The LO Goes on Safari, Part 1: Nairobi

Sometime last year, a brilliant wildlife photographer, Gurcharan Roopra, inspired me to go to Kenya on safari. I’d praised Roopra’s photos on Facebook, and later, in a private message, mentioned how much vicarious pleasure I got out of his gorgeous shots of African wildlife. He suggested I go on safari too; he would put me in touch with a good safari operator.

I discussed it with my husband. We were initially hesitant; we realized it would be expensive—possibly the most expensive trip we would ever have made. Could we afford it? Should we? Most importantly, could the LO (our Little One, who turned six in January this year) be able to handle it?

On safari: On a road in Masai Mara.

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Book Review: Guide, The Film: Perspectives

I watched Guide for the first time when I was about twelve or so. Till then, all the Hindi cinema I had watched was predictable, comfortable, simple enough for a pre-teen to know what to expect. Or so I thought.

Because Guide defied every norm I thought I understood. Heroes, not even when they were the anti-hero Dev Anand had played in earlier films like Baazi, Kaala Bazaar or House No. 44, did not go anywhere near another man’s wife. Heroines, even when they were married off against their wishes to men other than those they loved (as in Dil Ek Mandir, Gumraah, or Sangam) stayed true to their marriage vows and sooner or later left their past behind (I was to watch Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke only much later). They absolutely did not leave their husbands and start living with another man.

And heroes did not die. As when I watched Anand, when I watched Guide too, I kept thinking, “This isn’t it. He isn’t dead, he can’t be dead.”

Several years later, I had to study RK Narayan’s The Guide at school, and I pretty much knew what to expect—but once again, I found myself surprised, because the book was in many ways different from the film. The book had won its author the Sahitya Kala Akademi Award (the first book in English to win the award), and the film won accolades by the handful—and continues to do so, fifty-five years after it was released. It has been analyzed, discussed, derided, lauded. Personally, other than for its music and Waheeda Rehman’s dancing, I have never really liked Guide much—but even I, when offered the opportunity to read this collection of essays about Guide, couldn’t resist it. Partly, perhaps, because I hoped to be able to discover what fans of the film saw in it that I didn’t.

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Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja (1961)

In 1956, Waheeda Rehman made her debut in Hindi cinema in CID, with Dev Anand (Waheeda wasn’t the heroine of CID—Shakila was—but she had a good and somewhat offbeat role as the vamp with a heart of gold). Over the next decade and a half or so, Waheeda and Dev Anand were to go on to act together in several more films, probably their most famous pairing being in the hugely popular Guide (1965).

I have watched, as far as I know, all of the Waheeda-Dev films over the years. The only one that (again, as far as I know) I hadn’t watched yet was this one. Time, I decided, to make amends for that.

As in many other films of his, Dev Anand in Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja is a crook—a thief, to be precise. We are introduced to Chhagan (Dev) when he’s in a shady-looking dive, buying a bottle of booze. Shortly after, Chhagan is accosted by ‘Langad Deen’, a partly-crippled character (played by Jeevan), who has a bit of news for Chhagan: a steamer is about to begin the journey down the river to the pilgrimage spot of Shivsagar. Langad Deen has it on authority that among the people on board is a wealthy jeweller who is carrying a very valuable diamond to be offered up to the god Shiv at Shivsagar.

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Ten of my favourite Naushad Songs

Happy Christmas!

Today marks the birthday of Jesus Christ, but also of a man who was pretty much regarded as little less than a god by thousands of music lovers in India between the 40s and the 60s. The one and only Naushad Ali, who was born on Christmas Day, 1919.

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Polosatyy Reys (1961)

Or, in English, Striped Trip. Also known in English as A Lively Voyage.

I happened to watch this film in a roundabout way. I’d started off watching a completely different film (although—like A Lively Voyage—also Russian): Andrei Rublev, an ‘essential film’, a classic about the 15th century iconist. After half an hour of watching that, I decided it was too much. Perhaps I was just not in the right mood; perhaps the combination of disconnected episodes, a bad print, and the fact that I have been under a lot of stress lately—perhaps all of that contributed. I junked Andrei Rublev and looked around for other films among my bookmarks. I found this one, recommended by a blog reader, who had also very kindly sent me a link to a subtitled version.

A Lively Voyage begins tamely enough. Shuleykin (Evgeniy Leonov) finds himself in a tropical port at the other end of the world, and desperate to get back home to Odessa. He’s so desperate that he will take on any work on any ship heading for Russia—as long as he can come home. Fortunately, he has found an agent (Nikolay Volkov) who assures Shuleykin that he can get Shuleykin a job on a ship.

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Ten of my favourite ‘recording studio’ songs

A former reader of my blog—who left in the wake of much rancour—had, as a parting shot, told me that she had got a good laugh out of seeing the completely idiotic themes I thought up for song lists. I know she won’t be reading this, but I thought of her when compiling this list.

