Do Dil (1965)

Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Music by Hemant, lyrics by Kaifi Azmi.

That, by itself, would be enough to make me want to watch the film. But then, there was the fact I hadn’t known anything about Do Dil before other than its name. And that, for a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, is odd. I guessed there must be something about it that was very forgettable.

There was only one way to find out: to watch the film for myself. With a crew like that, I figured that it would almost certainly not be outright awful.

Do Dil begins at a palace, with the death of the Maharaja (we are never shown this man). Some days later, though, a number of courtiers convene along with the Maharaja’s lawyer, who reads out the will. The Maharaja appoints his grand-nephew Kunwar Pratap Singh (Pran), who also happens to be the state’s senapati (commander) as his successor, though with Rani Indumati, the Maharaja’s sister (Durga Khote) as regent (this is all spelled out in very vague terms, so it’s not exactly clear what powers Ranima, as she’s known, will wield). Pratap Singh looks very pleased with himself…

The Maharaja's will is read out
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Mahanagar (1963)

Today is the birth centenary of Satyajit Ray: he was born on May 2, 1921, in Calcutta.

I am not going to expend words and energy in writing even a short biography of Ray: is there any need, after all? Because Ray is too well-known, too well-respected, for him to need any introduction. If there’s one Indian film-maker who’s acclaimed even abroad, it’s Ray. And when you think of how he didn’t merely direct great films, but wrote them, composed music for them, designed costumes for them—and wrote novels and short stories, designed typefaces, created art: you realize just how multi-faceted a genius was Satyajit Ray.

Satyajit Ray
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Regional Star, Hindi Also-Ran: Ten Actors, Ten Songs

(With much thanks to blog reader Dr TN Subramaniam, who suggested the theme for this post, and who also supplied the first three examples of the actors that appear on this list).

I did not watch too many regional Indian films until fairly recently. True, Doordarshan did show regional cinema back when I was a child, but I was never tempted to watch (now that I think about it, I’m not even sure those films were subtitled). But in recent years, ever since I began to make a concerted effort to watch more non-Hindi films, I’ve been struck by the gap between regional cinema and Hindi cinema. A gap in many ways. For one, in the types of films made; in the production values; in the standard of acting and directing (note: I do not at all think that Bombay’s Hindi film industry outdid its regional counterparts in these areas. In a lot of cases, it was the opposite: regional cinema turned out a lot of films that were more original and generally of a higher standard than Hindi cinema, enough for Hindi remakes to be churned out).

And then there were the people who acted in these films. On the one hand, there were the many actors who confined themselves to the cinema of the region they belonged to. These were the majority, some of them even very fine, well-respected actors (think Tulsi Chakraborty, for instance) who were never seen in Hindi cinema. On the other hand, there were actors, big stars of regional cinema, who were also fairly successful in Hindi cinema. Bengalis like Suchitra Sen and Utpal Dutt; stars of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema like Padmini, Vyjyanthimala, and Waheeda Rehman: stars in their own regions, and stars familiar to Hindi filmgoers as well.

But there were some regional stars who, for some reason or the other, never could make it big in Hindi cinema. Perhaps they never felt the need to pursue a career in Hindi cinema (Soumitra Chatterjee, I know, was one of these), and never had the time; perhaps they could not be bothered with the language skills needed (though I can think of several people who did make names for themselves in Hindi cinema without being too good at Hindi). Perhaps they just didn’t have what it took to make them popular with a Hindi-speaking audience. Perhaps they were pure unlucky.

B Saroja Devi
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Riso Amaro (1949)

I watched this film for Vittorio Gassman, whom I’ve seen in several other films I’ve liked (I Soliti Ignoti and La Grande Guerra among them). From the very brief description I’d read of Riso Amaro (‘Bitter Rice’) on IMDB, I knew that it was about a jewel thief who, on the run from the police, hides out among workers in rice fields. That sounded like it had potential for humour (why I assumed a Gassman film would be a comedy, I don’t know), so I watched it. And no, Riso Amaro is not funny. Quite the contrary.

The film begins on a railway platform. While a radio announcer gives an introduction to what’s happening around him, hundreds of women mill about, climbing into special trains, settling down… it is the season for planting rice in Northern Italy. As the radio announcer tells us, every year at this time, hundreds of women leave their usual jobs in factories and shops and salons, as seamstresses and more, to go to the rice fields. They will work there for a few weeks, planting and nurturing the precious rice…

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Love Marriage (1959)

Today is the birth centenary of the Indian director, writer and producer Subodh Mukherji. While Mukherji doesn’t have a huge list of films to his name—barely a dozen—the majority of the films he did make proved to be very successful ones, big entertainers that had great music, starred beautiful people, and were generally good time-pass, if nothing else.

Born in Jhansi on April 1, 1921, Subodh Mukherji was jailed for three months in 1942 for his activities as part of the Indian freedom movement. Subsequently, at the behest of his family, he was made to go to Bombay to join his elder brother Sashadhar Mukherji (who had established Filmistan Studios along with Madan Mohan’s father, Rai Bahadur Chunilal; Ashok Kumar; and Gyan Mukherjee). It was for Filmistan that Subodh Mukherji made his first film, writing and directing Paying Guest (1957), though he also took time off in between to direct Munimji (1955). Through the late 50s and the 60s, Mukherji was to go on to write, produce, and/or direct several films that exemplified his philosophy of making films that told entertaining stories: Junglee (1961), Love Marriage (1959), Shagird (1967, starring Sashadhar Mukherji’s son, Joy Mukherji).

