Over the years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve watched hundreds of films. Some I’ve praised, some I’ve dismissed. Some films I have found just too tedious to review; they’ve not necessarily been outright atrocious films, just not films I wanted to invest the time and effort in reviewing.
Every now and then, though, especially when I’ve reviewed a film with the aim of warning people off it, someone or the other has asked me to make a list of films I wouldn’t want people to watch.
This is it. My list of ten films that I found so painful, I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy (well, perhaps not). They’re all, of course, from before the 1970s.
I must explain here that I have not listed films that were merely boring or predictable (as a lot of films actually end up being); even fairly mundane, humdrum stuff like the B- and C-grade action/thriller films of Dara Singh or NA Ansari may have been rather shoddy cinema, but I’ve found them mostly only a little monotonous, or at the most, unintentionally hilarious. Those are not the films I list here. In this list are not those which I merely found tedious, or not worth watching again: the films on this list are the films I actively hated.
Here we go, then.
1. Ghar ki Laaj (1960)
Why I watched it: Because of Johnny Walker lip-syncing Laila ki ungliyaan bechoon. And, to some extent, because of Sohrab Modi, who starred in this; Sohrab Modi featured in some very watchable films (especially period films), and though he’s rather theatrical, he’s also pretty impressive.
What it’s about: Shobha (Kumkum) returns from studies abroad to find that her elder sister Ranjana (Nirupa Roy) has married the son (Feroz Khan) of a widowed judge (Sohrab Modi). Ranjana’s husband is killed in a car crash and Ranjana refuses to remarry. Soon after, a gossipy neighbour starts insinuating that Ranjana and her father-in-law are having an affair. To scotch the rumour, Ranjana decides to get her sasur remarried. When no other family is willing to give their daughter in marriage to this ageing gent, Shobha steps forward. But her marriage with the judge gets tense very soon, because of Shobha’s jealousy: she starts suspecting Ranjana of having an affair with her husband.
Why I hated it: Because it is so disgusting in its unstinted support of patriarchy. That a young, well-educated woman should happily volunteer to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather (or at least fairly elderly father) is bad enough, but that not a single person in the entire film should oppose this or even question it: unforgiveable. Of course, the widowed bahu must die in the course of redeeming herself (and that too at the feet of a life-size plaster of Paris mannequin of her dead husband)… ugh. And Kumkum as Sohrab Modi’s possessive wife, the mother of his baby. Icky.
I have seen other films about marriages of convenience between people of discordant ages (Gumraah, Ek Chaadar Maili Si, Swami, etc) but none have left me feeling as nauseated as this one did, because it’s just so badly done.
2. Bewaqoof (1960)
Why I watched it: Because of SD Burman’s music, which includes some superb songs, like Michael hai toh cycle hai and Tu jaam liye jaa. Also, because it was written and directed by IS Johar, who also wrote and/or directed some great comedies, like Hum Sab Chor Hain, Ek Thi Ladki, and Dholak.
What it’s about: When the wealthy and ‘respectable’ Rai Bahadur (Bipin Gupta) is told by his obstinate mistress, a tawaif, that she is pregnant and he must accept her baby as his own, the Rai Bahadur baulks. He comes up with a solution: switch this illegitimate baby with his wife’s newborn, also born in the same hospital, the same day. The woman employed to do the switch, however, has an overactive conscience. Lots happens, the babies aren’t switched, but everybody believes they are switched. Rai Bahadur’s legitimate son Kishore (Kishore Kumar) is rebuffed by his father, who thinks he’s the tawaif’s son, while the father showers all his affection on Pran (Pran), whom he believes to be his legitimate son.
Many complications, and the enmity between the grown-up Pran and Kishore is exacerbated when Pran commits a murder and Kishore is arrested for it.
