Daaera (1953)

From one birth centenary to another.

Less than a week after Chitalkar Ramachandra was born in Maharashtra, on January 17, 1918, in the town of Amroha (in north-west Uttar Pradesh) was born, into a wealthy family of landowners, Syed Amir Haider Kamal Naqvi. Syed (or Kamal, as it probably more appropriate to refer to him) began writing Urdu stories at a young age and harboured a dream of making them into films—a dream quickly shot down by a father who did not think cinema a worthwhile profession. Faced with the prospect of having to manage the family’s estates, the 16-year old Kamal sold his sister’s gold bangles to finance his clandestine escape to Lahore. Here, he continued to write stories while studying (at Lahore’s Oriental College) and by managing to have some of these published, was able to finally save up money enough to travel to Bombay.

In 1938, when he was just 21 years old, his story Jailor was adapted to the screen by film-maker Sohrab Modi.

And that was how Kamal Amrohi made an entry into the Hindi film industry. This was the man who would write perhaps the most memorable Urdu dialogues of any film in Hindi film history (Mughal-e-Azam). This was the man who made what is arguably the finest and most memorable Muslim social in Hindi cinema (Pakeezah). This was the man, too, who—even though he directed only five films—made a mark for himself with those films, three of them (Mahal, Pakeezah and Razia Sultan) becoming pretty much cult classics.

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Chitalkar Ramachandra Sings: Ten Songs

Today is the birth centenary of one of my favourite music directors, C Ramachandra: he was born a hundred years ago, on January 12, 1918, in Puntamba (Maharashtra). I won’t go into his biography, since that is something I’ve covered before on this blog, when I compiled a list of my ten favourite songs composed by C Ramachandra.

That said, I couldn’t possibly have let C Ramachandra’s centenary pass by without celebrating it in some way. So, a list of great songs C Ramachandra sang. Like SD Burman, C Ramachandra (billed often as Chitalkar, especially when he sang playback) had a slew of songs to his name as singer. Unlike SD Burman’s instantly recognizable voice, Chitalkar’s was a little more elusive—to the average listener, he can be recognized at times, but more often than not, he sounds like someone else altogether…

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Baradari (1955)

When I did my post on ‘unusual  singers’—actors and actresses who are familiar to movie-watchers, but have very few songs to which they’ve lip-synced—a couple of people suggested Ajit as a possible candidate for the list.  For those who associate Ajit only with the leering villain of films like Yaadon ki Baaraat, the man of classic (not to mention corny) dialogues like “Lily, don’t be silly” and “Ise liquid oxygen mein daal do. Liquid ise jeene nahin dega aur oxygen ise marne nahin dega”—all delivered, of course, in classic Ajit style—the idea of Ajit ‘singing’ was novel enough.

But the Ajit I first knew in cinema was the Ajit of the old black-and-white Hindi films: the hot-headed rival -and-friend of Dilip Kumar’s character in Naya Daur. The embittered cynic in Nastik. The quiet, handsome and very dependable Durjan Singh of Mughal-e-Azam. Meena Shorey’s friend-enemy-accomplice from the hilarious Dholak. Yes, before he slipped into middle age and the villain roles, Ajit acted the hero in plenty of films (and, more to the point when it came to the ‘unusual singers’ post, lip-synced to many songs, including some big hits).

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Ten of my favourite ‘Unusual Singer’ songs

By which I mean:

(a) That it’s the person who’s lip-syncing to the song (and not the playback singer) who’s unusual…

(b) and unusual because the actor in question is a well-known face, but doesn’t usually lip-sync to songs.

The idea for this post arose because of this wonderful post on Ashok Kumar’s songs, over at Ava’s blog. Ava drew attention to the fact that Ashok Kumar—one of the stalwarts of Hindi cinema, and with a pretty long stint as hero, too—rarely lip-synced to songs. In the post, another similar example was pointed out, in the case of Balraj Sahni: also a major actor, also a ‘hero’ in a lot of films, yet a man who didn’t lip-sync to too many songs.

That set me thinking of other people, other actors and actresses, who have rarely ‘sung’ songs onscreen. Not that they’re otherwise unknown; this is not a case of ‘Who’s that lip-syncing?’, but a case of people one generally doesn’t associate with doing too much singing onscreen. The leads of films (barring exceptions like Ashok Kumar or Balraj Sahni) are invariably excluded, because most songs end up being picturized on them. Major comedians, like Johnny Walker, Rajendranath, and Mehmood, also often had a comic side plot and a romance of their own, which allowed them to ‘sing’ often enough in films (have you ever seen a film that featured Johnny Walker and didn’t have him lip-syncing to at least one song?) And the dancers—Helen, Kumkum, Madhumati, Laxmi Chhaya, Bela Bose, et al—may appear in a film for only five minutes, but you could bet those five minutes would be a song.

Which leaves us with the somewhat more unusual people, the actors who played non-comic roles, character actors. Not stars, not dancers, not comedians. The Manmohan Krishnas, the Lalita Pawars, the other not-often-seen-‘singing’ characters. Here, then, are ten songs that are picturized on people not usually seen lip-syncing. As always, these are in no particular order, and they’re all from pre-70s films that I’ve seen.

