Hindi cinema’s fascination for the Mughals is – well, fascinating. Even before independence, we were busy churning out semi-historicals such as Humayun (1945) and Shahjehan (1946); then, in the 50s and 60s, there followed a spate of rather more big-budget extravaganzas, complete with big names, vast armies, glittering palaces and superb music: Mughal-e-Azam, Taj Mahal and Anarkali (Note: As a character, Anarkali seemed to be especially popular. Besides the Bina Rai-Pradeep Kumar version, there were Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam versions of her story; even a Pakistani version starring Noor Jehan. And that list neither includes the two versions made in 1928, nor a 1935 film starring Ruby Myers. Note that Mughal-e-Azam is also about Anarkali).
Like Sujata, Chhaya is the story of a girl brought up in the house of someone she’s not related to. Like Sujata, it stars Sunil Dutt (and looking gorgeous, too!), and like Sujata, it’s got great music. Also like Sujata, it was directed by a Bengali director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee in this case.
That’s where the resemblance ends, because Mukherjee makes Chhaya a less poignant, less socially relevant film than Bimal Roy made of Sujata. Where Sujata focussed on the understated emotion of a family and a `daughter who’s not quite one’, Chhaya focuses on a mother who’s forced by circumstances to yield up her child to another.
Another film from one of my favourite directors, and with two of my favourite stars as well. Like many of Bimal Roy’s other productions—Parakh, Usne Kaha Tha, Bandini, Kabuliwala, Do Bigha Zameen—Sujata is about people like you and me, not outright villains (I like to think I’m not one!!), but not saints either (yes, well, I have to admit I’m not one of those, either). People who’re shades of grey, not black and white. And, like most of Bimal Roy’s other films, this one too focuses on the underdog: in this case, an ‘untouchable’ girl.
My guardian angel in charge of film viewing seems to think I’m in serious need of improvement. Which is probably why I’m finding myself subjected to a series of films centred round the difference between good women and bad women. That Touch of Mink tried to touch on it in a humorous way; Bhabhi was more blunt (are sledge hammers blunt?); and Hariyali aur Raasta, though not quite as in-your-face as Bhabhi, had very much the same message: good women choose honour, family and home over all else.
I am occasionally inclined to see a film simply because I adore one particular song of the film. Unfortunately, I score more hits than misses using this criterion. Saranga (1960) is a case in point—it has the classic Saranga teri yaad mein nain hue bechain (one of the few hit songs of Anu Malik’s father, Sardar Malik), but not much else. With Usne Kaha Tha, I had better luck. The lovely Aha rimjhim ke yeh pyaare-pyaare geet liye is a wonderful song, and the film itself is an interesting one.
I’m always on the lookout for old, offbeat Hindi films. Something without the hackneyed romances, the clashes between rich/poor, urban/rural, good/evil, the sudden breaking into song and the neat tying up of all loose ends once the regulation three hours are up. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against masala films—some of my favourite old films are masala to the spice-sodden core. But somehow a film like Kanoon, Ittefaq, Anokhi Raat, Kabuliwala or Dekh Kabira Roya, each unusual in its own way, has a certain je ne sais quoi. So does this, Nargis’s last film. There’s something a little hat ke about a film in which the romance is really quite minimal, and the strange light-and-shadow personality of a schizophrenic woman is the main focus of the plot.
There are some films I see because of the people who act in them (Shammi Kapoor, Asha Parekh, Mumtaz, Dharmendra, etc). Some I see because of the people who direct them (Guru Dutt, Vijay Anand, Raj Khosla). Some—relatively few—I see simply because of the music (Parasmani, Aah, Saranga—pretty awful otherwise, but great music).
And then there are some I see because they’re a bit of it all. Like Kabuliwala. The story’s by Rabindranath Tagore, it’s produced by Bimal Roy (directed by Hemen Gupta), it stars Balraj Sahni, and it has one of the loveliest patriotic songs I’ve ever heard: Ae mere pyaare watan.