Ten of my favourite muhaavara/lokokti songs

I must admit to a great fondness for proverbs: there is something about the earthy wisdom, the often humorous or even irreverent insight into human nature offered through these that is very memorable and hard-hitting. And (though I may be prejudiced here), there’s something about proverbs and idioms in Hindustani (muhaavara and lokokti) that is hard to beat. Many years ago, I remember reading a newspaper advertisement in which ‘Dhobi ka kutta, na ghar ka na ghaat ka’ had been translated into English—and the entire flavour lost in the process, even though there was really nothing wrong with the translation itself. The point being that there are some things that need to be conveyed in the original language (the ad was for a Hindi-language newspaper).

Old Hindi cinema tended to use a lot of proverbs and idioms. Characters often bunged in a muhaavara in dialogue (I have actually come across, in some films from the 40s and 50s, phrases that were immediately identifiable as proverbs, but which I’d never come across before otherwise). And, sometimes, there were proverbs in songs as well.

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The LO Goes on Safari, Part 2: Masai Mara

(The first part of this travelogue is here).

On the third day after we arrived in Nairobi, we were scheduled to leave for Masai Mara. Our driver, Joseph (“Jesus’s father?” the LO asked, when she heard his name) arrived early in the morning, and we set off a little after 7 AM.

It was the first working day after the long Christmas break, so lots of people were out and about on the streets: children scurrying to school (Joseph said the usual school timings are 7 to 4: long!), people piling into minibuses called matats, and just generally a lot of bustle. We’d soon left behind Nairobi, with its skyscrapers and its tall trees, and were into the wooded mountains. The highway was lined with dense stands of trees, some crowded with yellow or pink flowers.

In between, there were villages and little towns, and so many things that reminded me of India: Ashok Leyland, Mahindra and Airtel signs, of course, but also banana plantations, brightly-painted houses, and baboons by the side of the road (Joseph said that travellers in matats pitch out ears of half-eaten maize or bits of half-chewed sugarcane, which is what attracts them). I saw little garages that simply call themselves ‘puncture’ (a step up from India, where I’ve seen them labelled ‘puncher’), hotels which are actually no more than restaurants—and ‘viewpoints’, places that offer a panoramic view of some specially spectacular landscape.

A ‘viewpoint’, on the Nairobi-Narok highway.

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The LO Goes on Safari, Part 1: Nairobi

Sometime last year, a brilliant wildlife photographer, Gurcharan Roopra, inspired me to go to Kenya on safari. I’d praised Roopra’s photos on Facebook, and later, in a private message, mentioned how much vicarious pleasure I got out of his gorgeous shots of African wildlife. He suggested I go on safari too; he would put me in touch with a good safari operator.

I discussed it with my husband. We were initially hesitant; we realized it would be expensive—possibly the most expensive trip we would ever have made. Could we afford it? Should we? Most importantly, could the LO (our Little One, who turned six in January this year) be able to handle it?

On safari: On a road in Masai Mara.

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Book Review: Guide, The Film: Perspectives

I watched Guide for the first time when I was about twelve or so. Till then, all the Hindi cinema I had watched was predictable, comfortable, simple enough for a pre-teen to know what to expect. Or so I thought.

Because Guide defied every norm I thought I understood. Heroes, not even when they were the anti-hero Dev Anand had played in earlier films like Baazi, Kaala Bazaar or House No. 44, did not go anywhere near another man’s wife. Heroines, even when they were married off against their wishes to men other than those they loved (as in Dil Ek Mandir, Gumraah, or Sangam) stayed true to their marriage vows and sooner or later left their past behind (I was to watch Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke only much later). They absolutely did not leave their husbands and start living with another man.

And heroes did not die. As when I watched Anand, when I watched Guide too, I kept thinking, “This isn’t it. He isn’t dead, he can’t be dead.”

Several years later, I had to study RK Narayan’s The Guide at school, and I pretty much knew what to expect—but once again, I found myself surprised, because the book was in many ways different from the film. The book had won its author the Sahitya Kala Akademi Award (the first book in English to win the award), and the film won accolades by the handful—and continues to do so, fifty-five years after it was released. It has been analyzed, discussed, derided, lauded. Personally, other than for its music and Waheeda Rehman’s dancing, I have never really liked Guide much—but even I, when offered the opportunity to read this collection of essays about Guide, couldn’t resist it. Partly, perhaps, because I hoped to be able to discover what fans of the film saw in it that I didn’t.

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Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja (1961)

In 1956, Waheeda Rehman made her debut in Hindi cinema in CID, with Dev Anand (Waheeda wasn’t the heroine of CID—Shakila was—but she had a good and somewhat offbeat role as the vamp with a heart of gold). Over the next decade and a half or so, Waheeda and Dev Anand were to go on to act together in several more films, probably their most famous pairing being in the hugely popular Guide (1965).