Why I hated it: While the beginning is over the top and totally implausible, at least it’s entertaining; the rest is sheer idiocy. Especially the bulk of the film, where Kishore Kumar and IS Johar (who plays Kishore’s friend, a lawyer named Johar) get up to all sorts of very unfunny tomfoolery to woo their ladies and hoodwink the ladies’ fathers. While I’ve seen (and been irritated by) Kishore Kumar’s antics in other ‘comedies’, this one was especially hard to stomach. The blatant racism, with Kishore and Johar smeared in shoe polish for most of half an hour, was outright distasteful. Even beyond that, the weird and unconvincing disguises, the pointlessness of the plot, and the travesty that was made of comedy: I was literally squirming with embarrassment through this hot mess of a film.
3. Sikandar-e-Azam (1965)
Why I watched it: Two reasons, the main one being that it was a remake of one of the most impressive Indian historical films I’ve seen, the 1941 Prithviraj Kapoor-Sohrab Modi starrer, Sikandar. Also, because this is the film of Jahaan daal-daal par sone ki chidiyaan karti hain basera fame; okay, it’s not my absolutely favourite patriotic song (it’s too sanctimonious for that, too gushing), but still.
What it’s about: The invasion of India by Alexander the Great. Alexander (Dara Singh), still a callow youth (or as callow as Dara Singh can manage) falls in love with a former slave called Cythia (Sithia? Seethia? I can’t tell; played by Mumtaz) and is forced, thanks to emotional blackmail by his mother (Veena) to give her up. He becomes king after the assassination of his father, and sets off to invade India— unaware that the faithful Cythia, having disguised herself as a soldier, has also tagged along. In India, Porus (Prithviraj Kapoor), along with his sons Kirat (Premnath) and Amar (Prem Chopra) stands up for Bharatvarsh against the machinations of the traitor Ambhi (Jeevan) the ruler of Taxila, who offers his fealty to Alexander.
Why I hated it: I am possibly a little biased, because of what Sikandar (1941) had been, and what Sikandar-e-Azam is not. While this one is all colour, and boasts of some big names, it falls terribly flat. Dara Singh is just not made for those fine speeches; he may have the build of an Alexander, but he doesn’t have the presence. That broad Punjabi accent and that somewhat naïve, bumbling charm do not make for a convincing Greek conqueror at all.
Then, there’s the jingoistic bombast of it all: the sanctimonious speeches about the impeccable purity, loftiness, ideals and whatnot of India. Yes, I know this sanctimony is pretty much par for the course when it comes to Indian historical/patriotic films, but Sikandar-e-Azam takes the cake. It’s just too sickening. Add to that a Premnath so pudgy he looks as if he’ll burst out of his armour, and some very hard-to-believe switching of raiment by Mumtaz’s Cythia, and you have a film that’s just too irritating for words. If you want the Alexander-Porus story, watch Sikandar instead.
4. Gauri (1968)
Why I watched it: Almost completely because of one song, Dil mera tumhaari adaayein le gayeen, which offers some superb views of Delhi. Also, the fact that this film stars several people whom I like a lot: Sanjeev Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Nutan, Mumtaz…
What it’s about: Blind heiress Gauri (Nutan) is married off to Sanjeev (Sanjeev Kumar) by her greedy uncle, who doesn’t inform Sanjeev that Gauri is blind. Right after the wedding, when Sanjeev discovers the truth, he runs away, deserting his bride. But Sanjeev’s best friend, Sunil, goes after him, to find Sanjeev and reason with him. Sunil succeeds, but he and Sanjeev go hunting before Sanjeev can return to Gauri—and Sanjeev ends up lost and presumably dead. Sunil returns to break the news to Gauri, who has just had her eyes operated and can now see. But because the trauma of being widowed might make Gauri blind again, her uncle persuades Sunil (who already has a girlfriend) to pretend to be Sanjeev.
