For many years now, I’ve been fascinated by what I call the ‘supernatural’ subgenre of Indian suspense films. Offhand, I can’t recall too many [any?] non-Indian films that used a supposedly supernatural theme to veil what was a definitely corporeal, criminal deed. Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, Mahal, Woh Kaun Thi?, Bees Saal Baad, Poonam ki Raat, Anita—all of these (and plenty more) used tropes such as spooky songs, ‘ghosts’ (invariably women in white), mysteriously creaking doors, swinging lampshades and seemingly haunted havelis, all forming part of a grand plan to convince someone that they were surrounded by bhoots when in reality they were surrounded by crooks.
This blog focuses almost exclusively on films from before the 1970s. Very occasionally, though, I make exceptions. For films that are pretty much on the cusp, and which evoke more a sense of 60s cinema than 70s, which were made mostly during the 60s (or even earlier, as in the case of Pakeezah) but were released only later, but basically for films that, when I watch them, seem as if they were made in the 60s. Because of the people who star in them, because of the costumes, the songs, the feel of them.
When Vinod Khanna passed away last week, I wanted very much to review one of his films as a way of paying tribute. There are a couple of 60s’ films of Vinod Khanna’s that I’ve seen—the forgettable Man ka Meet, for instance—but I settled on a rewatch of Mera Gaon Mera Desh, not just because it features Vinod Khanna in one of his most memorable outings as a villain, but also because it is an interesting example of a film that may have only been moderately successful, but is the very obvious inspiration for one of the biggest hits ever in the history of Hindi cinema: Sholay.
Let’s say you’re a film maker in the Hindi cinema of the late 1960s. You’ve set your heart on making a thriller. You have some money, but not enough to be able to hope to churn out something with Shammi Kapoor, set in Europe. You see all these glittering films—Teesri Manzil, An Evening in Paris, Jewel Thief—being released, and it irks you. If they can do it, why can’t you? So one day you gird up your loins, and inspired by all of these, and all the James Bond movies you can lay your hands upon, you set out to make your own thriller.
You cannot afford Shammi Kapoor [or is he perhaps too discerning to agree after he’s read the script?], so you settle for Biswajeet instead. You don’t have the budget to shoot abroad, but that doesn’t matter. You will make do by bringing abroad here to India, by plonking a bronze wig onto Biswajeet and having him pretend to be a Parisian named Robbie for much of the film.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably realized by now that I’m a sucker for suspense films. And that I have a soft spot for Dharmendra. And Helen. And Pran. Bring all of those together, and I’m pretty much willing to give it a try. Kab? Kyon? Aur Kahaan? is a film I’d watched many years ago, and liked, so I decided it was time for a rewatch [especially since I’d forgotten pretty much everything of it except for one very taut and tense section]. As it turned out, this was one of those films that make me realize how much more forgiving I was in my younger days. I’d forgotten, for instance, how Babita’s eyebrows managed to give Dharmendra’s a run for their money in the bushiness department.
Anu had started this month with a Dev Anand film—and I, following suit, decided I would review a relatively little-known Dev Anand film too, to begin August. But, while Anu’s kept up the Dev Anand theme all through August, I’ve meandered off in different directions, all the way from The Rickshaw Man to jeep songs. But solidarity among friends counts for something, doesn’t it? So here I am back again, with another Dev Anand film. The sort of film that, on the surface, looks like it’s got everything going for it: a suave Dev Anand opposite a very beautiful Waheeda Rehman (who, along with Nutan, was, I feel, one of Dev Anand’s best co-stars as far as chemistry is concerned). SD Burman’s music. Suspense. Some good cinematography.
Serendipity isn’t something I encounter too frequently while watching Hindi cinema. More often than not, it’s the other way round: I watch a film because I liked the cast, or because the story sounds appealing, or (and this happens with appalling frequency) because the music is wonderful. That I should watch a film about which I know next to nothing—on a whim, so to say—and find that it’s not just watchable but actually quite enjoyable is something to be grateful about. Which is why this review. Seriously speaking, I hadn’t expected much of Parivaar (the name itself conjures up one of those extremely melodramatic social dramas AVM used to specialise in).
Worse, I had my memories (I wish I could rid myself of them) of having watched the utterly execrable Nanda-Jeetendra starrer Parivaar, one of the worst films from the 60s I’ve ever wasted three hours upon. But, back to thisParivaar, which brought a smile of pleased anticipation to my face as soon as the credits began to roll. Directed by Asit Sen and produced by Bimal Roy, Parivaar is set completely within the large haveli of the Choudhary brothers, where all of them, with the exception of one brother, live as a joint family. Over the first hour or so of the film, we are introduced to these men, their families, and their servants. Continue reading →
While watching Pakeezahsome months back (and reading Meghnad Desai’s book about the film), I was struck by how fond old Hindi cinema used to be of the motif of the ‘chaste tawaif’. A paradox, seemingly, because how could a woman be a tawaif – a prostitute, to put it bluntly – and be chaste? But films like Pakeezah and Adalat did just that: they portrayed women who lived in kothas, sang (in Adalat) and danced (in Pakeezah) but were ‘good’ women, chaste and pure, women who may have been lusted after by bad men, but who – thanks to fate, good friends and relatives, kind strangers (both human and animal) – were always able to avoid the fate worse than death: of yielding their chastity to a man they were not married to, or weren’t going to eventually marry, even if only in secret.
When Anu listed her favourite Sadhna films, I remarked that another Sadhna film I like—though it’s from later in the actress’s career—is Intequam. Based on Vendetta, a Marie Corelli novel (the only film adaptation of a Corelli work that’s in colour), Intequam is a story of vengeance. Though it features a Sadhna whose gorgeousness had begun to suffer because of her medical problems, she’s still interesting—and the central character in this film.
It’s sad that, over the past year or so, barely a month has passed without my having to post a tribute to yet another film personality who’s passed on. Last month, with Eleanor Parker, Joan Fontaine and Peter O’Toole passing away within days of each other, I thought it couldn’t get worse. And I hoped that 2014 would be better.
But, alas. We say goodbye to yet another luminary of the film world. This time, the beautiful and very talented (not to mention wildly popular) Suchitra Sen (April 6, 1931-January 17, 2014), who made a mark in Hindi cinema even in the few films she acted in (Bombai ka Babu, Devdas, Mamta and Aandhi being the best-known), but ruled Bengali cinema.