The LO Goes to Assam, Part 2: Kaziranga

To read the first part of this travelogue (Guwahati), click here.

Having spent the few hours we got in Guwahati sightseeing and eating out, we got up the next morning and set off for Kaziranga. Kaziranga, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is about 195 km from Guwahati, a distance that can be accomplished in about 5 hours (or less). The road is pretty good, a well-tarred, well-maintained, broad highway that goes mostly through the plains. Getting out of Guwahati itself took us close to an hour, and the LO kept remarking throughout: “It looks just like Ring Road!” (Delhi’s Ring Road, or at least those stretches of it we traverse frequently, often has construction work going on: flyovers being made, half the road cordoned off, traffic jams aplenty and the roadside trees choked with dust).

Interestingly, the outskirts of Guwahati abut onto Meghalaya; for about 15 minutes or so, the Innova that had come to take us to Kaziranga travelled through Meghalaya before re-entering Assam.

We traversed other interesting, and often very scenic, stretches of road once we were past the urban sprawl of Guwahati. The Assam countryside is very pretty: the villages nestle among coconut and betel nut palms, banana plants, and fields of paddy, or—even more striking right now, when it bursts into sunny yellow bloom—mustard. We passed many village ponds covered with deep pink waterlilies, and there were fishing nets anchored here and there, waiting for the catch.

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The LO Goes to Assam, Part 1: Guwahati

Some of you may know about my now nine-year old daughter, the Little One or LO (though at her age, I guess it’s high time I thought up another epithet; she’s hardly little any more). The LO has, since she was a little mite, been keenly interested in nature; and when, last summer, we went to Jim Corbett National Park, she enjoyed it immensely. So much so that I promised her we’d try to visit at least one national park every year.

This time, we decided to go to Kaziranga, in Assam.

It was a short holiday, only six days in all, and of that the sojourn in Kaziranga was bookended by a day in Guwahati, which was where our flights to and from Delhi were connecting.

The excitement had been building up over the past several weeks, with the LO planning what she would pack (it seemed she was outfitting herself for an Arctic expedition; I had to drastically prune her list). On the day of our departure, though we had to leave home at an unearthly hour, the LO didn’t utter a squeak of protest. It was all adventure, all fun, even to leave home when it was still dark.

In Guwahati, we were booked at the Radisson Blu. This hotel is about half an hour from the airport, about 20 minutes from the city, therefore easily approachable from both directions. The only problem is the transport: Guwahati has private taxis, as well as Ola and Uber, but booking an app-based taxi, we soon discovered, was a real pain: the drivers were obstinate about how they wanted to be paid, many would refuse to go to a particular place, and it would take several tries before one could get a driver who would agree.

Anyhow, we ended up hiring a local taxi to get to the Radisson. The LO (and I must admit, me) was unimpressed by the lobby—large and bare, with one massive bit of sculpture in the middle—but our room met with the LO’s approval. Not only was there plenty of space to dance about (dancing about is important in the LO’s life), the bathroom was huge. There was a big bathtub in it (which the LO insisted she wanted to bathe in), and enough space for a luggage rack, ironing board, and more. This was the life, the LO decided, and made her father take photos so that she could show a friend back home (said friend having raved about a large bathroom in a hotel she’d stayed in in Rajasthan a couple of years back).

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Nagina (1951)

This Gothic mystery story has an interesting claim to fame: it was the film Nutan wasn’t permitted to watch at the premiere, even though she starred in it.

Nutan had debuted in the film Hamari Beti (1950; it was directed by her mother, Shobhna Samarth) when she was all of fourteen. The following year, after having spent the intervening period at a finishing school in Switzerland, she was cast as the female lead in Ravindra Dave’s Nagina, which starred Dilip Kumar’s brother Nasir Khan. Nagina was released under an A certificate because it was considered too frightening for children; Nutan, then not even sixteen years old, was escorted to the premiere of the film by family friend Shammi Kapoor, but was not allowed in because she was underage.

The story begins [rather choppily; I wonder if this is the modern-day slash-and-burn style of video editing that’s reflected here, rather than the original film’s editing] with Srinath (Nasir Khan) having a conversation with his wheelchair-bound mother (Anwari Bai). As it later emerges from the story, Srinath’s father, a jeweller named Shyamlal, has been missing these last twelve years, ever since he was accused of having murdered the wife of a zamindar, Raiji, over a valuable gemstone (a ‘nagina’) set in a ring.

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Ten of my favourite ‘two songs in one’

Some years ago, while watching Adalat, I was struck by the interesting way in which the song Jaa jaa re jaa saajna was composed (by Madan Mohan). It begins as a plaintive, melancholic song, the singer (Nargis, lip-syncing to Lata Mangeshkar’s voice) filling her song with the emotion she feels at being betrayed. Then, just as one had settled into thinking that this was a particular type of song, the tone of the song changed. The tempo increased, and though the lyrics still conveyed the same emotion, the singer (Asha Bhonsle) made them so teasing and flirtatious that their import changed. Two songs, one slow and anguished, one fast and vibrant, but woven together into one song. 