Why I hated it: Because it’s so mindless. There is no good reason for people to choose the messiest, silliest path available, but they invariably do. With disastrous results, of course. And the icing on the cake is the climax. Gauri, horrified at the realization that she has been entertaining loving thoughts towards a man not her husband—and with her pati parmeshwar alive all the while, too—tries to commit suicide by jumping into the Ganga. And the Ganga regurgitates Gauri right at the feet of Sanjeev, who has obligingly been standing on the banks, toying with killing himself anyway. Ugh, ugh, ugh.
5. Pati-Patni (1966)
Why I watched it: For Sanjeev Kumar, whom I like a lot. And because the rest of the cast (Johnny Walker, Om Prakash, Leela Misra, Shashikala, Mumtaz) are also people whom I generally enjoy watching.
What it’s about: Three couples, three pati-patnis (husbands and wives). One of these is Sundari (Leela Misra in a wig and flashy sari, with a huge fake mole on her face), who’s gone all modern and fashionable, to the detriment of her husband (Om Prakash). Sundari’s ‘bad influence’ on their daughter Kala (Mumtaz) means that Kala is also modern (read flighty, shrewish and very silly): a girl who bullies her music teacher (Mehmood) into marrying her, and then makes life miserable for him. As counterpoint to Sundari and Kala, there’s the Sati Savitri Gauri (Nanda), who is married to the very upright Amar (Sanjeev Kumar) and stands by him, bearing all the trials and tribulations fate throws her way.
Why I hated it: I have seen dozens of Hindi films that had the Westernized woman = bad, traditional Indian woman = good trope. I have seen perhaps hundreds that equated ‘goodness’ in a woman with being a simpering, docile cow who valued home and hearth and devotion to husband above all else. Rarely, though, have I come across a film that was so unrelievedly, unabashedly propagating both these ideas. Pati-Patni, from pretty much beginning to end, hammers in its medieval, misogynistic ideas: the Westernized Kala and Sundari, plus their cohorts of like-minded friends (not to mention the vamp, played by Shashikala) are not just ‘bad’ by dint of being ‘modern’, but also home-wreckers, rude, ridiculous, and completely bereft of any redeeming features. Nanda’s Gauri, on the other hand, by being meek and submissive, constantly fluttering around her little shrine at home, is the ‘good woman’, who will accept being abused by her husband and suspected of infidelity, only to be grateful when he forgives her for him being an utter jerk.
This film made me see red. It was simply hideous.
5. Chandan ka Palna (1967)
Why I watched it: For Meena Kumari, and Dharmendra. Both are among the people I love to watch: good-looking, and very competent actors (Meena Kumari, of course, but Dharmendra too, when he gets the chance).
What it’s about: The love story of Shobha (Meena Kumari) and Ajit (Dharmendra), who get married early on in the story. Five years into their marriage, Shobha realizes that she is infertile, and therefore unable to fulfill her bossy mother-in-law’s fervent desire for an heir. After an abortive attempt at suicide, Shobha takes cues from a pandit, who guides her through a makeover: Shobha transforms herself into a hard-drinking, swearing, sharaara-wearing (I hadn’t known sharaaras were a sign of ‘fast’ women) harpie. Ajit bears it for a while, then finally divorces Shobha and remarries. Shobha, watching from the sidelines, prays that Ajit’s new wife will have a baby… which happens. Also, the new wife conveniently dies in childbirth. And the pandit comes forward to explain how Shobha’s ‘badness’ was all a sham, and she’s actually always been the saint. So Ajit and Shobha get married again and bring up the baby, and all is well.
Why I hated it: Do I even need to say this? That synopsis should explain it all.
Meena Kumari looks overweight and raddled in Chandan ka Palna, but that I could have forgiven if the film had been better. The sheer insensitivity and selfishness shown by these people is beyond all limits. The way the poor new wife is brought in, only long enough to have a baby and then kick the bucket, just so everybody else can be happy: oh, so not done.
