Yes, Shyama, of the dancing eyes and the gorgeous smile, passed away almost a week ago, on November 14, 2017. I could not possibly let the death of one of my favourite actresses go unmentioned on this blog, but I’d already done, some years back, a post of my favourite Shyama songs. A film review, therefore, seemed in order. But which one?
A couple of years back, in celebration of the birth anniversary of C Ramachandra, I’d posted a selection of my favourite songs from his oeuvre. In my post, I’d described C Ramachandra as ‘underrated’ (a reflection of the fact that the average person who listens to old Hindi film music—not the diehard enthusiast who knows, or tries to know, just about every detail about the songs of yesteryears—tends to talk about ‘bigger names’ like SD Burman, Naushad, OP Nayyar, etc). A couple of readers refuted that: they said C Ramachandra wasn’t underrated; among the music directors of that period who were underrated was Chitragupta.
I may not have agreed with AK and Kersi Mistry on C Ramachandra, but I do agree about Chitragupta: very talented, and oh, so overlooked when it comes to lists of great composers. Yet, when you listen to his songs, you’ll find some of the loveliest tunes, the most nuanced of compositions. Even some immensely popular songs.
Born on November 16, 1917 in Gopalganj district of Bihar, Chitragupta ended up in the film industry after an initial stint as a lecturer in Patna (interestingly enough, he held a master’s degree in both journalism as well as economics). In Bombay, Chitragupta began his career as an assistant to SN Tripathi; from about 1946 onwards, he was composing on his own. He went on to compose songs for both Hindi as well as Bhojpuri cinema, right up to 1990 (he passed away in January 1991). It’s sad that more people know of Chitragupta’s sons—Anand-Milind—than they do about the duo’s much underrated but extremely talented father.
Some weeks back, in commemoration of the birthday of Hema Malini, Anu (at Conversations Over Chai) did a post on the actress, listing some of her best roles. Reading that post, I could not help but remember some of my favourite roles of Hema Malini’s. Many, of course, were the type that Anu covered in her post: roles that showed off Hema’s skill as an actress, roles which had her portraying strong-willed, humorous, interestingly unusual, or just plain old feisty females. But to my mind came also roles that were more of Hema as eye candy. And thinking of that—and of Dharmendra, so inseparable from Hema, really—I could not help but think of Tum Haseen Main Jawaan.
Some to-and-fro of comments on Anu’s posts ended up in a joint decision to do a simultaneous Dharam-Hema Double Bill. Anu has written up her review of another early Dharmendra-Hema entertainer (the delightful Raja Jani), which you can read over here, at her blog. Mine, also a review of a Dharmendra-Hema film that was outright entertainment (especially with both of them looking pretty much at their best), is what follows.
Here is the answer to the question I set a couple of days back. What do Aapke kamre mein koi rehta hai, Yeh jawaani hai deewaani, Pyaar deewaana hota hai and Yeh kya hua have in common, I had asked (besides the obvious: that Kishore had sung all four, and RD Burman had composed all four). Some people got the answer correct, and some came close to guessing. Yes, these songs were all copied by Burman from tunes he had composed for one film. That was a Bengali film named Rajkumari, released in 1970.
Rajkumari, starring Tanuja as the eponymous princess, is a film I came across thanks to friend and erstwhile fellow blogger, Harvey. Some weeks back, Harvey shared a link to one of the songs of Rajkumari (more about these songs, later). I liked it so much that I made up my mind I had to see it. And it turned out to be quite entertaining.
No, don’t expect a bunch of questions with a tantalizing prize to be won if you answer them correctly. This is just a teaser for an upcoming post of mine, and consists of just one question.
That being, what do these four songs have in common? (Yes, I know the majority of these are from beyond the time line my blog sticks to, but what they share in common does have something to do with 1970, which is on the cusp and therefore permissible on my blog). What do they have in common, other than that all of these were composed by RD Burman? (Edited to add: yes, all these songs are sung, even if only in part, by Kishore Kumar. But there’s something special that links these four songs of Kishore and RDB together, which is not true of any of their other collaborations).
Yeh kya hua, from Amar Prem:
Aapke kamre mein koi rehta hai, from Yaadon ki Baaraat:
Yeh jawaani hai deewaani, from Jawaani Deewaani:
Pyaar deewaana hota hai, from Kati Patang:
Happy guessing! The answer will be published this coming Saturday.
