So Long, Farewell

(In somewhat belated tribute to the inimitable Christopher Plummer, who passed away on February 5, 2021).

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Madame X (1966)

I still remember the very first Lana Turner movie I watched: The Three Musketeers, in which she starred as the evil but beautiful Lady de Winter. I watched that film mostly for Gene Kelly, one of my favourites; but I remember being struck by Lana Turner. So icily beautiful, but so ruthlessly, coldly calculating and vicious too. She was exactly as I’d imagined Lady de Winter to be when I’d read The Three Musketeers (it’s a different matter that the film diverged considerably from the novel).

Today may be the birth centenary of Lana Turner (the ‘may be’ because some say she was born on February 8, 1920, rather than 1921). Born in Idaho, as Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner, ‘Lana’ came to California with her mother after her father was murdered in 1929. By the time she was 17, Lana had landed her first role in cinema, and by the early 40s, had started becoming an actress to be reckoned with. ‘The Sweater Girl’, as she was known, ended up being projected mostly as little more than a sex symbol by MGM, but proved, over time, that she could act with the best of them. Films like Peyton Place, Imitation of Life and The Postman Always Rings Twice gave her a chance to show that her acting talent was everywhere as good as her legendary beauty.

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Thillana Mohanambal (1968)

Finally. Finally, finally, finally!

Okay, perhaps I need to step back and explain that a bit. Back in 2013, to mark a hundred years of Indian cinema, I watched my first-ever Tamil film (actually, first-ever South Indian film, as far as I can remember), the excellent suspense thriller Andha Naal. Someone, commenting on the review, recommended another Tamil film for me to watch: Thillana Mohanambal.

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Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958)

One of my favourite genres is suspense. Give me a good Hitchcock film, and I’m a happy camper (Hitchcock happens to be among my favourite directors, but no, that doesn’t mean I regard only him as a great director when it comes to suspense films; there are many films not directed by Hitch that are favourites of mine, including Charade, Gaslight, and How to Steal a Million).

Anyway, talking of suspense: someone mentioned Chase a Crooked Shadow, telling me that it was a good suspense film, and I decided I had to watch it. This one wasn’t directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but by Michael Anderson.

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Do Dulhe (1955)

Today is the birth centenary of one of a handful of Hindi film actors who managed to cross from one type of role to another—again and again. Like Ajit, Pran, and Premnath (though not in the same league as them, when it came to success and popularity), Sajjan Lal Purohit—better known simply as Sajjan—appeared in leading roles in several of his early films (including, notably, in Saiyyaan, where he acted opposite Madhubala), then drifted into supporting roles (as Dev Anand’s sculptor friend in Paying Guest; as Mini’s father in Kabuliwala; and more), and eventually into villainous roles (in April Fool, Aankhen, Farz, etc).

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Funtoosh (1956)

Today may (or may not) be the birth centenary of the film maker, writer, and actor Chetan Anand, eldest brother of Dev Anand and Vijay Anand. Different sources list different dates of birth: most sites (including IMDB) list his birth date as January 3, 1921; others, including Wikipedia (yes, I know not the most reliable of sources) say it’s January 3, 1915. (This article says it’s 1921, but then goes on to write that Chetan Anand was 27 years old in 1943, which is either dodgy maths or a suggestion that the year of birth was indeed 1915). The article, barring that slip, is a good, interesting introduction to the life and career of Chetan Anand.

Anyway. Even if I’m six years too late to the party, at least today is Chetan Anand’s birthday.

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Dillagi (1949)

A couple of months back, a blog reader had remarked that Hindi cinema, during the 1930s and 40s, seemed to have a fairly unimpressive-looking lot of leading men. The good-lookers, was the theory, were the ones that came later, though there had been a very few rare exceptions, like Shyam.

While I didn’t agree that most of the leading men of the 1930s and 40s were ugly (or at best, plain), I did agree about Shyam. Shyam was one of those very handsome actors who, with his impressive height and build added to his charisma, could have posed a serious threat to the triumvirate of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Dev Anand. Sadly, Shyam died tragically young, just 31 years old, after sustaining a head injury caused by a fall from a horse during the shooting of Shabistan in 1951.

