A hundred years ago, on January 27, 1922, in Golconda (Hyderabad) was born Hamid Ali Khan, known to thousands of Hindi film viewers (and, even thousands more who have perhaps never watched any of his films) as Ajit. The man of ‘saara shahar mujhe loin ke naam se jaanta hai’. The iconic villain, suave and eerily soft-spoken though at the same time very oily and dangerous, of films like Zanjeer, Yaadon ki Baaraat, and Kalicharan. The baas of Raabert and Lilly (who was constantly being told not to be silly).
But long before he became the stuff of really bad jokes, before he attained the stature of one of Hindi cinema’s greatest onscreen villains, Ajit was a hero. Coming to Bombay in the face of parental opposition (having first sold his college books to finance the trip), Ajit had to struggle a lot to find work in the cinema industry. He began as an extra, and worked in several films until being noticed by the Gujarati-Hindi director Nanabhai Bhatt (Mahesh Bhatt’s father) who not only gave him the screen name Ajit, but also launched him in a leading role. Across the 50s and 60s, Ajit acted in a slew of films, both as leading man (Nastik, Dholak, Baradari, Marine Drive, Tower House, Opera House, etc) as well as in major supporting roles (of special note here are Naya Daur and Mughal-e-Azam, in both of which he appeared alongside Dilip Kumar).
This is a film I’ve known about for many years now: I first heard about it on Greta’s blog, and have since been in two minds about whether to watch it or not. It sounded too nutty to miss (aliens toting laser rays and stealing diamonds? NA Ansari in a double role and Nilofer in a bad wig? Tanuja as ghost-who-sings?), but from my previous experiences of films directed by NA Ansari, I’ve realized that after a while, the madness of the script, the plethora of plot holes and the sheer pointlessness of much of what’s happening, can become very tedious.
But this is considered somewhat of a cult film, and one of the very few early Hindi films that had an element of sci-fi in it. So, if just for that (I like sci fi as a genre), I decided to watch Wahan ke Log.
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.
Fellow blogger and soul sister Anu, at Conversations Over Chai, watched Bahaar for two reasons: one, that it starred Vyjyanthimala; two, that it featured the delightful Saiyyaan dil mein aana re. As it happened (and both Anu and I agreed this was nothing new) she—as I have been, countless times—found herself a victim of the somewhat irrational logic that good music + an actor we like = good film.
But, to get down to this week’s post. A film I watched because, one, it stars Vyjyanthimala; and two, because it has great music. I had steeled myself for something pretty irritating, so perhaps the fact that I began this film with low expectations had much to do with my eventual enjoyment of it. Yasmin isn’t a masterpiece, but I still liked it, predictability and all.
Mere piya gaye Rangoon—and some of the other songs of Patanga—were the main reason I began watching this film. Then, when the credits started to roll and I discovered this film also starred Shyam, I sat up a bit and began watching with a bit more interest. Shyam (1920-51, born Shyam Sundar Chadha) grew up in Rawalpindi and, when he was just 22 years old, debuted in a Punjabi film named Gawandi. He went on to work in several films, including Samadhi, Dillagi, and Shabistan—the last-named was also to be Shyam’s last film: in the course of the shooting, he fell off a horse and died.
I’ve seen precious little of Shyam (Samadhi is the only film of his I remember watching), but he intrigues me in the same way that his older contemporary Chandramohan does: they make me wonder if the honour roll of Hindi cinema would have been somewhat different if these men had lived. Shyam, with that handsome face and that impressive height and build, was definite star material. Plus, he was not a bad actor, either. Had he lived well into the 50s, would his presence have perhaps altered the careers of actors like Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor?
Today is the birth centenary of one of my favourite music directors, C Ramachandra: he was born a hundred years ago, on January 12, 1918, in Puntamba (Maharashtra). I won’t go into his biography, since that is something I’ve covered before on this blog, when I compiled a list of my ten favourite songs composed by C Ramachandra.
That said, I couldn’t possibly have let C Ramachandra’s centenary pass by without celebrating it in some way. So, a list of great songs C Ramachandra sang. Like SD Burman, C Ramachandra (billed often as Chitalkar, especially when he sang playback) had a slew of songs to his name as singer. Unlike SD Burman’s instantly recognizable voice, Chitalkar’s was a little more elusive—to the average listener, he can be recognized at times, but more often than not, he sounds like someone else altogether…
…specifically, songs which he composed, not just songs he sang (since C Ramachandra also lent his voice to some of his best songs).
Chitalkar Ramachandra was born 97 years ago—on January 12, 1918, in the town of Puntamba in Maharashtra. Although he’d studied music, it was as an actor that C Ramachandra joined the film industry—he debuted in a lead role in a film called Nagananda. This didn’t continue for long, though; he eventually shifted to composing songs, first for Tamil cinema, and then for Hindi. And he came like a breath of fresh air to Hindi film music: in a period dominated by classical tunes composed by the likes of Naushad, Anil Biswas and Pankaj Mullick, C Ramachandra had the guts to bring in music with distinctly Western rhythms, what with hits like Aana meri jaan Sunday ke Sunday and Mere piya gaye Rangoon. And he was brilliantly versatile: as the following selection will (hopefully) show, he could compose just about everything from peppy club songs to lullabies to ghazals (if one can expect a particular style of music for a ghazal) and lilting love songs.
Inspirations to watch (and review) films come to me from all over. Friends and relatives are occasionally badgered to suggest genres; blog readers’ requests and recommendations (some of them, alas, long-pending) are taken into consideration. And, sometimes, I get inspired by the most outlandish of things. For instance, this film—which I first watched years ago, on TV—jumped to the top of my to-watch list because one day, while washing up in my kitchen, I was reminded of Mala Sinha.
[And no, not because I happened to be scrubbing a colander].
Today, November 11, is the birthday of Mala Sinha, so I decided to finally watch this film—not because it’s one of her best, but because it has three elements I’m partial to: it has music by C Ramachandra, it’s a historical, and it stars Mala Sinha.
I have to admit my love for Mala Sinha sees ups and downs, based on which film I’m watching. In a film like Pyaasa or Gumraah, where she has good roles (and good directors), she shows just how good an actress she is. And in an all-out entertainer like Aankhen, she’s equally unforgettable as the feisty, glamorous spy. These are the films I prefer to stuff like Anpadh, Hariyali aur Raasta, or even Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi—because the melodrama is kept in check.
But one thing I’ll happily admit: I think Mala Sinha is lovely, and I’ll watch most films just to see her.
Where I go, cinema seems to follow.
Well, not unusual, in this day and age, especially not in a country where cinema is so well-loved. But on a recent weekend trip to Mussoorie, I made a discovery that excited me so much, I had to share it.
Mussoorie, as some of you may know, has several filmi connections: actors Tom Alter and Victor Bannerjee are residents, as is the much-loved Ruskin Bond, author of A Flight of Pigeons (on which the 1979 film Junoon was based), as well as of the stories on which The Blue Umbrella and Saat Khoon Maaf were based.
On our last evening in Mussoorie, walking along the Mall, we found the road choked by a crowd. There were cameras, bright lights—and Neil Nitin Mukesh in a striped T-shirt, busy shooting.
Then I discovered, on a visit to Sisters Bazaar in Landour (and having referred to one of Ruskin Bond’s books on Mussoorie and Landour) that the long, low building that once housed the nuns, was later owned by Dev Anand.