Zindagi ya Toofaan (1958)

After many years of telling myself I should read Mirza Hadi ‘Ruswa’s Umrao Jaan Ada, I finally got around to reading a Hindi translation a couple of weeks back. This turned out to be an underwhelming experience (more details here, on my Goodreads review of the book), but it impelled me to read a synopsis of Umrao Jaan Ada. I ended up reading, too, about the screen adaptations of the book (which is regarded by many as the first Urdu novel), and was surprised to discover that, besides the Rekha-starrer and the (much later) Aishwarya Rai-starrer, there were two other films, both released in 1958, based on Umrao Jaan Ada. One was Mehendi; the other was Zindagi ya Toofaan. I haven’t got around to watching Mehendi yet, but the fact that one of my favourite actresses of the 50s, Nutan, starred in Zindagi ya Toofaan, made me eager to watch this one.

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Hulchul (1951)

Today is the hundredth birthday of one of India’s greatest and most popular dancers of yesteryears. Sitara Devi was born in Calcutta on November 8, 1920, to a father who was a Sanskrit scholar and also both performed as well as taught Kathak. Her mother too came from a family with a long tradition in performing arts, so it was hardly a surprise that from a very young age, Sitara (her birth name was Dhanalakshmi) began to learn Kathak. By the time she was ten, Sitara was giving solo performances; two years later, at the age of twelve, she (having since moved to Bombay with her parents) performed onstage and so impressed film-maker/choreographer Niranjan Sharma that he recruited her to work in films.

Unlike several other skilled danseuses—Vyjyanthimala, the Travancore Sisters, Waheeda Rehman, etc—Sitara Devi did not let cinema take over her dance completely. She danced in a number of films, through the 40s and right up to Mother India (1957), which is believed to be her last onscreen appearance. She continued to give stage performances, even performing at New York’s Carnegie Hall and at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Sitara Devi wasn’t merely a film actress; she was also a great dancer. I wanted to pay tribute to her through a review of one of her films, and decided I’d choose Hulchul, which I wanted to watch for other reasons as well (more on this later).

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Doli (1969)

The Hindi film industry has always been an upholder of patriarchy. Its male stars attract ridiculously high prices in comparison to their female colleagues, and have disproportionately longer careers than them (plus a much longer time as leads). Sexism is rampant, ranging all the way from sexual discrimination to violence. And, though more women directors, scriptwriters, lyricists etc are around now, it’s still pretty much a male-dominated industry.

Hardly surprising, then, that most of our films tend to look at things (at best) from a male point of view. At worst, they uphold patriarchy in its most virulent forms, reducing women to a cypher, expected to devote their lives to the service of men. Ever-forgiving Sati Savitris, wrapped in saris and simpering prettily every time their lord and master deigns to be kind. Or unkind, it doesn’t matter; he is still her devta.

Doli is one such film, steeped in patriarchy and regressive in the extreme.

It begins in a college, where Amar (Rajesh Khanna) and Prem (Prem Chopra) have just graduated. Amar is the star athlete, Prem the star pupil who has topped the college and won a scholarship for higher studies in America. Later, in their dorm, both Prem and Amar receive letters from home, informing them that their weddings have been fixed. On the same day, in the same town, Nasik. Neither of them is happy about this, but Prem, having known already that a match had been found for him, is rather more resigned.

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Sharaarat (1959)

It might surprise some of you to know just how many films I watch. No, not new ones, but old films, in the hope that I will find something worth reviewing for this blog. Perhaps one in five of those films gets reviewed, and that because either it’s worth recommending, or conversely, it’s worth warning people off. 

A lot of the Hindi films I watch, I watch because of the music. Occasionally (Duniya Jhukti Hai, Bank Manager, Chandni Chauk) there’s just one song that has prompted my viewing of the film, and the film itself turns out to be so ho-hum that I decide there’s not much point reviewing it. I assume, you see, that most people (unlike me) are sensible enough to not waste a couple of hours watching a film just because it has one good song. 

Sometimes, though, a film has a bunch of good songs, and a cast I have great hopes of. Then, even if it ends up being a bit of a dud, I feel obliged to review the film. Because I want to tell you: steer clear; despite the cast and despite the songs, this is really not worth your while. 

Also, in the case of Sharaarat, there was the fact that this film starred Meena Kumari. And, as I’ve seen from films like Miss Mary, Tamasha, Kohinoor, Azaad, etc, Meena Kumari was very good at comedy. Here, she was paired with Kishore Kumar. I settled down, hoping for some fun. Sharaarat, after all: that sounded promising. 

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Suvarna Sundari (1958)

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I cannot resist good music; so much so that there are plenty of films I’ve watched just because they happened to have one song which I like a lot. Many of these films have turned out to be complete duds, not at all worthy of the wonderful song which drew me to it—but I do not, in this case, subscribe to the ‘once burnt, twice shy’ philosophy. I go on doing it, often with painful results.

