The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932)

Frank Capra is one of those directors I thought I pretty much knew when it came to style. The everyday American, the humour, the gentle wisdom, the often feel-good charm of films like It Happened One Night, It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr Deeds Goes to Town, and (this is one of my favourites, the ultimate in whacky humour) Arsenic and Old Lace.

If I hadn’t known Frank Capra had also directed (well before any of these films I’ve named) the unusual and erotic The Bitter Tea of General Yen, I don’t think I’d have billed this as a Capra film. There is a sensuality about it, a boldness and an air of exotica that is uncharacteristic of Capra’s more popular works. Of course, part of that is due to the fact that the Hays Code, while it had been introduced in 1930, was not yet being strictly enforced (that was to kick in only around 1934), but even otherwise, there is something about this film that struck me as unlike Capra.

But, to start at the beginning. The Bitter Tea of General Yen begins in Shanghai, during a civil war. It’s pouring rain outside, refugees are streaming into Shanghai, and a group of missionaries have gathered at the home of one of them to celebrate a wedding. One of their group, Robert ‘Bob’ Strike (Gavin Gordon) is about to marry his childhood sweetheart, Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck). Bob and Megan haven’t met for the past three years, but Megan is on her way now from America, about to arrive in Shanghai so that she can marry Bob.

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Moon Songs, Part 3: Comparisons to the moon

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first time humans set foot on the moon, I compiled this list of moon songs. Then I followed it up with this, very different, list—also of moon songs. One list of songs addressed to the moon; another list of songs describing the moon. There are lots of other songs about the moon—from Chalo dildaar chalo chaand ke paar chalo to Chanda chaandni mein jab chamke, songs which mention the moon in all sorts of situations and contexts (more often than not romantic). There are songs drawing people’s attention to the moon (Dekho ji chaand nikla peechhe khajoor ke), songs about the rising of the moon and the absence—or obliviousness—of a beloved (Chaand phir nikla, magar tumna aaye, Woh chaand khila woh tare hanse), songs that use the moon and its proverbial beauty as a metaphor or simile.

It’s the last of these types of songs that I’m looking at here today. Songs where the singer compares someone to the moon.

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Moon Songs, Part 2: Adjectives for the Moon

When, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing, I posted my list of songs addressed to the moon, I ended with a caveat: that was not the only post. There would be more. Because the moon is so popular a motif in Hindi film song lyrics, it’s not surprising that it is dragged into songs about the night (which, of course, is almost synonymous with romance); about the beloved (whose beauty is compared to that of the moon); and even about someone much-loved, not necessarily a love interest.

But there are also plenty of songs which are about the moon. Yellow, lost, crazed with love, wan, lonely: the metaphors applied to the moon are a dime a dozen.

Therefore, this list: ten songs that contain an adjective for the moon. Besides my usual restriction—that the song should be from a pre-1970s Hindi film that I’ve seen—I’ve imposed one more restriction: that the adjective for the moon must occur in the first two lines of the song.

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Moon Songs, Part 1: Ten songs addressed to the moon

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the momentous occasion of the first moon landing: on July 20, 1969, two American astronauts—Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin—set foot on the moon, the first human beings to do so. “One small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind”, Armstrong’s words about his epic first step on Earth’s natural satellite, became the stuff of legend, quoted and misquoted thousands of times in as many contexts.

In the fifty years since then, only a further ten astronauts—in all, twelve people—have set foot on the moon. An interesting reflection of just how much effort goes into putting a human being on the moon (or perhaps how unnecessary it is, in today’s age of AI, to actually put a human being through all this trouble? I don’t know).

But, to come to the point. To celebrate 50 years of this landmark event, a post. I had initially toyed with the idea of reviewing the Dara Singh-starrer Trip to Moon, but the memory of my last attempt at watching that film (I gave up after five minutes) made me abandon that idea. Instead, I thought of a song list. A moon songs list.

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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.

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Kangra Travels, Part 3: Dharamshala and McLeodganj

(To read the first part—Sirhind and Pragpur—of this travelogue, click here. To read the second part, Kangra and Palampur, click here).

