Akahige (1965)

Or, in English, Red Beard.

Today is the birth centenary of one of my favourite actors, the Japanese star Toshiro Mifune. Born in Tsingtao (China) to Japanese parents on April 1, 1920, Mifune  first appeared in Japanese cinema in 1947. A year later, having met director Akira Kurosawa, Mifune was cast in his first Kurosawa film, Drunken Angel. Over the next eighteen years, Kurosawa and Mifune worked together on sixteen films, including several classics like The Seven Samurai, Rashomon, High and Low, and The Hidden Fortress. Alongside, Mifune continued to work with other directors, both Japanese and foreign (one of the more unusual Mifune films I’ve reviewed is Animas Trujano, a Mexican film). Mifune also starred in several Hollywood productions, and set up his own film production company in Japan.

Trying to decide on a Mifune film to review by way of celebration of his hundredth birthday was a tough task: should I go with an early one, like Drunken Angel or Stray Dog? Or one of the many samurai-period films that became almost synonymous with the Kurosawa-Mifune collaboration? Eventually, I settled on this one. Akahige or Red Beard, the last film this great actor and this equally great director made together. Kurosawa and Mifune fell apart during the making of Akahige, and parted ways—but the film itself displays none of that. On the contrary, it’s a well-made, very memorable film about humanity and humaneness.

Continue reading

Songs for Our Times

I have been watching with increasing despair and sorrow these past few months as India has teetered on the brink of disharmony and violence, hoping against hope that it was just a passing phase. There were moments when I felt things were looking up, for instance, when people of other faiths—not just Muslims—came together at Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere to oppose CAA and NRC. There were times I told myself it was getting better, that India was essentially secular, and that divisive forces would eventually be defeated.

Then the Delhi carnage happened. Many were killed, even more injured. Property was destroyed, people were forced to flee their homes. Curfew was clamped. We mourned. Not just for the dead, but for the way the hydra-headed monster of hatred, bigotry and violence had again reared its head.

I have lived in Delhi for most of my life, and to see the city burning like that—if only virtually, since I now live in Noida and don’t need to go to Delhi often—was heartbreaking. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were flooded with horrifying photos and articles, and I despaired, wondering where humanity had gone.

And then the heartwarming bits of news began trickling in: the gurudwaras which announced that their doors were open to victims of the violence, irrespective of faith; the Hindus who staunchly protected Muslim neighbours; the Muslims who formed a chain around a temple, the Sikh who risked his own life to ferry Muslim neighbours to safety, again and again and again… each piece brought with it new hope. Yes, humanity will triumph, I thought. This too shall pass.

This week’s blog post, I thought, merited a list. A list of songs that call for peace and communal harmony. Songs that remind us that hatred and violence go nowhere, and that religion is supposed to make you a better person, not an evil, angry one.

Continue reading

Harry Black and the Tiger (1958)

February 1920 was a very important month for Hindi cinema, though of course the fledgling cinema industry in India back then didn’t know it. But that month, a century ago, marked the births of three major actors (and one not so major, but by no means a non-entity). One was Pran, born on February 12th. Another was Iftekhar, born on February 22nd (a birthday shared with Kamal Kapoor). And between Pran and Iftekhar, born on February 16th, a man who was not just actor, but also writer, director and producer: IS Johar.

Continue reading

Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja (1961)

In 1956, Waheeda Rehman made her debut in Hindi cinema in CID, with Dev Anand (Waheeda wasn’t the heroine of CID—Shakila was—but she had a good and somewhat offbeat role as the vamp with a heart of gold). Over the next decade and a half or so, Waheeda and Dev Anand were to go on to act together in several more films, probably their most famous pairing being in the hugely popular Guide (1965).

I have watched, as far as I know, all of the Waheeda-Dev films over the years. The only one that (again, as far as I know) I hadn’t watched yet was this one. Time, I decided, to make amends for that.

As in many other films of his, Dev Anand in Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja is a crook—a thief, to be precise. We are introduced to Chhagan (Dev) when he’s in a shady-looking dive, buying a bottle of booze. Shortly after, Chhagan is accosted by ‘Langad Deen’, a partly-crippled character (played by Jeevan), who has a bit of news for Chhagan: a steamer is about to begin the journey down the river to the pilgrimage spot of Shivsagar. Langad Deen has it on authority that among the people on board is a wealthy jeweller who is carrying a very valuable diamond to be offered up to the god Shiv at Shivsagar.

