Riso Amaro (1949)

I watched this film for Vittorio Gassman, whom I’ve seen in several other films I’ve liked (I Soliti Ignoti and La Grande Guerra among them). From the very brief description I’d read of Riso Amaro (‘Bitter Rice’) on IMDB, I knew that it was about a jewel thief who, on the run from the police, hides out among workers in rice fields. That sounded like it had potential for humour (why I assumed a Gassman film would be a comedy, I don’t know), so I watched it. And no, Riso Amaro is not funny. Quite the contrary.

The film begins on a railway platform. While a radio announcer gives an introduction to what’s happening around him, hundreds of women mill about, climbing into special trains, settling down… it is the season for planting rice in Northern Italy. As the radio announcer tells us, every year at this time, hundreds of women leave their usual jobs in factories and shops and salons, as seamstresses and more, to go to the rice fields. They will work there for a few weeks, planting and nurturing the precious rice…

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Love Marriage (1959)

Today is the birth centenary of the Indian director, writer and producer Subodh Mukherji. While Mukherji doesn’t have a huge list of films to his name—barely a dozen—the majority of the films he did make proved to be very successful ones, big entertainers that had great music, starred beautiful people, and were generally good time-pass, if nothing else.

Born in Jhansi on April 1, 1921, Subodh Mukherji was jailed for three months in 1942 for his activities as part of the Indian freedom movement. Subsequently, at the behest of his family, he was made to go to Bombay to join his elder brother Sashadhar Mukherji (who had established Filmistan Studios along with Madan Mohan’s father, Rai Bahadur Chunilal; Ashok Kumar; and Gyan Mukherjee). It was for Filmistan that Subodh Mukherji made his first film, writing and directing Paying Guest (1957), though he also took time off in between to direct Munimji (1955). Through the late 50s and the 60s, Mukherji was to go on to write, produce, and/or direct several films that exemplified his philosophy of making films that told entertaining stories: Junglee (1961), Love Marriage (1959), Shagird (1967, starring Sashadhar Mukherji’s son, Joy Mukherji).

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Book Review: Vinod Mehta’s ‘Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography’

On 31st March, 1972, a Good Friday, Meena Kumari died, after a long and painful battle with cirrhosis of the liver. She had been admitted to St Elizabeth’s Nursing Home in Bombay on 28th March, and died three days later surrounded by the people who had played an important part in her life, both personal and professional. Her sisters Khursheed and Madhu; her estranged husband Kamal Amrohi; and various luminaries of the film world, including Begum Para and Kammo, from whose house the Aab-e-Zamzam (holy water from Mecca) was fetched to be spooned into Meena Kumari’s mouth as she was dying.

Over the next few days and weeks and months, Meena Kumari’s name dominated Hindi film news. Her magnum opus, Pakeezah, had just been released, having been 15 years in the making; Meena Kumari’s death served to make the film a success: thousands went to watch Pakeezah simply as a way of paying tribute to the much-loved actress. Praise was lavished on ‘India’s greatest tragedienne’ and there was much speculation about who, really, was responsible for her lifelong misery, and the alcoholism that had finally taken her life. People who had worked with her—co-actors, directors, and others—paid homage.

And Vinod Mehta, based on the success of a book he’d already written (not a biography) was asked if he would be up to writing Meena Kumari’s biography.

Vinod Mehta's 'Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography'
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Ten of my favourite Shashikala songs

RIP, Shashikala.

It came as a shock to me to learn that Shashikala had passed away on the 4th of April, 2021. She was 88 years old, so a ripe old age, yes; but there was something so alive and vibrant about Shashikala even in her old age that I never actually realized how old she was. I would see photos and videos of hers in recent times, her brilliant silver hair stylishly cut, that trademark smile like a 1000-watt bulb. She was not one of those reclusive actresses who go into their shells and disappear after they retire; no. Shashikala always seemed so alive.

In her cinema, too.

Shashikala in Jeevan Jyoti
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Doctor in the House (1954)

Today is the birth centenary of British actor Dirk Bogarde, which is why I’m revisiting a film that was a favourite of mine in my teens.

Dirk Bogarde, born Derek Bogaerde (his father was of Flemish ancestry, and Derek ‘Pip’ was born in Birmingham) served in the British Army, mostly as an intelligence officer, during World War II. The war took him to Europe (where he was one of the first Allied officers to arrive at the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, a traumatic experience which he recalled, even years later, with horror and pain). In the wake of the war, Bogaerde (who had already begun working in theatre before the war) went back to acting, this time to cinema, where he took on the screen name by which he became famous. He signed a contract with the Rank Organisation, and it was in the Rank film Esther Waters (1948) that he got his first credited role.

