Devi (1960)

When I posted on Twitter about the person who’d advised me to not ‘waste my time’ watching ‘silly Indian films’, a Twitter follower pointed out that Satyajit Ray was also Indian. And I had to concur: Ray, in fact, was the first person who came to my mind as a refutation of that ‘silly Indian films’ generalization. His films are works of art. Occasionally ‘silly’ (Goopy Gyne Baagha Byne fits there), but that silliness is on genius level. It takes brains and creativity to be silly in the way Ray was with that film.

But Devi, ‘The Goddess‘, is nothing like that. There is no silliness here, unless you interpret toxic superstition as silliness.

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Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan (1961)

Some days back, a blog reader wrote to me (after having recommended several Hollywood films over the past weeks) to tell me that I was ‘wasting my time’ watching and reviewing ‘silly Indian films’.

I was initially too furious to be able to respond, but I eventually wrote back to say how unjustified and insulting this comment was. This, after all, is my blog. Nobody— not my family, not my friends, not the people who might be considered to have some sort of say—tells me what to watch. Recommendations, requests: more than welcome. Judgemental and rude remarks, no. You do not govern how I spend my time.

Once I simmered down a bit, I decided this called for a tribute to ‘silly Indian films’. So, for the duration of August 2022, I’m only going to be focusing on Indian cinema. Not one film from outside India is going to feature on Dustedoff all through this month.

So, to kick off ‘Silly Indian Film Month’, a review of a film I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time now.

Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan begins by introducing us to Mohan (Master Aziz), who lives with his elder brother Shyam (Balraj Sahni). Shyam and Mohan only have each other for family; their mother died giving birth to Mohan, and their father died a few months later. On his deathbed, he entrusted to Shyam the care and bringing up of Mohan. Shyam works as a clerk, and in order to be able to focus on Mohan’s education and upbringing, hasn’t even married. The two brothers somehow make do, but on days such as this—when Shyam has been too busy to make it to Mohan’s school function, where Mohan is getting various prizes—there is angst. Mohan is annoyed and tearful.

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Jeevan Naiyya (1936)

While I knew of this film, I hadn’t paid enough attention to it until I read Nabendu Ghosh’s Dadamoni: The Life and Times of Ashok Kumar. Jeevan Naiyya, produced by Himanshu Rai and directed by Franz Osten (at a time when there were several European, especially German, technical experts in the Hindi film industry) is not a landmark film in itself, but simply viewed as Ashok Kumar’s first film, this is worth a watch.

The story begins bang in the middle of things. Ranjit (Ashok Kumar) and Lata (Devika Rani) are engaged to be married, and the film begins with a telephone conversation in which they’re cooing sweetly inane nothings to each other. Ranjit’s boisterous friends barge in on this conversation and break it up, but it’s obvious that these two are very much in love with each other, and looking forward to being married.

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The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first Sherlock Holmes mystery I read: an abridged version of the book was there in our home when I was a child, and since I was a voracious reader, always looking for ‘new’ books, I read it fairly early on. Later, I slowly made my way through whichever other Holmes stories I came across, and finally, in my twenties, I bought the complete Sherlock Holmes, the omnibus edition. There are many Holmes stories that I like a lot, but this one, I must admit to a special fondness for.

When Popka Superstar mentioned this film the other day (as part of a list of favourite Christopher Lee films), I decided it was high time I watched it.

The film begins with a voiceover, a narrator describing a scene set many years earlier. Near Dartmoor, abutting the Great Grimpen Mire, lives the dissolute, debauched Sir Hugo Baskerville (David Oxley). On a dark night, he and his equally evil friends are whooping it up at Baskerville Hall; they’re drunk and in the mood for cruelty. Baskerville has forced his butler’s daughter upstairs and locked her in a room; when the butler protests, Baskerville thrashes him…

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Kati Patang (1970)

Our recent trip to Nainital prompted me (actually, even before we left on our trip) to read Gulshan Nanda’s novel Kati Patang. Gulshan Nanda, for those who may be unfamiliar with his work, wasn’t just a hugely successful writer of Hindi social-romantic popular fiction, but also a script writer for Hindi cinema: he wrote the scripts (many of them based on his own novels) of blockbusters like Saawan ki Ghata, Khilona, Kati Patang, and Jheel ke Us Paar. This insightful article about Nanda’s writing, as well as its adaptation to the big screen, is worth a read.

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Ten of my favourite Sheila Vaz songs

RIP, Sheila Vaz.

This post is a little late in coming—Sheila Vaz passed away on June 29—but by the time I learnt of her passing, I was just about to post the first of my Nainital-Corbett travelogues, and knew that it would anyway take me at least a couple of days to compile a suitable tribute to one of Hindi cinema’s best dancers. So I decided to go ahead with that, and come back to this.

