Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya (1963)

For those who’ve been following this blog since pretty much its inception, or who’ve explored some of the older posts and specials on Dustedoff, it should come as no surprise that I am a fan of Shammi Kapoor. I have seen most of the star’s films from after his watershed year of 1957 (which was the year Tumsa Nahin Dekha was released, catapulting him to sudden stardom), and I’ve seen several from the early 1950s as well.

Finding a 60s (or late 50s) Shammi Kapoor film that I’ve not seen before is therefore a matter of singular excitement [or was; I have begun to realize, after several less than enjoyable experiences, that there is a reason most of these films aren’t better-known]. This time, when I came across Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, I approached it with caution. Pandit Mukhram Sharma’s name among the credits bolstered my hopes somewhat; he wrote some good stories, so I began thinking this might not be too bad.

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The Big Clock (1948)

For someone who loves books with as much passion as she does old cinema, it’s hardly surprising, perhaps, that I get especially excited when I discover a screen adaptation of a book I like—or vice-versa.

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon Kenneth Fearing’s novel The Big Clock. I had never heard of it before, and the first couple of chapters of the book didn’t endear me to it: too dry, too full of journalistic jargon, too business-y. But I persevered, and suddenly, the story took a turn that caught me by surprise. And then it became such a gripping, unputdownable book that I ended up racing through it, eager to see where it would go.

… which was why, when I found it had been also made into a film, I approached the cinematic The Big Clock with some trepidation: would they have been able to do justice to it?

As it turned out, yes. More than justice.

The Big Clock centres round a mammoth publication company, named Janoth Publications, after its owner, Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton). Janoth Publications is housed in a multistory building, each floor being devoted to one publication churned out by the behemoth: Styleways, Sportways, Newsways, and so on—and, the publication which becomes the focus of this story, Crimeways. As its name suggests, Crimeways is devoted to crime reporting, and is headed by George Stroud (Ray Milland).

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Miss Mary (1957)

This film has been on my watchlist for a long time now. Earlier this year, when I reviewed the delightful Maya Bazaar, my attention was drawn to Miss Mary, because—like Maya Bazaar—this was a film that was originally made in Tamil and Telugu (as Missiamma/Missamma) and, in this case, then into Hindi too. I was already aware that the film had some lovely songs, and Meena Kumari in a light-hearted role is always a pleasure to watch.

Plus, it stars Gemini Ganesan, whose birth centenary it is today. He was born on November 16, 1919, into a distinguished family that included his aunt Muthulakshmi Reddi, a much-respected social reformer who was instrumental in passing the Devadasi Abolition Act. Thanks to Muthulakshmi, Ganesan was enrolled at Ramakrishna Mission Home, and acquired a fairly strong ‘classical’ education here, including Sanskrit, the Vedas and Upanishads, and yoga. As an adult, though, Ganesan’s career graph was rather more eccentric: he harboured dreams of becoming a doctor, attempted to join the Indian Air Force, and ended up teaching chemistry at Madras Christian College. In 1947, a job at Gemini Studios (from which Ganesan drew his screen name) led him to receive a casting offer from the studio—and Gemini Ganesan’s acting career was launched.

Gemini Ganesan, b Nov 16,1919

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Allahabad Adventure

A couple of months back, I received an invitation from an Allahabad-based cultural group named Sanchaari. Sanchaari hosts an annual event focused on culture in different forms: food, crafts, the performing arts, and literature among them. One of Sanchaari’s members had noticed my Food and Food Movie project, and decided it might be a good thing to talk about at the festival. I accepted.

So, I was booked to travel on the overnight Prayagraj Express from Delhi to Allahabad, to arrive in Allahabad (yes, I know it’s officially Prayagraj now, but for me, this city will always remain Allahabad) the next morning.

Most lit fests I’ve been to have been fairly predictable: you take a flight or train, you arrive at the destination and are taken to the hotel where you’ll be staying. A volunteer (usually a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed college student) will massage your ego by calling you “Ma’am” and insisting on doing pretty much everything for you. You will be taken to the venue, you will make friends with organizers and others at the fest, you will speak at your session (and before that, have kittens wondering how many people, if any, will turn up for your session).

This one, the Sanchaari Sanskritik Parv, was not destined to follow the norm. This one, as it happened, turned out to be an adventure from the word go.

Near the Sangam at Allahabad: an elephant ambles along.

