—is one example. There are those, like The Talented Mr Ripley (a remake of Plein Soleil), Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (a remake of Twelve Angry Men), and The Magnificent Seven (originally, Seven Samurai) which are, to some extent or the other, well-loved and accomplished works in both versions.

And there is this, an instance of a good film which few people seem to know of (at least, few English-speaking, Hollywood-watching people), but the remake of which became such a cult classic that even now, more than five decades later, little children (my daughter included) are taught songs from it in school, and the city where it was set—Salzburg—has, as some of its prime tourist attractions, the places where it was shot.

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Naunihaal (1967)

Hindi cinema has its share of films in which children play an important part. And not just as the childhood version of the adult who plays the lead. Sometimes (Dhool ka Phool, Bandish) as unwanted. More often (Do Kaliyaan, Andaaz, Detective, Ek Hi Raasta, Laajwanti) as the means of bringing together two adults in a romantic relationship, or trying to hinder that relationship.

Less often, but I think often with more impact, children play the lead role: the film is about children, and the adults are mostly peripheral. Boot Polish and Diya aur Toofaan fall into this category. As does Naunihaal, about a little boy who sets off to meet Jawaharlal Nehru.

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Kiiroi Karasu (1957)

Literally, Yellow Crow, though this poignant little film is also known in English as Behold Thy Son.

It’s been a long time since I reviewed a non-Indian, non-English language film. I have several bookmarked on Youtube, and after some trial and error (a couple of minutes of this, ten minutes of that) settled on this one. Kiiroi Karasu was directed by Gosho Heinosuke, the man who directed Japan’s first talkie (and who was, for a while, the President of the Directors’ Guild of Japan).

I began watching this film with few expectations. In fact, I didn’t even read a synopsis of the film, so I had no idea what I was getting into, not even what genre.

Kiiroi Karasu begins at a Buddhist shrine. In front of a massive monolithic Buddha sit a bunch of school children, sketching and colouring for all they’re worth.

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