I have a confession to make: I am not especially fond of Kishore Kumar as an actor. He’s a brilliant singer, and he can be pretty funny in films like Chalti ka Naam Gaadi or Pyaar Kiye Jaa or Padosan—but that, as far as I am concerned, is about it. Asha, Rangoli, Naughty Boy, Half Ticket, Jhumroo, Ek Raaz, Naya Andaaz,Bandi, Manmauji: I have lost count of the number of films I’ve seen because of good songs, or a cast that appeals to me, but have ended up regretting because Kishore Kumar’s antics were so very over the top as to be unfunny.
But then there are films like New Delhi and Naukri, where there isn’t a concerted effort to make Kishore’s a comic character. Films about young men who are like most other young men: trying to go from being boys to men, facing trials and tribulations, trying to laugh through them when they can, caving in occasionally. Not heroes, not comedians, just normal men.
Some of my favourite films are those that cleverly combine crime with humour. Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry, for instance, a witty story about a man whom everybody seems to have been wanting to get rid of. Or—one of my favourite films, regardless of time and language and genre—I Soliti Ignoti, about a bunch of horribly inept thieves. Charade, How to Steal a Million… and, the latest to join the ranks, the Russian film Brilliantovaya Ruka (The Diamond Arm), which is about a man with an arm wrapped about with diamonds. And other gemstones, and gold.
This work calls itself a ‘screen novel’ and consists, as do so many novels, of not just the main body of the novel, but a prologue and an epilogue as well.
The prologue is a brief one. In a narrow street in Istanbul, two dodgy-looking guys stand in the doorway of an apothecary, and hand over a cane with an ornate handle to a man in a car. This man we see next sitting down in a public area, placing the cane carefully beside him—from where it is swiftly and surreptitiously switched for a replica by another, who rushes off with it.
Sometime back, blog reader Anup remarked that some songs had a major singer not really doing much singing. Duets, he pointed out, where one singer does almost all the singing, while the other one just does a supportive ‘la-la-la-la’, or something along those lines. Anup suggested I compile a song list of duets like that. Of what I call ‘technically duets’: not songs in which both singers play an equal part in making the song what it is, but in which the ratio is somewhat skewed.
Then, only about a week after Anup made this suggestion, yet another blog reader, Bhagwan Thavrani, sent me an e-mail with pretty much the same suggestion. He was rather more precise: songs in which one singer only hummed, while the other did the singing.
Two readers, both requesting songs of the same basic type? I decided I had to take up the challenge. Especially as, offhand, I couldn’t think of many songs that would fit the bill. This would require a good deal of research, and a lot of listening to songs. I decided, however, to make this a little more wide-ranging: not necessarily one singer humming, but definitely one singer dominating the song.
Alfred Hitchcock is, for me, the cinematic equivalent of writers like PG Wodehouse or Georgette Heyer or Agatha Christie: I see their names on a work, and I know that this is something I can read (or watch, in Hitchcock’s case) and almost certainly not end up finding it a waste of time. The other day, trawling Youtube for something to watch, I came across Under Capricorn. I had heard of this one before, but besides being aware that it had been directed by Hitchcock, I knew nothing of the film. A good opportunity to watch a Hitch film I hadn’t seen.
This story begins in an unusual location (for Hollywood, that is): below the Tropic of Capricorn, in Australia. Set in 1831, Under Capricorn begins one day in Sydney, where the new Governor (Cecil Parker) of New South Wales, having just arrived on the continent from Ireland, is addressing the people. His welcome, while all gleaming brass and starched uniforms on the official side, is lukewarm when it comes to the general public. They aren’t especially impressed.
This is a first for my blog: an Egyptian film. I have known about classic Egyptian cinema for a while now (the very first recommendation that came my way was from fellow blogger Richard, who had written this interesting post on an early Omar Sharif film)—but it’s taken me a while to get around to watching anything Egyptian. I haven’t yet got around to watching Seraa Fil Nil, but Afrita Hanem, a frothy musical about a female genie who pops into the life of a down-on-his-luck singer is probably a good introduction to Egyptian cinema, for one who’s been pretty much brought up on Hindi cinema.
In Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Dastak, there is a scene well into the film which offers a glimpse of both what this film is about and what its tone is like, how it conveys its messages.
Hamid Ahmed (Sanjeev Kumar) is about to leave home for office. His wife Salma (Rehana Sultan) brings him a cup of tea. In a large cage that sits in their room is a mynah which has been mimicking Salma’s voice so perfectly that Hamid has mistaken something it’s said for his wife’s words. Salma, smiling mischievously, points out his error and tells Hamid about a so-called brother of hers from her village.
