When you are as devoted to the pursuit of old Hindi cinema as I am—and you assiduously discuss old cinema with other like-minded souls—you keep getting recommendations. Some recommendations I take with a certain amount of leeway automatically assigned, since I know that the recommender has his or her own biases that are likely to be reflected in the film in question. Others I tend to blindly follow, because over time, I’ve realized that these are people who pretty much share my own ideas of what comprises watchable cinema.
One of these is Anu, who blogs at Conversations over Chai. We have our differences (Raj Kapoor is one), but by and large, Anu and I tend to agree about cinema. So when Anu, chatting with me during my trip in August to meet her, recommended Tamasha, I immediately made a note of it. After all, Dev Anand, Meena Kumari, Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar—and a comedy? That certainly sounded like something I wanted to watch.
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.
I’m reading Jai Arjun Singh’s The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee: The Filmmaker EveryoneLoves these days (yes; a review will be posted sometime this month). A few pages into the book, and I came across a mention—followed by more interesting stuff—about a film I’d run into once, about ten years back. Biwi aur Makaan, of which I’d happened to find a VCD and had happily bought, guessing (from the synopsis on the VCD cover) that this might be fun.
That VCD turned out a dud: the first disc was fine, the second refused to play. So I set Biwi aur Makaan aside (regretfully), and ended up forgetting about it. Until earlier this week, when, reading Jai’s book, I was reminded of it, and on a whim, decided to see if I could find it on YouTube. Sure enough, there it was. And here is my review.
What is it about Bengali directors—Bimal Roy, for instance, or Hrishikesh Mukherjee, or (if one steps out of the realm of just Hindi cinema, Satyajit Ray)—that they manage to bring so vividly to life the everyday happenings in the lives of everyday people? Not the escapist fare that most people tend to equate Hindi cinema with, but stories about real people, people one can relate to? Films like Majhli Didi, Parivaar, Parakh, Sujata, Anand: not larger than life, not without a shred of reality. Not art films, not angst-riddled, songless films about the search for the meaning of life, but everyday stories. Songs and all, still very much commercial cinema, but easy to relate to.
Add to that list Dulal Guha, who while he also went on to make films like Mere Humsafar, began his career as a director in Hindi cinema with this charming little film about a sleepy village named Chandangaon, that’s jolted by the arrival of a new doctor…
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 →
Or 1971, if you go by the year the film was made, not the year the film was released. Or 1974, which was when the censor certificate dates from.
I came to know of Love in Bombay a few months back, when a newspaper article mentioned that Joy Mukherji’s sons were finally going to be releasing this film. I forgot about it until I discovered that it had finally been released this last Friday—and then I was in a quandary. To see or not to see, as I put it. Various friends urged me on: Harvey, for instance, said that with Agha Jani Kashmiri having revised the script, it may be pretty good. Beth said that she’d heard the costumes were good. Sidharth Bhatia suggested that the presence of Joy Mukherji and Kishore Kumar might be one reason to watch.
Today, November 11, is the birthday of Mala Sinha, so I decided to finally watch this film—not because it’s one of her best, but because it has three elements I’m partial to: it has music by C Ramachandra, it’s a historical, and it stars Mala Sinha.
I have to admit my love for Mala Sinha sees ups and downs, based on which film I’m watching. In a film like Pyaasa or Gumraah, where she has good roles (and good directors), she shows just how good an actress she is. And in an all-out entertainer like Aankhen, she’s equally unforgettable as the feisty, glamorous spy. These are the films I prefer to stuff like Anpadh, Hariyali aur Raasta, or even Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi—because the melodrama is kept in check.
But one thing I’ll happily admit: I think Mala Sinha is lovely, and I’ll watch most films just to see her.
The buy-a-film-because-of-a-song bug bites again. I’ve had this happen to me umpteen times, and the symptoms are invariably the same: I remember hearing a lovely song (generally back in the long-ago days of my childhood), and I think, if the music is so fabulous, what must the film be like? (Yes, a nincompoop’s logic, but what the hell). Sometimes, I discover on imdb that the film has a cast I like. Very occasionally, I even find that it has a director I have great faith in.
When a film, besides starring the beautiful Mala Sinha, also includes three more of my favourite actors—Ashok Kumar, Helen and Johnny Walker—and features a deliciously romantic song, I can’t not buy.
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.