Lahore (1949)

I’d been meaning to watch this film for a while now, because there’s a family history related to Lahore.

My uncle David Vernon Liddle ‘Verni’, as some of you may know, was a guitarist in Hindi cinema (this guest post, written by my father, Verni’s younger brother, is all about him). In 1947, Verni—then very young, no more than 16 years of age, but already an accomplished musician and making inroads into the Hindi film industry—was in Lahore and recording the songs for Lahore. Partition happened, and of course, there was so much violence and chaos that Verni had to flee Lahore and head eastwards into India. En route, during his travels, he ended up losing his sole pair of chappals and for quite a few days wandered about barefoot. Once he landed up in Punjab, he was able to make his way to some relatives in Ludhiana, and an aunt finally gave him a new pair of slippers! Verni also spent some time right after he came into Indian Punjab, working at a langar in a camp. The camp included Muslims and Sikhs, and Verni, being a Christian, was one of the few who was therefore not regarded with suspicion by anyone. This was what got him a job (sort of) serving food at the camp.

I am not sure about the story behind how Lahore came to be made. Since the music of most films back then used to be recorded before the film itself was completed, it’s possible that the songs of Lahore (written by Rajinder Krishan and composed by Shyam Sundar) had been readied even before filming began. As it is, it’s not as if the songs are very specific to this film or any particular scenarios; they are ‘generic’ love songs and sad songs, which could be fitted in pretty much anywhere in the average 50s or 60s film. It may just be that the real story of Lahore, of Partition disrupting a romance and a family, evolved somewhere in the course of time before, during and just after Partition.

So, this was a film I wanted to watch.

Sadly, I could find only one copy online (on the SEPL YouTube channel, never one I am happy to view films on because they have zero QA). This version turned out to be a mess: not only were there scenes arbitrarily chopped off, midway through the film, the sequence of the reels went for a toss too, so the chronology was all haywire.

This review, therefore, will be a little different from my usual style. What follows is not as detailed a synopsis as I usually provide, and it includes most of the film, so be aware that there are

Some spoilers ahead.

The story is set in Lahore, where Chaman (Karan Dewan) and Leelo (Nargis) are neighbours as well as collegemates, and sweethearts. Their love story is known and approved by their respective families. Leelo only has her mother (?), but Chaman lives with a fairly large family.

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Book Review: Yatindra Mishra’s ‘Lata Mangeshkar: A Life in Music’

Over a period of about four years, from 2010 to 2014, Lata Mangeshkar was interviewed by the biographer Yatindra Mishra, the interviews coming together in the form of a Hindi book, Lata: Sur Gatha. The biography won a National Award, and was published in its English translation (Lata Mangeshkar: A Life in Music, translated by Ira Pande) earlier this year.

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All About Eve (1950)

I am always a little intrigued by films about cinema: the inward-looking eye, the self-criticism (more often than not). From The Artist to Kaagaz ke Phool, there’s something about films like this that I usually find appealing: perhaps because they offer a glimpse, even if unsavoury, into what lies beyond what one is currently viewing.

All About Eve isn’t about cinema; it’s about a related art, theatre (but there are nods here, aplenty, to cinema: there’s a passing reference to Zanuck—who produced All About Eve; and there are instances of people vying for a role, possibly even a career, in Hollywood). It’s about the ambition, the cut-throat competition, the fiercely burning desire to stay in the limelight—or to claw one’s way up there, in the first place.

The story begins at a glittering but exclusive awards night. This is the annual awards ceremony of the fictitious Sarah Siddons Society, and the who’s who of the theatre world is gathered here. While a boring veteran actor gives his speech, we are introduced, through a voiceover, to some of the characters attending this function. Characters, too, who play an important part in the story.

To begin with, there is Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), an influential journalist.

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Night in London (1967)

In which Biswajeet’s character ends up facing a wall studded with red-hot spikes. You don’t just skewered to death, you get barbecued in the process.

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Island in the Sun (1957)

RIP, Harry Belafonte.

I have an admission to make: Harry Belafonte was the first singer I ever crushed on.

When I was a child, my parents had a large collection of LPs, and among the many singers we heard on those, the ones who stood out for me were Connie Francis, Pat Boone, Jim Reeves—and Harry Belafonte. I still remember a Belafonte album (Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean) we had, which was one of my favourites. This one was also present among the LPs at my maternal grandparents’ home in Kolkata, which we visited sometimes for Christmas. My mother’s father had worked for the Indian music giant HMV, so their home had a massive collection of LPs, with Belafonte front and centre. We didn’t just listen to his carols and hymns at Christmas; we listened to every song he’d made popular, from the soulful Jamaica Farewell (one of the first English language songs I learnt to sing) to hilarious ones like Matilda, Man Smart Woman Smarter, and the classic There’s a Hole in the Bucket (which, by the way, is also a favourite with my daughter: she and I sing it together and always end up having a good laugh).

