Jagriti (1954), Bedari (1956)

One review suffices for two films, really. Jagriti was an Indian film, Bedari a Pakistani one. Why I say one review suffices is because Bedari was a blatant copy of Jagriti: so blatant that when Pakistanis cottoned onto the fact that it was a copy, there was a furore which resulted in the Federal Board of Film Censor in Pakistan banning Bedari.

I’ll discuss the synopsis by looking at Jagriti, since Bedari used exactly the same plot, down to the scenes.

Jagriti begins by introducing us to the very wild teenager Ajay Mukherjee (Raj Kumar), who spends his after-school time gallivanting around the village with his gang of equally wild friends. They steal mangoes from an orchard and leave the irate gardener with a bump on his head; Ajay slips onto a ferry and deprives a banana-seller of an entire day’s worth of bananas.

By the time Ajay gets home, his uncle (Bipin Gupta) has been besieged by some very upset villagers. He’s had to soothe them, pay up their damages, and promise that the situation will be amended.

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Born Free (1966)

Some of you may know about my six-year old daughter, the Little One (the ‘LO’), whom I’ve written about occasionally, in the context of our travels.

This time, the LO stars in one of my film reviews. Because Born Free happens to be the first film which fits my blog’s timeline and which the LO watched along with me. We’ve watched other films in theatres, and (over the course of the lockdown) at home, but all of them have been animated films or Harry Potter. But this last Saturday, reliving our trip to Kenya at the beginning of this year, I was reminded of Joy Adamson (whose paintings we saw at the Nairobi National Museum), and I decided we should watch Born Free.

Joy Adamson with Elsa, the Lioness. Circa 1958. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

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Doli (1969)

The Hindi film industry has always been an upholder of patriarchy. Its male stars attract ridiculously high prices in comparison to their female colleagues, and have disproportionately longer careers than them (plus a much longer time as leads). Sexism is rampant, ranging all the way from sexual discrimination to violence. And, though more women directors, scriptwriters, lyricists etc are around now, it’s still pretty much a male-dominated industry.

Hardly surprising, then, that most of our films tend to look at things (at best) from a male point of view. At worst, they uphold patriarchy in its most virulent forms, reducing women to a cypher, expected to devote their lives to the service of men. Ever-forgiving Sati Savitris, wrapped in saris and simpering prettily every time their lord and master deigns to be kind. Or unkind, it doesn’t matter; he is still her devta.

Doli is one such film, steeped in patriarchy and regressive in the extreme.

It begins in a college, where Amar (Rajesh Khanna) and Prem (Prem Chopra) have just graduated. Amar is the star athlete, Prem the star pupil who has topped the college and won a scholarship for higher studies in America. Later, in their dorm, both Prem and Amar receive letters from home, informing them that their weddings have been fixed. On the same day, in the same town, Nasik. Neither of them is happy about this, but Prem, having known already that a match had been found for him, is rather more resigned.

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Teachers and Students: Ten of my favourite songs

I began this blog in November 2008, and in the eleven years since, I’ve never done a post for Teachers’ Day. That is mostly because I did not have great memories of teachers from my school days. A handful were good, a handful left an impact on me; but the majority were people I did not look back on with fondness or gratitude or any other such emotion. More often than not, if you were to ask whom I would thank for moulding me in my childhood, I’d say it was my parents. They were my first teachers, and even till fairly late, they continued to be the people who influenced me the most.

These days, however, I am feeling a love for teachers. My six-year old daughter, the Little One (the ‘LO’) is attending online classes, and when I see the patience, the calm, the classroom manner (that’s the best term I can think of for what would be bedside manner in a doctor) I cannot help but admire these teachers. They maintain their composure through connectivity issues, bossy and demanding parents, excessively chatty children, and sometimes just sheer lack of tech-savviness. Through it all, they’ve continued teaching our children their lessons.

So, in appreciation, a list of songs for teachers and students. To commemorate the classroom, the bond between taught and teacher, and education itself. As always, these songs are from pre-1970s films that I’ve seen.

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Sharaarat (1959)

It might surprise some of you to know just how many films I watch. No, not new ones, but old films, in the hope that I will find something worth reviewing for this blog. Perhaps one in five of those films gets reviewed, and that because either it’s worth recommending, or conversely, it’s worth warning people off. 

A lot of the Hindi films I watch, I watch because of the music. Occasionally (Duniya Jhukti Hai, Bank Manager, Chandni Chauk) there’s just one song that has prompted my viewing of the film, and the film itself turns out to be so ho-hum that I decide there’s not much point reviewing it. I assume, you see, that most people (unlike me) are sensible enough to not waste a couple of hours watching a film just because it has one good song. 

