In Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Dastak, there is a scene well into the film which offers a glimpse of both what this film is about and what its tone is like, how it conveys its messages.
Hamid Ahmed (Sanjeev Kumar) is about to leave home for office. His wife Salma (Rehana Sultan) brings him a cup of tea. In a large cage that sits in their room is a mynah which has been mimicking Salma’s voice so perfectly that Hamid has mistaken something it’s said for his wife’s words. Salma, smiling mischievously, points out his error and tells Hamid about a so-called brother of hers from her village.
Salma: ‘… woh kaha karte thhe, “Pinjre mein panchhi ko band karne se bada paap lagta hai”.’ (He used to say, ‘It is a great sin to imprison a bird in a cage.’)
Hamid (smiling): ‘Chhod dene se bhi toh lagta hai.’ (‘Releasing it too can be a sin.’)
Salma: ‘Woh kaise?’ (‘How is that?’)
Hamid: ‘Baahar sainkaron baaz, shikre… koi bhi khaa jaaye.’ (‘There are so many birds of prey outside. Any of them might eat this one up.’)
It is sad that among the people responsible for making cinema what it is, the spotlight is invariably only on the ones whom the audience sees and hears. Actors, singers. Composers and directors, by dint of their work being most visible (or audible). We know these, we are familiar with them. We watch films for them. But how often do we stop to think who wrote the story for a film? Who wrote this dialogue that we have exulted over, who wrote this screenplay that fits so perfectly?
Rajinder Singh Bedi, the man who wrote the dialogues for so many of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films—from Mem-Didi to the hilarious Biwi aur Makaan, from the sensitive Anupama to Satyakam, is perhaps one of the exceptions. Not because people pay attention to who wrote the dialogues for a film (or even the story), but because his name is known as that of a literary stalwart. The man who wrote Ek Chaadar Maili Si; a winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Ghalib Award, and the Padmashri. The director (and writer) of Dastak. The man on whose death Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq offered condolences, saying that it was a loss not just for India, but for Pakistan as well.
Some days back, Nischint ‘Nishi’, who is Mr Bedi’s niece (his younger brother’s daughter) left a comment on my blog about her illustrious uncle. Me, being what I am (always eager to know more about the cinema of yesteryears) asked if she would be kind enough to write a guest post for this blog. She agreed. Click this link: Rajinder Singh Bedi – Biography to read a brief biography that she provided for her uncle, and read on for a heart-warming little insight into the man Rajinder Singh Bedi was.
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.
Every once in a while, someone (invariably a newbie blogger) sends me a mail, asking me what they should do to be a successful blogger. I have usually responded to such queries with whatever tips came to mind. But then, … Continue reading →