Our recent trip to Nainital prompted me (actually, even before we left on our trip) to read Gulshan Nanda’s novel Kati Patang. Gulshan Nanda, for those who may be unfamiliar with his work, wasn’t just a hugely successful writer of Hindi social-romantic popular fiction, but also a script writer for Hindi cinema: he wrote the scripts (many of them based on his own novels) of blockbusters like Saawan ki Ghata, Khilona, Kati Patang, and Jheel ke Us Paar. This insightful article about Nanda’s writing, as well as its adaptation to the big screen, is worth a read.
RIP, Sheila Vaz.
This post is a little late in coming—Sheila Vaz passed away on June 29—but by the time I learnt of her passing, I was just about to post the first of my Nainital-Corbett travelogues, and knew that it would anyway take me at least a couple of days to compile a suitable tribute to one of Hindi cinema’s best dancers. So I decided to go ahead with that, and come back to this.
Sheila Vaz, without my knowing it, was probably one of the very first Hindi film dancers I ever saw onscreen: the first Hindi film I remember watching was CID, which I was taken to see when I was about nine. And there, lip-syncing to Leke pehla-pehla pyaar was this unabashedly effervescent woman, her eyes sparkling and her movements graceful. I won’t say that image stayed with me; I have no recollection of the song from back then. But Sheila Vaz became, years later when I grew much more devoted to Hindi cinema, one of my favourites. Besides the fact that she was so graceful and so emotive, I loved one thing that struck a chord with me: she was, like me, somewhat plus size. I’ve always been overweight, and have faced a lot of derision, hurtful ‘ribbing’ and more, for it: and here was Sheila Vaz, by no means a size zero, but undeniably beautiful and successful—I loved her the more for that.
(See Part I of this post, here).
After a relaxing couple of days in Nainital, we drove down to Corbett. The Jim Corbett National Park, originally named Hailey National Park (after William Malcolm Hailey, Governor of the United Provinces at the time) was established in 1936 as the first national park in India. In 1956, it was renamed to honour Jim Corbett, the naturalist-hunter so renowned for both preserving wildlife in the Terai as well as helping the local people by killing many man-eaters in the region.
All of this we told the LO about as we journeyed down the Nainital-Kaladhungi stretch towards Corbett. This road is a very scenic one, with miles of forest all along the way. Mist cloaked the pine woods, and when we rolled down the car windows, the fragrance of the pines wafted in.
It’s been a long, long time since our last trip. For a family that enjoys travelling as much as we do, the past two years have been an especially tiring period. The LO (the ‘Little One’, our now eight-year old) has even forgotten much of her last journey, to Kenya, back in January 2020.
I know many people who haven’t let the pandemic interfere with their travel plans too much, especially not over the past twelve months or so. We, however, have been exercising a good deal of caution – with the result that we’ve ended up feeling really restless.
Finally, I decided we had to go. Somewhere, anywhere. Somewhere we wouldn’t need to worry about housework, somewhere cool, an escape from the heat of the NCR summer.
Nainital, not too far from Noida, was what we settled on: it’s not so very far (only about 8 hours’ drive, stops included), it’s cool, and the LO has never been here. We decided to combine that with a trip to Corbett National Park: the LO, who has aspirations of being a naturalist (a ‘wildlifer’, as she termed it till a while back) would perhaps enjoy that.
Today, June 26, 2022, marks the birth centenary of one of my favourite Hollywood actresses, the beautiful and very versatile Eleanor Parker. Born in Cedarville, Ohio, on June 26, 1922, Eleanor Parker had decided fairly early on that she wanted to become an actress; but despite being noticed and invited for screen tests several times, she turned them down in order to focus on stage performances, preferring to gather experience onstage before getting into films. Finally entering Hollywood with a debut role in Busses Roar (1942), Eleanor went on to work in a very wide and varied range of films over the next nearly 50 years.