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Aakhri Khat (1966)

Hindi cinema has, for many decades (much of its existence?) been stereotyped. Mush, melodrama, music. The usual plot of countless films over the years has been dominated by a few given elements, even when the film’s main story may straddle other genres, such as thriller or comedy. You can’t have a Hindi film without romance, song and dance, and melodrama, seems to be the rule followed by most film makers.

Which is why the exceptions to the rule come as such a breath of fresh air. Majhli Didi, Dekh Kabira Roya, Kaanoon, Ittefaq… and this touching, tragic yet heartwarming story of a toddler wandering through the streets of big, bad Bombay.

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Ten of my favourite Songs of Nature

Several years back, poet, friend and fellow Sahir Ludhianvi fan Karthika Nair and I were discussing Sahir’s poetry. After a while, we arrived at the conclusion that, while everybody acknowledges the brilliance of Sahir’s more revolutionary poetry—of the Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye or Chini-o-Arab hamaara—and some of his more angsty and emotional lyrics (Chalo ek baar phir se, anyone?), many people tend to overlook the fact that Sahir was also one of those poets who could describe nature brilliantly.

When I mentioned having studied Pighla hai sona in school (it was in our school textbook), Karthika remarked that, in that song, “nature became an active agent, not a landscape.” That reminded me of a theme I’d been toying with for a long time, for a song post. Songs that celebrate nature, songs that appreciate the beauty of nature. Nature or an aspect of nature should be an important part of the song; it should not merely be an incidental pretty backdrop for romance (or any backdrop for any other emotion).

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Designing Woman (1957)

At the time I got married I was working on a freelance project. The project was nearly complete, but I needed to let my client know some last details. In the course of our meeting, I mentioned that I wouldn’t be available for the next month, because I was getting married and would be away. “How long have you known your husband-to-be?” the client asked after he’d congratulated me. When I mentioned three years, he grinned. “Good,” he said. “I went to a wedding the other day, where the couple had known each other three days.”

We had a laugh over that, and wondered how long that marriage would last. I was reminded, too, of the old adage about marrying in haste and repenting at leisure.

But, really, what risks do you run if you marry someone in the heat of the moment, without really knowing that much about them? What if you later find that you share very little in common? Or, worse, that there are downright scary people in your spouse’s life?

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Seema (1955)

Every now and then, I am reminded of a film which I’ve seen—often, many years ago—and which would be a good fit for this blog. Right time period, a cast I like, music I like. Some of these (like Pyaasa, Mughal-e-Azam or Kaagaz ke Phool) have been analyzed and reviewed so often and by so many stalwarts infinitely more knowledgeable than me that I feel a certain trepidation approaching them. Others are a little less in the ‘cult classic’ range, but good films nevertheless.

Like Seema. I remembered this film a few weeks back when I reviewed Naunihaal (also starring Balraj Sahni). At the end of that post, I’d inserted a very striking photo I’d found, of a young Balraj Sahni standing in front of a portrait of Pandit Nehru. Both on my blog and elsewhere on social media, some people remarked upon that photo: how young and handsome Balraj Sahni was looking in it. And I mentioned Seema, as an example of a film where Balraj Sahni appears as the hero. A hero of a different style than the type he played in Black Cat, but a hero nevertheless.

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Niagara (1953)

Some weeks back, I was reading AJ Finn’s psychological thriller The Woman in the Window, in which the protagonist is addicted to old cinema—especially noir and suspense films. I ended up not liking the book much, but at least I got one good thing out of my reading of it: some recommendations. Including recommendations for films that seem as if they were made by Alfred Hitchcock (who, I should explain, is one of my favourite directors), but weren’t.

Of those, one that immediately caught my attention was Niagara, directed by Henry Hathaway. I had heard of this film before—most memorably on IMDB, where I’d seen its poster and read a brief synopsis about a honeymoon couple running into another couple with marital problems. The poster, with a sultry Marilyn Monroe in a hot pink dress, coupled with that description of the film, didn’t conjure up an image of a Hitchcockian film.

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Ten of my favourite Majrooh Sultanpuri songs

1919 was a good year for Hindi film music (though, at the time, Hindi cinema—then only six years old, since Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra was released in 1913—did not know it). Because this year saw the birth of several people who went on to define the music of the industry from the 1940s onwards. From singers like Shamshad Begum and Manna Dey, to music directors like Naushad and Sudhir Phadke—and three of Hindi cinema’s finest lyricists: Kaifi Azmi, Rajendra Krishan, and Majrooh Sultanpuri.

I have already, in the course of this year, posted tributes to Kaifi Azmi and Rajendra Krishan; today I celebrate the birth centenary of Majrooh Sultanpuri.

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