A living legend has gone. Yusuf Khan, aka Dilip Kumar, one of the greatest actors (many would say the greatest) of Hindi cinema, a man who could seemingly effortlessly enact any role. A man who could convincingly be the maudlin drunk, the happy-go-lucky joker, the broken-hearted lover, the cynic who looks on with contempt at a world gone awry. Unlike several of his most successful contemporaries, who let their stardom get to their heads until what you saw onscreen was always the star, never the character—Yusuf Sahib managed always, unerringly, to bring the character to life. He was Devdas, he was Noshu. Amar, Azaad, Saleem. And every other character he has played.
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.
This post has been floating about in my head for a long time—at least, ever since I did a post on car songs (in which I’d mentioned pretty clearly that I meant only cars, not jeeps). When some readers began putting in jeep songs in the comments too, I figured I had to do a jeep songs list sometime. So here it is, after a long wait.
Unlike cars, which seem to be all over the place in Hindi cinema, being driven both through the countryside and in cities, jeeps are a little less ubiquitous. And there seem to be unwritten rules about who drives them (invariably men). And, more often than not, men in the countryside—preferably a hilly countryside. There’s that perception, I suppose, of the jeep being a rugged vehicle, one suited for rough roads and steep inclines: not the sort of thing a swanky imported car in 50s or 60s cinema would be able to handle.
I saw very few films till I was about ten years old. Till then, my father had been posted in small towns that had rather dreadful cinema halls. Then, in late 1982, we acquired a TV. And suddenly, though there wasn’t a spate of films to see (Doordarshan’s Sunday 5:45 PM film was the highlight of our week), there were some films to see. And, thankfully, I was old enough to understand what was happening onscreen.
One of my earliest recollections of that period is of watching Anand. For me—exposed till then to the usual Hindi film, where the hero always had a love interest, and where there were few (and mostly pretty melodramatic) moments of tragedy—Anand was different.
There was never any doubt that Rajesh Khanna’s character was the hero. He was ebullient, full of life, charming, friendly, yet (in those moments of solitude) sensitive. I kept waiting for a heroine to pop up.
This is another of my ‘prize posts’, dedicated to one of the people who participated in the Classic Bollywood Quiz I hosted on this blog last year. One of the quiz questions was a toughie that no-one was able to answer: Which was Sahir Ludhianvi’s first ghazal to be recorded in Hindi cinema? I did provide one clue: the operative word is ‘ghazal’.
This post therefore is dedicated to Ravi Kumar, the only person who guessed which song I was referring to, though since his guess came in the wake of his submission, it didn’t count. The song was Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le, from Baazi (1951) – a song which is, in my opinion, a good example of what a ghazal is and isn’t. No, it’s not defined by its music – so, it needn’t be slow and soulful; it can be fast-paced and peppy. What does define a ghazal are its lyrics: rather, its structure and its rhyme scheme.
It seems a bit of a paradox that Tumsa Nahin Dekha was both good and bad for Shammi Kapoor. Good, because it turned him from a wannabe to a big star. Bad, because it created a certain persona – the fun-loving, completely madcap yet good at heart rebel. Bad? Was that ‘bad’?
I think so. In film after film, Shammi Kapoor ended up doing pretty similar roles. (Even the films had similar names: Junglee, Jaanwar, Budtameez, Bluffmaster…). You wouldn’t expect a Raj Kapoor, a Dilip Kumar or a Rajendra Kumar to debase themselves by making faces and leaping about like Shammi Kapoor was willing – even eager – to do. The result? Shammi Kapoor got typecast. ‘India’s Elvis Presley’, ‘the rebellious star’, the man who could dance and sing and do comic scenes and romances. But if emotion was needed, directors turned to other stars.
So, when I decided I wanted to do a list of my ten favourite Shammi roles, I began to pick out films in which one can see glimpses of what a fine actor this man actually was. Roles that allowed Shammi Kapoor, even if he was prancing about and singing in places, to show off his skill as a thespian.