Today may (or may not) be the birth centenary of the film maker, writer, and actor Chetan Anand, eldest brother of Dev Anand and Vijay Anand. Different sources list different dates of birth: most sites (including IMDB) list his birth date as January 3, 1921; others, including Wikipedia (yes, I know not the most reliable of sources) say it’s January 3, 1915. (This article says it’s 1921, but then goes on to write that Chetan Anand was 27 years old in 1943, which is either dodgy maths or a suggestion that the year of birth was indeed 1915). The article, barring that slip, is a good, interesting introduction to the life and career of Chetan Anand.
Anyway. Even if I’m six years too late to the party, at least today is Chetan Anand’s birthday.
Hindi cinema has, for many decades (much of its existence?) been stereotyped. Mush, melodrama, music. The usual plot of countless films over the years has been dominated by a few given elements, even when the film’s main story may straddle other genres, such as thriller or comedy. You can’t have a Hindi film without romance, song and dance, and melodrama, seems to be the rule followed by most film makers.
Which is why the exceptions to the rule come as such a breath of fresh air. Majhli Didi, Dekh Kabira Roya, Kaanoon, Ittefaq… and this touching, tragic yet heartwarming story of a toddler wandering through the streets of big, bad Bombay.
I am a bit of an iconoclast. Maxim Gorky’s play The Lower Depths, while considered one of the great classics of Russian literature, left me cold when I read it. To me, it seemed too cluttered with characters, too devoid of plot, and just—well, without anything that would make me want to go back to it all over again.
So I approached Neecha Nagar—Chetan Anand’s debut film as a director—with a good deal of trepidation. Because Neecha Nagar was inspired by The Lower Depths, and I expected something horrendously morbid and impossible to understand without the benefit of footnotes.
A few days back, an editor from The Indian Express phoned to ask me if I’d like to review a book for them. Which book? Sidharth Bhatia’s Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story. Too mouthwatering an opportunity to miss, I decided, even though I already had a lot of work to get done. But here it is. You can read the final version (more concise, shorter, perhaps a bit less irreverent) here. And here, right after this sentence, is my first draft: longer, more full of trivia, a little more loony, and (of course!) with some screenshots.
With most films, by the time I see The End come up on the screen, I’ve more or less decided what I’m going to write about it, till which point I’m going to reveal the plot, and so on. With Haqeeqat, I’m still a little dazed. This is one of Bollywood’s earliest—and most realistic—war films, set against a backdrop of what was then the almost inaccessible region of Ladakh. It’s a blend of war and melodrama, propaganda and patriotism… and I’m not sure exactly what can be considered the main story of the film, since it actually consists of a number of stories woven into each other.