Shaarey Chuattar (1953)

Bengali cinema is one of the few regional language cinema industries for which it’s relatively easy to find subtitled copies. Even when the film in question is an old one.

Over the years, several Bengali readers have recommended Shaarey Chuattar to me. I had been under the impression that I should watch this film for the Uttam Kumar-Suchitra Sen pairing (it was the their first film together, the first of many films in which they were co-stars). But, now that I’ve seen it, I can safely say that this is a film you should watch not for these two, but for the film itself. True, Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar provide some eye candy and are a likable romantic couple, but the romance in Shaarey Chuattar is not the main thing.

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Saqi (1952)

I still remember my first glimpse of Premnath in a different persona than the fat, balding, beetle-browed villain of so many ‘70s films.

This was in the mid-80s. My sister and I (I was then not even in my teens) were watching Chitrahaar, and Thandi hawaayein lehraake aayein came on. It was proceeding fine, with Nalini Jaywant flitting across the screen, when suddenly a strikingly handsome man, tall and broad-shouldered, sprang up by her side, danced with her, and then disappeared. Who was that? We asked each other, and couldn’t supply an answer. We turned to our father, our source of information for all things old Hindi cinema. Papa said that Naujawan starred Premnath. Who Premnath, we asked in disbelief. That paunchy and somewhat repellant man in Johnny Mera Naam?

It took a watching (incomplete, sadly, because the electricity went) of the 1951 film Sagaai to convince us that yes, Premnath was indeed quite a hottie in his heyday.

If you think so too (or if you haven’t seen Premnath in the early 50s, when he was paid more than Raj Kapoor and several other leading actors), you should watch Saqi.

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Ten of my favourite ‘multiple version songs: one voice, two solo versions

After last week’s post of multiple version songs featuring one male voice and one female voice singing the same song, I decided I should do another post of ‘multiple version’ songs. Also solos, and also (as in the previous post), songs which appear within the same film.

Usually, when one singer (invariably singing for one character) ends up singing two versions of the same song, it’s because the story has changed circumstances for the character. It could be—in most cases—that happy days have given way to sad; or ennui has made room for a sense of purpose. In some (relatively rare) cases, the same singer sings two different versions of the same song for two different characters.

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Ten of my favourite ‘multiple version’ songs – male/female solo versions

There are times I’ve watched a film (like Daag, or Pyaar ka Mausam, or Taqdeer) and got the distinct feeling that the music director composed one especially good tune in the film, and that was a fact acknowledged by the film maker too, who decided to use that tune in different versions throughout the film. Therefore we have Ae mere dil kahin aur chal in several versions, and the same with Tum bin jaaoon kahaan or Jab-jab bahaar aayi aur phool muskuraaye. The tune, at least in essence is the same (the tempo may change); the singer(s) may be different, the actors who lip-sync to it may be different, and there may be other differences as well.

‘Multiple version’ songs can be of different types. The most common (from what I can tell; I haven’t researched this) is the differentiation of tone: the happy version/sad version scenario. One version of the song (usually the one that appears earlier in the film) is an upbeat, happy one; the other uses the same tune, but often different lyrics that reflect two different situations.

Then there are songs where different versions may be only sung by different playback singers—which might include (as in the case of Jab-jab bahaar aayi) one version sung as a solo, another as a duet or even by a trio. There are also versions (overlapping with regional language cinema) where the same tune is used in songs in films of different languages, for instance the Bengali song Ei raat tomaar aamaar (from Deep Jwele Jaai) appears as the lovely Yeh nayan dare-dare in the Hindi film Kohraa.

Those are versions for other, later song lists. For this post, I’m going to confine myself to one particular type of ‘multiple version’ song: the solo male singer/female singer song.

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Chanda aur Bijli (1969)

Chanda aur Bijli is one of those films I’ve known about for a long time—because of a family anecdote that is centred around a song from this film. My sister, a toddler when Chanda aur Bijli was released, quickly fell in love with Bijli hoon main toh bijli. Her version of it, though, was somewhat different (and suggests a mind that dwelt rather heavily on food):

Bijli hoon main toh bijli
Bun khaake jab bhi nikli
Logon ke dil mein machhli
(And here she’d add a little line completely off her own bat: ‘Wohi machhli jo Baby ne khaayi thhi!’)

For those who don’t understand Hindi, that means:

Lightning; I am lightning,
When I went out after eating a bun,
There was a fish in people’s hearts
That same fish that Baby ate!

The original, of course, is a rather more predictable Hindi film song:

Bijli hoon main toh bijli
Bal khaake jab bhi nikli
Logon ke dil mein machli

(Lightning; I am lightning,
Every time I went out, tripping along,
I made people’s hearts trip)

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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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Dragonwyck (1946)

A poor and impressionable young woman arrives at a grand mansion and is blown away by its magnificence—and by the attractive man who is master of the manor. Except that the manor (and the man himself) may have secrets to hide…

Dragonwyck begins at the Wells farm in Connecticut. The Wells are stolid peasant stock: hard-working, sensible, god-fearing. One of their two daughters, Miranda (Gene Tierney) is somewhat less stolid than her parents—especially her father Ephraim (Walter Huston)—would like her to be. At the start of the film, Miranda comes racing into the farmhouse, bearing a letter for her mother Abigail (Anne Revere). The fine envelope and the grand address from which it’s come—Dragonwyck—are enough to convince Miranda that this is a letter of some worth.

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Book Review: Jerry Pinto’s ‘Helen: The Life and Times of a Bollywood H-Bomb’

I won’t go so far as to say that Helen was the first Hindi film actress I remember seeing (that would be Shakila, since CID was the first Hindi film I remember watching). But I distinctly remember being about 10 years old, watching Chitrahaar, and being very excited because an old favourite of mine, a song I had till then only heard and never seen, was going to come on (in Chitrahaar, there would always be a sort of intertitle between songs, a single frame in which the name of the next song, the film it was from, and the names of the music director, the lyricist, and the singer(s) would be listed).

This song was Mera naam Chin Chin Choo, and my feet were already tapping when it began. All that frenetic movement, those men in sailor suits dancing about. The energy, so electric that it even seemed to transmit itself to the musicians. The infectiousness of it all.

And Helen.

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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