Apradhi Kaun (1957)

The world of Hindi cinema is peppered with names that anyone familiar with the industry (at least the industry of the 50s and 60s) can quickly slot into categories. Star. Villain. Comedian. Character actor. There are many, many names that automatically fall into (almost exclusively) one of these categories. Those that have shifted from one category to another—like Pran, for instance, once the quintessential villain but in later years the more interesting ‘good man’, or Ajit and Premnath, both initially hero and later villain—have again usually not done too many shifts.

Abhi Bhattacharya is one of those relatively rare individuals who seem to have appeared in a wide variety of roles, a wide variety of films. He was the idealistic school teacher of Jagriti, the ‘other man’ of Anuradha. The kind-hearted, principled example of the bhadralok in films like Amar Prem, and the straying older brother of Dev Anand in Love Marriage. He played Krishna and Arjun and Vishnu (the latter in a slew of mythologicals). He even played the villain, in the Vinod Khanna-Yogita Bali starrer, Memsaab.

This year marks the birth centenary of Abhi Bhattacharya (as far as I’ve been able to find out, he was born in 1921, though I’ve not been able to discover exactly when in 1921). To commemorate his career, I wanted to watch a Bhattacharya film, but a dilemma presented itself: which one? Hindi or Bengali? (since Bhattacharya had what seems to have been a very successful career in Bengali cinema as well). Eventually, I homed in on this film, a rare whodunit in Hindi cinema that’s pretty well made too.

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Announcing my New Book: ‘The Garden of Heaven’

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, a cousin who was much older than me lent me a favourite book of hers: Edward Rutherfurd’s Sarum. Sarum was the ancient name of the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, England, a place of great antiquity; and Rutherfurd’s Sarum is a novel about interconnected families, their stories playing out against a backdrop of history being created. Beginning with the Ice Age, these characters live their lives as Stonehenge is built, as the Romans invade and then establish a colony in England; as Salisbury Cathedral is erected, as the Black Death grips England… going right up to 1984, this was an epic book that made a huge impression on me. I couldn’t help wondering: given India’s long and fascinating history, wouldn’t it be satisfying to read a book similar to Sarum, but set in India?

Back then, I had no plans to someday become a writer. But finally, a few years back, when I’d written the Muzaffar Jang series and had learnt a good deal about the history of Delhi, Sarum came to mind again, and with it, that long-ago wish that someone would write an Indian equivalent.

Here it is: The Garden of Heaven, the first book in the Delhi Quartet. The Delhi Quartet will span 800 years of Delhi’s history, beginning shortly before the invasion of Mohammad Ghuri, and extending till just after Partition; the first 200 years of that stretch are covered in The Garden of Heaven.

The Garden of Heaven: Book of the Delhi Quartet
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Ten of my favourite Minoo Mumtaz Songs

The vivacious Minoo Mumtaz is gone. She passed away, at the age of 80, on October 23.

Minoo Mumtaz, who invariably got slotted in supporting actress roles, sometimes as the heroine’s friend (Akeli Mat Jaiyo), often as the vamp (Bank Manager, Mai Baap), but who was just as often to be seen only in a cameo as a dancer (Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, Naya Daur, Jahanara). And who, to her credit, also appeared in leading roles (Black Cat is the one that comes most readily to mind, in which she was paired with no less than Balraj Sahni). It’s a pity that the news article I read started off (even in its headline) by referring to her as Mehmood’s sister; while Mehmood may be more well-known to the general populace, Minoo Mumtaz was not to be sneezed at—but you can read more about that at this wonderful little tribute  Richard posted over at his blog.

I will, instead, restrict myself to what the title of this blog post indicates: a list of ten songs that feature Minoo Mumtaz. Some are dances, some are not. Some have only her lip-syncing to the song, some have other people too joining in. But all feature, in ways that make me remember her, Minoo Mumtaz.

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Sudden Fear (1952)

Last year, I read AJ Finn’s thriller suspense novel, The Woman in the Window, in which the protagonist spends most of her time drinking wine and spying on her neighbours. I didn’t like the book, but the protagonist, besides being an alcoholic and a voyeur, had one thing to recommend her: she was a lover of old suspense films. The book had plenty of references to classic noir cinema, and I got a kick out of seeing how many of those I’d watched. And making notes of the ones I hadn’t seen yet, but which I thought I should try to get hold of.

Sudden Fear was one of those I hadn’t seen before, and when I found a very good print on YouTube, I decided to give it a try.

The story begins at a theatre company; rehearsals for a play are in progress, and the playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford), a very wealthy heiress who insists on working for a living because she doesn’t want to live off all her inherited wealth, is sitting with a few other people. Onstage, the lead actor, Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) is speaking a romantic dialogue to his co-star.

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“Let’s Celebrate!”: Ten festival songs

Every year, come October, a relative of ours says, “The festival season has begun.” She goes on to list every single celebration coming up over the next several months. Dussehra/Durga Puja, Govardhan Puja, Karva Chauth, Diwali, Bhai Dooj, and a gazillion smaller festivities, some which I didn’t even know about a few years ago. All the way up to Holi. “And then there’ll be a lull all through the summer and the monsoon,” we’re told, every year.

