What a horrid year this has turned out to be (and we’re barely past the first quarter, even). First we had all that communal violence, and then—just as we were wondering how much worse it could get—we were side-swiped by … Continue reading
Or, in English, Red Beard.
Today is the birth centenary of one of my favourite actors, the Japanese star Toshiro Mifune. Born in Tsingtao (China) to Japanese parents on April 1, 1920, Mifune first appeared in Japanese cinema in 1947. A year later, having met director Akira Kurosawa, Mifune was cast in his first Kurosawa film, Drunken Angel. Over the next eighteen years, Kurosawa and Mifune worked together on sixteen films, including several classics like The Seven Samurai, Rashomon, High and Low, and The Hidden Fortress. Alongside, Mifune continued to work with other directors, both Japanese and foreign (one of the more unusual Mifune films I’ve reviewed is Animas Trujano, a Mexican film). Mifune also starred in several Hollywood productions, and set up his own film production company in Japan.
Trying to decide on a Mifune film to review by way of celebration of his hundredth birthday was a tough task: should I go with an early one, like Drunken Angel or Stray Dog? Or one of the many samurai-period films that became almost synonymous with the Kurosawa-Mifune collaboration? Eventually, I settled on this one. Akahige or Red Beard, the last film this great actor and this equally great director made together. Kurosawa and Mifune fell apart during the making of Akahige, and parted ways—but the film itself displays none of that. On the contrary, it’s a well-made, very memorable film about humanity and humaneness.
It has been a nerve-wracking past few months. And just as I thought things couldn’t get much worse—what with the violence in Delhi, coming on the heels of increasingly acrimonious and violent disputes regarding CAA/NRC/NPR—coronavirus struck, and we, as a country, have ended up in lockdown.
And now, this news came. Nimmi, 88 years old, passed away on March 25.
Since I watched Dil Diya Dard Liya (the Hindi adaptation of Wuthering Heights), I decided it was about time I watched the 1939 film version of the book, too. I’ve seen several English-language adaptations of Emily Brontë’s dark classic (including some TV series), but had never got around to watching this one, which won an Oscar (Gregg Toland, for Best Cinematography, black and white) and received several Oscar nominations, including Best Actor (Laurence Olivier) and Best Supporting Actress (Geraldine Fitzgerald).
Despite its having a cast of several people whom I like a lot (Waheeda Rehman, Dilip Kumar, Pran, Rehman, Shyama), a music director whom I like a lot (Naushad) and being by no means an unknown film, Dil Diya Dard Liya is one I’d never got around to watching. Perhaps it is because I had been told by knowledgeable readers that it was based on Wuthering Heights—and I could imagine what a confluence of Wuthering Heights (dark, grim, with two thoroughly selfish and unlikeable leads) and typical Bollywood (melodramatic, with no lead capable of being anything but noble, even if it’s only in the final analysis)—would be like. Mishmash, hard to bear?
But when I posted a Naushad song list in tribute on Naushad’s birth centenary last year, several people mentioned the songs of Dil Diya Dard Liya, and I decided it was time to take the plunge. If for nothing else than Naushad’s music.
This post had been written up before the violence referred to in my previous post had occurred. Back then, Shaheen Bagh—and similar women-dominated anti-CAA/NRC/NPR protests across India, all inspired by Shaheen Bagh—had been foremost in my mind). Though the violence in Delhi, and now Coronavirus, seem to have pushed Shaheen Bagh to the back burner, it seemed to me a still appropriate post for Women’s Day.
The escalating lawlessness and intolerance has been a matter of grave concern over the past few years. Every act, every statement that questions the establishment, no matter how logically or innocuously, seems to be an invitation to more violence. It takes courage to even speak up now.
This is why the women of Shaheen Bagh (and, by extension, their sisters in other parts of the country) who have been sitting in peaceful protest to push for love and harmony have my vote. These are women who may have been ‘mere housewives’ earlier, but have come out of their homes to speak up against what is wrong. They are an inspiration, a now-potent symbol of how powerful women can be if they speak up. They can draw others to their cause (as the women of Shaheen Bagh have done); they can inspire others; they can frighten bullies.
