When friend and fellow blogger Harini reviewed The One and Lonely Kidar Sharma: An Anecdotal Autobiography on her blog, I was intrigued enough to express an interest in reading the book—and Harini was kind enough to lend it to me.
In the nearly ten years this blog has been in existence, I’ve reviewed hundreds of films. Including many, many Hindi films. Some have been big hits, others so obscure that even fairly faithful followers of my blog, seeing the name of the film in their RSS feed, have probably decided my review didn’t even merit a visit.
But there are also the (to some) glaring omissions. Every now and then, someone wonders why I’ve never got around to reviewing some of the most iconic Hindi films of the pre-70s period. Mother India. Guide. Pyaasa. Devdas. To them I say that I fear I will not have anything to say that somebody or the other hasn’t already said, and probably in a far better and more informed way than I could.
Among the films about which I’m asked, again and again, is Mughal-e-Azam.
This one is a somewhat more puzzling omission from my list of reviews, given that I am deeply interested in Mughal history, I am very fond of Madhubala, and that the film really does have near-cult status. So much so that it was even the first full-length film anywhere in the world to be digitally coloured for a theatrical re-release (in 2004). But what would be the point of me writing about Mughal-e-Azam? Almost anybody who’d be interested enough in the film to read my review of it would almost certainly have already seen the film, and chances are, would know not just the story, but would have decided and definite views about much of the rest of the film, too: the characters, the songs, the dialogue, the historicity (or lack of it).
All of this, too, was in my mind when I began reading Anil Zankar’s Mughal-e-Azam: Legend as Epic (Harper Collins Publishers India, 2013; 200 pages; Rs 250). I was intrigued: what would Zankar have to say about a film so well-known?
In the early 1940s, my mother (then a toddler) and her family lived in Amritsar. My grandfather used to work in Lahore: he was the sound engineer at the HMV recording studios there. Nana would commute everyday between Amritsar and Lahore, and one day, when he got back home in the evening, he told my Nani, “Today I heard a very young man with a wonderful voice. He will go places.”
My grandfather was the one who recorded the first song sung for cinema by that young man. A few years later, Nana could proudly say that he had heard Mohammed Rafi sing that day in the studio, and that he had recorded the song.
Mohammed Rafi. Rafi of the golden voice, Rafi of whom it was said (by many of his contemporaries) that he had a voice given by God himself. While I love the voices of Hemant and Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar and Talat (and many others of that period), and while I cannot imagine anybody but Hemant singing Tum pukaar lo or anybody but Mukesh singing Woh subaah kabhi toh aayegi… Rafi is special for me. If pushed to the wall and made to name one singer who’s my favourite, I would have to concede that it’s Rafi.
This is why I got pretty excited when I saw Sujata Dev’s Mohammed Rafi: Golden Voice of the Silver Screen (ISBN: 9789380070971; Om Books International; Rs 595; 238 pages). A biography of Rafi? It was worth a try.
If there’s one film maker whose films tend to feature fairly prominently on this blog, it’s Nasir Husain. Of all the films he wrote and/or directed in the 50s and 60s, only two—Paying Guest and Anarkali, both of which he wrote—haven’t been reviewed on Dusted Off (though I have watched both, Paying Guest on several occasions). Rarely is a song list posted that doesn’t have at least one song from a Nasir Husain film. And when it comes to posts like this, where would I be without Nasir Husain?
But, all said and done, and while I may poke fun at the formulas and tropes Mr Husain was so good at dishing up (as delectable concoctions, too), one thing I acknowledge: he knew how to make cinema entertaining. Whether it was pure eye candy you were looking for, or the most fabulous music, or pretty locales and total paisa vasool plots, Nasir Husain was the film maker you could safely turn to. Like Bimal Roy or Hrishikesh Mukherjee, this is one director whose films I’ll happily watch simply because he’s the one directing them.
Which is why this book (ISBN: 978-93-5264-096-6; Harper Collins Publishers India, 2016; Rs 599, 402 pages) caught my imagination from the very beginning. No, not when I bought a copy, but when Akshay Manwani first approached me, saying he was going to write about Nasir Husain’s cinema and if I’d be willing to answer some questions. From that very first discussion till now, I’ve been looking forward to reading this book.
