I have Richard, over at Dances on the Footpath, to thank for this. Several years back, Richard had linked a blog post to a URL from where one could download Balraj Sahni’s autobiography. Since I’m a fan of Mr Sahni’s, I did so, promptly (which was just as well, since sometime later, that link went dead). What with this and that, however, I didn’t get around to reading the book until a week or so back—and then I wished I’d taken the time to read it earlier.
Today is the 100th birth anniversary of one of my favourite Hindi film actors, the extremely talented, very versatile Balraj Sahni. Born on May 1, 1913 (an interesting coincidence, considering he went on to become the first president of the leftist All India Youth Federation), Balraj Sahni became a prominent writer—first in English, later in Punjabi—and, of course, a brilliant, much-respected actor, with a dignity and screen presence that made him stand apart in films as different as Do Bigha Zameen, Waqt, Kabuliwaala, Haqeeqat, Anuradha, and Sone ki Chidiya.
By some strange oversight, despite the fact that Waqt is one of my favourite masala films, I’ve never reviewed it on this blog. And I’m wishing I didn’t have to end up writing about it on such a sad occasion—because Achla Sachdev, the actress who played the self-sacrificing, long-suffering mother and wife in this film, passed away on April 30, 2012.
I watched two old Hindi films last week, both with a love triangle—of sorts—as a central plot element. The first film, Saheli (Pradeep Kumar-Kalpana-Vijaya Choudhary) was an indifferent, predictable, forgettable flick which crescendoed into high melodrama. This one, a rewatch, makes for more satisfying reviewing, since the story is more interesting, the cast is better—barring one glaring and painful exception—and the music is out of this world. Humraaz is a BR Films production and a fine example of the high entertainment value that characterises BR Chopra’s best films. Total paisa vasool.
Frequent readers of this blog have probably realised I have a soft spot for ‘real life’ stories: Gladys Aylward, Dr Kotnis, Changez Khan, Shahjahan: I’m game. Of course, I don’t always end up with films that bear any resemblance to the life of the person in question, but there’s no harm in trying.
So, another. Afanasy Nikitin was a horse trader from Tver in Russia, who came to India in the late 15th century, having started off from Tver in 1466. His travels took him down the Volga River, through Persia, and then via dhow to India. He is believed to have disembarked in present-day Maharashtra; over the years that followed, he travelled through a large part of peninsular India, including Bidar and Vijaynagar. He died in 1472 in Smolensk, on his way home; his travelogue of India, however, endures: entitled Khozhdenie Za Tri Moray (‘The Journey Beyond Three Seas’), it describes in detail all that Nikitin saw of what was to him a wild, exotic land like nothing he knew.
In Sone ki Chidiya, a poet tells a film actress why poor people go to the cinema: “For five annas’ worth of false dreams. And the glow of your beauty.”
On the surface, this may seem as cynical a comment on the Hindi film industry as Kaagaz ke Phool, but it isn’t, really. It’s a much more mainstream commercial film, with all the trappings of melodrama, dewy-eyed romance and oppressed heroine. I saw it because it stars one of my favourite actresses—Nutan—and one actor whom I’m very fond of: Balraj Sahni. And (this came as a surprise to me) the cast also includes someone whom I count among my favourite singers: Talat Mahmood.
This blog’s been on a Hollywood roll long enough (two films in succession? Too long). So we’re back to good old Bollywood, and with a film that somewhat repeats the cast of the deplorable Bhabhi: Balraj Sahni (again as the long-suffering, self-sacrificing eldest brother), Nanda (again simpering and whimpering), even Shyama, again as the daughter-in-law who starts off being nice but changes into a screechy harridan. And, like Bhabhi, this too is about a loving family split asunder.
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.
I had been meaning to see this film for a while now, and Richard’s recent post—on the occasion of Vyjyantimala’s birthday—encouraged me to hurry it up a bit. So I finally got around to pushing the DVD to the top of my rental queue, and saw it. Impressions? Well, somewhat mixed. I think I’d club Kathputli in the same category as Barsaat ki Raat: beautiful on the eyes and the ears, but disappointing in other ways.
I was initially undecided about whether I should expend any energy on writing a review for this film. It wasn’t great—not even good, really. On the other hand, it wasn’t a pain to sit through and offered no unintentional hilarity of the Leader brand. Instead, it was a meandering, sometimes pointless film with little development of characters and indifferent screenplay.
Why then this review? Simply because this was the first film of a charmingly gawkish youth who went on to become one of Hindi cinema’s biggest stars—and one of my favourite actors.