Sitaaron Se Aage (1958)

When I was reading Balaji Vitthal and Anirudha Bhattacharjee’s The Prince Musician, I came across a mention of this film, which I had never heard of. But the songs listed as being part of Sitaaron Se Aage were familiar to me, and both leads—Ashok Kumar and Vyjyanthimala—are among my favourites. Recently, reading HQ Chowdhury’s Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, I was reminded again of Sitaaron Se Aage, and decided it was high time I watched it.

And what a showcase of SD Burman’s music this film is—right from the start. It begins with Sambhalke yeh duniya hai nagar hoshiyaaron ka, with Lattu (Johnny Walker) and his cronies, the pickpockets Bajjarbattu and Nikhattu, going about relieving passersby of their belongings. The three end up outside a theatre, where the superstar actor Rajesh (Ashok Kumar) has just completed yet another highly-acclaimed performance.

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The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932)

Frank Capra is one of those directors I thought I pretty much knew when it came to style. The everyday American, the humour, the gentle wisdom, the often feel-good charm of films like It Happened One Night, It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr Deeds Goes to Town, and (this is one of my favourites, the ultimate in whacky humour) Arsenic and Old Lace.

If I hadn’t known Frank Capra had also directed (well before any of these films I’ve named) the unusual and erotic The Bitter Tea of General Yen, I don’t think I’d have billed this as a Capra film. There is a sensuality about it, a boldness and an air of exotica that is uncharacteristic of Capra’s more popular works. Of course, part of that is due to the fact that the Hays Code, while it had been introduced in 1930, was not yet being strictly enforced (that was to kick in only around 1934), but even otherwise, there is something about this film that struck me as unlike Capra.

But, to start at the beginning. The Bitter Tea of General Yen begins in Shanghai, during a civil war. It’s pouring rain outside, refugees are streaming into Shanghai, and a group of missionaries have gathered at the home of one of them to celebrate a wedding. One of their group, Robert ‘Bob’ Strike (Gavin Gordon) is about to marry his childhood sweetheart, Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck). Bob and Megan haven’t met for the past three years, but Megan is on her way now from America, about to arrive in Shanghai so that she can marry Bob.

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Moon Songs, Part 3: Comparisons to the moon

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first time humans set foot on the moon, I compiled this list of moon songs. Then I followed it up with this, very different, list—also of moon songs. One list of songs addressed to the moon; another list of songs describing the moon. There are lots of other songs about the moon—from Chalo dildaar chalo chaand ke paar chalo to Chanda chaandni mein jab chamke, songs which mention the moon in all sorts of situations and contexts (more often than not romantic). There are songs drawing people’s attention to the moon (Dekho ji chaand nikla peechhe khajoor ke), songs about the rising of the moon and the absence—or obliviousness—of a beloved (Chaand phir nikla, magar tumna aaye, Woh chaand khila woh tare hanse), songs that use the moon and its proverbial beauty as a metaphor or simile.

It’s the last of these types of songs that I’m looking at here today. Songs where the singer compares someone to the moon.

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Moon Songs, Part 2: Adjectives for the Moon

When, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing, I posted my list of songs addressed to the moon, I ended with a caveat: that was not the only post. There would be more. Because the moon is so popular a motif in Hindi film song lyrics, it’s not surprising that it is dragged into songs about the night (which, of course, is almost synonymous with romance); about the beloved (whose beauty is compared to that of the moon); and even about someone much-loved, not necessarily a love interest.

But there are also plenty of songs which are about the moon. Yellow, lost, crazed with love, wan, lonely: the metaphors applied to the moon are a dime a dozen.

Therefore, this list: ten songs that contain an adjective for the moon. Besides my usual restriction—that the song should be from a pre-1970s Hindi film that I’ve seen—I’ve imposed one more restriction: that the adjective for the moon must occur in the first two lines of the song.

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Moon Songs, Part 1: Ten songs addressed to the moon

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the momentous occasion of the first moon landing: on July 20, 1969, two American astronauts—Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin—set foot on the moon, the first human beings to do so. “One small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind”, Armstrong’s words about his epic first step on Earth’s natural satellite, became the stuff of legend, quoted and misquoted thousands of times in as many contexts.

In the fifty years since then, only a further ten astronauts—in all, twelve people—have set foot on the moon. An interesting reflection of just how much effort goes into putting a human being on the moon (or perhaps how unnecessary it is, in today’s age of AI, to actually put a human being through all this trouble? I don’t know).

But, to come to the point. To celebrate 50 years of this landmark event, a post. I had initially toyed with the idea of reviewing the Dara Singh-starrer Trip to Moon, but the memory of my last attempt at watching that film (I gave up after five minutes) made me abandon that idea. Instead, I thought of a song list. A moon songs list.

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Samskara (1970)

RIP Girish Karnad.