Continue reading

Ten of my favourite Naushad Songs

Happy Christmas!

Today marks the birthday of Jesus Christ, but also of a man who was pretty much regarded as little less than a god by thousands of music lovers in India between the 40s and the 60s. The one and only Naushad Ali, who was born on Christmas Day, 1919.

Continue reading

Book Review: HQ Chowdhury’s ‘Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman’

This is the third biography of SD Burman’s that I’ve read in the past few years.

Continue reading

Aurat (1940)

In 1957, Mehboob Khan produced and directed a film that has achieved almost iconic status in the history of Indian cinema. Mother India was the first Indian film to receive a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and won several Filmfare Awards, including Best Film and Best Actress.

Mother India is a fine example of the importance of perseverance. If you don’t get it right the first time, try again. Sometime along the way, somewhere and somehow, you will get to your goal. Also, if you did something well once, chances are you’ll do it better the next time round. Practice makes perfect.

I’m not talking about how Radha, the female lead character of Mother India (and of Aurat) manages to surmount all the obstacles in her path and emerge strong. I’m talking about Mehboob Khan himself, who was the director not just of Mother India, but of the film, Aurat, of which Mother India was a remake. Based on a story by Babubhai Mehta (and supposedly partly inspired too by Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth) and with dialogue by Wajahat Mirza, Aurat was a film Mehboob Khan only directed. Seventeen years later, now a producer in his own right, he remade the film, both producing and directing it. And how well he proved that if you do something well the first time round, there’s a good chance you’ll do it well, and even better, the second time round.

Continue reading

Ten of my favourite Manna Dey duets

It’s not as if I’ve not done a Manna Dey song list before (I have, several years back). But today, when Manna Dey would have turned a hundred years old, cannot pass without my doing a tribute to the beautiful voice and the versatility of one of my favourite singers.

Continue reading

Elephant Boy (1937)

There’s a good reason why I’m reviewing this film today. Ideally, I should have reviewed it last week, on the hundredth anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, but since I didn’t want to publish two posts on consecutive days, I decided I’d let this wait for a week.

What connection is there between Elephant Boy and Jallianwala Bagh? Nothing, on the face of it, except perhaps the rather obvious Indian connection—since Elephant Boy was based on Rudyard Kipling’s Toomai of the Elephants (one of the chapters of The Jungle Book) and was shot extensively in India (it even marked the debut of possibly the most famous Indian export to Hollywood, Sabu—but that’s another story, which I’ll touch upon briefly near the end of this review).

No, what connects Elephant Boy to Jallianwala Bagh is that the man who tried to avenge Jallianwala Bagh acted in this film. Udham Singh, who killed the former Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer, the man who had ordered the massacre (which was carried out by Brigadier General Dyer), had worked at various jobs before he became an integral part of the story of India’s freedom movement. He had been a mechanic, and—briefly—an actor of bit parts, small roles of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type (more on the Udham Singh few know of, in this excellent article). Elephant Boy was one of the films in which Udham Singh appeared. Briefly, but still.

Continue reading

Two for the Road (1967)

Life has been very hectic the past few months. I’ve been working on several writing assignments, switching from one novel to another; the LO, now poised to leave kindergarten and progress to Class I, requires a good deal of attention, and various lit fests or other book events have entailed (and are going to entail) some travelling.

So, when British actor Albert Finney passed on February 7th this year, while I did notice the news article about his death in the newspaper, I passed it by without it really registering who Albert Finney was (Poirot, in the 1974 version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, just in case, like me, you were clueless too). It was blog reader Hurdy Gurdy Man who, a few days later, reminded me of Finney’s death and asked me if I was meaning to review a film of his by way of tribute. I thought I would: Two for the Road, I told Hurdy Gurdy Man in an e-mail.

But, the sad irony of fate: just a couple of days back, I got another e-mail from Hurdy Gurdy Man, informing me that the director of Two for the Road, Stanley Donen, had passed away as well. Stanley Donen (who died on February 21) had directed some of Hollywood’s most popular musicals, such as Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, before he directed Indiscreet and then moved to the UK, where he directed (among other films) The Grass is Greener, Charade, and Two for the Road, an important landmark in the history of British cinema—a classic film of the British New Wave.

Continue reading