In 2005, my husband and I went on a road trip through Himachal Pradesh. It was perhaps not the best time to visit: the monsoon had already arrived, and it was raining all across the hills. We were much younger and more adventurous, though, so we didn’t let that faze us. We went merrily on, umbrellas at the ready, driving slowly past a landslide near Baijnath, walking carefully down the slippery stone steps leading down from the Tashijong Monastery…

But not, obviously, carefully enough everywhere. Because, a few minutes after we checked into our hotel in Dharamshala and were walking to our cottage, I slipped on an algae-covered path and fractured my ankle. Our Dharamshala trip ended even before it had begun: the only sites we saw were an X-ray centre, a doctor’s clinic, and the hospital.

This time, therefore, we decided we had to see Dharamshala. Properly.

Deodars soaring up into the sky in McLeodganj.

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Kangra Travels, Part 2: Kangra Fort and Palampur

(To read the first part of this travelogue, Sirhind and Pragpur, click here).

After all the fun she had in Pragpur, the LO was not keen to leave. So, after a quick post-breakfast round of the premises, during which she collected a little green feather and sundry other treasures, the LO reluctantly consented to being bundled into the car.

Pragpur is less than two hours’ drive from Palampur, but one route lies through the historic town of Kangra, which is the district centre and also home to one of India’s most interesting forts.

Approaching the first of Kangra Fort’s many gates.

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Kangra Travels, Part 1: Sirhind and Pragpur

Yes, I do know that Sirhind is not part of Kangra, but bear with me. Because Sirhind, once a very important town of Northern India, featured in our itinerary for our summer vacation.

Back in March this year, I had to go to Dehradun for a literary event, and we decided to make it a family trip. A weekend in Dehradun, and our five year old daughter (the Little One, or LO, as she’s referred to here on this blog) didn’t want to return from the mountains. Not, of course, that Dehradun is, strictly speaking, in the mountains, but still. At least you could see the mountains, you could look up at those pine-forested heights and imagine a walk through that.

Therefore, we decided our summer trip would be a road trip to the mountains.

The mountains: these are the Dhauladhar ranges, seen from McLeodganj.

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Samskara (1970)

RIP Girish Karnad.

Yes, this is a belated tribute, but since I was about to leave on a summer vacation when the veteran actor, playwright and director passed away, I decided I would wait. Because, though the bulk of Girish Karnad’s career was after the timeline of this blog—his first film was in 1970, which pretty much marks the outer extent of Dustedoff—I had to pay my respects.

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Ten of my favourite tree songs

Two years ago, in May 2017, my husband, I, and our daughter—then three years old—shifted from Delhi to Noida. We had a lot of teething troubles, and even after we had more or less settled down, I kept missing (I still miss) the trees of Delhi. Not that Noida doesn’t have trees; it does. It’s just that the area we live in lacks the great big giants, many decades old, that are so much a part of Delhi.

But we do have a lovely little park in the middle of our housing society, and one day in June 2017, I took our child along there for a little picnic. We read a couple of books, she had a jam sandwich and some lemonade. We looked up at a stunning cabbage palm above the bench we were sitting on. I took a photo of that palm from our point of view, and later that day, I posted that on Facebook. I tagged it #LookingUpAtTrees. That photo became a landmark photo for me: it made me want to post more photos of looking up at trees. So I did. Over the next two years, I’ve become obsessed with trees (among the various other things I’m obsessed with). I photograph them, I want to know more about them, every time I travel, I keep an eye out for species not seen in and around the NCR. And, every week, I post a #LookingUpAtTrees photo (all of these posts are public, so if you’re on Facebook , you can see them even if you’re not on my friends network – just look for my personal page, Madhulika Liddle).

Yesterday I posted the hundredth photo in the series (of a landmark tree: a sal tree at the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun; it was planted in 1956 by the first President of India, Rajendra Prasad). With it, as always, was a brief write-up about the tree.

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