Over the years this blog has been in existence, several people have asked me to compile a list of songs that are beautiful to listen to, but which are terribly picturized—songs which I don’t like to watch, only listen to. Every time I’ve started to compile a list, I’ve given up quickly, because I’ve found myself listing almost all of Bharat Bhushan’s songs.
Bharat Bhushan, while he lip-synced to some truly memorable songs, has never been one of my favourite actors. But one thing is undeniable: this man was at one time hugely successful, working opposite some of Hindi cinema’s leading ladies—from Madhubala to Meena Kumari, Nimmi to Mala Sinha—and commanding among the highest fees of his time. Bharat Bhushan, in his heyday, was not to be scoffed at (it’s a different—and very sad—story that he went from rags to riches, being reduced to acting as an extra, and being spotted by Amitabh Bachchan waiting in line at a bus stop).
Hindi cinema has a tendency towards stories that stretch over long periods of time. Days, at the least, but often months, often many years too (that old trope of children growing up has been a part of too many films to name). It is the unusual film, especially in the 50s and 60s, that extends over just a few hours. Solvaa Saal was one such; Gateway of India is another. Both films are about runaway girls who meet the loves of their lives in the course of one night. That, though, is where the resemblance stops.
Considering this is a period film—a ‘raja-rani’ film, so to say—and it has some great music, I’ve not made much of an effort to watch it. I don’t mind Nirupa Roy in leading lady roles (she could look really pretty, and as long as she wasn’t playing the self-sacrificing and long suffering Sati Savitri, she was fine). But Bharat Bhushan isn’t my cup of tea. Along with Pradeep Kumar and Biswajeet, he is one of those actors whom I invariably see lip syncing to great songs, and wish the songs had been picturized on someone else.
But I finally decided it was high time I watched Rani Rupmati.
The story begins by introducing us to the town of Mandavgarh (now better known as Mandu), part of the kingdom of Malwa. Malwa is ruled by Pathans: its Sultan is Shujat Khan, whose elder son, Baazid Khan ‘Baaz Bahadur’ (Bharat Bhushan) seems to be an effeminate, music-loving hedonist who spends all his time doing riyaaz with his ustad.
Taqdeer—a remake of the Konkani film Nirmonn (1966, directed by A Salaam, who also directed Taqdeer)—wouldn’t have been a film I’d have watched had it not been for one particular song that I like a lot: Jab-jab bahaar aayi aur phool muskuraaye. I noticed the film was up on Youtube (incidentally, this is a surprisingly good print, and with seemingly no arbitrary snipping off of sections). So I settled down one night to watch. For the song. And discovered that the film wasn’t bad—and was somewhat different from the usual.
Or, The Nasir Hussain Rule Book of Fool-proof Rehashing.
I’m beginning to think I’m an idiot for trying to think up new stories every time I write. Look at people like Betty Neels or Nasir Hussain; they managed to get by with basically the same story, over and over again, and very successfully too. [which makes me wonder: were Hussain and Neels long-lost brother and sister?]
Take the latter’s Pyaar ka Mausam, for example. I’d seen this film as a kid and remembered little of it except the very good music and the pretty lead pair. A rewatch last night revealed that it amounted to a cocktail of Nasir Hussain’s earlier films: Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Dil Deke Dekho, and Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon. Same story, same plot elements, same rules from The Rule Book. [Note: These rules will make more sense if you’ve seen one or more of the films I’ve mentioned above. If you haven’t, think of it this way: you’ll get to know about four films just from one review].
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).
What is a writer without readers? What is a blogger without people who stop by to read, comment, suggest, recommend, and encourage?
So, in gratitude to everybody who’s been visiting this blog over the months: this month on Dusted Off is dedicated to you. All through September 2010, the posts here will be connected in some way or the other to the readers of Dusted Off. The film reviews will be of films that have been recommended, given, or otherwise suggested by readers; and the lists—those ‘top tens’ I’m so fond of—will be of requests made by readers.
To begin with, this film. When I posted a review of Bhai Bahen a while back, it sparked off a discussion on N Dutta’s music—and reader Ash mentioned Gyaarah Hazaar Ladkiyaan, for which too the score had been composed by Dutta. After we’d indulged in much speculation about the film’s plot (what an intriguing title, right?!), another reader, Shalini, was kind enough to say that she had a copy, and was even more kind enough to share it. Therefore…
At home, our tastes (when it comes to cinema) are very varied. My husband likes science fiction or fantasy, kung fu, conspiracy, superheroes, and (occasionally) comedy. And very little of it pre-90’s. I watch just about anything that’s pre-70’s. So, when we were deciding which DVDs we wanted to order next from our DVD rental service, I was taken aback when my husband said, “Baiju Bawra.”
“That’s black and white,” I said, wondering if the recent bout of long and stressful work hours had taken its toll. “Early 50’s. Hindi.”
“I know,” he said. “Good music.”
And yes, good music is the outstanding feature of this film. It had to be, since it’s about the legendary 16th century singer and musician Baijnath (‘Baiju’) Bawra.
Okaaay. I’m finally back from a whirlwind book tour. I gave endless interviews (I can now answer questions in my sleep); was wined and dined—great ilish in Kolkata and awesome Chettinad food in Chennai—and even ended up on youtube. I met some likeable and interesting people, including crime writer Zac O’Yeah (in conversation with me at the Bangalore do) and blogger-cum-bestselling writer Amit Varma, author of the delightful My Friend Sancho—he was in conversation with me in Mumbai and had some nice things to say about my book. And yes (I can’t resist the temptation to blow my own trumpet!), others have said good things about The Englishman’s Cameo, too: Pradeep Sebastian, writing in BusinessWorld, for instance; and Vivek Tejuja on http://www.goodreads.com.
So, having done my bit of shameless self-promotion—and wound up at exactly the place I wanted this post to go—I’ll begin with this review. Like me, the Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib was a Dilliwala. Like me, he too was a writer (and before I have Ghalib fans leaping at my throat for daring to lump the two of us together: no, I do not compare myself to the man. He was pure genius. Not so with me). And like me, Ghalib loved to hear his writing being praised.
For all those who thought I’d deserted classic Hindi cinema to wax eloquent about Robert Mitchum: good news. I’m back. After gushing for a week (well, a little more) about Mitch and his films, I’ve returned to Bollywood—and with a film that’s a must-watch for anyone who likes Muslim socials; who thinks Madhubala is gorgeous; or who loves old Hindi film music—especially qawwalis.
I fall into all three categories, so Barsaat ki Raat was long overdue for a rewatch.