Laura (1944)

In the early 40s, film maker Otto Preminger was getting set to make what would become a classic of film noir, the Gene Tierney-Dana Andrews starrer, Laura. Darryl F Zanuck, who headed 20th Century Fox at the time, was eager to cast Laird Cregar in the role of Waldo Lydecker, but Preminger wanted Clifton Webb for the role. Zanuck insisted that Webb was too effeminate to play Lydecker; Preminger stuck to his guns. Eventually, Webb played Lydecker—and played him so well that the role got him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and it got him a contract with 20th Century Fox that made him work only with the company for the rest of his career.

Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker

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Jagriti (1954), Bedari (1956)

One review suffices for two films, really. Jagriti was an Indian film, Bedari a Pakistani one. Why I say one review suffices is because Bedari was a blatant copy of Jagriti: so blatant that when Pakistanis cottoned onto the fact that it was a copy, there was a furore which resulted in the Federal Board of Film Censor in Pakistan banning Bedari.

I’ll discuss the synopsis by looking at Jagriti, since Bedari used exactly the same plot, down to the scenes.

Jagriti begins by introducing us to the very wild teenager Ajay Mukherjee (Raj Kumar), who spends his after-school time gallivanting around the village with his gang of equally wild friends. They steal mangoes from an orchard and leave the irate gardener with a bump on his head; Ajay slips onto a ferry and deprives a banana-seller of an entire day’s worth of bananas.

By the time Ajay gets home, his uncle (Bipin Gupta) has been besieged by some very upset villagers. He’s had to soothe them, pay up their damages, and promise that the situation will be amended.

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Teachers and Students: Ten of my favourite songs

I began this blog in November 2008, and in the eleven years since, I’ve never done a post for Teachers’ Day. That is mostly because I did not have great memories of teachers from my school days. A handful were good, a handful left an impact on me; but the majority were people I did not look back on with fondness or gratitude or any other such emotion. More often than not, if you were to ask whom I would thank for moulding me in my childhood, I’d say it was my parents. They were my first teachers, and even till fairly late, they continued to be the people who influenced me the most.

These days, however, I am feeling a love for teachers. My six-year old daughter, the Little One (the ‘LO’) is attending online classes, and when I see the patience, the calm, the classroom manner (that’s the best term I can think of for what would be bedside manner in a doctor) I cannot help but admire these teachers. They maintain their composure through connectivity issues, bossy and demanding parents, excessively chatty children, and sometimes just sheer lack of tech-savviness. Through it all, they’ve continued teaching our children their lessons.

So, in appreciation, a list of songs for teachers and students. To commemorate the classroom, the bond between taught and teacher, and education itself. As always, these songs are from pre-1970s films that I’ve seen.

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Ten of my favourite Kumkum songs

Rest in peace, Kumkum.

I was in the middle of watching a film to write a tribute to Hollywood star Olivia de Havilland, who passed away on 25th July at the age of 104, when I heard that, closer home, there had been another death. Another actress, much loved. Kumkum, of the dancing eyes and the bright smile. Kumkum who could dance up a storm in Madhuban mein Radhika naache re and be the demure heroine opposite leading men all the way from Shammi Kapoor to Rajendra Kumar to Kishore Kumar.

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Ten of my favourite ‘This is my work’ songs

I love it when blog readers suggest themes for song lists: it invariably provides food for thought. For instance, about a couple of years back, one of my readers, Ashish, sent me a mail with a suggestion: songs  about people selling their wares (he was spurred onto that by listening to the song Zindagi hai kya sun meri jaan, in which Dev Anand is selling ice cream—the point being that the song is used as a means of promoting the wares of the seller). A very good post on songs like that had already been done by Pacifist (as a guest writer on Harvey’s blog), but it made me think: goods, after all, are not all that’s sold. Services, equally, are sold. And the service can be anything: from transportation to tailoring, from entertainment to—well, something rather more intimate.

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Noor Mahal (1965)

Or, Ten Reasons Why You Should Watch Jagdeep’s Funniest Film

First, though, a word by way of tribute. Jagdeep, who passed away last week (on July 8th), may not have scaled the heights other comedians, such as Johnny Walker or Mehmood, did, but he had a much longer innings than most. He seems to have debuted in Madhubala (1950) as a child artiste, and worked in close to 400 films, right up to 2017’s Masti Nahin Sasti.

And, interestingly enough, somewhere between his years as a child actor (in Footpath, Do Bigha Zameen, etc) and his heyday as a comedian, Jagdeep acted as leading man in several films… including Noor Mahal, of Mere mehboob na jaa, aaj ki raat na jaa fame.

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Satluj de Kande (1964)

One of my constant gripes is that it’s so difficult to get hold of good old regional Indian films with subtitles. For someone like me, fluent only in English and Hindustani and with no other regional language to fall back upon, the field is that much more restricted.

I few years ago, with much initial hesitation, I decided to take the plunge and watch a Punjabi film. Since my husband is Punjabi and several of his family members do converse in the language, I figured I’d learnt enough to be able to grasp what was happening. The rest, I thought, I’d ask my husband to translate.

Nanak Naam Jahaaz Hai, to my surprise, wasn’t hard to follow. Satluj de Kande (a film I was keen on watching because it had won the National Film Award), on the other hand, took some effort to follow.

More on that later. For now, what it’s about.

The story is set on the bank of the Satluj River, where the Bhakra Nangal Dam is being built. Ram Prakash Malhotra (Balraj Sahni) is a dam engineer and when the story opens, he’s irate. Ishwar Das (?), a contractor, has been proved to have been dishonest, and Malhotra is furious. Ishwar Das makes a big show of being very contrite, but Malhotra isn’t pacified.

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Raat ke Raahi (1959)

What a dreadful year this is turning out to be. As if the communal violence at the start of the year wasn’t bad enough, we were then hit by coronavirus. And as I struggle to cope, trying to keep my spirits high in the face of failing economies, loss of income, and of course the threat of a lethal disease—the last thing I needed was the passing of two of my favourite actors. Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor, both very good actors, immensely watchable and with a charisma hard to match, died within 24 hours of each other.

This blog is not about cinema after 1970, so there will not be a separate tribute piece for these two brilliant actors, but yes: I did want to put it out there, my sorrow at their passing, a blow that oddly enough (given that I never even met either of them) hit really hard.

What this is, though, is a tribute to another actor, someone whose birth centenary it is today. Achla Sachdev.

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Street Singer (1938)

Look what I found!

Considering some of you might not understand the reason for all the fuss and excitement, I ought to back up and provide some context. 

I must admit that till fairly recently, I’d never been a huge fan of 1930s Hindi film music. My first brush with the decade was when I watched Main ban ki chidiya banke as a teenager—it was showing on Chitrahaar—and was in splits because it was so funny. Ashok Kumar was so awkward, the singing was so nasal, the entire song was so far removed from what I liked (the songs of the 50s and 60s), that I couldn’t bring myself to regard the song with anything but mirth. 

I still know very little about the songs of the 30s, and would be hard put to it to name even ten songs from the decade. But if asked to name just one song from the decade, the song that I would name without even stopping to think would be the utterly brilliant Baabul mora naihar chhooto (I actually went out on a limb and named this song as my pick for the 30s in this article I wrote to commemorate hundred years of Indian cinema).

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Lockdown Lyrics: Songs for Covid-19 Times

What a horrid year this has turned out to be (and we’re barely past the first quarter, even). First we had all that communal violence, and then—just as we were wondering how much worse it could get—we were side-swiped by … Continue reading