I don’t know if there’s a definitive answer for the question “Which country has the most festivals in the world?” but I could lay a safe bet that India would be pretty much among the top of the pack. Part of the reason probably is our immense diversity: we have people from widely differing regional cultures here, and following different faiths. As a result, there’s a merry mix of religious festivals, seasonal festivals related to harvest/sowing/etc, as well as secular festivals and celebrations. Some are celebrated pretty much across the country; some are so confined to a particular region that they’re rarely even known of outside that locale.

And these festivals, naturally, show up in Hindi cinema. With, almost invariably, a bonus: a song attached to the festival. After all, a festival is cause for celebration, and what better way to celebrate than with a song?

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Miss India (1957)

Before I watched this film, the only other Nargis-Pradeep Kumar films I’d seen were Adalat and Raat aur Din. Both had them playing a married couple, both films had superb music. But they couldn’t have been more unlike each other. Adalat was tiresome, regressive, and depressing; Raat aur Din was intriguing and fast-paced, and overall a good mystery.

One good film, one a dud. Dared I hope that Miss India might be better than Adalat? This was a film I really knew nothing of, except that its music was by SD Burman.

There was only one way to find out: by watching it.

Miss India begins at a graduation ceremony in a Delhi college where the chief guest praises the ‘Miss Indias’, as he dubs them: the educated, self-reliant young women of India, the women who will make good wives for their husbands and good homes for their families. [I roll my eyes and mentally start pushing this into the Adalat slot. Same vibes]. Among the women graduating is the highly accomplished Rama (Nargis), who has graduated in law. [Ah. There has to be a reason for this. There is hope yet].

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Black Narcissus (1947)

Today is the birth centenary of one of my favourite actresses, the superb Deborah Kerr. Born on September 30, 1921, Deborah Jane Trimmer got a break in the world of show business thanks to an aunt who was a radio star: Deborah began training in ballet at her aunt’s ballet school, and then went on to win a scholarship to Sadler’s Wells ballet school, which led to her appearing onstage as a dancer. Deborah soon came to the attention of the film producer Gabriel Pascal, who gave Deborah her first role in cinema, in Major Barbara (1941).  

Till 1947, Deborah worked in Britain; it was her role as Sister Clodagh in Black Narcissus that got her noticed across the pond and brought with it a contract with MGM. Over the decades that followed, Deborah Kerr became a name to be reckoned with in Hollywood as well: a major actress who went on to play very varied roles in very diverse films. From roles in classic adventure films (The Prisoner of Zenda, King Solomon’s Mines) to horror (The Innocents), from wartime romance-drama (From Here to Eternity, Heaven Knows Mr Allison, Vacation from Marriage – the last-named, in fact, was the basis of the very first review I ever posted on this blog) to musicals (The King and I) to period drama (Quo Vadis, Ivanhoe, Julius Caesar) to classic romance (An Affair to Remember) and many more… Deborah Kerr was always memorable, always likeable.

Which film should I watch to commemorate Deborah Kerr’s centenary? I have watched a good deal of her filmography (some more beyond the films I’ve already listed in the previous paragraph), so I decided I’d finally watch a film I’ve long been hearing praises of. Black Narcissus, which provided a big boost to Deborah Kerr’s career.

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Adhey Kangal (1967)

Which means ‘The Same Eyes’.

The first Tamil film I ever reviewed on this blog was a suspense thriller, the excellent songless film Andha Naal. Since then, I’ve come across recommendations for other Tamil suspense films, and when I found a subtitled copy of this one—a major hit of its time—I was eager to watch. ‘Taut’ and ‘tense’ was how I’d seen it described by reviewers, and it sounded right up my street.

Adhey Kangal begins in a tense, suspenseful manner. A man is murdered—someone hangs him in his room—and the man’s wife (G Sakunthala) discovers her husband’s dead body. She has just about started screaming when the murderer (whom we do not see, except as two disjointed hands reaching for her) tries to strangle her.

It’s an aborted attempt: the murderer flees, and his would-be victim, shaken and traumatized, but not dead, is discovered by her family.

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Wahan ke Log (1967)

This is a film I’ve known about for many years now: I first heard about it on Greta’s blog, and have since been in two minds about whether to watch it or not. It sounded too nutty to miss (aliens toting laser rays and stealing diamonds? NA Ansari in a double role and Nilofer in a bad wig? Tanuja as ghost-who-sings?), but from my previous experiences of films directed by NA Ansari, I’ve realized that after a while, the madness of the script, the plethora of plot holes and the sheer pointlessness of much of what’s happening, can become very tedious.

But this is considered somewhat of a cult film, and one of the very few early Hindi films that had an element of sci-fi in it. So, if just for that (I like sci fi as a genre), I decided to watch Wahan ke Log.

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Ten of my favourite male duets

Several years back, to mark International Women’s Day, I’d compiled a list of ten female duets: songs celebrating the friendship between women, women teasing friends, women performers dancing and singing together, women singing a devotional song together… a range of emotions and situations, but all featuring two women singing one song.

Sometime back, blog reader Naghma happened to come upon that post, and suggested I do a list of male duets. A great idea (and one I wondered why I hadn’t thought of). After all, there are plenty of instances of two men singing together: sometimes as friends, more often, it seems, in a competition of sorts. And more. Here, therefore, are ten songs I really like, all from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve seen, which feature two men singing: two actors (at least) onscreen, two playback singers contributing their voices to the song. An important caveat: these songs do not include trios, quartets or more singers; they’re only all duets.

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