Most people associate Eleanor Parker with her role in The Sound of Music: but the elegant, beautiful, scheming but eventually gracious Baroness was only a minor role in what was a blockbuster hit of a film (which, I think, was the main reason for Eleanor’s popularity in it). You only have to watch Eleanor Parker in films where she had bigger, meatier roles—as the wild gypsy in Scaramouche, or the woman who finds herself imprisoned in Caged, or the feisty and funny Mary Stuart Cherne, out to get her man in Many Rivers to Cross—to realize that she was so much more versatile than many of her contemporaries. Of course, she could (and did) swing the standard arm candy roles, as in The Naked Jungle or Escape from Fort Bravo, but she could also do justice to roles that required some hardcore acting skills.
The 1936 Hindi film Jeevan Naiyya begins with a telephone conversation. An engaged couple, very much in love with each other, whispers sweet nothings on the phone. It’s all a bit awkward, and the young man in particular comes across as distinctly uncomfortable with all this koochie-kooing. This is not quite the mellifluous, effortless romance of a Jalte hain jiske liye, but it is, in its own way, a landmark scene. Because this is the very first onscreen appearance of a young actor who went on to become one of Hindi cinema’s biggest stars: Ashok Kumar Ganguly, better known simply as Ashok Kumar.
I have very, very vague memories of watching a Russian version of Anna Karenina years ago—it had been telecast on Doordarshan, with subtitles, and I, probably barely a teenager back then, understood very little of it.
But last year, having finally got around to reading Tolstoy’s novel, I decided I should find a cinematic adaptation to watch. Just to see how a screenwriter might interpret this pretty sprawling work (not as sprawling as War and Peace, but still). I read, in several places, that at least as far as English-language cinema is concerned, the 1935 Anna Karenina, starring Greta Garbo, was considered the best version there is. Despite much searching online, I couldn’t find a copy of it (the ones that were there were dubbed in other languages), but I did find this one, made thirteen years later and starring Vivien Leigh as Anna.
Today is World Bicycle Day, used to promote the use of bicycles as a cheap, healthy, and eco-friendly means of transport. I have to admit I actually never learnt to cycle (I fell too many times as a kid when learning, and was too much of a coward to persist).
But bicycles happen to be important and very visible means of transportation in old Hindi cinema, so why not a post to celebrate it? The bicycle, as it is even now, is the one vehicle that’s available even to the not-terribly-prosperous. A character who owned a car, just by virtue of that ownership, was automatically identified as moneyed. If you could not afford a car but were not utterly broke either, you had a bicycle. It didn’t need expensive fuel, yet it got you around faster than if you just walked everywhere.
This film has been on my watchlist for a long time—many people, over the years, have recommended it to me as a good Bengali comedy—so when, on my ‘double roles’ post someone mentioned it, I decided it was high time I watched Lukochuri (‘Stealth’). I was a little sceptical; Kishore Kumar tends to go over the top when doing comedy, to the extent that I find him positively irritating in films like Half Ticket, Jhumroo, Naughty Boy, etc. But a Bengali film, I thought, might have a more sophisticated sense of humour? One could only hope.
The story starts in Jabalpur, where Kumar Chaudhury ‘Buddhoo’ (Kishore Kumar) is getting ready to leave for Bombay. Buddhoo works for a company which has transferred him to Bombay, and Buddhoo is bidding farewell to his father (Moni Chatterjee) and his Pishima (?), his father’s sister, who lives with them.
Think of ‘Hindi film song’ and chances are, you will think of a romantic song. A hero and a heroine, in a garden or under a moonlit sky, singing of their love for each other: the quintessential Hindi film song. But besides the heroes and heroines, there were often, too, the secondary couple. The man was often the hero’s sidekick, the best friend who helped him defeat the villain, overcome the objections of the disapproving father, and so on. The comic best pal’s love interest, too, was often of a similar bent of mind: good-hearted, nutty, comic in her own way. Also (oh so stereotypically) often an Anglo-Indian or a Goan, a girl who had few inhibitions about dancing and singing with her man.
The secondary romantic pair served several purposes. They provided, if not comic relief, at least some moments of light-heartedness (think Johnny Walker’s and Kumkum’s characters in the otherwise so grim Pyaasa). They brought a ray of hope, a refreshing change from the melodrama and seriousness that might plague the hero and heroine; they often helped in very concrete, practical ways. And, thankfully for us, they invariably had at least one romantic song to lip-sync to, and it was often just as good as the ‘main’ romantic songs. Some of these, in fact, are iconic songs in their own right.