I don’t celebrate Holi—ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a horror of being wet and dirty, and come Holi, I used to insist on locking myself in. I was in good company; though my father was obliged to go and play Holi with his colleagues, Mummy and my sister were as intent on staying clean as I was. Come Holi, we’d happily feast on gujiyas and whatever other goodies came our way, but pichkaris, gulaal, and the rest? No, thank you.
Not so with Hindi cinema, where Holi has been a big thing all along: the perfect situation for displays of affection, camaraderie, general love towards one and all. And I don’t think I have ever seen Holi depicted in a film without there being an accompanying song. That was what I’d first thought I’d do to mark Holi on this blog: a post of Holi songs. Then, looking back at the number of non-Holi songs that are about colours, I thought, Let’s give it a twist. Let’s talk about blue and pink and green and yellow. Let’s talk sky and trees and eyes and whatnot. Neeli aankhein, peeli sarson. Hariyali aur raasta.
Much is made of International Women’s Day, and I find myself inundated with messages relating to that, beginning a week in advance of March 8. Promotions from online retailers, newspaper ads, flyers offering discounts on everything from spa treatments to cosmetics: it’s all there. I however tend to mostly ignore Women’s Day and treat it just as another day.
This time, though, I thought: why not post a review of a film that puts women in an important role? It occurred to me then that it had been years—more years than I could remember—since I had watched The Women. And that this might be a good excuse to rewatch a very unusual film: unusual, not because of the story (which isn’t so very offbeat), but because of the fact that the film has no male characters appearing onscreen. Men are there in The Women, but they are neither seen nor heard.
Let’s say you’re a film maker in the Hindi cinema of the late 1960s. You’ve set your heart on making a thriller. You have some money, but not enough to be able to hope to churn out something with Shammi Kapoor, set in Europe. You see all these glittering films—Teesri Manzil, An Evening in Paris, Jewel Thief—being released, and it irks you. If they can do it, why can’t you? So one day you gird up your loins, and inspired by all of these, and all the James Bond movies you can lay your hands upon, you set out to make your own thriller.
You cannot afford Shammi Kapoor [or is he perhaps too discerning to agree after he’s read the script?], so you settle for Biswajeet instead. You don’t have the budget to shoot abroad, but that doesn’t matter. You will make do by bringing abroad here to India, by plonking a bronze wig onto Biswajeet and having him pretend to be a Parisian named Robbie for much of the film.
BR Chopra is one director for whom I have a lot of respect: he was one of the most versatile film makers of his time, a man whose films could not easily be dumped together into one broad category. Look at the difference between Waqt and Sadhna, for instance: one stylish and glamorous, the first big multi-starrer in Hindi cinema; the other a low-key yet impactful film with an unusual female lead. Or Humraaz, a sleek suspense thriller, and—on the other hand—Dharamputra, a commentary on secularism and bigotry and several related ills which still plague India.
Whether he was conveying a message, highlighting a social evil, or simply making an entertaining film, BR Chopra was in a class by himself. His films invariably had excellent production values; the music could always be counted upon to be topnotch (and the fact that he often commissioned Sahir Ludhianvi as lyricist meant that it wasn’t just the music that was superb, it was also the words of the songs—some of Sahir’s best songs are for BR Chopra’s films).
Which brings me to this film. Ek Hi Raasta was one of BR Chopra’s earlier films, and while it doesn’t have the impact of (say) Gumraah or Dhool ka Phool, it is still an interesting story.
This film has been on my radar for a long time now—since I discovered that one of my favourite Hindi films, Ittefaq, was based on Signpost to Murder. The other day, I was again reminded of that, and this time decided I had to watch the original.
Signpost to Murder begins in an English village named Milhampton. Here, at a local asylum for the criminally insane, lives Alex Forrester (Stuart Whitman). Alex, who was accused of murdering his wife, has been in the asylum for the past five years. When the film opens, he’s outdoors, shoveling earth in the shadow of the high electric fences that surround the institution. With Forrester is his psychiatrist, Dr Mark Fleming (Edward Mulhare). Fleming has known Forrester these past five years and is due to represent Forrester in an upcoming debate regarding the possibility of bringing up Forrester’s case again.
Because there are many songs that could well be answers to the question. A name spelled out, or a description provided. The love of one’s life, or the bane of one’s existence. One person may ask, “Kaun aaya?”, and another may well have the answer to that.
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.
The very first English language film I remember watching was a war film (a farcical comedy called Our Miss Fred, which I’ve never managed to get hold of since). Over the years, and especially during my teens—thanks to a local VHS lending library which stocked mostly war films—I watched a lot more of this genre. I’ve watched violent war films, adventurous war films, propaganda-heavy films, war films that crossed genres and combined war with everything from crime and mystery to comedy, to romance. I’ve watched war films that showed the futility of war.
War seems to be a favourite subject with many film makers.
But who stops to think of what happens when war is over? The Spanish film Bienvenido, Mr Marshall! did explore this idea in a humorous way, but from the point of view of people who were mostly non-combatants in the war itself. What happens, however, to men who have spent a few years in battle, men who have actually been in combat, and that too on the other side of the world from where they usually live? What happens when men come back to their everyday lives, their families and friends, to find that their world has moved on? And that they, too, have changed?
Some definitions that came to my mind, having—over the course of a little over thirty years—watched three versions of the same story:
Nostalgia. A feeling of deep, intense longing for a film you saw in your childhood, and of which you remember nothing except the vague outline of a story.
Serendipity. Searching for a film you know next to nothing about, and finding an earlier version that turns out to be even better than the one you recall seeing.
Double delight. Finding yet another version of a much-loved film, and discovering that this one is just as good as the other versions.
The point being that Shijibganeun Nal, about which I raved so ecstatically a couple of years back on this blog, turned out to have been only the earliest (as far as I know) cinematic adaptation of a comic play about a greedy country gentleman, a quiet and upright maidservant, and a young nobleman. I had originally seen the 1977 version of this film on Doordarshan three decades ago; I found and watched (with much enjoyment) the award-winning 1956 version some time back; and then, the other day, I came across this version (the name of which translates as ‘A Happy Day for Maeng Jinsa’) on Youtube. And how could I resist watching it all over again?
I remember watching Padosan as a child, and I remember my sister saying, “How could someone so handsome consent to be made up as someone like Bhola? And to act so silly?” I already liked Sunil Dutt a good deal, but that comment made me sit up and respect him a lot more than I already did. In a period when there was a very definite idea of what a ‘hero’ should be like (and the 60s was a decade where heroes tended to be more cookie-cutter than in the 50s), Sunil Dutt did roles that ranged from a man having an affair with another man’s wife (Gumraah), a dacoit (Mujhe Jeene Do), a buffoon (Padosan), a cuckold (Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke)… and in a slew of everything from suspense films (Mera Saaya, Humraaz) to family melodramas (Milan, Meherbaan, Khaandaan, etc).
Versatile, unafraid of experimenting—and a man, too, who seems to have worked in several films that focused on social reform. In Nartakee, for instance, where his character is that of a college lecturer, Nirmal, who comes in contact with a reluctant nautch girl who would much rather learn how to read and write than dance and sing for patrons.