Suvarna Sundari, which I watched for Kuhu kuhu bole koyaliya, will however remain one of the exceptions. A stellar song, but also a very entertaining film.

The story begins in a gurukul, where Prince Jayant of Malwa (Akkineni Nageshwara Rao, ‘ANR’) is about to graduate and go back to Malwa to be declared crown prince. At the prospect of Jayant’s departure, his guru’s daughter (?) gets all het up and confesses her love for him. Jayant, being a good and upright man who knows his guru’s daughter is out of bounds for him, sternly refuses…

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Noor Mahal (1965)

Or, Ten Reasons Why You Should Watch Jagdeep’s Funniest Film

First, though, a word by way of tribute. Jagdeep, who passed away last week (on July 8th), may not have scaled the heights other comedians, such as Johnny Walker or Mehmood, did, but he had a much longer innings than most. He seems to have debuted in Madhubala (1950) as a child artiste, and worked in close to 400 films, right up to 2017’s Masti Nahin Sasti.

And, interestingly enough, somewhere between his years as a child actor (in Footpath, Do Bigha Zameen, etc) and his heyday as a comedian, Jagdeep acted as leading man in several films… including Noor Mahal, of Mere mehboob na jaa, aaj ki raat na jaa fame.

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Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya (1966)

It took me five days to watch this film: I couldn’t bear to watch more than fifteen minutes of it at a time, and I couldn’t do more than two sessions in a day.

That’s what Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya is like. Despite starring Dharmendra, Nutan, and Rehman. Despite being picturized in some very pretty locales. And despite having a couple of not-too-bad songs. By the time this travesty of a film ended, I was wanting to tear my hair out. I thought I wouldn’t review it, but then decided this did need to be reviewed, so that other potential viewers could be warned.

This is going to be a shortish review, since I can’t bring myself to explain every fiddly little detail along the way in what is a convoluted (but pointlessly convoluted) plot.

Ashok (Dharmendra) and Amjad (Rehman) are best friends. They live in the same pokey little flat (for which they haven’t paid the rent in a long time), they work in the same toy store, and they spend all their free time telling each other about their respective girlfriends. Ashok’s sweetheart is Ashu (Nutan), who lives back in the village and is constantly being plagued by Ashok’s nasty stepbrother Bhagat (Jeevan)…

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Saqi (1952)

I still remember my first glimpse of Premnath in a different persona than the fat, balding, beetle-browed villain of so many ‘70s films.

This was in the mid-80s. My sister and I (I was then not even in my teens) were watching Chitrahaar, and Thandi hawaayein lehraake aayein came on. It was proceeding fine, with Nalini Jaywant flitting across the screen, when suddenly a strikingly handsome man, tall and broad-shouldered, sprang up by her side, danced with her, and then disappeared. Who was that? We asked each other, and couldn’t supply an answer. We turned to our father, our source of information for all things old Hindi cinema. Papa said that Naujawan starred Premnath. Who Premnath, we asked in disbelief. That paunchy and somewhat repellant man in Johnny Mera Naam?

It took a watching (incomplete, sadly, because the electricity went) of the 1951 film Sagaai to convince us that yes, Premnath was indeed quite a hottie in his heyday.

If you think so too (or if you haven’t seen Premnath in the early 50s, when he was paid more than Raj Kapoor and several other leading actors), you should watch Saqi.

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Book Review: Jerry Pinto’s ‘Helen: The Life and Times of a Bollywood H-Bomb’

I won’t go so far as to say that Helen was the first Hindi film actress I remember seeing (that would be Shakila, since CID was the first Hindi film I remember watching). But I distinctly remember being about 10 years old, watching Chitrahaar, and being very excited because an old favourite of mine, a song I had till then only heard and never seen, was going to come on (in Chitrahaar, there would always be a sort of intertitle between songs, a single frame in which the name of the next song, the film it was from, and the names of the music director, the lyricist, and the singer(s) would be listed).

This song was Mera naam Chin Chin Choo, and my feet were already tapping when it began. All that frenetic movement, those men in sailor suits dancing about. The energy, so electric that it even seemed to transmit itself to the musicians. The infectiousness of it all.

And Helen.

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Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966)

Despite its having a cast of several people whom I like a lot (Waheeda Rehman, Dilip Kumar, Pran, Rehman, Shyama), a music director whom I like a lot (Naushad) and being by no means an unknown film, Dil Diya Dard Liya is one I’d never got around to watching. Perhaps it is because I had been told by knowledgeable readers that it was based on Wuthering Heights—and I could imagine what a confluence of Wuthering Heights (dark, grim, with two thoroughly selfish and unlikeable leads) and typical Bollywood (melodramatic, with no lead capable of being anything but noble, even if it’s only in the final analysis)—would be like. Mishmash, hard to bear?

But when I posted a Naushad song list in tribute on Naushad’s birth centenary last year, several people mentioned the songs of Dil Diya Dard Liya, and I decided it was time to take the plunge. If for nothing else than Naushad’s music.

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