I loved his voice. I thought the photo of him, smiling and so handsome, on the LP cover, showed that he didn’t just have the most fantastic voice, he was also easily the best-looking of all the singers.

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Ten of my favourite crooner/club songs

This post has been in the pipeline a long, long time. When I first started this blog way back in November 2008, the very first ‘ten favourites’ song list I compiled was for Madhubala songs—and (unlike what I now do, which is to steer clear of assigning ‘absolute favourite’ status to any particular song), I actually went out on a limb and marked one Madhubala song as my favourite. That was Aaiye meherbaan baithiye jaan-e-jaan. And, even as I was putting that down on my list, I thought to myself: “I must do a list of my favourite crooner and club songs someday.”

Well, here it is, finally. It’s not as if I’ve spent the last many years thinking of this post; but the ‘Crooner Songs’ folder has been there on my laptop all these years, even with some screenshots taken of the songs I knew had to be part of the list.

In any self-respecting, urban-centric film of the 50s and 60s, a club song was almost de rigueur. It would probably be picturized on someone of the likes of Helen, but not necessarily: at times, what was needed was not someone who was a fabulous dancer, but someone who could project the oomph one associated with the club singer.

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Aandhiyaan (1951)

In 1951, fresh from the success of the Dev Anand-Geeta Bali-Kalpana Karthik starrer Baazi, Chetan Anand decided to make a film that would highlight the very interesting aspects of film-making he had been learning from studying the works of various European directors. ‘Based on a true incident that took place in Amritsar’, as the film’s credits read, the story of Aandhiyaan was written by Chetan Anand himself, along with Hameed Butt.

The film’s credits roll to an unusual sequence of shots: in each frame, one actor or the other is shown, battling the eponymous ‘aandhi’ or storm, though in this case literal rather than metaphorical.

The story is centred round a young and zealous lawyer named Ram Mohan Kapoor (Dev Anand). Ram lives upstairs from his munshi (Ratan Gaurang), whose daughter Rani (Nimmi) has long been in love with Ram, though she’s too shy to let him know that. When the story begins, Ram’s mother (Durga Khote) is due to arrive, and Ram is getting ready to go to fetch her from the station. Rani makes tea for him, and an excited Ram confides in her: he’s asked his mother to come because he wants her to fix a match for him. With a girl he likes a lot.

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Jighansha (1951)

Meaning, Blood-lust.

More than Hindi cinema, I think, Bengali cinema has drawn from Western literature: including not just the more serious literary works, but also a good deal of popular literature. Of these, mysteries have been adapted often (possibly a reflection, too, of the fact that there’s been a long and much-respected corpus of Bengali mystery and detective fiction?) This is one, based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The film begins with a brief and mysterious scene in which somebody finds a dead body among the marshes of a principality called Ratnagarh. We are never shown the face of the man who stumbles upon the corpse; but the news of this death is brought to Kolkata, to the ace detective Smarajit Sen (Shishir Batabyal) by Dr Palit (Kamal Mitra), the doctor at Ratnagarh. Sen’s assistant, Sanyal (?), is also present.

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Sara Akash (1969)

When Basu Chatterji passed away in 2020, I wanted to pay a tribute to him, because he was one of my favourite directors from the 70s and 80s (and he directed Byomkesh Bakshi, a television series I love). But given that I restrict my blog to films from before the 70s, there was only one film that would fit: Sara Akash, Chatterji’s first film, which was released in 1969.

This was in June 2020, at the peak of the lockdown. The situation was dire. We were getting news of people we knew who were ill with Covid, even a few who had succumbed. Close family were suffering the fallouts of the lockdown. I tried watching Sara Akash, but couldn’t sit beyond the first five minutes. Perhaps I was not in the right frame of mind.

But now I was tempted to give it another try, because I’d been reading about the film in Anirudha Bhattacharjee’s Basu Chatterji and Middle-of-the-Road Cinema (my review here).

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Aadhi Raat ke Baad (1965)

I dithered over this film for a long time after I’d finished watching it. Should I review it? Should I not? It wasn’t a great film, but it wasn’t terrible, either. It wasn’t as if a review was needed to warn potential viewers off it. Or vice-versa, to alert people to a film they must see.

Eventually, I decided that at least a brief review was in order, because this film had an interesting connect to another film I’ve wanted to watch for a while: Mr X.

In 1957, Nanabhai Bhatt had directed a science fiction film (borrowing from HG Wells’s novel The Invisible Man) that starred Ashok Kumar and Nalini Jaywant. According to this web page on Mike Barnum’s blog, the film is about a man who ingests a drug that makes him invisible; he uses this invisibility to go on a Robin Hood-esque spree, helping the poor by robbing the rich. The cops, baffled by the invisible man, dub him Mr X.

I’ve long wanted to watch Mr X, mostly because it features one of my favourite N Dutta songs, Laal-laal gaal. The film isn’t available online, at least, or even on DVD, from what I can tell; perhaps there are carefully guarded prints deep in some archive…

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