Salma: ‘… woh kaha karte thhe, “Pinjre mein panchhi ko band karne se bada paap lagta hai”.’ (He used to say, ‘It is a great sin to imprison a bird in a cage.’)
Hamid (smiling): ‘Chhod dene se bhi toh lagta hai.’ (‘Releasing it too can be a sin.’)
Salma: ‘Woh kaise?’ (‘How is that?’)
Hamid: ‘Baahar sainkaron baaz, shikre… koi bhi khaa jaaye.’ (‘There are so many birds of prey outside. Any of them might eat this one up.’)
It is sad that among the people responsible for making cinema what it is, the spotlight is invariably only on the ones whom the audience sees and hears. Actors, singers. Composers and directors, by dint of their work being most visible (or audible). We know these, we are familiar with them. We watch films for them. But how often do we stop to think who wrote the story for a film? Who wrote this dialogue that we have exulted over, who wrote this screenplay that fits so perfectly?
Rajinder Singh Bedi, the man who wrote the dialogues for so many of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films—from Mem-Didi to the hilarious Biwi aur Makaan, from the sensitive Anupama to Satyakam, is perhaps one of the exceptions. Not because people pay attention to who wrote the dialogues for a film (or even the story), but because his name is known as that of a literary stalwart. The man who wrote Ek Chaadar Maili Si; a winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Ghalib Award, and the Padmashri. The director (and writer) of Dastak. The man on whose death Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq offered condolences, saying that it was a loss not just for India, but for Pakistan as well.
Some days back, Nischint ‘Nishi’, who is Mr Bedi’s niece (his younger brother’s daughter) left a comment on my blog about her illustrious uncle. Me, being what I am (always eager to know more about the cinema of yesteryears) asked if she would be kind enough to write a guest post for this blog. She agreed. Click this link: Rajinder Singh Bedi – Biography to read a brief biography that she provided for her uncle, and read on for a heart-warming little insight into the man Rajinder Singh Bedi was.
I don’t celebrate Holi—ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a horror of being wet and dirty, and come Holi, I used to insist on locking myself in. I was in good company; though my father was obliged to go and play Holi with his colleagues, Mummy and my sister were as intent on staying clean as I was. Come Holi, we’d happily feast on gujiyas and whatever other goodies came our way, but pichkaris, gulaal, and the rest? No, thank you.
Not so with Hindi cinema, where Holi has been a big thing all along: the perfect situation for displays of affection, camaraderie, general love towards one and all. And I don’t think I have ever seen Holi depicted in a film without there being an accompanying song. That was what I’d first thought I’d do to mark Holi on this blog: a post of Holi songs. Then, looking back at the number of non-Holi songs that are about colours, I thought, Let’s give it a twist. Let’s talk about blue and pink and green and yellow. Let’s talk sky and trees and eyes and whatnot. Neeli aankhein, peeli sarson. Hariyali aur raasta.
Much is made of International Women’s Day, and I find myself inundated with messages relating to that, beginning a week in advance of March 8. Promotions from online retailers, newspaper ads, flyers offering discounts on everything from spa treatments to cosmetics: it’s all there. I however tend to mostly ignore Women’s Day and treat it just as another day.
This time, though, I thought: why not post a review of a film that puts women in an important role? It occurred to me then that it had been years—more years than I could remember—since I had watched The Women. And that this might be a good excuse to rewatch a very unusual film: unusual, not because of the story (which isn’t so very offbeat), but because of the fact that the film has no male characters appearing onscreen. Men are there in The Women, but they are neither seen nor heard.
Let’s say you’re a film maker in the Hindi cinema of the late 1960s. You’ve set your heart on making a thriller. You have some money, but not enough to be able to hope to churn out something with Shammi Kapoor, set in Europe. You see all these glittering films—Teesri Manzil, An Evening in Paris, Jewel Thief—being released, and it irks you. If they can do it, why can’t you? So one day you gird up your loins, and inspired by all of these, and all the James Bond movies you can lay your hands upon, you set out to make your own thriller.
You cannot afford Shammi Kapoor [or is he perhaps too discerning to agree after he’s read the script?], so you settle for Biswajeet instead. You don’t have the budget to shoot abroad, but that doesn’t matter. You will make do by bringing abroad here to India, by plonking a bronze wig onto Biswajeet and having him pretend to be a Parisian named Robbie for much of the film.