What is it about Bengali directors—Bimal Roy, for instance, or Hrishikesh Mukherjee, or (if one steps out of the realm of just Hindi cinema, Satyajit Ray)—that they manage to bring so vividly to life the everyday happenings in the lives of everyday people? Not the escapist fare that most people tend to equate Hindi cinema with, but stories about real people, people one can relate to? Films like Majhli Didi, Parivaar, Parakh, Sujata, Anand: not larger than life, not without a shred of reality. Not art films, not angst-riddled, songless films about the search for the meaning of life, but everyday stories. Songs and all, still very much commercial cinema, but easy to relate to.
Add to that list Dulal Guha, who while he also went on to make films like Mere Humsafar, began his career as a director in Hindi cinema with this charming little film about a sleepy village named Chandangaon, that’s jolted by the arrival of a new doctor…
I had no particular film review or song list in mind for this week, but when Anu declared August Dev Anand month over at her blog, and Harini reviewed Duniya, I saw a bandwagon that I liked—and decided to jump on to it. With a film that reminds me of Duniya in some ways: Dev Anand, late 60s, suspense.
I hadn’t heard of this version of the Mahabharat till a few days back (not, of course, that the existence of this film is surprising; given Hindi cinema’s love for mythology, there was bound to be at least one version of this epic floating about). Then, commenting on my jewellery songs post, blog reader Afsal posted a song from Mahabharat, and mentioned part of the cast: Pradeep Kumar as Arjun. Dara Singh as Bheem. Padmini as Draupadi. And good songs.
I won’t narrate the complete story here; the Mahabharat is too well-known for that (and if you aren’t familiar with it, I’d advise checking it out first before watching the film). Suffice to say that the film begins right in the middle of some action, without setting any preliminary background in place. At the court of the blind King Dhritrashtra in Hastinapur, the entire court is watching the two cousins Bheem (Dara Singh) and Suyodhan/Duryodhan (Tiwari) engage in a wrestling match.
I feel that, no matter how high an opinion one may have of oneself, it is risky business to attempt to remake a classic. If (for example) Alfred Hitchcock made a film, don’t attempt to remake it—especially if you plan on tinkering with the way the story plays out. Biren Nag (who had already made the pretty good suspense thriller Bees Saal Baad) tried his hand at remaking Hitchcock’s atmospheric Rebecca here, and while he got some things right, the end result is not quite as memorable as Rebecca was.
While I’m a sucker for masala films that bear not a shred of resemblance to reality, I’m also very fond of the sort of films that directors like Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee sometimes made: films about everyday people and their everyday lives. The protagonist of this film, Anuradha, is one of those: a young woman who gives up her dreams for the love of a man—only to discover eventually that even that sacrifice hasn’t brought her what she wanted.
And this is, of course, a belated tribute to one of Hindi cinema’s most luminous faces: Leela Naidu. If I hadn’t been exulting over Robert Mitchum last month when Leela Naidu passed away, I’d probably have reviewed this film then. But better late than never, I guess. RIP.