Ten of my favourite Majrooh Sultanpuri songs

1919 was a good year for Hindi film music (though, at the time, Hindi cinema—then only six years old, since Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra was released in 1913—did not know it). Because this year saw the birth of several people who went on to define the music of the industry from the 1940s onwards. From singers like Shamshad Begum and Manna Dey, to music directors like Naushad and Sudhir Phadke—and three of Hindi cinema’s finest lyricists: Kaifi Azmi, Rajendra Krishan, and Majrooh Sultanpuri.

I have already, in the course of this year, posted tributes to Kaifi Azmi and Rajendra Krishan; today I celebrate the birth centenary of Majrooh Sultanpuri.

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Die-Trapp Familie (1956)

Over the years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve seen many films that were remakes of others—and, like pretty much every homage that’s paid to an existing work, there’s no telling what the remake will be like in comparison to the original, even when the budget, the cast and the crew of the remake would appear to make it have all the odds stacked in its favour.

Too many remakes (Ben Hur is an especially grotty example) are an embarrassing example of someone setting out to remake a landmark blockbuster, and ending up creating something utterly forgettable. At the other other end of the spectrum are films that take an established classic, make a very good version of it, but are rarely remembered—The Outrage, an exceptionally faithful copy of Kurosawa’s famous Rashōmon—is one example. There are those, like The Talented Mr Ripley (a remake of Plein Soleil), Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (a remake of Twelve Angry Men), and The Magnificent Seven (originally, Seven Samurai) which are, to some extent or the other, well-loved and accomplished works in both versions.

And there is this, an instance of a good film which few people seem to know of (at least, few English-speaking, Hollywood-watching people), but the remake of which became such a cult classic that even now, more than five decades later, little children (my daughter included) are taught songs from it in school, and the city where it was set—Salzburg—has, as some of its prime tourist attractions, the places where it was shot.

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Naunihaal (1967)

Hindi cinema has its share of films in which children play an important part. And not just as the childhood version of the adult who plays the lead. Sometimes (Dhool ka Phool, Bandish) as unwanted. More often (Do Kaliyaan, Andaaz, Detective, Ek Hi Raasta, Laajwanti) as the means of bringing together two adults in a romantic relationship, or trying to hinder that relationship.

Less often, but I think often with more impact, children play the lead role: the film is about children, and the adults are mostly peripheral. Boot Polish and Diya aur Toofaan fall into this category. As does Naunihaal, about a little boy who sets off to meet Jawaharlal Nehru.

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Kiiroi Karasu (1957)

Literally, Yellow Crow, though this poignant little film is also known in English as Behold Thy Son.

It’s been a long time since I reviewed a non-Indian, non-English language film. I have several bookmarked on Youtube, and after some trial and error (a couple of minutes of this, ten minutes of that) settled on this one. Kiiroi Karasu was directed by Gosho Heinosuke, the man who directed Japan’s first talkie (and who was, for a while, the President of the Directors’ Guild of Japan).

I began watching this film with few expectations. In fact, I didn’t even read a synopsis of the film, so I had no idea what I was getting into, not even what genre.

Kiiroi Karasu begins at a Buddhist shrine. In front of a massive monolithic Buddha sit a bunch of school children, sketching and colouring for all they’re worth.

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Pyaar ki Baatein (1951)

I came across this film while I was doing research for my post on Khayyam (who composed two songs for Pyaar ki Baatein) and I was immediately intrigued. Because this film starred somebody whose career I’ve always been a bit baffled by. Trilok Kapoor, younger brother of the stalwart Prithviraj Kapoor, and uncle of three immensely popular leading men—Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor—had the looks and the talent to make it big (not to mention the family connections, so important in the Hindi film industry), but why did his career veer away into the realms of mythologicals? Why did a man who starred opposite famous actresses like Noorjehan and Nargis (in Mirza Sahiban and Pyaar ki Baatein respectively) end up playing Shiv (or other mythological characters) in one film after another?

I still don’t know, and watching Pyaar ki Baatein only befuddled me further on this count. Because it’s exactly the sort of film, I think, that should have led Trilok Kapoor to star in more of the raja-rani type of films that so many (in my opinion, less attractive) actors, like P Jairaj and Mahipal, made their own.

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Ten of my favourite Khayyam Songs

… and Khayyam, too, is no more. One of the last stalwarts of the Golden Age of Hindi cinema (and one who, like SD Burman, was able to reinvent himself and his music beautifully) passed away earlier this week, on August 19th.

Born on February 18th, 1927 in Rahon (Punjab), Mohammad Zahur ‘Khayyam’ Hashmi was so interested in music from a young age that he ran away to Delhi to become an actor, and ended up being enrolled to learn music—not an endeavour which lasted long, since his family hauled him back home to complete his studies. Khayyam did not show too much interest in studies, however. At the young age of 17, having gone to Lahore to learn music from the Punjabi music director Baba Chishti, he so impressed the man that Baba Chishti took him on as assistant music director.

After serving in the Army during World War II, Khayyam came to Bombay and the film industry, initially working as part of a team: as the Sharmaji of ‘Sharmaji-Varmaji’ (Rahman Varma was the ‘Varmaji’), he made his debut with Heer-Ranjha, in 1948. Varma left for Pakistan shortly after, and Khayyam struck out on his own, notching up, though slowly, some of Hindi cinema’s loveliest songs over the decades to come.

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Sitaaron Se Aage (1958)

When I was reading Balaji Vitthal and Anirudha Bhattacharjee’s The Prince Musician, I came across a mention of this film, which I had never heard of. But the songs listed as being part of Sitaaron Se Aage were familiar to me, and both leads—Ashok Kumar and Vyjyanthimala—are among my favourites. Recently, reading HQ Chowdhury’s Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, I was reminded again of Sitaaron Se Aage, and decided it was high time I watched it.

And what a showcase of SD Burman’s music this film is—right from the start. It begins with Sambhalke yeh duniya hai nagar hoshiyaaron ka, with Lattu (Johnny Walker) and his cronies, the pickpockets Bajjarbattu and Nikhattu, going about relieving passersby of their belongings. The three end up outside a theatre, where the superstar actor Rajesh (Ashok Kumar) has just completed yet another highly-acclaimed performance.

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Book Review: HQ Chowdhury’s ‘Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman’

This is the third biography of SD Burman’s that I’ve read in the past few years.

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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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