Ten of my favourite Hindi film double roles

Some of you may know that besides being devoted to old cinema, I also watch a lot of modern Korean dramas. My love for K-dramas probably has something to do with the fact that the average Korean TV show has more than a passing resemblance to classic Hindi cinema, from star-crossed lovers (with one usually very wealthy, the other poor), to disapproving parents whom one cannot dishonour by rebelling, to hate-turned-to-love, and so on. They’re addictive, and though I don’t get the time to watch much Korean drama, I have enjoyed pretty much all I’ve seen so far.

The last K-drama I watched was the 2018 show, Are You Human? In this one, a brilliant robotics engineer is forced to leave the country after her husband (supposedly) commits suicide and their little son, Nam Shin, is taken away by her tyrannical father-in-law, who’s a very wealthy and powerful chaebol. The engineer, missing Nam Shin desperately, creates a marvel of AI, a robot designed to be exactly like her son. Twenty years pass, and Nam Shin, now grown up, is nearly killed in an attempted murder and goes into coma. To stop his company (he’s on the verge of inheriting his grandfather’s business empire) from sliding into the hands of baddies, his mother, along with a couple of friends, gets the robot to impersonate Nam Shin.

While the story was entertaining enough, what really struck me about Are You Human? was the acting of the male lead, Seo Kang Joon. The human Nam Shin is an abrasive, arrogant man who hides pain and trauma behind a façade of swagger and brusqueness. The robot Nam Shin is completely different: guileless, innocent, emotionless but with the rule to help humans hardwired into him. Two diametrically different personalities, and Seo Kang Joon played them brilliantly. It wasn’t as if these two characters looked different—they were identical—but Seo Kang Joon, just through body language and expressions (his eyes!), was able to show the difference between them even without dialogue. Brilliant.

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Auntie Mame (1958)

Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” says the eponymous Auntie Mame (Rosalind Russell) on more than one occasion in this delightful film about an eccentric woman who is obliged to look after her orphaned nephew. Mame Dennis, indeed, is not one of the ‘poor suckers’ she so derides; this is a woman who lives life to the full (and a little beyond), grabbing happiness with both hands and not giving a damn, mostly, for what the world thinks.

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Around India’s Towns in Ten Songs

Towns and cities. Not countryside, not rural hinterland.

As a family, we’re very fond of travelling. At least once a year, we make sure we go on a road trip (usually) that would take us through several towns, spending a couple of days here, a couple there. Exploring places beyond what we’re familiar with.

Of course, with the pandemic, that’s on hold for the time being. Though my husband and I are vaccinated, the LO (the ‘Little One’, our seven year old daughter) isn’t, and we don’t want to run any risks. So, we’re stuck at home, and I confine myself (and occasionally the LO, who is also fond of old Hindi film songs) to watching videos that take us places. Songs that are filmed in places far and wide, songs that go beyond the usual tourist attractions. Songs which make you feel you were, for those brief few minutes, in another town.

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Kalapi (1966)

A Gujarati film starring Sanjeev Kumar.

I am always keen to watch regional films starring people I’m familiar with from Hindi cinema. With (say) Bengali cinema, it’s not too difficult—so many Bengalis (Sharmila Tagore, Kishore Kumar, Biswajeet, Suchitra Sen, Mala Sinha, etc) were big names in Hindi cinema, and managed to do quite a bit of work in Bengali films too, many of which are subtitled. With Punjabi (which I understand enough of to be able to get the gist without having to rely on subtitles) it’s also satisfying, because Punjabi cinema seems to be pretty much completely populated by the same names one keeps running into in Hindi cinema: Nishi Kohli, IS Johar, Balraj Sahni, Prithviraj Kapoor, Indira Billi…

But to come to this: I stumbled upon Kalapi completely by accident, and immediately bookmarked it. Because a subtitled version is available on YouTube, here (though I must warn you, the subtitles are pretty bad), and because of Sanjeev Kumar, one of the greatest actors of Hindi cinema. Also, I am on an eternal quest to find old regional language films that are subtitled, and since I’d never watched a Gujarati film before, this would be a first for my blog.

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Apradhi Kaun (1957)

The world of Hindi cinema is peppered with names that anyone familiar with the industry (at least the industry of the 50s and 60s) can quickly slot into categories. Star. Villain. Comedian. Character actor. There are many, many names that automatically fall into (almost exclusively) one of these categories. Those that have shifted from one category to another—like Pran, for instance, once the quintessential villain but in later years the more interesting ‘good man’, or Ajit and Premnath, both initially hero and later villain—have again usually not done too many shifts.

Abhi Bhattacharya is one of those relatively rare individuals who seem to have appeared in a wide variety of roles, a wide variety of films. He was the idealistic school teacher of Jagriti, the ‘other man’ of Anuradha. The kind-hearted, principled example of the bhadralok in films like Amar Prem, and the straying older brother of Dev Anand in Love Marriage. He played Krishna and Arjun and Vishnu (the latter in a slew of mythologicals). He even played the villain, in the Vinod Khanna-Yogita Bali starrer, Memsaab.

This year marks the birth centenary of Abhi Bhattacharya (as far as I’ve been able to find out, he was born in 1921, though I’ve not been able to discover exactly when in 1921). To commemorate his career, I wanted to watch a Bhattacharya film, but a dilemma presented itself: which one? Hindi or Bengali? (since Bhattacharya had what seems to have been a very successful career in Bengali cinema as well). Eventually, I homed in on this film, a rare whodunit in Hindi cinema that’s pretty well made too.

