Every now and then [with distressing frequency], I come across a film that, just by looking at its cast and crew, sounds mouthwatering enough. This was one of those. Saira Banu, when she still looked pretty. Joy Mukherji, still at the height of his career. Ashok Kumar. Motilal. Ravi as the composer. RK Nayyar as the director. Europe.
Including some recommendations, and some warnings.
This post was sparked off by a comment, by blog reader and fellow blogger Ava, on my review of the Sunil Dutt-Meena Kumari starrer, Ghazal. Like me, Ava ‘adores’ Muslim socials, and in her comment, suggested that I make a list of ten of my favourite Muslim socials. A great suggestion, I thought. And then thought some more. Were there ten Muslim socials I loved to bits? Were there some which were fabulous when it came to certain aspects, and horrendous on other counts? Were there some, perhaps, that I wouldn’t watch again (except possibly at gunpoint)?
All that thinking, I decided, had to be shared. Also in the hope that it might elicit some responses from those reading this blog post—please do comment, share your thoughts, and feel free to disagree. With the tameez and tehzeeb one would expect in a Muslim social.
Give me a period film, and I’m willing to give it a shot. If it happens to be set in Mughal India, so much the better. If the cast features people like Meena Kumari, Pradeep Kumar, Rehman, Veena, Lalita Pawar and Nighar Sultana: well, there’s hope that the acting will be passable. And when I realize that the music composer is Roshan: then I’m certainly on for it.
Noorjehan, of course (though Richard would probably question that ‘of course’) is about the noblewoman who married the fourth of the Great Mughals, Jahangir. Born in May 1577 and named Mehrunissa, she was the daughter of a man who rose to great prominence in the Mughal court: Itmad-ud-Daulah (‘Pillar of the State’) was the title given to him, and the marriage of Mehrunissa to Jahangir made of Mehrunissa a powerful woman, too. Initially given the title Noormahal (‘Light of the Palace’) by her doting husband, she was subsequently given the title of Noorjehan (‘Light of the World’) and went on to become probably the most influential of imperial consorts in the Mughal dynasty, a wealthy woman in her own right, as well as a woman who exercised a good deal of power from beyond the purdah.
A lot of my memories of 50s and 60s cinema date back to the 1980s, when almost all the films I watched were those shown on Doordarshan. In the early years, with Doordarshan being the sole channel, my sister and I (our parents were rather more discerning) watched every single Hindi film that was telecast, down to painful stuff like Jai Santoshi Ma and the thoroughly obscure Fauji, with Joginder Singh (who, if I remember correctly, also produced and directed it) in the lead role.
But, to get around to the topic of this post: Abhilasha, not a very well-known film but one which made an impression on me because of two songs I liked a lot. And because it depicted a mother-son relationship that was a little different from the usual.
Some months back, I watched two relatively new Muslim socials: Daawat-e-Ishq and Bobby Jasoos. Both were an interesting reflection on the way the Muslim social has changed over the years (after close to disappearing during the 90s). The Muslim social of the 1950s was, more often than not, a film that, even when set amongst the wealthy upper class—the nawabs and their kin—came heavily burdened with all the stereotypical trappings of what was perceived as ‘Muslim’: the qawwalis and mushairas, the shararas and sherwanis. (I’ll write about all of those, and more, in a post to follow).
Bobby Jasoos and Daawat-e-Ishq had shed those to quite an extent. But that process had begun in earlier films, even as far back as the 60s. In Neend Hamaari Khwaab Tumhaare, for example, where Nanda’s character—the daughter of a nawab, no less—doesn’t merely have a Western education, but spends most of her time in skirts and dresses. And this film, where Nutan’s Jameela is a firebrand, giving as good as she gets, and by no means the simpering and demure Muslim girl exemplified by her contemporaries in films like Mere Mehboob, Mere Huzoor, and Chandni Chowk.
Permit me one last Sadhana-related post before I put aside my unexpected (even to me) sadness at her untimely death. I know I’ve already been through twotribute posts, but even as I was writing those posts, I couldn’t help but think of the Sadhana films I haven’t reviewed on this blog (and there are several of them, including all the ones she made with Rajendra Kumar). When I think of Sadhana, I always think of her in Raj Khosla’s suspense films. Three of them, two opposite Manoj Kumar (Woh Kaun Thi? and Anita), and this one, opposite Sunil Dutt, with whom Sadhana also starred in Gaban and Waqt.
When Sadhana passed away at Christmas and I finally got down to thinking what tribute I’d post, the first thing that came to my mind was: a list of Sadhana songs. My favourite ten songs. Then, I realized that I had too much other work to get through (besides being none too well), and that a short piece requiring more heart and less research might be more doable. So that was what I did.
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.
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…
When I posted my list of ‘background songs’ (songs that form part of the film, but to which nobody lip-synchs), I made one stipulation: that they wouldn’t include ‘credits songs’, or songs that play while the credits roll. Not all of these, as you’ll see from my list below, are necessarily ‘background songs’ as well: some of them are ‘sung’ by people onscreen. And they run the gamut from songs that introduce the film’s ethos or primary theme, to—well, just another song to add to a list of songs the film already boasts of. And they are all sorts, from romantic to philosophical to patriotic.