Yes, this is a belated tribute, but since I was about to leave on a summer vacation when the veteran actor, playwright and director passed away, I decided I would wait. Because, though the bulk of Girish Karnad’s career was after the timeline of this blog—his first film was in 1970, which pretty much marks the outer extent of Dustedoff—I had to pay my respects.

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Ten of my favourite tree songs

Two years ago, in May 2017, my husband, I, and our daughter—then three years old—shifted from Delhi to Noida. We had a lot of teething troubles, and even after we had more or less settled down, I kept missing (I still miss) the trees of Delhi. Not that Noida doesn’t have trees; it does. It’s just that the area we live in lacks the great big giants, many decades old, that are so much a part of Delhi.

But we do have a lovely little park in the middle of our housing society, and one day in June 2017, I took our child along there for a little picnic. We read a couple of books, she had a jam sandwich and some lemonade. We looked up at a stunning cabbage palm above the bench we were sitting on. I took a photo of that palm from our point of view, and later that day, I posted that on Facebook. I tagged it #LookingUpAtTrees. That photo became a landmark photo for me: it made me want to post more photos of looking up at trees. So I did. Over the next two years, I’ve become obsessed with trees (among the various other things I’m obsessed with). I photograph them, I want to know more about them, every time I travel, I keep an eye out for species not seen in and around the NCR. And, every week, I post a #LookingUpAtTrees photo (all of these posts are public, so if you’re on Facebook , you can see them even if you’re not on my friends network – just look for my personal page, Madhulika Liddle).

Yesterday I posted the hundredth photo in the series (of a landmark tree: a sal tree at the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun; it was planted in 1956 by the first President of India, Rajendra Prasad). With it, as always, was a brief write-up about the tree.

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Ten of my favourite Rajendra Krishan songs

2019 marks the birth centenary of two major lyricists of Hindi cinema: Kaifi Azmi and Rajendra Krishan. While they may have shared the same birth year, Krishan and Azmi appear to have been very different personalities. Unlike the ardently socialistic Azmi, Rajendra Krishan seems to have pretty much embraced the capitalist side of life (interestingly, he is said to have been the ‘richest lyricist in Hindi cinema’—not as a result of his earnings as a song writer, but because he won 46 lakhs at the races).

Also, unlike Azmi, who wrote songs for less than fifty films (up to 1998, when he wrote for Tamanna), Rajendra Krishan was much more prolific. Though he died in 1987, by then he had already written songs for more than a hundred films.

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The Perfect Furlough (1958)

There was a time, some years back, when I watched a lot of Tony Curtis films (I didn’t get around to reviewing all that I watched, though I did some, such as Some Like it Hot, The Vikings, and Who Was That Lady?).  I haven’t watched a Tony Curtis film in years, but when blog reader Hurdy Gurdy Man sent me a mail informing me of a bunch of old classics that he’d discovered—good prints, too—on Youtube, I found that one of them was a Tony Curtis-Janet Leigh rom-com named The Perfect Furlough.

So I decided it was time to return from that furlough away from Curtis. And with a film that had him opposite Janet Leigh too! That seemed to bode well.

The Perfect Furlough begins in the Pentagon office of Col Leland (Les Tremayne), where a group of military psychologists have been summoned by the general to address a very specific and very troubling problem the US Army’s facing.

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Do Dooni Chaar (1968)

Mention Shakespeare and Hindi cinema, and most eyes light up. Vishal Bhardwaj’s tragedy trilogy—Omkara, Maqbool, and Haider—come immediately to mind for those who cannot think back further than the 1990s, if that. Those who belong to a certain generation (my own) will probably remember fondly the delightful comedy, Angoor, based on A Comedy of Errors.

Fewer, perhaps, will know that Hindi cinema’s tryst with Shakespeare is much older than Angoor. In 1928, a Hamlet adaptation called Khoon-e-Nahak was released; the same play was adapted for screen again in 1935, this time as Khoon ka Khoon, starring Sohrab Modi in the title role opposite Naseem Banu as Ophelia. In 1941, The Merchant of Venice was adapted as a film named Zaalim Saudagar. And in 1954, Kishore Sahu produced, directed and acted in Hamlet, an interesting and unusual film for Hindi audiences since it was a fairly faithful enactment of the play—down to the costumes, the names, etc.

Along with Hamlet (which seems to win hands down when it comes to popularity among Hindi film makers), another popular play for adaptation seems to be A Comedy of Errors. In 1969, it had been made (though with many departures from the original plot, and with no twin servants) as Gustakhi Maaf, with Tanuja in the double role, opposite Sanjeev Kumar. It’s interesting to note that while Sanjeev Kumar would go on to act in another adaptation of the play (Angoor), Tanuja had already acted in yet another version. Do Dooni Chaar, released in 1968 and quite clearly the inspiration for Angoor.

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