Born in Sialkot on February 20, 1920, Shyam Sunder Chadha ‘Shyam’ debuted in a Punjabi film, Gowandhi (1942) and continued to work sporadically in cinema over the next few years. After Partition, Shyam shifted to Bombay, and that was when his career really took off. Over the next four years, he worked in a slew of films, including some big hits like Dillagi, Samadhi, and Patanga. One can only speculate on what trajectory his career might have taken had he lived into the 60s. (Interestingly, Shyam was a very dear friend of Sa’adat Hasan Manto: it was a friendship that outlasted Partition, and Manto was deeply affected when Shyam passed away).

I hadn’t realized, back in February this year, that it was Shyam’s hundredth birth anniversary. But the year is still the same, so in celebration of Shyam’s birth centenary year, a review of one of his biggest hit films. In Dillagi, Shyam acted the role of Swaroop, a dashing young man who falls in love with a village girl named Mala…

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Book Review: JR Jordan’s ‘Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures’

Some weeks back, I received an e-mail from someone named Joe Jordan, who wanted to know if (since I had reviewed The Desert Rats), I would like to have a copy of his book about the film director Robert Wise.

I rarely turn down an offer of a book, unless it’s something that I absolutely know will not be my cup of tea. But a book about classic cinema? I said thank you to Joe, and waited for my copy of Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures.

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Jai Kisan! Ten of my favourite ‘farmer’ songs

I have been on a bit of a hiatus for the past several weeks. That happened partly because I have been swamped with work (I’m working pretty much simultaneously on two books, juggling between one and the other), and partly because of some trying times my family’s been through. My father had Covid, then there were a couple of other family crises that we went through and from which we’re still recovering. It’s been a very, very stressful time.

I did have a couple of posts, both film reviews, ready to be posted, but I was too stressed to publish them. And now, even though we’re getting back on track and looking forward to Christmas, I couldn’t summon up the energy to watch a film and review it. It was time, I decided, for the sort of blog post that energizes me. A song list.

Given the situation in India right now, with the farmers’ protests front and centre, I was reminded of the many, many Hindi films that are about farmers. Since very early on, Hindi cinema has been enamoured with village life. And where there are villages, there are farmers. True, barring some films (Godaan, Do Bigha Zameen, Aurat and its remake Mother India, among them), rural life as depicted in Hindi cinema is far from the reality. Anybody who’d only seen farms in Hindi cinema would think Indian farmers had nothing better to do than sing and dance and bill-and-coo with glamorous village girls all day long.

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Barnali (1963)

When I read the news of Soumitra Chatterjee’s passing away, my first thought was: I need to write a tribute, talk about how much I liked this actor. Then, reality crept in. It’s not as if I’ve seen too many films that starred Soumitra Chatterjee. Charulata, Kapurush, Jhinder Bondi, Aranyer Din Raatri, Sonar Kella, one of the three episodes of Teen Kanya… and that was it. I didn’t recall having seen any of his other films.

Which might sound odd; how could one like an actor so much based on only such a handful of films? But I suppose when you’re looking at quality rather than quantity, it can work. And Soumitra Chatterjee, even in the few films of his that I’ve seen, proved himself a memorable actor. Not just handsome, not just superficially charismatic, but also so very talented. His ‘coward’ of Kapurush is so very real, so flawed and believable a protagonist; his Mayurvahan in Jhinder Bondi is a deliciously evil portrayal of the flamboyant, boyishly attractive yet very wicked Rupert of Hentzau. It’s easy to see why a bored and neglected housewife would fall in love with this young man in Charulata, and he is Feluda. Sharp, intelligent, well-read (and intelligent and well-read are apt descriptions of the man in real life too, from what I gather).

But a full-fledged tribute, a run-down of all his best films: no, that was not something I thought I would be capable of. Instead, I decided to commemorate the life and career of Soumitra Chatterjee by watching one film I’d only heard of in passing, never really got down to seeing.

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