Some weeks back, I and a blog reader were reminiscing about the good old days of Doordarshan, and ended up agreeing that Doordarshan and its penchant for old Hindi cinema had an important part to play in our love for this period of cinema. For me, at least, Doordarshan was the introduction to the cinema of the 50s and 60s: by the time I was old enough to be able to really make sense of cinema, my father had been posted to Srinagar, and the sole movie hall there was too dangerous to visit: it stood in Laal Chowk, in the heart of town, where every other day there was violence of some sort or the other.
So we stayed at home and watched just about everything Doordarshan cared to show. And a lot of it was old cinema.
Shart was one of those films I first began watching on Doordarshan. Barely a few minutes into the film, the electricity went kaput, but by then something sufficiently intriguing had happened for me to want to watch it again. I remember waiting for years before this film appeared again—this time on one of those many channels that had emerged sometime during the early 90s.
I liked the film back then, but over the years I’d forgotten much of it. Time for a rewatch, I decided, if only to see whether it merited a rewatch.
Shart is aptly named, because it centres around Raj (Sanjay Khan), who is always eager to bet on just about anything. He goes about with a bunch of friends, one of whom, Kailash, is always on the lookout for opportunities to have a wager with Raj [Kailash keeps losing, so I cannot see why he continues to bet]. For instance, when the film starts, Kailash bets that Raj won’t be able to walk up to a passing girl and hug her without getting slapped in return.
Just a little over a week back, I was paying tribute to a cinema personality who played a major role in defining Hindi film music in the 1950s and 60s: Roshan. 1917 was the year Roshan was born, and in the same year, also in Asia (in Tokyo), a few months later, was born a girl who was to go on to become one of the most prominent stars of British cinema as well as Hollywood. Joan Fontaine, award-winning actress, sister to Olivia de Havilland, licensed pilot, Cordon Bleu chef, rider, champion balloonist, licensed interior designer—and scorer of 160 on an infant IQ test.
Most importantly, though, a fine very actress, and one who starred in some memorable films, in memorable roles: Rebecca, Suspicion, Jane Eyre, Ivanhoe, This Above All… her characters were often, in keeping with Ms Fontaine’s features, women of genteel fragility. Sometimes, that fragility teetered over the edge into terror (Mrs de Winter’s character in Rebecca is a fine example of this) before pulling herself together and showing the steel in her.
Rebecca I have already reviewed on this blog, but to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of an actress I have liked since I was quite young, I decided to review another Joan Fontaine film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Like Rebecca, this one too is about a naïve young woman who ends up married to a man who is perhaps not all he had seemed to be at first glance. Joan Fontaine’s portrayal of Lina McLaidlaw won her her only Academy Award for Best Actress.
Sometime last month, I discovered that one of my favourite music directors would have celebrated his birthday centenary this year. Born Roshanlal Nagrath on July 14, 1917, in Gujranwala (now in Pakistan), Roshan played the esraj for All India Radio, Delhi for about 10 years (during which he also composed music for various programmes) before moving to Bombay to try his luck in the world of cinema. Roshan’s career as a music director took off fairly soon afterwards, with the resounding success of the score of Baawre Nain (1950); he went on to compose music for over 50 films until his death in 1967.
Every few months, I go on a rampage, looking for old regional language films with English subtitles.
One of the saddest facts I’ve realized over the past few years—since I became interested in films in languages other than Hindi and English—is that while a considerable number of good foreign language films can be found with subtitles, the same cannot be said for Indian cinema. More modern films can be found subbed (though the quality of subbing is often questionable); but old cinema? Not much hope. About the only Indian language, other than Hindi, for which I have often been able to find English-subbed films, is Bengali. Perhaps the fact that stalwarts like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak are so popular outside India has had a ripple effect on films by other directors of the same era as well.
Anyway, without further ado: my latest find. A few weeks back, trawling Youtube for subbed films, I came across the Telugu comedy Chakrapani. I’d never heard of this before, but comedy is a genre I am always eager to dive into (perhaps because Hindi cinema itself was so short of outright comedies?). And guess what? This was quite an entertainer.
Hindi cinema, especially in the glamorous and colourful world of the 60s, is full of songs inviting love (or lust, or whatever interpretation one might want to put on it). Whether it’s a Helen with bizarre eye makeup singing Aa jaan-e-jaan to a caged lover in a floor show or a floral-shirted Joy Mukherji openly serenading Asha Parekh in a Tokyo party, there’s a good bit of sizzle, lots of “Come on and give us some love”.