(All the other films in this list I have watched fairly recently and written their descriptions just after watching the film. Chandan ka Palna I had watched several years back, and the impact of it on me was such that I just could not bring myself to watch it again. What I’ve written here is from my notes from back then).
6. Suhaagan (1954)
Why I watched it: Almost entirely for Geeta Bali, whom I usually like a good bit. When in her element, she can be delightfully bubbly and likeable.
What it’s about: The eponymous ‘suhaagan’, the ‘married woman’, is Radha (Geeta Bali), who cannot stomach life as the wife of a fairly poor man (even though she’s grown up poor herself). Radha becomes easy prey for the wiles of a ‘fallen woman’, a flamboyant neighbour named Rambha, whom Radha soon begins to envy for the obvious wealth Rambha possesses… to the extent that Radha is bhadkaao-ed (by Rambha) into running off to evil Bombay. There, of course, everything begins to fall apart, with Radha discovering, in one devastating and utterly stereotyped way after another, that the life of a woman on her own is the very epitome of danger and sleaze and immorality.
Why I hated it: The excruciatingly regressive message of a woman’s place being in her husband’s home. All of Radha’s misfortunes (and they’re considerable) arise because she cannot be content with being a Sati Savitri, a home body tied to marital home and hearth. Simply awful.
7. Parivaar (1968)
Why I watched it: Because the cast sounded interesting. Or, at least, people who might generally have acted in enough entertaining films for me to expect more entertainment here.
What it’s about: Family planning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any other Hindi film which focused so completely on the idea, but this one does. Gopal (Jeetendra) is thrown out of his home after his widowed father remarries and has seven children with the second wife. When Gopal marries Meena (Nanda), the couple soon starts running into other problems, nearly all of them of the making of other people. Family members and friends, left, right and centre, seem to be breeding like rabbits, and it all gets rather obnoxious.
Why I hated it: It’s just too bizarre. While I think using the cinematic medium to drive home the message of family planning isn’t a bad idea, the way this film goes about it is all wrong. It takes the situation down a completely crazy path, with people getting murdered and whatnot, all as a result of letting their hormones rule them. Very weird and very idiotic.
8. Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya (1968)
Why I watched it: Dharmendra. Nutan. Rehman: three actors whom I’ve seen in some wonderful films, and whom I generally enjoy watching (Nutan, of course, in the late 60s, acted in some dreadful films, but still: hope springs eternal).
What it’s about: You can read a full review here, since I did review it (and it took me five days to watch this train wreck of a film). Basically, it’s about best friends Ashok (Dharmendra) and (Amjad) who are, though neither knows it, due to marry two women who are the spitting image of each other (Nutan in a double role). Ashok goes through many adventures to rescue his sweetheart, Ashu (one of the Nutans) from a local baddie, but Ashu is killed in a train crash and Ashok winds up recuperating at the home of the newly married Amjad, whose wife Shabnam of course looks exactly like Ashu. So to spare his best friend the trauma of discovering Ashu’s death, Amjad uses emotional blackmail on Shabnam to force her to pretend to be Ashu.
Why I hated it: Read the ‘what I didn’t like’ section of my review of Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya. Some utterly mindless adventuring happens in the first half (and more) of the film, and it’s followed by a level of bromance that made me want to hurl. Horrible, horrible, horrible.
9. Khaandaan (1965)
Why I watched it: For the cast. Sunil Dutt, Nutan, Pran, Mumtaz, Om Prakash, Lalita Pawar, Manmohan Krishna, Helen… lots of great names, lots of people whom I’ve seen in some wonderful films.
