Dilip Kumar in Ten Moods

RIP, Dilip Kumar.

A living legend has gone. Yusuf Khan, aka Dilip Kumar, one of the greatest actors (many would say the greatest) of Hindi cinema, a man who could seemingly effortlessly enact any role. A man who could convincingly be the maudlin drunk, the happy-go-lucky joker, the broken-hearted lover, the cynic who looks on with contempt at a world gone awry. Unlike several of his most successful contemporaries, who let their stardom get to their heads until what you saw onscreen was always the star, never the character—Yusuf Sahib managed always, unerringly, to bring the character to life. He was Devdas, he was Noshu. Amar, Azaad, Saleem. And every other character he has played.

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Baksa Badal (1970)

I admire Satyajit Ray immensely. Not only for his keen understanding of human nature and his ability to interpret that in a meaningful, restrained and memorable way, but also for so much more: his intelligence, his eye for detail, his artistic ability. And, up there with all the rest of these qualities, his versatility. Several people have called him a ‘Renaissance Man’, and I agree completely: this man was a fine director, as well as a great writer, artist, costume designer, font designer- and so much else.

And he was versatile even in the world of cinema itself. For those who equate Ray only with ‘art’ films, works like Chiriakhana, Shonar Kella, Joy Baba Felunath and Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne may come as a surprise: but to me, at least, they constitute a happy surprise. Different from Jalsaghar or Charulata (or so many other films of Ray’s) but in their own way, manifestations of Ray’s genius. Comedy, whodunnit, adventure: Ray could do it all, and do it well.

Or romantic comedy. While Ray did not direct Baksa Badal (his assistant Nityanand Datta did), he wrote the screenplay for this delightfully romantic comedy about two people whose identical suitcases get switched, and what that switch leads to. (Ray also composed the music for Baksa Badal).

Note: The original story of Baksa Badal was a short story by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. You can read an English translation of it here.

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Ek Nazar (1951)

June 23, 2021 marked the birth centenary of one of my favourite actors, the very talented and charismatic Rehman. Born Sayeed Rehman Khan in Lahore, Rehman joined the Royal Indian Air Force in 1942 and underwent training at Pune as a pilot. The Air Force soon lost its charm for Rehman (he failed a test) and he went off to Bombay to join the cinema industry. Initially taken on as a third assistant director by the writer-director Vishram Bedekar for Bedekar’s film Lakharani (1945), Rehman went on to assist director DD Kashyap in the film Chaand, where, completely by chance, Rehman appeared onscreen. In a dance sequence in the film, a Pathan character was needed—and the only person around who knew how to tie a turban the Pathan way was Rehman. And he knew how to tie it only around his own head.

The Hindi proverb ‘Daane-daane pe likha hai khaane waale ka naam’ comes to mind.

Rehman was required to say a couple of lines in that brief appearance, and fluffed it repeatedly; thirty takes were required to get it right, possibly because the first line began with a K: “Kitna achha naach thha”. Rehman, even years later, and as a seasoned actor, found it very difficult to begin a dialogue with the K sound and would request that a different word be substituted, or the words moved around.

Rehman had enough of a presence for his potential as an actor to be recognized, and he went on to act as a lead, working opposite major actresses like Madhubala, Suraiya, Nalini Jaywant and Nigar Sultana.

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Doctor (1941)

I tend not to watch too many Hindi films from before the 1950s, and even those that I do, don’t always end up getting reviewed. Mostly, that’s because I either find them fairly forgettable (though there are exceptions, like the superb Neecha Nagar) or otherwise not landmark films in any sense. Nothing that deserves a review.

This one, though, probably needs to be reviewed, even though it’s not extraordinary. Based on a story by Sailajanand Mukhopadhyay (the same story being remade in 1977 as the Uttam Kumar-Sharmila Tagore starrer Anand Ashram), Doctor was made simultaneously in Hindi and Bengali. This was the first Pankaj Mullick film I’ve seen (though I’ve heard his songs many times earlier); and given its music, it deserved, I thought, a review.

Doctor begins with the eponymous doctor, a young man named Amarnath (Pankaj Mullick) returning by train to his ancestral home in the village after finishing medical studies.

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Ten of my favourite English-language songs—not from musicals

Over the years I’ve been blogging, I’ve compiled dozens of song lists, focusing on specific people (actors and actresses, singers, music directors, lyricists), themes, and more. There have been songs from many, many Hindi films, all the way from the 1930s to the first couple of years of the 1970s. One thing there hasn’t been – and quite an omission, too – are songs from Hollywood (or from English language films made outside Hollywood, too). Considering that I watch and review a lot of English language films, including musicals (Oklahoma!, Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Flower Drum Song and Oliver! among them), I figured it was about time I made a ‘ten favourites’ list of English language songs that I really like.

While–unlike Hindi cinema–Hollywood cannot boast of just about every film it makes being a musical, there has been no dearth of musicals. And that’s where I ran up against an obstacle: where would I stop? There are dozens of songs from films made both in the US and in England which I could listen to (and watch) over and over again. Should I do a theme? Should I choose one actor or actress (Gene Kelly? Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers? Julie Andrews?)

