I dithered over this film for a long time after I’d finished watching it. Should I review it? Should I not? It wasn’t a great film, but it wasn’t terrible, either. It wasn’t as if a review was needed to warn potential viewers off it. Or vice-versa, to alert people to a film they must see.
Eventually, I decided that at least a brief review was in order, because this film had an interesting connect to another film I’ve wanted to watch for a while: Mr X.
In 1957, Nanabhai Bhatt had directed a science fiction film (borrowing from HG Wells’s novel The Invisible Man) that starred Ashok Kumar and Nalini Jaywant. According to this web page on Mike Barnum’s blog, the film is about a man who ingests a drug that makes him invisible; he uses this invisibility to go on a Robin Hood-esque spree, helping the poor by robbing the rich. The cops, baffled by the invisible man, dub him Mr X.
I’ve long wanted to watch Mr X, mostly because it features one of my favourite N Dutta songs, Laal-laal gaal. The film isn’t available online, at least, or even on DVD, from what I can tell; perhaps there are carefully guarded prints deep in some archive…
Some days back, I watched A Shamshir’s Woh Koi Aur Hoga (1967), starring Mumtaz, Feroz Khan, and Sohrab Modi. It turned out to be one of the most incoherent and illogical films I’d ever seen: Sohrab Modi’s character, a professor, is drugged (by Asit Sen in yellowface, a Chinese villain pretending to be the professor’s Indian servant) and made to do the dirty work of the Chinese: that is, inject hapless victims with something that will drain the blood from their bodies. The corpses are then covered with wax and sold off as mannequins to the wealthy gullible who want realistic-looking statues in their homes (and are possibly not averse to the frightful stench).
But, digressions aside: there was also, in the film, Mumtaz. Wearing a shimmery white dress and roaming about the hills at night, singing a sad song. Repeatedly.
Watching Ae raat ke andhere mujhko gale lagaa le, I was reminded of many other songs with a similar premise: a ghostly figure (invariably female), wandering about in the night and singing a signature spooky song. There is often an echo, sometimes other props, something else perhaps to suggest darkness, mystery, ghosts.
Which, given that they all come together in Gambit, made this a film I had to watch.
Gambit begins in Hong Kong, where Harry Dean (Michael Caine) surreptitiously follows a woman through the streets of Hong Kong. He watches until she goes into a night club.
Later, we see the woman in action, as she (Shirley MacLaine) dances at the club. Harry takes a seat beside his friend and associate Emile (John Abbott) and they watch the woman, Emile with a surprised but approving look on his face. Yes, she will be the perfect fit.
The Pledge: Adventures to Sada has been published by Speaking Tiger Books, and has been written in collaboration with film-maker Kannan Iyer, of Daud and Ek Thi Daayan fame (yes, finally my blog gets linked, even if it’s a tenuous link, to more recent cinema).
For someone who didn’t know of Soumitra Chatterjee till fairly late in life, I fell under the actor’s spell pretty fast. Initially (as I mentioned in this review of another Soumitra Chatterjee biography) seeing him in Charulata, I liked him well enough to want to explore more of his work. I watched him then in various other films, and always, so far, with admiration. His versatility, the way he manages to mould himself to believably depict such different characters: exemplary acting.
So when another Soumitra Chatterjee biography—Amitava Nag’s Soumitra Chatterjee: His Life in Cinema and Beyond (Speaking Tiger Books, 2023)—came to me to read, I wasn’t averse to the idea. Perhaps Nag would have something different to say about the subject?
A simple-hearted—even outright simple, really—man turns out to be the look-alike of a much-wanted criminal. As a result, the police train him to impersonate the criminal so that they can get enough evidence to crack down on a web of crime.
I have no idea if Don (1978) was inspired by Mr India. Don is in many ways a very different film (the criminal, for one, dies fairly early on in the proceedings; for another, it’s a much more complex plot): but there is that fleeting resemblance.
Mr India begins by introducing us to Gullu (IS Johar), naïve and simple, as he goes about job-hunting, and getting rejected at every office because he doesn’t fit the regional profiles demanded by the parochial employers of these places. Gullu gets briefly hired by someone who wants to rig a ‘Mr India’ weight-lifting competition, with Gullu pretending to hoist what is actually wooden dumbbells rather than iron.
This is a reblog of an old post, in which I had reviewed an earlier edition of this book.
(The other day, I happened to meet Jerry Pinto—he was in Delhi for an event—and I couldn’t stop myself from telling him how much I enjoyed his Helen book. The next day, I discovered that Jerry’s Helen book has just been released in a new edition, with a lovely new cover, this time by Speaking Tiger Books. This book, which I read only about three years ago, is one of my favourite books on Hindi cinema: it combines intelligent analysis with humour, a genuine affection for the Hindi films of yore, and of course, Jerry Pinto’s very readable writing style).
Here, then, is my review of Helen: The Life and Times of a Bollywood H-Bomb. Or Helen: The Making of a Bollywood H-Bomb.
I won’t go so far as to say that Helen was the first Hindi film actress I remember seeing (that would be Shakila, since CID was the first Hindi film I remember watching). But I distinctly remember being about 10 years old, watching Chitrahaar, and being very excited because an old favourite of mine, a song I had till then only heard and never seen, was going to come on (in Chitrahaar, there would always be a sort of intertitle between songs, a single frame in which the name of the next song, the film it was from, and the names of the music director, the lyricist, and the singer(s) would be listed).
This song was Mera naam Chin Chin Choo, and my feet were already tapping when it began. All that frenetic movement, those men in sailor suits dancing about. The energy, so electric that it…
This is a film that’s been on my watchlist for a long time. It was recommended to me all over again last year when Sidney Poitier passed away, and since then, I’ve been meaning to watch it. So, finally.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? is a film that can be easily summed up in one sentence: a young white woman and an African American man fall in love, and their shocked families have to learn to cope with their feelings. This is a story not so much of plot—very little actually happens, and most of the nearly two hours of the film consists of dialogue, of people discussing this frighteningly new development that has hit all of them—but in that time, the film manages to make several very pertinent points, not just on racism (which is, naturally, the most obvious) but other issues as well.
Last year, when Lata Mangeshkar passed away, I did a series of posts featuring songs she’d sung for different composers. This post, the fourth and final one, had been lying waiting to be published for the past several months.
I began the first list as a tribute to Lata when she passed away, but that, I realized, was too little; there were too many very talented composers, too many wonderful songs, which had perforce been left out of that list. I therefore ended up making another list. And then another.
Here, I cover ten more composers, most of them unfortunately either forgotten now or never really given their due. But, as can be seen (or heard?) by this list, they were not short of talent. These ten solos are all, as always, from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve seen. Plus, these songs do not overlap with the very first Lata Mangeshkar post I had published on this blog, here.
When I was going through Chetan Anand’s filmography last year (to commemorate his birth centenary), I stumbled across a Chetan Anand film in which he starred, besides directing it: a film, too, which immediately struck me as unusual, just given its length: a mere one hour. For a Hindi film, rare indeed. Though I didn’t watch Arpan back then, I bookmarked it and decided I’d watch it sometime later.
And it is an unusual film. Not just short, but also somewhat surreal in places. Hauntingly beautiful at times, outright odd at others.
Arpan is set, we are told, 2,500 years ago. A famine is ravaging the land, and people are starving left, right and centre. In this situation, the royalty, of course, is expected to set an example, and thus Princess Madhavi (Sheila Ramani) is going about, a large entourage with her, distributing food to her father’s subjects.