What an impressive performance, I thought: and it occurred to me that there were other songs, too, of this type, where a composer and a lyricist create two songs but weave them together. Note that I’m not talking of the back-to-back songs, like Kya se kya ho gaya/Mose chhal kiye jaaye. I mean songs where the two styles of the song alternate. Also note that I regard two tempos of the same tune as two different styles.

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The Thin Man (1934)

I guess a lot of people would think this an odd film to be reviewing on Christmas. But the fact of the matter is that over many years of reviewing rather more standard and predictable ‘Christmas films’, the sort that stress on the joy and goodwill of the festival, I’ve become a bit jaded to the whole idea—at least onscreen, where it more often than not tends to become a little too syrupy for my liking.

Therefore, for a change: a film that’s set around Christmas, and has lots of props, scenes, and more that reference the celebration of the festival—but is actually a murder mystery. The Thin Man is one I’ve been meaning to watch for many years now, since lots of people have recommended this to me, so it was high time anyway.

Based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, the film begins at the shop of an inventor named Clyde Wynant (Edward Ennant). Wynant is crotchety and impatient with his assistant, but a more affectionate side of him is revealed when his daughter Dorothy (Maureen O’Sullivan) arrives, bringing with her her fiancé Tommy (Henry Wadsworth) and the news that they’re going to be married shortly after Christmas, a few days from now.

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Announcing a New Book: Indian Christmas

“…the diversity of Christmas celebrations in different parts of the country, is what comes through most vividly in Indian Christmas. Some of India’s finest writers, form Jerry Pinto to Easterine Kire, from Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar to Rabindranath Tagore, are represented here.” Continue reading

Naya Daur (1957)

Happy 100th birthday, Dilip Kumar!

It was on this day that Mohammad Yusuf Khan, who was to go on to become one of India’s most-loved and finest actors, was born in Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani Bazaar.

In a career spanning several decades, and some sixty-odd films, Dilip Kumar attained a status all his own. He was one of the first to win a Filmfare Award, and went on to win the most Best Actor Awards (until the record was equalled— though not yet surpassed). His scenes have been copied and re-done, his dialogues have become familiar to fans of cinema, his films and his acting closely dissected.

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Aparajito (1956)

Aka The Unvanquished.

After the success of Pather Panchali, Satyajit Ray—who had never intended to make a sequel to the film—was encouraged to take the story of Apurba ‘Apu’ Ray forward, a story that emerged in Aparajito.

This instalment of the story of Apu begins a few years after the last scene of Pather Panchali. Apu (now Pinaki Sen Gupta) has now moved to Banaras, with his priest father Hori (Kanu Bannerjee) and mother Sarbojaya (Karuna Bannerjee). Hori goes to the riverside every day to deliver sermons to a group of Bengalis, most of them widows. He makes enough money for the little family to be just about comfortable, no more.

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Kangan (1959)

In which Iftekhar, playing against type, acts the part of a lecherous villain. And Chitragupta, composing against type, proves he was no one-trick pony.

But, to begin at the beginning (and Kangan gets into action right at the start, not dilly-dallying about with incidental stuff). Karuna (Nirupa Roy) is about to get married, and her widowed father (?) is giving her his blessings and wishing her mother were still around. Just then, Kamla (Purnima) comes in; she is not just Karuna’s bridegroom’s sister, but also a good friend of Karuna’s. Karuna’s father leaves the two women together and goes off.

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The ‘Not-Naachnewaali’ Gaanewaali: Ten Songs

I have been watching Hindi cinema for most of my life. And for most of my life, too, I have been happily swallowing all the many outlandish tropes and elements that are part of this realm. Not the least the many obscurities and questions that surround songs: how do people think up a tune and words at the drop of a hat, with no rehearsals whatsoever? How do two people who are not even within earshot of each other, manage to sing—perfectly—a duet? Where does the music come from? And how do people who are dancing about energetically manage to sing at the same time?

The naachne-gaanewaali so derided by the ‘shareef’ of Hindi cinema is, in essence, an unlikely character. The Vyjyanthimala of Sadhana, who dances with so much energy, or even the Meena Kumari of Pakeezah, her dance often more sedate, but a dance nevertheless… or the many, many other onscreen naachne-gaanewaalis, from Minoo Mumtaz in Saaqiya aaj mujhe neend nahin aayegi to Kumkum in Dekh idhar o jaadugar: they must be having Olympic athlete-standard fitness levels to be able to dance so vigorously and sing so well at the same time.

But there is the occasional naachne-gaanewaali who doesn’t dance. She only sits, or, at the most, stands up a bit and languidly moves about. No proper dancing. Not, I think, because she realizes that it’s well-nigh impossible to do both at the same time or that she’s conserving her energy, but perhaps because that’s the filmmaker’s way of showing that she is relatively pure. This invariably happens in cases where the heroine is the naachnewaali, sitting in a kotha or other similar house of ill-repute and forced to use her beautiful voice to earn her living. Only her voice, mind you. No more.

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