Not nayan, not naina, not chakshu or any other Hindustani/Hindi/Sanskrit word for eyes, but aankhen.
This post, though the immediate spur for it was Anu’s delightful list of zulfein songs, has been in the pipeline for the past several years, since a fellow writer first asked her friends (of whom I’m one) on Facebook for all the songs we could think of that were about eyes. I came up with so many that it occurred to me then that I could do a post about them. That idea stayed on the backburner for a while, but when Anu’s zulfein songs post appeared, I thought, “I have to do that one on aankhen.”
Because, just as hair are praised, so are eyes. And unlike hair—inanimate, more often than not, and compared perhaps only to the dark velvet of the night, or the spreading black of a storm cloud—eyes have a life of their own. They convey infinitely more than hair ever can, from love to fear to hatred: they cannot disguise the soul, the emotions.
Early in 2013, to mark hundred years of Indian cinema, I dedicated an entire month to regional Indian cinema. I reviewed several films of different languages, and realized, in the process, just how difficult it is to get hold of old regional films that have subtitles. Even when they’re blockbuster hits, National Award-winning films, films that must have been subtitled at some stage to enable a jury to judge them worthy of a prestigious award.
Among the films that I came across, but which wasn’t subbed, was this extremely popular Punjabi film, which won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Punjabi, as well as the National Film Award for Best Music Direction. My husband’s a Punjabi but speaks the language very rarely, and that too when he has no other option (as a result, his Punjabi is pretty shaky). As for me, the less said about my Punjabi, the better. But I had this film bookmarked from 2013, and when I discovered last year that Nanak Naam Jahaaz Hai had been digitally restored and re-released, I thought I may as well take the plunge.
By which I mean writing that doesn’t make an editor wince. Let me provide the context to this. Every now and then, I am approached by a wannabe writer who wants me to have a look at their manuscript and … Continue reading →
Over the years, I have heard and read much praise for this relatively little-known film. Its songs, which various people have introduced to me over the years, are good, and Anu—whose taste and opinion usually match my own—had good things to say about New Delhi in her review of the film. I decided it was time to watch it for myself.
New Delhi is set, of course, in New Delhi (though a bit of Old Delhi intrudes now and then, even as it does in everyday life in Delhi today). The film begins outside New Delhi Railway Station, where Anand Kumar (Kishore Kumar) has just arrived from Jalandhar, to study radio engineering. Anand hails a passing taxi at the same time that Janaki (Vyjyantimala), who is standing a few steps further along the road, does too. One taxi draws up; both Anand and Janaki get into it, and then start arguing over whose taxi this is.
Now, if that isn’t coincidence, serendipity, fate, call it what you will—I don’t know what is. So I made up my mind: this remake had to be watched, and the original (no, I’m not counting the earlier, silent version of the film, but the record-breaking, many-Oscar winning one, directed by William Wyler). Comparisons, of course, would follow.
I am not a Krishnabhakt (I’m not even a Hindu), but when you’re a diehard fan of old Hindi cinema, you can’t really avoid noting the many, many references to Krishna, can you? The fact is, Krishna is one Hindu deity who seems to appear in just about every other old Hindi film featuring a Hindu household. Mostly, he’s in the form that little painted/gilded idol, draped dhoti, peacock feather, and flute in his hands, that stands in the little household shrine, seen in passing. Often, when some tragedy hits (or threatens) someone (invariably female) comes and weeps before the idol. Or sings, pleading for mercy, for succor.
This post had its genesis in a post sometime back, in which blog reader and fellow blogger Rahul commented that he tended to not watch foreign films. I decided, then, to create a list of ten foreign films that might appeal to a lover of old Hindi cinema. Then, a couple of weeks down the line, when I reviewed The Woman in Question, Rahul reminded me of that promise, asking me when I’d be posting that list of English films. There had obviously been a misunderstanding somewhere; I had meant non-English films. But it gave me an idea; why not a list of English-language films too?
After all, it’s not as if the plots and themes of Hollywood and British cinema from the Golden Years were completely alien to Indian audiences. In fact, many of them would be familiar to watchers of Hindi films: a lot of films, all the way from Chori-Chori to Kati Patang, from Yahudi to Ek Ruka Hua Faislaa, from Half Ticket to Gumnaam, are based on Hollywood films, some of them to such an extent that they are not merely adaptations but outright copies. Add to that the fact that the Hays Code, which governed Hollywood between 1922 and 1945, had fairly Puritan ideas about what was permissible and what was not, and you have cinema that was relatively ‘clean’, at least as far as what was shown onscreen. You could safely watch these without fearing that you’d suddenly stumble upon nudity, profanity, or extreme violence.
Every now and then [with distressing frequency], I come across a film that, just by looking at its cast and crew, sounds mouthwatering enough. This was one of those. Saira Banu, when she still looked pretty. Joy Mukherji, still at the height of his career. Ashok Kumar. Motilal. Ravi as the composer. RK Nayyar as the director. Europe.
Although it’s been several years since I first watched Rashōmon, I’ve always avoided reviewing it, for the simple fact that this film, one of the most highly rated works of one of the world’s greatest directors, has been dissected and written about so frequently (and by people so much more capable of doing justice to it than I am), that the idea of reviewing it was always succeeded by the thought: what could I possibly write about Rashōmon that hadn’t been already written?
But after I reviewed The Woman in Question last week, I decided it was probably high time I did review Rashōmon. I have, after all, reviewed several films of this type: not exactly based on the Rashōmon Effect, but close to it, variations on the theme of multiple narratives. To not write about the film that gave this trope its name seemed like a gap that needed filling.
The last English-language film I reviewed on my blog was Anatomy of a Murder, which, while not strictly a multiple narrative film, was one of those that peeled back layers of a character and a story as the film progressed.
Then, last weekend, I finished Ngaio Marsh’s Died in the Wool, where the detective arrives on the scene of a gruesome murder a year after it’s been committed. He ends up learning all about the victim from those around her—and there are some very conflicting opinions there. Was she a saint, a saviour? An opportunist, a neglectful wife, what?
A few hours after I finished Died in the Wool (since it was Sunday night), I decided it was time to watch something on Youtube. I was looking for nothing more specific than ‘50s suspense films’, and The Woman in Question was among the search results. I began watching it simply because it starred Dirk Bogarde (whom I like a lot)—and then suddenly it took an interesting turn, and there I was, faced with multiple narratives, multiple perspectives, all over again.