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Announcing my New Book: ‘The Garden of Heaven’

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, a cousin who was much older than me lent me a favourite book of hers: Edward Rutherfurd’s Sarum. Sarum was the ancient name of the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, England, a place of great antiquity; and Rutherfurd’s Sarum is a novel about interconnected families, their stories playing out against a backdrop of history being created. Beginning with the Ice Age, these characters live their lives as Stonehenge is built, as the Romans invade and then establish a colony in England; as Salisbury Cathedral is erected, as the Black Death grips England… going right up to 1984, this was an epic book that made a huge impression on me. I couldn’t help wondering: given India’s long and fascinating history, wouldn’t it be satisfying to read a book similar to Sarum, but set in India?

Back then, I had no plans to someday become a writer. But finally, a few years back, when I’d written the Muzaffar Jang series and had learnt a good deal about the history of Delhi, Sarum came to mind again, and with it, that long-ago wish that someone would write an Indian equivalent.

Here it is: The Garden of Heaven, the first book in the Delhi Quartet. The Delhi Quartet will span 800 years of Delhi’s history, beginning shortly before the invasion of Mohammad Ghuri, and extending till just after Partition; the first 200 years of that stretch are covered in The Garden of Heaven.

The Garden of Heaven: Book of the Delhi Quartet
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Ten of my favourite Minoo Mumtaz Songs

The vivacious Minoo Mumtaz is gone. She passed away, at the age of 80, on October 23.

Minoo Mumtaz, who invariably got slotted in supporting actress roles, sometimes as the heroine’s friend (Akeli Mat Jaiyo), often as the vamp (Bank Manager, Mai Baap), but who was just as often to be seen only in a cameo as a dancer (Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, Naya Daur, Jahanara). And who, to her credit, also appeared in leading roles (Black Cat is the one that comes most readily to mind, in which she was paired with no less than Balraj Sahni). It’s a pity that the news article I read started off (even in its headline) by referring to her as Mehmood’s sister; while Mehmood may be more well-known to the general populace, Minoo Mumtaz was not to be sneezed at—but you can read more about that at this wonderful little tribute  Richard posted over at his blog.

I will, instead, restrict myself to what the title of this blog post indicates: a list of ten songs that feature Minoo Mumtaz. Some are dances, some are not. Some have only her lip-syncing to the song, some have other people too joining in. But all feature, in ways that make me remember her, Minoo Mumtaz.

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Sudden Fear (1952)

Last year, I read AJ Finn’s thriller suspense novel, The Woman in the Window, in which the protagonist spends most of her time drinking wine and spying on her neighbours. I didn’t like the book, but the protagonist, besides being an alcoholic and a voyeur, had one thing to recommend her: she was a lover of old suspense films. The book had plenty of references to classic noir cinema, and I got a kick out of seeing how many of those I’d watched. And making notes of the ones I hadn’t seen yet, but which I thought I should try to get hold of.

Sudden Fear was one of those I hadn’t seen before, and when I found a very good print on YouTube, I decided to give it a try.

The story begins at a theatre company; rehearsals for a play are in progress, and the playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford), a very wealthy heiress who insists on working for a living because she doesn’t want to live off all her inherited wealth, is sitting with a few other people. Onstage, the lead actor, Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) is speaking a romantic dialogue to his co-star.

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“Let’s Celebrate!”: Ten festival songs

Every year, come October, a relative of ours says, “The festival season has begun.” She goes on to list every single celebration coming up over the next several months. Dussehra/Durga Puja, Govardhan Puja, Karva Chauth, Diwali, Bhai Dooj, and a gazillion smaller festivities, some which I didn’t even know about a few years ago. All the way up to Holi. “And then there’ll be a lull all through the summer and the monsoon,” we’re told, every year.

I don’t know if there’s a definitive answer for the question “Which country has the most festivals in the world?” but I could lay a safe bet that India would be pretty much among the top of the pack. Part of the reason probably is our immense diversity: we have people from widely differing regional cultures here, and following different faiths. As a result, there’s a merry mix of religious festivals, seasonal festivals related to harvest/sowing/etc, as well as secular festivals and celebrations. Some are celebrated pretty much across the country; some are so confined to a particular region that they’re rarely even known of outside that locale.

And these festivals, naturally, show up in Hindi cinema. With, almost invariably, a bonus: a song attached to the festival. After all, a festival is cause for celebration, and what better way to celebrate than with a song?

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Miss India (1957)

Before I watched this film, the only other Nargis-Pradeep Kumar films I’d seen were Adalat and Raat aur Din. Both had them playing a married couple, both films had superb music. But they couldn’t have been more unlike each other. Adalat was tiresome, regressive, and depressing; Raat aur Din was intriguing and fast-paced, and overall a good mystery.

One good film, one a dud. Dared I hope that Miss India might be better than Adalat? This was a film I really knew nothing of, except that its music was by SD Burman.

There was only one way to find out: by watching it.

Miss India begins at a graduation ceremony in a Delhi college where the chief guest praises the ‘Miss Indias’, as he dubs them: the educated, self-reliant young women of India, the women who will make good wives for their husbands and good homes for their families. [I roll my eyes and mentally start pushing this into the Adalat slot. Same vibes]. Among the women graduating is the highly accomplished Rama (Nargis), who has graduated in law. [Ah. There has to be a reason for this. There is hope yet].

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