Sometime last month, I discovered that one of my favourite music directors would have celebrated his birthday centenary this year. Born Roshanlal Nagrath on July 14, 1917, in Gujranwala (now in Pakistan), Roshan played the esraj for All India Radio, Delhi for about 10 years (during which he also composed music for various programmes) before moving to Bombay to try his luck in the world of cinema. Roshan’s career as a music director took off fairly soon afterwards, with the resounding success of the score of Baawre Nain (1950); he went on to compose music for over 50 films until his death in 1967.
Every few months, I go on a rampage, looking for old regional language films with English subtitles.
One of the saddest facts I’ve realized over the past few years—since I became interested in films in languages other than Hindi and English—is that while a considerable number of good foreign language films can be found with subtitles, the same cannot be said for Indian cinema. More modern films can be found subbed (though the quality of subbing is often questionable); but old cinema? Not much hope. About the only Indian language, other than Hindi, for which I have often been able to find English-subbed films, is Bengali. Perhaps the fact that stalwarts like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak are so popular outside India has had a ripple effect on films by other directors of the same era as well.
Anyway, without further ado: my latest find. A few weeks back, trawling Youtube for subbed films, I came across the Telugu comedy Chakrapani. I’d never heard of this before, but comedy is a genre I am always eager to dive into (perhaps because Hindi cinema itself was so short of outright comedies?). And guess what? This was quite an entertainer.
… sung to a single person, not an audience.
Let me explain that a bit.
Hindi cinema, especially in the glamorous and colourful world of the 60s, is full of songs inviting love (or lust, or whatever interpretation one might want to put on it). Whether it’s a Helen with bizarre eye makeup singing Aa jaan-e-jaan to a caged lover in a floor show or a floral-shirted Joy Mukherji openly serenading Asha Parekh in a Tokyo party, there’s a good bit of sizzle, lots of “Come on and give us some love”.
Yes, this post is a little late as a tribute to one of Hindi cinema’s loveliest actresses—Shakila passed away, aged 82, on September 21—but that was because I was travelling. I heard the news, was saddened and upset, and vowed that as soon as I got back, I’d post something about Shakila. Not a songs list, because I’d already done that. A review of one of her more popular films, then, I decided.
In the early 1940s, my mother (then a toddler) and her family lived in Amritsar. My grandfather used to work in Lahore: he was the sound engineer at the HMV recording studios there. Nana would commute everyday between Amritsar and Lahore, and one day, when he got back home in the evening, he told my Nani, “Today I heard a very young man with a wonderful voice. He will go places.”
My grandfather was the one who recorded the first song sung for cinema by that young man. A few years later, Nana could proudly say that he had heard Mohammed Rafi sing that day in the studio, and that he had recorded the song.
Mohammed Rafi. Rafi of the golden voice, Rafi of whom it was said (by many of his contemporaries) that he had a voice given by God himself. While I love the voices of Hemant and Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar and Talat (and many others of that period), and while I cannot imagine anybody but Hemant singing Tum pukaar lo or anybody but Mukesh singing Woh subaah kabhi toh aayegi… Rafi is special for me. If pushed to the wall and made to name one singer who’s my favourite, I would have to concede that it’s Rafi.
This is why I got pretty excited when I saw Sujata Dev’s Mohammed Rafi: Golden Voice of the Silver Screen (ISBN: 9789380070971; Om Books International; Rs 595; 238 pages). A biography of Rafi? It was worth a try.
I have learnt a lot from blog readers and fellow bloggers over the years I’ve been blogging. One thing for which I am especially grateful is recommendations: I’ve had bloggers mention films they like, and more often than not, I’ve ended up at least going and checking it out. Sometimes, I give it a miss (an actor I don’t like?). Sometimes, I watch the film but—perhaps because my expectations might have been too high to start with—end up being too underwhelmed to even want to go through the trouble of reviewing it.
Not this time. Fellow blogger and blog reader Neeru recommended Leave Her to Heaven, and I didn’t just watch it, I watched it pretty much sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen next.
A harried-looking young man (Cornel Wilde) has just returned to his home town after two years in prison. He is met at a lakeside dock by a lawyer named Robie (Ray Collins), who greets him with genuine affection and hands over a boat. The young man gets into the boat, thanks his friend, and moves off across the lake.
In which Joy Mukherji single-handedly (with some help from the snow-clad Himalayas) defeats an invading army of Chinese guerrillas, thus lending a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘humsaaya aasmaan ka’.
The other day, after weeks of should I—should I not, I finally decided I should watch the 2017 The Mummy. I’ll admit I had low expectations, but The Mummy succeeded in showing me that even those expectations had been too high. This was a crazy mix-up of everything from an ancient mummy come alive to some medieval Crusaders, to Dr Jekyll, trying desperately to keep his evil alter-ego in check. There were crows, there were rats and spiders swarming all over the place, there was dust and sand and pools of mercury. There were gibbering skeletons racing madly about, pursuing our hero and his lady love left, right and centre.
About time, I thought, that I finally saw why a lot of film buffs rate these newer versions (I’m also referring to the 1999 Brendan Fraser-Rachel Weisz-Arnold Vosloo The Mummy) as pale copies of the original The Mummy.
No, this song list isn’t the result of a dear relative landing up in jail or anything of the sort. It just popped into my head one day when I was looking up a song on Youtube and saw Lapak-jhapak in the side panel. It occurred to me: Hindi cinema has its fair share of people who are in prison, at times in really dire straits (not the case with Lapak-jhapak, where David’s character is really quite comfortable), but still being able to summon up the energy to sing. As a character writes in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Why do tired people sing?… Too tired to do anything else. Maybe that’s the case with film characters in prison: lots of time on their hands and too depressed to do anything else.
Years ago, in the good old days when the single channel on Doordarshan was our main source of entertainment and we therefore watched everything that was telecast, I watched 12 O’Clock. I’d already seen Guru Dutt’s big films—Pyaasa, Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, Kaagaz ke Phool, Chaudhvin ka Chaand. I assumed, based on those (I had yet to watch Bahurani or Saanjh aur Savera, and had thought Mr & Mrs 55 a flash in the pan), that 12 O’Clock would be along the lines of the serious stuff Guru Dutt churned out.
… which this is not. Because this is one of a handful of the films Guru Dutt acted in but did not direct.