Too much work, I thought. And too much sifting. So I chose this: songs from films which weren’t musicals. Each of the ten songs in this list is from films which were definitely not musicals. Westerns, war films, drama, comedy: but not the sort of film that had one song after another. In most cases, this particular song was the only song in the film. As always, these are all songs from films I’ve seen, all pre-70s, and in no particular order.

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The Clerk and the Coat (1955)

Aka Garam Coat, though The Clerk and the Coat is the title as it appears in the credits of this film, and is also the title for which the Censor Certificate was issued.

This film had been among my bookmarks for a long time, but I’d been putting off watching it because I had a suspicion it would turn out to be very depressing. And I’ve not been in a state of mind conducive to being able to watch depressing cinema. But after having watched several rather ho-hum films (Kismat ka Khel, Passport) I figured I should take the plunge and watch something good, even if not exactly frothy and cheery. Garam Coat, after all, was written by Rajinder Singh Bedi, for whom I have a great deal of respect.

The story is set in an unspecified North Indian town, where Girdhari (Balraj Sahni) lives with his wife Geeta (Nirupa Roy) and their three children: two girls and a pampered toddler named Chanda. Girdhari is a clerk at the post office, where he handles money orders. His two best friends are his colleagues Munilal ‘Muni’ (Rashid Khan) and Sher Khan (Jayant). Girdhari’s salary is so meagre that he and Geeta have to carefully monitor every paisa. This for the rent, this for the milkman, this for the kiraane ki dukaan from where they buy their groceries. This much for the insurance premium, for the electricity bill, for the girls’ school fees.

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The Search (1948)

I am not one of those people who cry at the drop of a hat when watching a film. The high melodrama of most Hindi films, for instance, leaves me mostly cold. Lovers separated rarely elicit a tear, and people dying might make me feel vaguely sorry, but not much more.

What does make me feel really sad is when I see children in distress. Children lost, children helpless and in pain, children scared and hungry and lonely. (And yes, very importantly: child actors who do a good job of acting out these characters)… that is what can bring a lump to my throat.

And that is what The Search did to me.

Set in Berlin, just after the end of World War II, The Search begins with a large group of children, rescued from concentration camps and other places, being brought to an Allied shelter. Thin, ragged, their eyes huge and frightened, these children are, to all purposes, orphaned. Perhaps some of them do have a parent, long-separated from the child by the Nazis, but it will take time to find that parent. And in most cases, there is no hope at all: the child is all alone in the world.

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Composers sing for themselves: Ten songs

No, I don’t mean all those many renditions of Mae ri or Naina barse that one comes across, sung by Madan Mohan himself. I mean instances where a composer actually recorded—and it was included in the film in question—a song in his/her own voice.

This idea popped into my head one day when I was watching Baradari and came across a song that Nashad (the composer of the film’s score) sang in his own voice. It made me wonder: were there other composers, too, who had sung songs for their own films (I cannot, offhand, think of any composers—not also major playback singers—who have sung for other composers. SD Burman singing for RD Burman’s music is perhaps one of the exceptions). Of course, some names immediately came to mind: SD Burman, naturally, since I love his voice so much. RD Burman, who was also a good singer. Nashad, since his song had been the one that had sparked off this idea in the first place.

And, quickly, one after the other, more songs, more singers/composers, followed. So here it is, my list of ten songs that were both composed by and sung by the same person. As always, these are all from pre-1970s films that I’ve seen.

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Do Dil (1965)

Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Music by Hemant, lyrics by Kaifi Azmi.

That, by itself, would be enough to make me want to watch the film. But then, there was the fact I hadn’t known anything about Do Dil before other than its name. And that, for a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, is odd. I guessed there must be something about it that was very forgettable.

There was only one way to find out: to watch the film for myself. With a crew like that, I figured that it would almost certainly not be outright awful.

Do Dil begins at a palace, with the death of the Maharaja (we are never shown this man). Some days later, though, a number of courtiers convene along with the Maharaja’s lawyer, who reads out the will. The Maharaja appoints his grand-nephew Kunwar Pratap Singh (Pran), who also happens to be the state’s senapati (commander) as his successor, though with Rani Indumati, the Maharaja’s sister (Durga Khote) as regent (this is all spelled out in very vague terms, so it’s not exactly clear what powers Ranima, as she’s known, will wield). Pratap Singh looks very pleased with himself…

The Maharaja's will is read out
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Mahanagar (1963)

Today is the birth centenary of Satyajit Ray: he was born on May 2, 1921, in Calcutta.

I am not going to expend words and energy in writing even a short biography of Ray: is there any need, after all? Because Ray is too well-known, too well-respected, for him to need any introduction. If there’s one Indian film-maker who’s acclaimed even abroad, it’s Ray. And when you think of how he didn’t merely direct great films, but wrote them, composed music for them, designed costumes for them—and wrote novels and short stories, designed typefaces, created art: you realize just how multi-faceted a genius was Satyajit Ray.

Satyajit Ray
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