Lahore (1949)

I’d been meaning to watch this film for a while now, because there’s a family history related to Lahore.

My uncle David Vernon Liddle ‘Verni’, as some of you may know, was a guitarist in Hindi cinema (this guest post, written by my father, Verni’s younger brother, is all about him). In 1947, Verni—then very young, no more than 16 years of age, but already an accomplished musician and making inroads into the Hindi film industry—was in Lahore and recording the songs for Lahore. Partition happened, and of course, there was so much violence and chaos that Verni had to flee Lahore and head eastwards into India. En route, during his travels, he ended up losing his sole pair of chappals and for quite a few days wandered about barefoot. Once he landed up in Punjab, he was able to make his way to some relatives in Ludhiana, and an aunt finally gave him a new pair of slippers! Verni also spent some time right after he came into Indian Punjab, working at a langar in a camp. The camp included Muslims and Sikhs, and Verni, being a Christian, was one of the few who was therefore not regarded with suspicion by anyone. This was what got him a job (sort of) serving food at the camp.

I am not sure about the story behind how Lahore came to be made. Since the music of most films back then used to be recorded before the film itself was completed, it’s possible that the songs of Lahore (written by Rajinder Krishan and composed by Shyam Sundar) had been readied even before filming began. As it is, it’s not as if the songs are very specific to this film or any particular scenarios; they are ‘generic’ love songs and sad songs, which could be fitted in pretty much anywhere in the average 50s or 60s film. It may just be that the real story of Lahore, of Partition disrupting a romance and a family, evolved somewhere in the course of time before, during and just after Partition.

So, this was a film I wanted to watch.

Sadly, I could find only one copy online (on the SEPL YouTube channel, never one I am happy to view films on because they have zero QA). This version turned out to be a mess: not only were there scenes arbitrarily chopped off, midway through the film, the sequence of the reels went for a toss too, so the chronology was all haywire.

This review, therefore, will be a little different from my usual style. What follows is not as detailed a synopsis as I usually provide, and it includes most of the film, so be aware that there are

Some spoilers ahead.

The story is set in Lahore, where Chaman (Karan Dewan) and Leelo (Nargis) are neighbours as well as collegemates, and sweethearts. Their love story is known and approved by their respective families. Leelo only has her mother (?), but Chaman lives with a fairly large family.

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Night in London (1967)

In which Biswajeet’s character ends up facing a wall studded with red-hot spikes. You don’t just skewered to death, you get barbecued in the process.

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Aandhiyaan (1951)

In 1951, fresh from the success of the Dev Anand-Geeta Bali-Kalpana Karthik starrer Baazi, Chetan Anand decided to make a film that would highlight the very interesting aspects of film-making he had been learning from studying the works of various European directors. ‘Based on a true incident that took place in Amritsar’, as the film’s credits read, the story of Aandhiyaan was written by Chetan Anand himself, along with Hameed Butt.

The film’s credits roll to an unusual sequence of shots: in each frame, one actor or the other is shown, battling the eponymous ‘aandhi’ or storm, though in this case literal rather than metaphorical.

The story is centred round a young and zealous lawyer named Ram Mohan Kapoor (Dev Anand). Ram lives upstairs from his munshi (Ratan Gaurang), whose daughter Rani (Nimmi) has long been in love with Ram, though she’s too shy to let him know that. When the story begins, Ram’s mother (Durga Khote) is due to arrive, and Ram is getting ready to go to fetch her from the station. Rani makes tea for him, and an excited Ram confides in her: he’s asked his mother to come because he wants her to fix a match for him. With a girl he likes a lot.

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Sara Akash (1969)

When Basu Chatterji passed away in 2020, I wanted to pay a tribute to him, because he was one of my favourite directors from the 70s and 80s (and he directed Byomkesh Bakshi, a television series I love). But given that I restrict my blog to films from before the 70s, there was only one film that would fit: Sara Akash, Chatterji’s first film, which was released in 1969.

This was in June 2020, at the peak of the lockdown. The situation was dire. We were getting news of people we knew who were ill with Covid, even a few who had succumbed. Close family were suffering the fallouts of the lockdown. I tried watching Sara Akash, but couldn’t sit beyond the first five minutes. Perhaps I was not in the right frame of mind.

But now I was tempted to give it another try, because I’d been reading about the film in Anirudha Bhattacharjee’s Basu Chatterji and Middle-of-the-Road Cinema (my review here).

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Aadhi Raat ke Baad (1965)

I dithered over this film for a long time after I’d finished watching it. Should I review it? Should I not? It wasn’t a great film, but it wasn’t terrible, either. It wasn’t as if a review was needed to warn potential viewers off it. Or vice-versa, to alert people to a film they must see.

Eventually, I decided that at least a brief review was in order, because this film had an interesting connect to another film I’ve wanted to watch for a while: Mr X.