Sheila Vaz, without my knowing it, was probably one of the very first Hindi film dancers I ever saw onscreen: the first Hindi film I remember watching was CID, which I was taken to see when I was about nine. And there, lip-syncing to Leke pehla-pehla pyaar was this unabashedly effervescent woman, her eyes sparkling and her movements graceful. I won’t say that image stayed with me; I have no recollection of the song from back then. But Sheila Vaz became, years later when I grew much more devoted to Hindi cinema, one of my favourites. Besides the fact that she was so graceful and so emotive, I loved one thing that struck a chord with me: she was, like me, somewhat plus size. I’ve always been overweight, and have faced a lot of derision, hurtful ‘ribbing’ and more, for it: and here was Sheila Vaz, by no means a size zero, but undeniably beautiful and successful—I loved her the more for that.

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The LO Goes to Nainital and Corbett, Part II: Corbett

(See Part I of this post, here).

After a relaxing couple of days in Nainital, we drove down to Corbett. The Jim Corbett National Park, originally named Hailey National Park (after William Malcolm Hailey, Governor of the United Provinces at the time) was established in 1936 as the first national park in India. In 1956, it was renamed to honour Jim Corbett, the naturalist-hunter so renowned for both preserving wildlife in the Terai as well as helping the local people by killing many man-eaters in the region.

All of this we told the LO about as we journeyed down the Nainital-Kaladhungi stretch towards Corbett. This road is a very scenic one, with miles of forest all along the way. Mist cloaked the pine woods, and when we rolled down the car windows, the fragrance of the pines wafted in.

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The LO Goes to Nainital and Corbett, Part I: Nainital

It’s been a long, long time since our last trip. For a family that enjoys travelling as much as we do, the past two years have been an especially tiring period. The LO (the ‘Little One’, our now eight-year old) has even forgotten much of her last journey, to Kenya, back in January 2020.

I know many people who haven’t let the pandemic interfere with their travel plans too much, especially not over the past twelve months or so. We, however, have been exercising a good deal of caution – with the result that we’ve ended up feeling really restless.

Finally, I decided we had to go. Somewhere, anywhere. Somewhere we wouldn’t need to worry about housework, somewhere cool, an escape from the heat of the NCR summer.

Nainital, not too far from Noida, was what we settled on: it’s not so very far (only about 8 hours’ drive, stops included), it’s cool, and the LO has never been here. We decided to combine that with a trip to Corbett National Park: the LO, who has aspirations of being a naturalist (a ‘wildlifer’, as she termed it till a while back) would perhaps enjoy that.

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Detective Story (1951)

Today, June 26, 2022, marks the birth centenary of one of my favourite Hollywood actresses, the beautiful and very versatile Eleanor Parker. Born in Cedarville, Ohio, on June 26, 1922, Eleanor Parker had decided fairly early on that she wanted to become an actress; but despite being noticed and invited for screen tests several times, she turned them down in order to focus on stage performances, preferring to gather experience onstage before getting into films. Finally entering Hollywood with a debut role in Busses Roar (1942), Eleanor went on to work in a very wide and varied range of films over the next nearly 50 years.

Most people associate Eleanor Parker with her role in The Sound of Music: but the elegant, beautiful, scheming but eventually gracious Baroness was only a minor role in what was a blockbuster hit of a film (which, I think, was the main reason for Eleanor’s popularity in it). You only have to watch Eleanor Parker in films where she had bigger, meatier roles—as the wild gypsy in Scaramouche, or the woman who finds herself imprisoned in Caged, or the feisty and funny Mary Stuart Cherne, out to get her man in Many Rivers to Cross—to realize that she was so much more versatile than many of her contemporaries. Of course, she could (and did) swing the standard arm candy roles, as in The Naked Jungle or Escape from Fort Bravo, but she could also do justice to roles that required some hardcore acting skills.

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Book Review: Nabendu Ghosh’s Dadamoni: The Life and Times of Ashok Kumar

The 1936 Hindi film Jeevan Naiyya begins with a telephone conversation. An engaged couple, very much in love with each other, whispers sweet nothings on the phone. It’s all a bit awkward, and the young man in particular comes across as distinctly uncomfortable with all this koochie-kooing. This is not quite the mellifluous, effortless romance of a Jalte hain jiske liye, but it is, in its own way, a landmark scene. Because this is the very first onscreen appearance of a young actor who went on to become one of Hindi cinema’s biggest stars: Ashok Kumar Ganguly, better known simply as Ashok Kumar.

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