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A Matter of Innocence (1967)

Aka Pretty Polly.

I had had no intention of watching this film—in fact, to be honest, I had forgotten all about it until someone mentioned it when I posted a review to mark the passing of one of my favourite Hindi film actors, Shashi Kapoor. I was well aware of the fact that besides acting in Hindi cinema, Shashi had acted in several English-language films (in particular, Merchant-Ivory productions like The Householder and Bombay Talkie, but I’d forgotten this one (which, by the way, isn’t Merchant-Ivory). A sweet, sometimes comic, sometimes poignant coming-of-age film about an innocent young miss who falls in love while in Singapore.

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Mohabbat Isko Kehte Hain (1965)

A little less than a week ago, on December 4, I received news that a very dear aunt had passed away. My parents, my sister and I made arrangements to travel to Kolkata for the funeral, the next day. Early in the morning, just as I was about to leave for the airport, the newspaper was delivered, and one headline sprang out at me: Shashi Kapoor had passed away, too. On the very same day as my aunt.

I suppose if Shashi Kapoor had passed away on any other day, on a day when I was not quite so swamped in sorrow of my own, I would have posted a tribute to him earlier. Later, I thought. When I am a little less distraught. My father, reading the newspaper, remarked that he and Shashi Kapoor had been born in the same year, just 6 months apart (my father in September 1938, Shashi in March 1938). My mother, looking at a lovely photo of a smiling and very handsome young Shashi, remarked that he looked uncannily like a cousin of mine (which I have to agree with; I have thought so many times). In our own ways, all of us remembered Shashi Kapoor.

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The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)

I have said, time and again, that I have a lot to be grateful for to the readers of this blog. Not only do all of you keep me going by reading my posts, commenting on them and discussing them (even going off on tangents!), you also educate me, enlighten me, entertain me—and, importantly, give me recommendations now and then.

Especially over the past few months, I have seen several memorable (and, at least to me, obscure) films that came to my notice simply because readers recommended them to me. The Outrage was recommended by Hurdy Gurdy Man; Neeru told me about Leave Her to Heaven; and CP Rajagopalan mentioned The Secret of Santa Vittoria. Not once, but in two separate comments, which prompted me to hurry up and watch it. And yes, what a film this turned out to be.

The eponymous Santa Vittoria is a small town in Italy where the story opens just before dawn sometime near the end of World War II. The earnest and excited Fabio (Giancarlo Giannini) comes racing to the church, waking up the priest and insisting on ringing the church bells, because there’s such momentous news… when the dazed, sleepy and generally stoic-looking residents of Santa Vittoria gather around in the square, Fabio shares his news: Mussolini is gone.  Fascism has ended!

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Do Behnen (1959)

RIP, Shyama.

Yes, Shyama, of the dancing eyes and the gorgeous smile, passed away almost a week ago, on November 14, 2017. I could not possibly let the death of one of my favourite actresses go unmentioned on this blog, but I’d already done, some years back, a post of my favourite Shyama songs. A film review, therefore, seemed in order. But which one?

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Rajkumari (1970)

Here is the answer to the question I set a couple of days back. What do Aapke kamre mein koi rehta hai, Yeh jawaani hai deewaani, Pyaar deewaana hota hai and Yeh kya hua have in common, I had asked (besides the obvious: that Kishore had sung all four, and RD Burman had composed all four). Some people got the answer correct, and some came close to guessing. Yes, these songs were all copied by Burman from tunes he had composed for one film. That was a Bengali film named Rajkumari, released in 1970.

Rajkumari, starring Tanuja as the eponymous princess, is a film I came across thanks to friend and erstwhile fellow blogger, Harvey. Some weeks back, Harvey shared a link to one of the songs of Rajkumari (more about these songs, later). I liked it so much that I made up my mind I had to see it. And it turned out to be quite entertaining.

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Shart (1969)

Some weeks back, I and a blog reader were reminiscing about the good old days of Doordarshan, and ended up agreeing that Doordarshan and its penchant for old Hindi cinema had an important part to play in our love for this period of cinema. For me, at least, Doordarshan was the introduction to the cinema of the 50s and 60s: by the time I was old enough to be able to really make sense of cinema, my father had been posted to Srinagar, and the sole movie hall there was too dangerous to visit: it stood in Laal Chowk, in the heart of town, where every other day there was violence of some sort or the other.

So we stayed at home and watched just about everything Doordarshan cared to show. And a lot of it was old cinema.

Shart was one of those films I first began watching on Doordarshan. Barely a few minutes into the film, the electricity went kaput, but by then something sufficiently intriguing had happened for me to want to watch it again. I remember waiting for years before this film appeared again—this time on one of those many channels that had emerged sometime during the early 90s.

I liked the film back then, but over the years I’d forgotten much of it. Time for a rewatch, I decided, if only to see whether it merited a rewatch.

Shart is aptly named, because it centres around Raj (Sanjay Khan), who is always eager to bet on just about anything. He goes about with a bunch of friends, one of whom, Kailash, is always on the lookout for opportunities to have a wager with Raj [Kailash keeps losing, so I cannot see why he continues to bet]. For instance, when the film starts, Kailash bets that Raj won’t be able to walk up to a passing girl and hug her without getting slapped in return.

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