In 1957, Nanabhai Bhatt had directed a science fiction film (borrowing from HG Wells’s novel The Invisible Man) that starred Ashok Kumar and Nalini Jaywant. According to this web page on Mike Barnum’s blog, the film is about a man who ingests a drug that makes him invisible; he uses this invisibility to go on a Robin Hood-esque spree, helping the poor by robbing the rich. The cops, baffled by the invisible man, dub him Mr X.

I’ve long wanted to watch Mr X, mostly because it features one of my favourite N Dutta songs, Laal-laal gaal. The film isn’t available online, at least, or even on DVD, from what I can tell; perhaps there are carefully guarded prints deep in some archive…

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Ten of my favourite spooky songs

Some days back, I watched A Shamshir’s Woh Koi Aur Hoga (1967), starring Mumtaz, Feroz Khan, and Sohrab Modi. It turned out to be one of the most incoherent and illogical films I’d ever seen: Sohrab Modi’s character, a professor, is drugged (by Asit Sen in yellowface, a Chinese villain pretending to be the professor’s Indian servant) and made to do the dirty work of the Chinese: that is, inject hapless victims with something that will drain the blood from their bodies. The corpses are then covered with wax and sold off as mannequins to the wealthy gullible who want realistic-looking statues in their homes (and are possibly not averse to the frightful stench).

But, digressions aside: there was also, in the film, Mumtaz. Wearing a shimmery white dress and roaming about the hills at night, singing a sad song. Repeatedly.

Watching Ae raat ke andhere mujhko gale lagaa le, I was reminded of many other songs with a similar premise: a ghostly figure (invariably female), wandering about in the night and singing a signature spooky song. There is often an echo, sometimes other props, something else perhaps to suggest darkness, mystery, ghosts.

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Mr India (1961)

A simple-hearted—even outright simple, really—man turns out to be the look-alike of a much-wanted criminal. As a result, the police train him to impersonate the criminal so that they can get enough evidence to crack down on a web of crime.

I have no idea if Don (1978) was inspired by Mr India. Don is in many ways a very different film (the criminal, for one, dies fairly early on in the proceedings; for another, it’s a much more complex plot): but there is that fleeting resemblance.

Mr India begins by introducing us to Gullu (IS Johar), naïve and simple, as he goes about job-hunting, and getting rejected at every office because he doesn’t fit the regional profiles demanded by the parochial employers of these places. Gullu gets briefly hired by someone who wants to rig a ‘Mr India’ weight-lifting competition, with Gullu pretending to hoist what is actually wooden dumbbells rather than iron.

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Arpan (1957)

When I was going through Chetan Anand’s filmography last year (to commemorate his birth centenary), I stumbled across a Chetan Anand film in which he starred, besides directing it: a film, too, which immediately struck me as unusual, just given its length: a mere one hour. For a Hindi film, rare indeed. Though I didn’t watch Arpan back then, I bookmarked it and decided I’d watch it sometime later.

And it is an unusual film. Not just short, but also somewhat surreal in places. Hauntingly beautiful at times, outright odd at others.

Arpan is set, we are told, 2,500 years ago. A famine is ravaging the land, and people are starving left, right and centre. In this situation, the royalty, of course, is expected to set an example, and thus Princess Madhavi (Sheila Ramani) is going about, a large entourage with her, distributing food to her father’s subjects.

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Nagina (1951)

This Gothic mystery story has an interesting claim to fame: it was the film Nutan wasn’t permitted to watch at the premiere, even though she starred in it.

Nutan had debuted in the film Hamari Beti (1950; it was directed by her mother, Shobhna Samarth) when she was all of fourteen. The following year, after having spent the intervening period at a finishing school in Switzerland, she was cast as the female lead in Ravindra Dave’s Nagina, which starred Dilip Kumar’s brother Nasir Khan. Nagina was released under an A certificate because it was considered too frightening for children; Nutan, then not even sixteen years old, was escorted to the premiere of the film by family friend Shammi Kapoor, but was not allowed in because she was underage.

The story begins [rather choppily; I wonder if this is the modern-day slash-and-burn style of video editing that’s reflected here, rather than the original film’s editing] with Srinath (Nasir Khan) having a conversation with his wheelchair-bound mother (Anwari Bai). As it later emerges from the story, Srinath’s father, a jeweller named Shyamlal, has been missing these last twelve years, ever since he was accused of having murdered the wife of a zamindar, Raiji, over a valuable gemstone (a ‘nagina’) set in a ring.

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Naya Daur (1957)

Happy 100th birthday, Dilip Kumar!

It was on this day that Mohammad Yusuf Khan, who was to go on to become one of India’s most-loved and finest actors, was born in Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani Bazaar.

In a career spanning several decades, and some sixty-odd films, Dilip Kumar attained a status all his own. He was one of the first to win a Filmfare Award, and went on to win the most Best Actor Awards (until the record was equalled— though not yet surpassed). His scenes have been copied and re-done, his dialogues have become familiar to fans of cinema, his films and his acting closely dissected.

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