Some months ago, Bawa—to whom I will always be indebted for inspiring me to watch and review films in languages other than English and Hindi—sent me an interesting article. It listed selected scenes that leading film critics pegged as cinema’s most memorable. Bawa’s suggestion: why not do a list like that for Bollywood?
It’s taken time and effort, but this is it: ten scenes from 50’s and 60’s Hindi cinema, which are for me the most memorable—for whatever reason. These are in no particular order, though the scenes that came immediately to my mind (so, I suppose, the most memorable for me) are grouped at the top.
Note: some of these have spoilers.
1. Vijay comes back from the dead (Pyaasa, 1957): This is a song, but also a scene that’s an immensely powerful piece of direction, acting, and cinematography. In an auditorium jam-packed with an adoring public, once-reviled, now posthumously feted poet Vijay (Guru Dutt) makes an (extremely unexpected) entry. In the course of the 4-odd minutes it takes him to vent his cynicism on a heartless and materialistic world, much changes. The publisher (Rehman) who has profited by Vijay’s post-‘death’ fame stares, first taken aback, then in succession, disbelieving, suspicious, angry—and beginning to search mentally for a way out of the mess Vijay’s sudden reappearance may well plunge him into. For the publisher’s wife (Mala Sinha)—once Vijay’s sweetheart, still the woman who loves him, even though she may not admit it—this is a moment of relief, sudden happiness—and yet, anguish. The heartache of knowing that he is alive, but not hers; never hers—is back.
For Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman), the whore who loves Vijay, the first notes of his voice bring an expression of utter disbelief: it can’t be! Followed by joy, contentment, a realisation that all will be well, now that Vijay is back. So what if they are poor and reviled. At least he is back.
And for the public, fickle as always, Vijay goes from being their hero to being just another man, embittered and angry and to be treated with contempt.
2. Kitty is killed (Gumnaam, 1965): Kitty Kelly (Helen) is walking through the forest, on her way to the beach for a swim, when she gets the uneasy feeling that someone’s following her. That someone—the same mysterious someone who’s been killing off the group of visitors on this deserted island—is surely there, lurking behind a tree…? But no; Kitty is alone. Or is she?
The scene starts off cheerfully, with light music as Kitty trips along. But then the camera starts moving almost as if it were stalking Kitty, watching from behind the undergrowth as she walks along. Very slowly, the suspense starts building, with quick cuts between shots of a quiet, seemingly normal yet somewhat ominous forest—and Kitty, her expression initially playful and amused. This is a game, isn’t it? Her lover, perhaps, playing hide and seek? —and then, when she discovers a cigarette butt, hears a rustling behind her, and realises that something is amiss—that expression turns to fear, and then sheer panic.
By the time her would-be rescuers arrive, there is Kitty, her legs swinging slightly as she dangles from the tree where she’s been strung up. Chilling.
3. Atma tells his father the story of his film (Pyaar Kiye Jaa, 1966): This one is, to my mind, probably the funniest scene in classic Hindi cinema. Atma (Mehmood), ambitious but penurious film-maker and owner/producer/director/actor of Wah! Wah! Production, is trying to get his father, Ramlal—played by Om Prakash— to finance Wah! Wah! Production’s maiden venture. So, as an incentive, Atma narrates what he considers the highlight of the film: a Ramsay Brothers-like scene, complete with croaking frogs, drifting ghosts, and doors that squeak open on their own. The dialogue and Mehmood’s acting (not to mention the sound effects he provides to embellish his narrative) are superb. And Om Prakash is fabulous as the initially scornful then slowly interested, and finally thoroughly spooked, audience.
4. The final scene (Anupama, 1966): A beautifully sensitive film, Anupama is the story of a father who blames his daughter for her mother’s death in childbirth. For me, the most poignant scene in this film is the last one, when a repressed Uma (Sharmila Tagore) emerges from her chrysalis and finally breaks free, taking wing… Not poignant so much for the triumph of Uma and her beloved Ashok’s love; not so much for Uma’s realisation of her own self-esteem; but for the final glimpse of her father (Tarun Bose), to whom the camera moves as the train carrying Uma pulls out of the station.
Even as his daughter goes away, this man, who’s rejected her all her life, gazes after the train with love, even benediction in his eyes.
This scene is Tarun Bose. He is so absolutely Mohan Sharma, torn between his love for the daughter whom he realises he has been unfair towards, and his pride, which even now does not let him come out and wave farewell to her. But he stands there, in the shadow of a pillar, his eyes brimming, and one can almost see the blessing he gives his girl as she steps out into the world.
One of the very few instances of acting in Hindi cinema that actually bring tears to my eyes.
5. Bhootnath meets the Chhoti Bahu (Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, 1962): From one of my favourite films, one of my favourite scenes. Awkward, shy country boy Bhootnath (Guru Dutt) is summoned into the presence of the Chhoti Bahu (Meena Kumari), the lonely wife of a philandering husband. Bhootnath enters the room, so shy that he needs to be coaxed in. And, just as Bhootnath does not dare look up initially, so too does the camera stay at floor level, focussing on the carpet, on the little rug placed on the floor, on the Chhoti Bahu’s henna-adorned feet. When Bhootnath finally looks up into the Chhoti Bahu’s exquisite face, the camera too dwells on her features: the kohl-rimmed eyes, the reddened lips. Bhootnath, still tongue-tied, is mesmerised, and the Chhoti Bahu, very sure of her own beauty and poise and status, is by turns patronising, genteel, even—almost—coquettish.