I have watched, as far as I know, all of the Waheeda-Dev films over the years. The only one that (again, as far as I know) I hadn’t watched yet was this one. Time, I decided, to make amends for that.

As in many other films of his, Dev Anand in Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja is a crook—a thief, to be precise. We are introduced to Chhagan (Dev) when he’s in a shady-looking dive, buying a bottle of booze. Shortly after, Chhagan is accosted by ‘Langad Deen’, a partly-crippled character (played by Jeevan), who has a bit of news for Chhagan: a steamer is about to begin the journey down the river to the pilgrimage spot of Shivsagar. Langad Deen has it on authority that among the people on board is a wealthy jeweller who is carrying a very valuable diamond to be offered up to the god Shiv at Shivsagar.

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Ten of my favourite Naushad Songs

Happy Christmas!

Today marks the birthday of Jesus Christ, but also of a man who was pretty much regarded as little less than a god by thousands of music lovers in India between the 40s and the 60s. The one and only Naushad Ali, who was born on Christmas Day, 1919.

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Polosatyy Reys (1961)

Or, in English, Striped Trip. Also known in English as A Lively Voyage.

I happened to watch this film in a roundabout way. I’d started off watching a completely different film (although—like A Lively Voyage—also Russian): Andrei Rublev, an ‘essential film’, a classic about the 15th century iconist. After half an hour of watching that, I decided it was too much. Perhaps I was just not in the right mood; perhaps the combination of disconnected episodes, a bad print, and the fact that I have been under a lot of stress lately—perhaps all of that contributed. I junked Andrei Rublev and looked around for other films among my bookmarks. I found this one, recommended by a blog reader, who had also very kindly sent me a link to a subtitled version.

A Lively Voyage begins tamely enough. Shuleykin (Evgeniy Leonov) finds himself in a tropical port at the other end of the world, and desperate to get back home to Odessa. He’s so desperate that he will take on any work on any ship heading for Russia—as long as he can come home. Fortunately, he has found an agent (Nikolay Volkov) who assures Shuleykin that he can get Shuleykin a job on a ship.

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Ten of my favourite ‘recording studio’ songs

A former reader of my blog—who left in the wake of much rancour—had, as a parting shot, told me that she had got a good laugh out of seeing the completely idiotic themes I thought up for song lists. I know she won’t be reading this, but I thought of her when compiling this list.

Not that I think this theme is idiotic (or that any of the other themes I gave chosen so far are, for that matter), but that it’s an unusual theme. The point is, I see a situation or hear a word or a phrase in a song, and I realize that this is not the only song I’ve seen this in or heard this in. It rings a bell, and I remember all those other songs that have been (for example) picturized in a similar setting.

For example, a recording studio. Considering there are accomplished singers in just about every Hindi film (barring the very occasional songless film like Kanoon or Ittefaq), it’s not utterly surprising to find at least some of those people not merely singing at parties or while dancing in gardens: some of them are accomplished enough to be able to sing professionally. In recording studios, on radio, for albums, and so on.

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Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya (1963)

For those who’ve been following this blog since pretty much its inception, or who’ve explored some of the older posts and specials on Dustedoff, it should come as no surprise that I am a fan of Shammi Kapoor. I have seen most of the star’s films from after his watershed year of 1957 (which was the year Tumsa Nahin Dekha was released, catapulting him to sudden stardom), and I’ve seen several from the early 1950s as well.

Finding a 60s (or late 50s) Shammi Kapoor film that I’ve not seen before is therefore a matter of singular excitement [or was; I have begun to realize, after several less than enjoyable experiences, that there is a reason most of these films aren’t better-known]. This time, when I came across Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, I approached it with caution. Pandit Mukhram Sharma’s name among the credits bolstered my hopes somewhat; he wrote some good stories, so I began thinking this might not be too bad.

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The Big Clock (1948)

For someone who loves books with as much passion as she does old cinema, it’s hardly surprising, perhaps, that I get especially excited when I discover a screen adaptation of a book I like—or vice-versa.

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon Kenneth Fearing’s novel The Big Clock. I had never heard of it before, and the first couple of chapters of the book didn’t endear me to it: too dry, too full of journalistic jargon, too business-y. But I persevered, and suddenly, the story took a turn that caught me by surprise. And then it became such a gripping, unputdownable book that I ended up racing through it, eager to see where it would go.

… which was why, when I found it had been also made into a film, I approached the cinematic The Big Clock with some trepidation: would they have been able to do justice to it?

As it turned out, yes. More than justice.

The Big Clock centres round a mammoth publication company, named Janoth Publications, after its owner, Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton). Janoth Publications is housed in a multistory building, each floor being devoted to one publication churned out by the behemoth: Styleways, Sportways, Newsways, and so on—and, the publication which becomes the focus of this story, Crimeways. As its name suggests, Crimeways is devoted to crime reporting, and is headed by George Stroud (Ray Milland).

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