It’s often struck me that there are a number of Hindi film songs that could well be interpreted to refer to medical problems. The omnipresent theme of romantic love in itself has enough substance for everything from insomnia to palpitations of the heart, giddiness, and whatnot. Bung in heartbreak (hah! Another medical problem?), and you can also tag on mental illness, in the form of depression. Of course, romance isn’t the only reason for problems concerning one’s health: betrayal, fear, family troubles—everything can be cause for singing about ailments concerning one’s heart, one’s liver, and sundry other body parts.
Rashōmon, set in the Wild West.
I hadn’t heard about this film, let alone seen it, till a few weeks back, when blog reader Hurdy Gurdy Man, commenting on my review of Rashōmon, mentioned it.
Rashōmon—and the Rashōmon Effect—fascinates me, to the extent that I will watch just about any film, read just about any book, that uses this potentially gripping style of multiple narratives. From Andha Naal to The Woman in Question: I am game for them all. So The Outrage, starring one of my favourites (Paul Newman), and in a genre for which I have a soft spot (Western) was immediately bookmarked.
The Three Musketeers meets Hamlet meets Azaad meets general swashbuckling mayhem.
I will admit I watched this film mainly for two reasons: for Sanjeev Kumar, who is deliciously handsome in his early roles; and for the song Nain bedaardi chhalia ke sang lad gaye, which is total eye candy. [I am shallow, that way].
But then, ten minutes into the film, I sat up and began getting my hopes up. Because this was taking the route of one of those classic novels that I’ve always wished Hindi cinema had adapted for the screen: Dumas’s The Three Musketeers.
A hundred years, ago, on June 7, 1917, in Ohio was born Dino Paul Crocetti, the son of an Italian immigrant and his wife, also of Italian origin. Dino spoke nothing but Italian until he was five years old—and didn’t have an easy time growing up, what with having to work jobs as varied as that of a steel mill worker and a gas station attendant. Until 1946, when he finally landed up in Hollywood, changed his name to the more Anglicized ‘Dean Martin’, and teamed up with comic actor Jerry Lewis in a series of comedies. They were to part ways some years later, but Dean Martin went on to become a far greater star—as actor and as singer—than anyone could ever have imagined.
Sunil Dutt and Waheeda Rehman. The two names themselves conjure up a mix of everything from Pyaasa to Mother India, from Gumraah to Kaagaz ke Phool. Sunil Dutt, whom I tend to associate either with suspense films (Humraaz, Mera Saaya) or angst-ridden (or otherwise philosophical, socially relevant films like Railway Platform or Sujata. Okay, he did do Postbox No 999 and Padosan, but still… Waheeda, whose films with Guru Dutt did showcase her prowess as an actress, but which also tended to paint her as a ‘serious’ actress—although in her case, films like Solvaa Saal and 12 O’Clock showed that she could be as convincing in peppy and light-hearted roles as many of her contemporaries.
If that’s your impression of Dutt and Rehman—two actors who appeared in mostly grim films—this rom-com is worth seeing just for a different, fun, side to both of them.
Some context, first, for this post.
I had recently been on a hiatus for a while because I shifted home. I’ve lived in Delhi for 32 years now, and for various reasons, my husband and I realized it would make more sense to move to Noida.
Shifting house is something I simply hate doing. I should’ve gotten used to it over the years: my father, after all, was in the IPS, and frequent transfers (once every year, when times were good) meant that we moved around a lot. Even after I grew up and got married, we’ve had to shift several times: because a relative offered us their flat at a nominal rent; because—one year down the line—they decided they wanted to sell it; because a landlady wanted to renovate a house; and so on. I have some idea of what to expect now when we hire packers and movers.
But there are always glitches, always another bunch of thoroughly unprofessional professionals. This time was no different. On top of that, I fell ill—first with a viral infection, and then with an infection of the eyes. Till a few days back, I was going around with two red eyes, a hacking cough, and a runny nose (I looked like something out of a Ramsay Brothers flick).
The silver lining, though, is that this made me think of just how important homes are to us. Not mere buildings, but places that we call our own. Places that shelter not just ourselves and our families, but which represent, too, our aspirations, our emotions, ourselves. Hindi cinema has done ample justice to the concept of ‘home’ and ‘house’, from songs like Ek bangla bane nyaara to films like Dastak, Biwi aur Makaan, Hamaara Ghar, Gharaunda and Tere Ghar ke Saamne.
Which, in English, is translated as The Housemaid, though it would perhaps have been more aptly titled Rats! I Got Me a New House. Not just because the catastrophe that swiftly unfurls in this film has its roots in the new house that a family moves into, but because the rat that is found there—and which makes the wife and mother faint and immediately order rat poison to be brought—ends up not just coming to a sorry end itself, but being indirectly the downfall of the family itself. Because that rat poison, lying hidden away first in a kitchen cupboard, then in a sideboard and finally inside a vase, is the constant reminder that the Kims’ home possesses a very potent murder weapon right there, on the premises.
Lucky Star is a movie of moments.
A moment when a man, washing down the head of a young girl who’s grubby as can be, happens to ask her how old she is, and realizes, with a start of embarrassment, that she’s not the kid he’s imagined her to be, but a young woman.
A moment when a girl, grateful for the support and friendship of a crippled man, hugs him—and he, after a moment of euphoria, realizes that the love is all on his side; she does not see him as a lover, but as a friend, perhaps as something like an elder brother.
A moment when a crippled man, desperate to be ‘normal’ again, rises painfully up on crutches, grins in triumph—and crashes to the floor the next instant.
This blog focuses almost exclusively on films from before the 1970s. Very occasionally, though, I make exceptions. For films that are pretty much on the cusp, and which evoke more a sense of 60s cinema than 70s, which were made mostly during the 60s (or even earlier, as in the case of Pakeezah) but were released only later, but basically for films that, when I watch them, seem as if they were made in the 60s. Because of the people who star in them, because of the costumes, the songs, the feel of them.
When Vinod Khanna passed away last week, I wanted very much to review one of his films as a way of paying tribute. There are a couple of 60s’ films of Vinod Khanna’s that I’ve seen—the forgettable Man ka Meet, for instance—but I settled on a rewatch of Mera Gaon Mera Desh, not just because it features Vinod Khanna in one of his most memorable outings as a villain, but also because it is an interesting example of a film that may have only been moderately successful, but is the very obvious inspiration for one of the biggest hits ever in the history of Hindi cinema: Sholay.
This post may come as a surprise to those who are familiar with my blog, and with its chronological area of interest: Vinod Khanna, after all, debuted in a film that released in 1969, and this blog focuses on cinema from before the 1970s. His was not even, unlike Rajesh Khanna, a meteoric rise that saw one blockbuster hit after the other. No; Vinod Khanna’s star ascended relatively slowly, and he came into his own only a few years down the line. Well into the 70s, in fact.
But how could I not pay tribute to the one actor who really defines the 70s for me? Even though I most like the cinema of the 50s and 60s, the 70s too had some fine films, some fine film makers. Chupke-Chupke, Sholay, Golmaal, Blackmail, Manchali. Inkaar, Gaddaar, Amar Akbar Anthony. The Burning Train, Lahu ke Do Rang… and there was Vinod Khanna, my favourite actor of that decade.