At the risk of being labelled an iconoclast and being trolled by diehard Lata fans, I have mentioned several times on this blog how much I like Asha Bhonsle. It’s not that I don’t like Lata: I do, very much, and there are many, many songs of hers that I cannot imagine anyone else singing, or singing better than she does. But when I think of Asha, of Aage bhi jaane na tu and Saba se yeh keh do and Yehi woh jagah hai… I cannot help but think that Asha is too often unfairly dismissed as being second to her Didi.
So, when I was offered a chance to review Raju Bharatan’s Asha Bhosle: A Musical Biography (Hay House Publishers India Pvt Ltd, ₹599, 332 pages), I jumped at it. (If you want to read a shorter and more tactful review, read the one I wrote for The New Indian Express, here).
I don’t recall exactly when I realized who the Hunterwali really was. Myth, fictional character, movie character: I had no idea, but—even as a child—I had vague memories of references to a feisty woman who went about cracking a whip (thus, ‘Hunterwali’—the ‘woman with the whip’). A particularly fearless, sharp-tongued woman would jokingly be referred to as Hunterwali, and I always thought it was a generic appellation. Not something derived from cinema, at any rate.
This, mind you, well into the 80s.
Then, somewhere down the line, I discovered the truth: that Hunterwali was a blockbuster hit film from the 30s, starring an actress named Fearless Nadia. The visual—I think it was a grainy photo in an old magazine or newspaper—was enough to explode all my ideas of what old Hindi film heroines (till then, for me, always sari-clad and melodramatic) were supposed to be. This one wore shorts and a clingy top. Her boots were no-nonsense ones, she wielded a whip and she generally looked super badass.
And she was blonde.
In all the years I’ve been writing this blog, one film maker whose name keeps cropping up every now and then—whose films I’ve reviewed, whose work I’ve commented on—is the brilliant Hrishikesh Mukherjee. From his editing of classics like Do Bigha Zameen, Madhumati and Chemmeen, to his direction of both popular hits like Asli-Naqli and relatively little-known works like Majhli Didi and Biwi aur Makaan, Hrishikesh Mukherjee has had a hand (and a mind and a heart, and sometimes—as I discovered when I read Jai Arjun Singh’s ‘sort of biography’ of the man—a house) in some of my favourite films.
I have Richard, over at Dances on the Footpath, to thank for this. Several years back, Richard had linked a blog post to a URL from where one could download Balraj Sahni’s autobiography. Since I’m a fan of Mr Sahni’s, I did so, promptly (which was just as well, since sometime later, that link went dead). What with this and that, however, I didn’t get around to reading the book until a week or so back—and then I wished I’d taken the time to read it earlier.
People who know this blog focuses on pre-70s cinema would possibly be surprised to find a review here of a book about RD Burman—who, to most people, is more associated with Dum maaro dum and all those very peppy Rishi Kapoor songs of the 70s, than the music of the 60s. The fact, however, remains that RD Burman had actually made his debut as an independent composer (not merely as an assistant to his father, SD Burman) as far back as 1961, with the Mehmood production Chhote Nawab. And that he composed the chartbusting music for what is possibly my favourite Hindi suspense film (and one, too, which doesn’t have a single song I don’t like): Teesri Manzil.
This review, therefore, of a book about a man I knew little about except through his music—which has always appealed to me, not just because so much of it was there, all around me, playing on LPs in our house and blaring from radios wherever we went when I was growing up, but because it was so infectious, so full of life. (It was only later that an older, more informed me realized just how versatile RDB was, what softly melodious songs he could compose).
I know I’m a bit late to the party here; Anu had already written about Bhattacharjee and Vittal’s latest book over at her blog, and Harini reviewed it recently on her blog—but better late than never, I guess.
Bhattacharjee and Vittal’s book’s subtitle says it all: 50 Classic Hindi Film Songs. They define ‘classic’ too, in the prologue to the book, where they discuss what is for me truly a classic, the brilliant Baabul mora, by KL Saigal. A timeless song, a song as capable today as it was in the 30s of touching hearts, of making people catch their breath in sheer awe at the music, the lyrics, the rendition—and a song with a story behind it: the story of the exiled Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, ousted from his Awadh and sent away to Calcutta. A song rendered repeatedly by different singers, including some of the greatest voices. And the story, too, of its filming in Street Singer.