Bhoot Bungla (1965)

The last of the ‘silly Indian films’, at least for now.

I watched Bhoot Bungla for the first time as a child, when it was aired on Doordarshan. I remembered very little of it, except that RD Burman struck me as very funny (even funnier than Mehmood, who—back then—I had still not begun to think of as irritating). And that my mother, sitting beside me and watching Tanuja lip-sync to O mere pyaar aaja, remarked that she (Mummy) used to sing this song as a lullaby for my sister when she was a baby.

Then, when I reviewed Adhey Kangal some time back, a few blog readers observed that the plot was pretty similar to that of Bhoot Bungla.

Time, I decided, for a rewatch.

As the credits roll, an unidentified man screams “Lakshmi!” and having pulled a bloodied dagger out of his chest, proceeds to keel over, dead. A woman (Minoo Mumtaz), presumably Lakshmi, goes running out of the house, clutching a toddler to her, looking panicked.

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Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

In response to that unwarranted comment about me ‘wasting my time watching silly Indian films’, I’ve done something (reviewed Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan and Devi) to uphold my contention that all Indian films are not silly. Now it’s time to look at Indian films which are silly, but where the silliness is intelligent, and deliberate.

What, after all, is wrong with silliness, or with humour? For me, the stuffy idea that humour is somehow low is very irritating. Some humour may be unpalatable to certain people (I, for one, find nothing humorous about sexist or racist jokes, or toilet humour), but humour can be sophisticated, it can be the result of a great intelligence.

As, I think, comes through in this delightful film about three brothers, all motor mechanics, who run a garage.

Brijmohan Sharma ‘Bade Bhaiya’ (Ashok Kumar), as he’s known, is the eldest of the three, and he rules with an iron fist in an iron gauntlet.  Bade Bhaiya is a hard taskmaster, and lords it over Jagmohan ‘Jaggu’ (Anoop Kumar) and Manmohan ‘Manu’ (Kishore Kumar), as also their apprentice Maujiya (Mohan Choti). One important aspect of Bade Bhaiya’s personality is his aversion to women: he sees red even when Maujiya hangs up a calendar with a painting of a woman on it.

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Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan (1961)

Some days back, a blog reader wrote to me (after having recommended several Hollywood films over the past weeks) to tell me that I was ‘wasting my time’ watching and reviewing ‘silly Indian films’.

I was initially too furious to be able to respond, but I eventually wrote back to say how unjustified and insulting this comment was. This, after all, is my blog. Nobody— not my family, not my friends, not the people who might be considered to have some sort of say—tells me what to watch. Recommendations, requests: more than welcome. Judgemental and rude remarks, no. You do not govern how I spend my time.

Once I simmered down a bit, I decided this called for a tribute to ‘silly Indian films’. So, for the duration of August 2022, I’m only going to be focusing on Indian cinema. Not one film from outside India is going to feature on Dustedoff all through this month.

So, to kick off ‘Silly Indian Film Month’, a review of a film I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time now.

Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan begins by introducing us to Mohan (Master Aziz), who lives with his elder brother Shyam (Balraj Sahni). Shyam and Mohan only have each other for family; their mother died giving birth to Mohan, and their father died a few months later. On his deathbed, he entrusted to Shyam the care and bringing up of Mohan. Shyam works as a clerk, and in order to be able to focus on Mohan’s education and upbringing, hasn’t even married. The two brothers somehow make do, but on days such as this—when Shyam has been too busy to make it to Mohan’s school function, where Mohan is getting various prizes—there is angst. Mohan is annoyed and tearful.

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Jeevan Naiyya (1936)

While I knew of this film, I hadn’t paid enough attention to it until I read Nabendu Ghosh’s Dadamoni: The Life and Times of Ashok Kumar. Jeevan Naiyya, produced by Himanshu Rai and directed by Franz Osten (at a time when there were several European, especially German, technical experts in the Hindi film industry) is not a landmark film in itself, but simply viewed as Ashok Kumar’s first film, this is worth a watch.

The story begins bang in the middle of things. Ranjit (Ashok Kumar) and Lata (Devika Rani) are engaged to be married, and the film begins with a telephone conversation in which they’re cooing sweetly inane nothings to each other. Ranjit’s boisterous friends barge in on this conversation and break it up, but it’s obvious that these two are very much in love with each other, and looking forward to being married.

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Kati Patang (1970)

Our recent trip to Nainital prompted me (actually, even before we left on our trip) to read Gulshan Nanda’s novel Kati Patang. Gulshan Nanda, for those who may be unfamiliar with his work, wasn’t just a hugely successful writer of Hindi social-romantic popular fiction, but also a script writer for Hindi cinema: he wrote the scripts (many of them based on his own novels) of blockbusters like Saawan ki Ghata, Khilona, Kati Patang, and Jheel ke Us Paar. This insightful article about Nanda’s writing, as well as its adaptation to the big screen, is worth a read.