Bogarde’s stint with Rank lasted till the 60s, after which he went on to work in a very varied set of films, moving on from the primarily matinee-idol, stereotypical leading man role he played in Rank’s films. This included several highly acclaimed and/or award-winning roles in films like King and Country, The Servant, Accident, The Fixer, and A Death in Venice. Bogarde’s homosexuality, which he never tried to hide, probably came in the way of his being a big hit in Hollywood, although back home in Britain he was very popular.

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Aranyer Din Raatri (1970)

In English, Days and Nights in the Forest.

In one important scene in Aranyer Din Raatri, a successful business executive named Ashim (Soumitra Chatterjee) tells Aparna, a poised young woman he’s met in the jungles of Palamau, that life in the city is all about rules. If you have to work, you have to abide by the rules.

Rules, the implication is, suffocate. And every now and then, to survive and to give yourself a break from those oppressive rules, you rebel. You go away, you flee. You find yourself again, you refresh yourself, regain your energy and then come back to start conforming all over again.

This seems to be the premise with which this film, one of Satyajit Ray’s best-known works, begins. Ashim, along with three other friends, is driving down from Kolkata to Palamau for a holiday. The men are a mixed bag. Sanjay (Shubhendu Chatterjee) works in the jute industry and, as they’re driving along, is sitting in the back of the car and reading a book about Palamau from which he reads out excerpts now and then.

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Jigri Dost (1969)

Mostly, the films I review on this blog are either the ones I like so much I want more people to watch them; or films I hate so much I want to warn people off them. Or, sometimes, films which may not be otherwise exceptional but have, I think, something that sets them apart: they’re unusual, or they’re somehow of historic importance.

Now and then, along comes a film I decide I have to review because while I don’t find it dreadful, I wonder what it would have been like with a different cast. Even just one actor being replaced by another.

Jigri Dost begins in the palatial home of Chairman Neelkanth (KN Singh), who is a baddie of the first order. He summarily orders his henchmen to raze this bunch of poor people’s huts, extort money from that lot, and so on. He has no scruples, no mercy, no nothing… no inkling, either, that a maid (Aruna Irani) in his home eavesdrops on his every conversation.

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Ten Avatars of a Magician: The Genius of Sahir Ludhianvi

I am leery of attaching ‘best’ and ‘most favourite’ appellations to anybody or anything, no matter how much I may be fond of the person/creation/whatever in question. I tend to say that so-and-so song or film, for instance, is among my favourites; the same goes for actors, singers, directors, and so on. There are some whom I especially like, there are some for whom I will watch a film just because they’re in it. There are none whom I idolize and place on a pedestal and see no wrong in.

Sahir Ludhianvi may be one of the exceptions. This is one man whose genius blows me away. If I were to list my favourite Hindi songs from the Golden Period, based purely on the sheer memorability of their lyrics, the one lyricist who would lead the pack would be Sahir Ludhianvi. His versatility; his hard-hitting, often brutal, honesty; his occasional humour and his exquisite expressions of romance: all come forth in many, many songs composed across the three decades or so that he was actively writing songs for Hindi cinema.

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Book Review: Arjun Sengupta and Partha Mukherjee’s ‘Soumitra Chatterjee: A Life in Cinema, Theatre, Poetry & Painting’

The first Soumitra Chatterjee film I saw was Charulata (1964). I had known of Soumitra Chatterjee before, had known even of his stature in Bengali cinema; but this film was my introduction to him. And what an introduction it proved to be.

Even now, several years down the line, I cannot claim to have done justice to Soumitra Chatterjee’s filmography, not even to his most famous phase of the fourteen films he did with Satyajit Ray. I have seen some films, of course, including Aranyer Din Ratri, Samapti (the third part of the Teen Kanya trilogy of short films), Kapurush and Sonar Kella from among Ray’s works, and a few by other directors, such as Barnali (which I watched a few weeks back, when Chatterjee passed away). My relative lack of familiarity with Chatterjee’s work made me a little nervous about reading his biography: I wondered if I would be able to understand all the nuances, whether it would not be too much for a Chatterjee-ignoramus like me.

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In Memory: Bollyviewer

In the years since I first began this blog in 2008, I have written many tributes to many film personalities. A few, a mere handful, saddened me enough to make me feel I had lost someone especially dear to me personally.

Never had I thought a day would come when I would need to (yes, I do need to, for my own self) write a tribute to a fellow blogger. Bollyviewer, who meant much more to me than just a fellow blogger.

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