It was on this day that Mohammad Yusuf Khan, who was to go on to become one of India’s most-loved and finest actors, was born in Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani Bazaar.
In a career spanning several decades, and some sixty-odd films, Dilip Kumar attained a status all his own. He was one of the first to win a Filmfare Award, and went on to win the most Best Actor Awards (until the record was equalled— though not yet surpassed). His scenes have been copied and re-done, his dialogues have become familiar to fans of cinema, his films and his acting closely dissected.
A hundred years ago, on January 27, 1922, in Golconda (Hyderabad) was born Hamid Ali Khan, known to thousands of Hindi film viewers (and, even thousands more who have perhaps never watched any of his films) as Ajit. The man of ‘saara shahar mujhe loin ke naam se jaanta hai’. The iconic villain, suave and eerily soft-spoken though at the same time very oily and dangerous, of films like Zanjeer, Yaadon ki Baaraat, and Kalicharan. The baas of Raabert and Lilly (who was constantly being told not to be silly).
But long before he became the stuff of really bad jokes, before he attained the stature of one of Hindi cinema’s greatest onscreen villains, Ajit was a hero. Coming to Bombay in the face of parental opposition (having first sold his college books to finance the trip), Ajit had to struggle a lot to find work in the cinema industry. He began as an extra, and worked in several films until being noticed by the Gujarati-Hindi director Nanabhai Bhatt (Mahesh Bhatt’s father) who not only gave him the screen name Ajit, but also launched him in a leading role. Across the 50s and 60s, Ajit acted in a slew of films, both as leading man (Nastik, Dholak, Baradari, Marine Drive, Tower House, Opera House, etc) as well as in major supporting roles (of special note here are Naya Daur and Mughal-e-Azam, in both of which he appeared alongside Dilip Kumar).
When I did my post on ‘unusual singers’—actors and actresses who are familiar to movie-watchers, but have very few songs to which they’ve lip-synced—a couple of people suggested Ajit as a possible candidate for the list. For those who associate Ajit only with the leering villain of films like Yaadon ki Baaraat, the man of classic (not to mention corny) dialogues like “Lily, don’t be silly” and “Ise liquid oxygen mein daal do. Liquid ise jeene nahin dega aur oxygen ise marne nahin dega”—all delivered, of course, in classic Ajit style—the idea of Ajit ‘singing’ was novel enough.
But the Ajit I first knew in cinema was the Ajit of the old black-and-white Hindi films: the hot-headed rival -and-friend of Dilip Kumar’s character in Naya Daur. The embittered cynic in Nastik. The quiet, handsome and very dependable Durjan Singh of Mughal-e-Azam. Meena Shorey’s friend-enemy-accomplice from the hilarious Dholak. Yes, before he slipped into middle age and the villain roles, Ajit acted the hero in plenty of films (and, more to the point when it came to the ‘unusual singers’ post, lip-synced to many songs, including some big hits).
Bunny Reuben’s biography of Pran, as many Pran fans would know, is called …and Pran: A Biography, a nod to the hundreds of credit sequences in which Pran—invariably one of the most prominent artistes in whichever film he was in—was listed at the end of the credits. A nod, not just to the fact that his character was more often than not at odds with the hero and heroine and their parents/friends/well-wishers listed first in the credits, but also that Pran deserved to be credited separately. A sort of ‘leaving the best for the last’? I like to think so.
In this film, even though he plays the title role, it’s no different. And Pran asHalaku.
I have been singularly lucky lately: instead of watching (as I usually end up doing) one not-so-great film after another, I’ve actually watched two absolutely delightful films within a couple of days of each other. The first was The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming. The second, Dholak, was recommended by bollyviewer. It’s not listed on imdb, but it deserves all the publicity it can get, so I’m going to be doing my bit to say what a fabulous film this is.
Starring the ‘Lara Lappa Girl’ (as she was nicknamed after the success of Ek Thi Ladki) Meena Shorey opposite a very young and handsome Ajit, Dholak was the second of the films Meena Shorey made with her producer-director husband, the ‘King of Comedy’, Roop K Shorey. They had already made Ek Thi Ladki, which had proved a big hit. This one, released two years later, and with story and dialogues written by I S Johar (who had debuted in Ek Thi Ladki) is, in my opinion, even better than the earlier film.
Every now and then (recently, with alarming frequency) I come across films that do an about-turn midway through. Either they start off being happy and degenerate into utter despondency; or they are intelligent to start with and then descend into idiocy. Marine Drive is a prime example of a film that manages to become irritatingly nonsensical almost exactly at the half-way mark.