Sometimes, though, a film has a bunch of good songs, and a cast I have great hopes of. Then, even if it ends up being a bit of a dud, I feel obliged to review the film. Because I want to tell you: steer clear; despite the cast and despite the songs, this is really not worth your while. 

Also, in the case of Sharaarat, there was the fact that this film starred Meena Kumari. And, as I’ve seen from films like Miss Mary, Tamasha, Kohinoor, Azaad, etc, Meena Kumari was very good at comedy. Here, she was paired with Kishore Kumar. I settled down, hoping for some fun. Sharaarat, after all: that sounded promising. 

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It Came From Outer Space (1953)

Today is the birth centenary of one of science fiction’s greatest writers, Ray Bradbury. Bradbury, born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois (USA) was a hugely prolific writer, specializing in science fiction though he also wrote in other genres, especially horror and mystery. Dubbed by The New York Times as “the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream”, Bradbury wrote 27 novels and over 600 short stories, and inspired countless writers (including some blatant plagiarists!)

I knew that there have been many, many screen adaptations of Bradbury’s stories (I have seen several), and I wanted to review one of these to commemorate his hundredth birthday. Possibly the most famous film based on a Bradbury book is the screen adaptation of his landmark dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451; but that film I had already reviewed. And, going through Bradbury’s filmography on IMDB, I found that most screen adaptations of his works have been either TV series (which I don’t review) or have been made in the years since 1970—which falls outside the ambit of this blog.

But this film, released in 1953, fits my blog. And, instead of being based on a Bradbury novel, it was as close as it gets: the screenplay for It Came From Outer Space was written by Bradbury.

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Ten of my favourite ‘This is what I sell’ songs

When, some weeks back, I posted my list of ten of my favourite ‘This is my work’ songs, several people who didn’t read the introduction to that post got a bit confused and assumed that the post was about people selling things as well as services (the post was about people specifically selling services, not things).

So, to rectify that and to let people post links to all their favourite songs about people selling things, this post. It features all those onscreen vendors of everything from flowers to jewellery to cosmetics to—well, whatever they feel called upon to draw attention to.

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Suvarna Sundari (1958)

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I cannot resist good music; so much so that there are plenty of films I’ve watched just because they happened to have one song which I like a lot. Many of these films have turned out to be complete duds, not at all worthy of the wonderful song which drew me to it—but I do not, in this case, subscribe to the ‘once burnt, twice shy’ philosophy. I go on doing it, often with painful results.

Suvarna Sundari, which I watched for Kuhu kuhu bole koyaliya, will however remain one of the exceptions. A stellar song, but also a very entertaining film.

The story begins in a gurukul, where Prince Jayant of Malwa (Akkineni Nageshwara Rao, ‘ANR’) is about to graduate and go back to Malwa to be declared crown prince. At the prospect of Jayant’s departure, his guru’s daughter (?) gets all het up and confesses her love for him. Jayant, being a good and upright man who knows his guru’s daughter is out of bounds for him, sternly refuses…

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To Each His Own (1946)

RIP, Olivia de Havilland.

If there’s one person whom I regarded as the last of the great stars of the glory days of Hollywood, it’s the beautiful and very talented Olivia de Havilland. I’ve watched several of de Havilland’s films, and have invariably found her very watchable—she brought a dignity and grace to her roles that made her stand out. Plus, she was a very good (and very versatile) actress, seemingly effortlessly playing standard ‘damsel in distress’ roles (especially in the eight films she did with Errol Flynn), as well as much more nuanced characters, like the immortal Melanie of Gone With the Wind, the mentally tormented Virginia Cunningham of The Snake Pit, and the naïve, gullible Catherine Sloper, the eponymous heiress of The Heiress.

Over a career spanning five decades, Olivia de Havilland won two Oscars (for The Heiress and To Each His Own), and was nominated for many other awards, including various national medals and awards by France, the US and the UK.

Although she had her share of controversy (especially regarding her supposedly strained relationship with her sister, actress Joan Fontaine), de Havilland was in some ways a pioneer too. It was because of her refusal to go on playing ‘sweet young thing’ roles that she ended up suing Warner Bros. —and winning, a landmark decision which led to the law now known by her name. She also went on to be the first female president of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival.

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Ten of my favourite Kumkum songs

Rest in peace, Kumkum.

I was in the middle of watching a film to write a tribute to Hollywood star Olivia de Havilland, who passed away on 25th July at the age of 104, when I heard that, closer home, there had been another death. Another actress, much loved. Kumkum, of the dancing eyes and the bright smile. Kumkum who could dance up a storm in Madhuban mein Radhika naache re and be the demure heroine opposite leading men all the way from Shammi Kapoor to Rajendra Kumar to Kishore Kumar.

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