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Book Review: Vinod Mehta’s ‘Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography’

On 31st March, 1972, a Good Friday, Meena Kumari died, after a long and painful battle with cirrhosis of the liver. She had been admitted to St Elizabeth’s Nursing Home in Bombay on 28th March, and died three days later surrounded by the people who had played an important part in her life, both personal and professional. Her sisters Khursheed and Madhu; her estranged husband Kamal Amrohi; and various luminaries of the film world, including Begum Para and Kammo, from whose house the Aab-e-Zamzam (holy water from Mecca) was fetched to be spooned into Meena Kumari’s mouth as she was dying.

Over the next few days and weeks and months, Meena Kumari’s name dominated Hindi film news. Her magnum opus, Pakeezah, had just been released, having been 15 years in the making; Meena Kumari’s death served to make the film a success: thousands went to watch Pakeezah simply as a way of paying tribute to the much-loved actress. Praise was lavished on ‘India’s greatest tragedienne’ and there was much speculation about who, really, was responsible for her lifelong misery, and the alcoholism that had finally taken her life. People who had worked with her—co-actors, directors, and others—paid homage.

And Vinod Mehta, based on the success of a book he’d already written (not a biography) was asked if he would be up to writing Meena Kumari’s biography.

Vinod Mehta's 'Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography'
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Ten of my favourite Shashikala songs

RIP, Shashikala.

It came as a shock to me to learn that Shashikala had passed away on the 4th of April, 2021. She was 88 years old, so a ripe old age, yes; but there was something so alive and vibrant about Shashikala even in her old age that I never actually realized how old she was. I would see photos and videos of hers in recent times, her brilliant silver hair stylishly cut, that trademark smile like a 1000-watt bulb. She was not one of those reclusive actresses who go into their shells and disappear after they retire; no. Shashikala always seemed so alive.

In her cinema, too.

Shashikala in Jeevan Jyoti
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Doctor in the House (1954)

Today is the birth centenary of British actor Dirk Bogarde, which is why I’m revisiting a film that was a favourite of mine in my teens.

Dirk Bogarde, born Derek Bogaerde (his father was of Flemish ancestry, and Derek ‘Pip’ was born in Birmingham) served in the British Army, mostly as an intelligence officer, during World War II. The war took him to Europe (where he was one of the first Allied officers to arrive at the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, a traumatic experience which he recalled, even years later, with horror and pain). In the wake of the war, Bogaerde (who had already begun working in theatre before the war) went back to acting, this time to cinema, where he took on the screen name by which he became famous. He signed a contract with the Rank Organisation, and it was in the Rank film Esther Waters (1948) that he got his first credited role.

Bogarde’s stint with Rank lasted till the 60s, after which he went on to work in a very varied set of films, moving on from the primarily matinee-idol, stereotypical leading man role he played in Rank’s films. This included several highly acclaimed and/or award-winning roles in films like King and Country, The Servant, Accident, The Fixer, and A Death in Venice. Bogarde’s homosexuality, which he never tried to hide, probably came in the way of his being a big hit in Hollywood, although back home in Britain he was very popular.

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Aranyer Din Raatri (1970)

In English, Days and Nights in the Forest.

In one important scene in Aranyer Din Raatri, a successful business executive named Ashim (Soumitra Chatterjee) tells Aparna, a poised young woman he’s met in the jungles of Palamau, that life in the city is all about rules. If you have to work, you have to abide by the rules.

Rules, the implication is, suffocate. And every now and then, to survive and to give yourself a break from those oppressive rules, you rebel. You go away, you flee. You find yourself again, you refresh yourself, regain your energy and then come back to start conforming all over again.

This seems to be the premise with which this film, one of Satyajit Ray’s best-known works, begins. Ashim, along with three other friends, is driving down from Kolkata to Palamau for a holiday. The men are a mixed bag. Sanjay (Shubhendu Chatterjee) works in the jute industry and, as they’re driving along, is sitting in the back of the car and reading a book about Palamau from which he reads out excerpts now and then.

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Jigri Dost (1969)

Mostly, the films I review on this blog are either the ones I like so much I want more people to watch them; or films I hate so much I want to warn people off them. Or, sometimes, films which may not be otherwise exceptional but have, I think, something that sets them apart: they’re unusual, or they’re somehow of historic importance.

Now and then, along comes a film I decide I have to review because while I don’t find it dreadful, I wonder what it would have been like with a different cast. Even just one actor being replaced by another.

Jigri Dost begins in the palatial home of Chairman Neelkanth (KN Singh), who is a baddie of the first order. He summarily orders his henchmen to raze this bunch of poor people’s huts, extort money from that lot, and so on. He has no scruples, no mercy, no nothing… no inkling, either, that a maid (Aruna Irani) in his home eavesdrops on his every conversation.

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