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Ten of my favourite Sheila Vaz songs

RIP, Sheila Vaz.

This post is a little late in coming—Sheila Vaz passed away on June 29—but by the time I learnt of her passing, I was just about to post the first of my Nainital-Corbett travelogues, and knew that it would anyway take me at least a couple of days to compile a suitable tribute to one of Hindi cinema’s best dancers. So I decided to go ahead with that, and come back to this.

Sheila Vaz, without my knowing it, was probably one of the very first Hindi film dancers I ever saw onscreen: the first Hindi film I remember watching was CID, which I was taken to see when I was about nine. And there, lip-syncing to Leke pehla-pehla pyaar was this unabashedly effervescent woman, her eyes sparkling and her movements graceful. I won’t say that image stayed with me; I have no recollection of the song from back then. But Sheila Vaz became, years later when I grew much more devoted to Hindi cinema, one of my favourites. Besides the fact that she was so graceful and so emotive, I loved one thing that struck a chord with me: she was, like me, somewhat plus size. I’ve always been overweight, and have faced a lot of derision, hurtful ‘ribbing’ and more, for it: and here was Sheila Vaz, by no means a size zero, but undeniably beautiful and successful—I loved her the more for that.

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Book Review: Nabendu Ghosh’s Dadamoni: The Life and Times of Ashok Kumar

The 1936 Hindi film Jeevan Naiyya begins with a telephone conversation. An engaged couple, very much in love with each other, whispers sweet nothings on the phone. It’s all a bit awkward, and the young man in particular comes across as distinctly uncomfortable with all this koochie-kooing. This is not quite the mellifluous, effortless romance of a Jalte hain jiske liye, but it is, in its own way, a landmark scene. Because this is the very first onscreen appearance of a young actor who went on to become one of Hindi cinema’s biggest stars: Ashok Kumar Ganguly, better known simply as Ashok Kumar.

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Ten of my favourite ‘secondary romantic couple’ songs

Think of ‘Hindi film song’ and chances are, you will think of a romantic song. A hero and a heroine, in a garden or under a moonlit sky, singing of their love for each other: the quintessential Hindi film song. But besides the heroes and heroines, there were often, too, the secondary couple. The man was often the hero’s sidekick, the best friend who helped him defeat the villain, overcome the objections of the disapproving father, and so on. The comic best pal’s love interest, too, was often of a similar bent of mind: good-hearted, nutty, comic in her own way. Also (oh so stereotypically) often an Anglo-Indian or a Goan, a girl who had few inhibitions about dancing and singing with her man.

The secondary romantic pair served several purposes. They provided, if not comic relief, at least some moments of light-heartedness (think Johnny Walker’s and Kumkum’s characters in the otherwise so grim Pyaasa). They brought a ray of hope, a refreshing change from the melodrama and seriousness that might plague the hero and heroine; they often helped in very concrete, practical ways. And, thankfully for us, they invariably had at least one romantic song to lip-sync to, and it was often just as good as the ‘main’ romantic songs. Some of these, in fact, are iconic songs in their own right.

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Pehla Aadmi (1950)

Today is the birth centenary of one of Hindi cinema’s most familiar character actors, the very well-known Nasir Hussain (or Nazir Hussain, or Nazir Hussein, or Nazir/Nasir Husein, whatever; Hindi cinema credits are famous for being inconsistent). Not the same man as the film maker of the same name, but an important personality in his own right. Born in Usia (Uttar Pradesh) on May 15, 1922, Nasir Hussain came to cinema in a roundabout sort of way. Having worked briefly in the railways (where his father too was employed), Nasir had ended up joining the British Army, and was posted overseas—in Malaya—during World War II. Taken captive, he was freed and subsequently went oj to join Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, the INA.

After his INA experience, Hussain could not find an alternate career and wound up doing bit parts in theatre. From here, a chance meeting with Bimal Roy finally brought him into cinema. Their very first film together (they were to go on to make several more films, with Nasir Hussain in front of the camera and Roy behind, such as Parakh, Do Bigha Zameen, and Devdas) was this one: Pehla Aadmi, in which Nasir Hussain was not just an actor, but also assistant to the director—as well as the writer of the story and the dialogues.

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Wahan (1937)

Aka Beyond the Horizon.

When I began this blog, it was with the intention of indulging in my love for old cinema. While that has remained the main objective of my writing here, I’ve added to it a desire to make this a means of documenting old cinema (especially Hindi cinema) too. Not all old cinema, since that would be too mammoth a task for one person to take up; but films that I think are worth documenting, in particular if they seem to be otherwise obscure now. Films that are landmarks in Hindi cinema history; films that were somewhat different, perhaps, from the usual.

Or, as in this case, films that allow us a glimpse of familiar faces that we know from another, later, period. Leela Chitnis, the perennially poverty-stricken and very distressed mother of 60s cinema, stars in Wahan as an Aryan princess, and Ulhas, the well-known character actor of the 50s and 60s, appears in his debut role as her fiancé.

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