Not that I think this theme is idiotic (or that any of the other themes I gave chosen so far are, for that matter), but that it’s an unusual theme. The point is, I see a situation or hear a word or a phrase in a song, and I realize that this is not the only song I’ve seen this in or heard this in. It rings a bell, and I remember all those other songs that have been (for example) picturized in a similar setting.

For example, a recording studio. Considering there are accomplished singers in just about every Hindi film (barring the very occasional songless film like Kanoon or Ittefaq), it’s not utterly surprising to find at least some of those people not merely singing at parties or while dancing in gardens: some of them are accomplished enough to be able to sing professionally. In recording studios, on radio, for albums, and so on.

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Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya (1963)

For those who’ve been following this blog since pretty much its inception, or who’ve explored some of the older posts and specials on Dustedoff, it should come as no surprise that I am a fan of Shammi Kapoor. I have seen most of the star’s films from after his watershed year of 1957 (which was the year Tumsa Nahin Dekha was released, catapulting him to sudden stardom), and I’ve seen several from the early 1950s as well.

Finding a 60s (or late 50s) Shammi Kapoor film that I’ve not seen before is therefore a matter of singular excitement [or was; I have begun to realize, after several less than enjoyable experiences, that there is a reason most of these films aren’t better-known]. This time, when I came across Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, I approached it with caution. Pandit Mukhram Sharma’s name among the credits bolstered my hopes somewhat; he wrote some good stories, so I began thinking this might not be too bad.

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The Big Clock (1948)

For someone who loves books with as much passion as she does old cinema, it’s hardly surprising, perhaps, that I get especially excited when I discover a screen adaptation of a book I like—or vice-versa.

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon Kenneth Fearing’s novel The Big Clock. I had never heard of it before, and the first couple of chapters of the book didn’t endear me to it: too dry, too full of journalistic jargon, too business-y. But I persevered, and suddenly, the story took a turn that caught me by surprise. And then it became such a gripping, unputdownable book that I ended up racing through it, eager to see where it would go.

… which was why, when I found it had been also made into a film, I approached the cinematic The Big Clock with some trepidation: would they have been able to do justice to it?

As it turned out, yes. More than justice.

The Big Clock centres round a mammoth publication company, named Janoth Publications, after its owner, Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton). Janoth Publications is housed in a multistory building, each floor being devoted to one publication churned out by the behemoth: Styleways, Sportways, Newsways, and so on—and, the publication which becomes the focus of this story, Crimeways. As its name suggests, Crimeways is devoted to crime reporting, and is headed by George Stroud (Ray Milland).

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Miss Mary (1957)

This film has been on my watchlist for a long time now. Earlier this year, when I reviewed the delightful Maya Bazaar, my attention was drawn to Miss Mary, because—like Maya Bazaar—this was a film that was originally made in Tamil and Telugu (as Missiamma/Missamma) and, in this case, then into Hindi too. I was already aware that the film had some lovely songs, and Meena Kumari in a light-hearted role is always a pleasure to watch.

Plus, it stars Gemini Ganesan, whose birth centenary it is today. He was born on November 16, 1919, into a distinguished family that included his aunt Muthulakshmi Reddi, a much-respected social reformer who was instrumental in passing the Devadasi Abolition Act. Thanks to Muthulakshmi, Ganesan was enrolled at Ramakrishna Mission Home, and acquired a fairly strong ‘classical’ education here, including Sanskrit, the Vedas and Upanishads, and yoga. As an adult, though, Ganesan’s career graph was rather more eccentric: he harboured dreams of becoming a doctor, attempted to join the Indian Air Force, and ended up teaching chemistry at Madras Christian College. In 1947, a job at Gemini Studios (from which Ganesan drew his screen name) led him to receive a casting offer from the studio—and Gemini Ganesan’s acting career was launched.

Gemini Ganesan, b Nov 16,1919

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Allahabad Adventure

A couple of months back, I received an invitation from an Allahabad-based cultural group named Sanchaari. Sanchaari hosts an annual event focused on culture in different forms: food, crafts, the performing arts, and literature among them. One of Sanchaari’s members had noticed my Food and Food Movie project, and decided it might be a good thing to talk about at the festival. I accepted.

So, I was booked to travel on the overnight Prayagraj Express from Delhi to Allahabad, to arrive in Allahabad (yes, I know it’s officially Prayagraj now, but for me, this city will always remain Allahabad) the next morning.

Most lit fests I’ve been to have been fairly predictable: you take a flight or train, you arrive at the destination and are taken to the hotel where you’ll be staying. A volunteer (usually a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed college student) will massage your ego by calling you “Ma’am” and insisting on doing pretty much everything for you. You will be taken to the venue, you will make friends with organizers and others at the fest, you will speak at your session (and before that, have kittens wondering how many people, if any, will turn up for your session).

This one, the Sanchaari Sanskritik Parv, was not destined to follow the norm. This one, as it happened, turned out to be an adventure from the word go.

Near the Sangam at Allahabad: an elephant ambles along.

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