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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Kangan (1959)

In which Iftekhar, playing against type, acts the part of a lecherous villain. And Chitragupta, composing against type, proves he was no one-trick pony.

But, to begin at the beginning (and Kangan gets into action right at the start, not dilly-dallying about with incidental stuff). Karuna (Nirupa Roy) is about to get married, and her widowed father (?) is giving her his blessings and wishing her mother were still around. Just then, Kamla (Purnima) comes in; she is not just Karuna’s bridegroom’s sister, but also a good friend of Karuna’s. Karuna’s father leaves the two women together and goes off.

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The ‘Not-Naachnewaali’ Gaanewaali: Ten Songs

I have been watching Hindi cinema for most of my life. And for most of my life, too, I have been happily swallowing all the many outlandish tropes and elements that are part of this realm. Not the least the many obscurities and questions that surround songs: how do people think up a tune and words at the drop of a hat, with no rehearsals whatsoever? How do two people who are not even within earshot of each other, manage to sing—perfectly—a duet? Where does the music come from? And how do people who are dancing about energetically manage to sing at the same time?

The naachne-gaanewaali so derided by the ‘shareef’ of Hindi cinema is, in essence, an unlikely character. The Vyjyanthimala of Sadhana, who dances with so much energy, or even the Meena Kumari of Pakeezah, her dance often more sedate, but a dance nevertheless… or the many, many other onscreen naachne-gaanewaalis, from Minoo Mumtaz in Saaqiya aaj mujhe neend nahin aayegi to Kumkum in Dekh idhar o jaadugar: they must be having Olympic athlete-standard fitness levels to be able to dance so vigorously and sing so well at the same time.

But there is the occasional naachne-gaanewaali who doesn’t dance. She only sits, or, at the most, stands up a bit and languidly moves about. No proper dancing. Not, I think, because she realizes that it’s well-nigh impossible to do both at the same time or that she’s conserving her energy, but perhaps because that’s the filmmaker’s way of showing that she is relatively pure. This invariably happens in cases where the heroine is the naachnewaali, sitting in a kotha or other similar house of ill-repute and forced to use her beautiful voice to earn her living. Only her voice, mind you. No more.

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Insaaf ka Mandir (1969)

Insaaf ka Mandir is a relatively little-known film which I’d seen many years back, but had forgotten most of. It was fellow blogger Jitendra Mathur who reminded me of this, and my memories of the film were pleasant enough for me to want me to rewatch and review this.

The story begins with Sunil (Sanjeev Kumar), a student who’s just completed his law studies at college when he receives an urgent telegram: his father is very ill, Sunil should head home immediately. A classmate of Sunil’s, Sunita (Snehlata), comes by and, in a brief conversation, confesses to Sunil of her love for him; Sunil, embarrassed, tells her that he will not do anything against his father’s wishes.

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Ten of my favourite Shankar-Jaikishan songs

When it comes to Hindi film composer duos, for me there’s none greater than Shankar-Jaikishan. By no means the first (Husnlal Bhagatram, for one, predated them) and definitely not the last (there have been many others, from Laxmikant Pyarelal and Kalyanji Anandji to more recent duos like Anand-Milind), Shankar Jaikishan were unparalleled in the sheer quality of their work. They composed some of Hindi cinema’s best-loved tunes, all the way from Westernized club songs to ghazals, from dreamy love songs to peppy folk numbers. Versatility, finesse, and that ability to appeal to the common janta, to have ordinary folk humming their tunes: these were some traits which set Shankar-Jaikishan apart.

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Mem-Didi (1961)

Today marks hundred years of the birth of one of Hindi cinema’s finest directors: Hrishikesh Mukherjee was born on September 30, 1922, in Calcutta.  Beginning in the late 1940s, Mukherjee worked as a film editor in Calcutta, before moving on to Bombay, where too he continued as editor, gradually moving on to direction as well. Mukherjee’s first film as director was Musafir (1957), and while it didn’t fare too well, it set the tone for a lot of Mukherjee’s later works: films about everyday people, with everyday triumphs and everyday sorrows. His were not the masala films that have always tended to dominate Hindi cinema, and yet—whether he was making classic comedies like Chupke-Chupke or Golmaal, or more nuanced, sensitive films like Majhli Didi, Satyakam, or Abhimaan, Hrishikesh Mukherjee made films that were hard to fault. He is one of the rare directors for whom I will watch a film just because it’s been made by this person.

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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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