So, in admiring tribute to the brave women of Shaheen Bagh—and women everywhere, from Greta Thunberg to Rosa Parkes—who dare to go against the establishment: a list of ten songs featuring women showing they won’t sit back and be docile doormats. Women who speak up, who question the status quo, who dare to go where others fear to venture. Eventually, too, filmi females who dare to sign of freedom, who don’t meekly knuckle down and sing bhajans or romantic songs or lullabies (which, I discovered when I got deep into researching this post, seem to be the most obvious choice of songs sung by onscreen females. The men, overwhelmingly, are the ones who spout philosophy or sing cynical songs, or tell the world to go take a walk). Women who assert their individuality.
I have been watching with increasing despair and sorrow these past few months as India has teetered on the brink of disharmony and violence, hoping against hope that it was just a passing phase. There were moments when I felt things were looking up, for instance, when people of other faiths—not just Muslims—came together at Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere to oppose CAA and NRC. There were times I told myself it was getting better, that India was essentially secular, and that divisive forces would eventually be defeated.
Then the Delhi carnage happened. Many were killed, even more injured. Property was destroyed, people were forced to flee their homes. Curfew was clamped. We mourned. Not just for the dead, but for the way the hydra-headed monster of hatred, bigotry and violence had again reared its head.
I have lived in Delhi for most of my life, and to see the city burning like that—if only virtually, since I now live in Noida and don’t need to go to Delhi often—was heartbreaking. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were flooded with horrifying photos and articles, and I despaired, wondering where humanity had gone.
And then the heartwarming bits of news began trickling in: the gurudwaras which announced that their doors were open to victims of the violence, irrespective of faith; the Hindus who staunchly protected Muslim neighbours; the Muslims who formed a chain around a temple, the Sikh who risked his own life to ferry Muslim neighbours to safety, again and again and again… each piece brought with it new hope. Yes, humanity will triumph, I thought. This too shall pass.
This week’s blog post, I thought, merited a list. A list of songs that call for peace and communal harmony. Songs that remind us that hatred and violence go nowhere, and that religion is supposed to make you a better person, not an evil, angry one.
Just ten days ago, this blog celebrated the birth centenary of an actor who pretty much came to exemplify the ‘Hindi film villain’ of the 50s and 60s: the inimitable Pran. Today, it’s time to celebrate the birth centenary of another actor who carved such a niche for himself that his name became nearly synonymous with a particular kind of role. Iftekhar, who brought so much dignity and intelligence to his usual role of police officer or lawyer—or army officer, or doctor…
February 1920 was a very important month for Hindi cinema, though of course the fledgling cinema industry in India back then didn’t know it. But that month, a century ago, marked the births of three major actors (and one not so major, but by no means a non-entity). One was Pran, born on February 12th. Another was Iftekhar, born on February 22nd (a birthday shared with Kamal Kapoor). And between Pran and Iftekhar, born on February 16th, a man who was not just actor, but also writer, director and producer: IS Johar.
If Hindi cinema has ever had an iconic onscreen villain—not a villain in one film, but in film after film—it has got to be Pran. There have been other actors, from Wasti to Ajit, Ranjeet to Madan Puri, who have played memorable villains in films: but none, in my opinion, was quite able to sustain it and make it so much his forte that his own name became a synonym for villainy (it’s common knowledge that for many years, Indian parents refused to name baby boys Pran because of Pran).
In film after film, from period dramas like Halaku to comedies like a Half Ticket, from weep fests like Do Badan to supernatural stuff like Madhumati—Pran was in them all. With aplomb, he carried off every shade of villainy, whether it was the lisping and ruthless truck driver Mohan of Kashmir ki Kali or the tuneless dacoit-cum-gentleman of Munimji. He even did the occasional unusual role (as a doctor in Aah, and as a kotha frequenter in a cameo in Devdas), until, in the late 1960s, he began to play some sympathetic characters as well. From the cynical Malang Chacha of Upkaar, to Dev Anand’s long-lost brother in Johny Mera Naam, to his role in Zanjeer: Pran proved that he wasn’t just a great villain, he was a great actor, period.
Today would have been Pran’s hundredth birthday: he was born on February 12, 1920 in Delhi. And, to mark the occasion of his hundredth centenary, I thought I’d review a Pran film with a difference. Not Pran as the villain, but Pran as the hero. A young, gangly Pran, probably not even twenty-two years old yet, plays opposite a girlish Noorjehan in one of the first Hindi films to get a lot of pre-release publicity: Khandaan.