She becomes, in the few minutes in which she meets him, a confidant to whom Bhootnath talks of Jaba. And surely too, there is a flicker of annoyance in her eyes when Bhootnath talks of Jaba—is there jealousy here, for the unseen and unknown Jaba, who can command a man’s affection, when she, the Chhoti Bahu, cannot hold her own husband? It is also about that husband, and the embarrassing fact of his neglect, that the Chhoti Bahu confides to this man, almost a stranger, whose help she seeks…
A very vivid scene with brilliant subtexts and insights into characters. And, of course, superb acting.
6. The scene in the hospital (CID, 1956): In completely literal terms, this is the scene I remember best. CID was the first Hindi film I remember watching, ever. I saw it when I was about 9 years old, perhaps less; and the only thing I recall from that viewing is this scene, towards the end of the film. A girl lies in a hospital bed (I didn’t know then that this was Waheeda Rehman, in her first film). She’s unconscious, and her best friend (played by Shakila) is watching over her. In a nearby room, the hero (Dev Anand) and his boss K N Singh get ready to spring a trap for a villain—who is right now walking determinedly through the corridors of the hospital. The suspense here is good, the scene cutting swiftly between the two cops who wait, sweating and wondering if their plan will work, to the villain as he strolls along—will he fall into the trap? —to the quiet room where the girl has been shifted to keep her safe from the villain. Will he? Won’t he? Nearly 30 years down the line, and I still remember that scene.
7. Five minutes of suspense (Nau Do Gyarah, 1957): The climactic scene in Nau Do Gyarah has Jeevan playing Surjit, the villain. He has imprisoned the heroine, Raksha, and drugged her. Now, with the heroine lying senseless in a room, he locks himself in too, and shouts out an ultimatum to the hero and the police. Unless they provide him safe passage out, he’ll kill the girl. They have five minutes in which to decide what they’d rather do—allow the villain out, or let him kill the heroine.
The following five minutes are shot in real time: five minutes as the evil old lady (Lalita Pawar) wonders what’s going to happen to her now that her equally evil son is dead. Five minutes as her two younger children cower in their beds. Five minutes as the hero Madan (Dev Anand), his friend (Madan Puri) and the police plot. Five minutes as the villain paces, as the grandfather clock ticks away, and as its loud and relentless ticking fills the background of the scene. Good suspense.
8. A soldier weeps (Haqeeqat, 1964): I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Haqeeqat is the best Hindi war film there is. And this scene is one of the finest examples I know of saying a lot through silences. A group of Indian soldiers, deep in the freezing wastes of Ladakh, finds itself shattered by constant attacks by the Chinese. Many are killed; others manage to escape, trying to flee the bombardment. Among the latter are Ram Singh (Sudhir) and his friend, a quiet unnamed soldier (Sanjay Khan). Ram Singh is badly wounded, and his friend haul hims, out of harm’s way, through mile after mile of barren, waterless terrain. Ram Singh finally tells his friend to leave him: he, Ram Singh, is holding up both of them, endangering both lives.
The friend refuses, then finally agrees. He leaves Ram Singh lying there, a forgotten heap in the middle of a vast and empty plain. The camera follows as the soldier walks away, up, up, making his way through the rocks, all by himself. At one point he stops, leans back against a rock, looks around—and bursts into tears. He doesn’t say anything; there is no voice in the background ostentatiously voicing his reasons for crying. Perhaps he’s crying out of remorse for having left Ram Singh to a lonely death; perhaps he’s crying because he realises that an equally lonely death is in store for him…
9. Vicky battles the baddie (Kismat, 1968): I never said only good scenes. Memorable scenes of all kinds count, even if they’re hard to forget simply because they’re bad. Kismat isn’t the sanest of films—it takes the term ‘spy film’ to truly idiotic heights (depths?), but yes, it does have this extremely original climax. Biswajeet, as the musician Vicky, whose guitar has, unknown to him, become home to some top-secret-stuff, finally gets down to fisticuffs with one of the villains, played by Shetty. Where other films tend to have climactic fights in regulation dens with empty oil drums and crates, this one does it on a very muddy riverbank. And with a fire raging in the background. By the time they finish, you can’t tell who’s the baddie and who’s the good guy, but all that mud is sure memorable.
10. A father’s farewell (Kabuliwala, 1961): In a sensitive and well-made film, this scene stands out for being especially poignant. The Kabuliwala, Abdul Rahman Khan (Balraj Sahni) is leaving his home in Afghanistan to come to India in an effort to earn some money that will help pay off his debts. His little girl Ameena (Baby Farida), deeply attached to her father, kicks up a fuss: she will go too. Khan himself is distressed at the thought of leaving Ameena, but it must be done; he cannot possibly take the little girl all that way. It’s obvious that the parting will be utterly painful for both father and daughter. Khan’s old mother suggests a solution: Khan should leave while Ameena is asleep.
The scene when he takes his leave of his sleeping daughter is very touching. He doesn’t just hug and kiss her; he also takes a memory of her: he darkens her tiny hands with ink, and then presses them onto a sheet of paper. Khan, even when he is far away in India, separated from his Ameena by many miles, will have the imprint of her hands to look at and love.
Which scenes do you remember best?