What it’s about: A joint family, headed by two brothers. The elder brother (Om Prakash) and his shrewish wife Bhagwanti (Lalita Pawar, who else?) have no offspring, and Bhagwanti, who’s very bitter about this, is delighted when her nephew Naurangi (Pran) comes to live with them along with his sister Neelima (Mumtaz). Bhagwanti’s younger nephew Shyam (Sudesh Kumar) falls for Neelima, and the nasty Naurangi gets ready to get his grubby paws on the family’s property. Meanwhile, Shyam’s elder brother (Sunil Dutt), who was paralyzed down one side after being electrocuted as a child, gets married to their orphaned maidservant, Radha…
Why I hated it: I have seen a lot of overly melodramatic films. And films with OTT villains. And films with mad medicine at work. Khaandaan, though, takes the cake. There is a weird blurring of (purported) comedy and villainy, with Naurangi going around with a Hitlerian moustache and haircut and really irritating mannerisms; and the ‘good guys’ (played by Om Prakash and Sunil Dutt) being as crassly insulting as the baddies (Om Prakash, in one breathtakingly crude dialogue, calls his childless wife a “sookhi nadiya”, a dry river).
Everybody in this ghastly film falls into one of three categories: evil; good-hearted but abysmally gullible and/or outright stupid; and good-hearted but foul-mouthed. The goodie-goodies spend most of their time being stupidly self-sacrificing, or weeping buckets (“kitna barsaati khaandaan hai,” comments Naurangi at one point, and this I completely agreed with), and the climax has one crazy bit of medical science at work that left me gaping.
Yet another late 60s Nutan film that is best avoided.
10. Aankh Micholi (1962)
Why I watched this film: Because I have a soft spot for suspense films (it’s one genre in which I will explore pretty much any film I come across). And (yes, I agree this doesn’t make much sense, but still), because the last suspense film I had watched, starring Mala Sinha (Apradhi Kaun), had been very good.
What it’s about: A dancer, Nayantara (Mala Sinha) finds herself being hounded by a stranger (Shekhar) who insists he’s her husband. Various attempts are made on Nayantara’s life (someone shoots at her, a random dog dies after eating food destined for Nayantara, someone tries to run her down, and then when she’s recuperating in hospital, someone tries to give her a lethal injection). All the while, the stranger-husband alternates between romancing Nayantara and trying to convince her he’s not aiming to kill her. Some shifty-eyed strangers seem to be keeping a close watch on goings-on, and there’s a two-year old mystery, involving a girl named Mala, who ran away seemingly after murdering her boss, a Lady Hiramani. As it happens, everybody seems to think Mala is the same as Nayantara…
Why I hated it: Mostly because it was such a colossal let-down. This film started off well enough; in fact, for the first half-hour or so, I thought it was shaping up to be an adaptation of the brilliant Chase a Crooked Shadow. Then it went off the rails, and by the time it was half an hour from the end, I was having a tough time continuing to watch it. There is a lot of hectic mysteriousness in the beginning; attempts at murder, odd events, allusions to secrets, and so on. In the second half, some of this is explained, but a lot of it is simply forgotten about. Why was the Shekhar character pretending to be Nayantara’s husband? How was the food poisoned? Why is Inspector Jagdish (Jagdish Raj, who else) so hot on the trail of a man who turns out to be his colleague?
And more. Aankh Micholi gives one the impression of a film that was made with a sort of laundry list of masala film tropes to refer to: songs, tick. Romance, tick. Mysterious stranger, tick. Goofy servants, tick. Faithful hound who recognizes a long-lost person masquerading as someone else, tick. Murder, tick. A large inheritance, tick. Red herrings, tick. What didn’t get ticked was the logic, the motives, the how and why. This one’s as full of holes as a sieve, and even the good music (composed by Chitragupta) isn’t enough to redeem it.
That’s my list of films that I wouldn’t watch again (okay, maybe if I was paid a million, but not otherwise). Some (Bewaqoof, Aankh Micholi, Sikandar-e-Azam) do have a few fairly good songs, but overall, these are films that I found so vastly annoying that, even for those songs, I wouldn’t watch them again.
Which films would you put in this list?
And, PS. Wanting more? Check out my soul sister Anu’s blog post, which she posted simultaneously, on how she’d rework some classic Hindi films.