This is the third biography of SD Burman’s that I’ve read in the past few years.
When I began this blog, it was with the intention of reviewing films, and doing the occasional song list. I had never read a book on cinema, and had no real interest in doing so, either: my perception of the genre, so to say, was a world of sleaze: biographies laying bare lives about which I did not want to know the sordid details.
I am happy to say that, over the years, I’ve been proven wrong. I’ve read several biographies, of film personalities all the way from Balraj Sahni to Fearless Nadia, Mohammad Rafi to Kidar Sharma, Asha Bhonsle to Rajesh Khanna to Nasir Husain—and most have proven entertaining, informative, and definitely non-sleazy. A hat tip is due to biographers like Akshay Manwani, Sidharth Bhatia, Gautam Chintamani, and Jai Arjun Singh.
… and to Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal, whose biography of RD Burman was the main reason I wanted to read this, their biography of Pancham’s illustrious (and, in my opinion, even greater than his son) father, S D Burman. S D Burman: The Prince Musician (Tranquebar, Westland Publications Private Limited, 2018; 344 pages; ₹799; ISBN 9789387578180) is an exhaustive detailing of the career of S D Burman, beginning from his days as a singer in Calcutta, till his death—while still far from having hung up his boots—in 1975.
In the nearly ten years this blog has been in existence, I’ve reviewed hundreds of films. Including many, many Hindi films. Some have been big hits, others so obscure that even fairly faithful followers of my blog, seeing the name of the film in their RSS feed, have probably decided my review didn’t even merit a visit.
But there are also the (to some) glaring omissions. Every now and then, someone wonders why I’ve never got around to reviewing some of the most iconic Hindi films of the pre-70s period. Mother India. Guide. Pyaasa. Devdas. To them I say that I fear I will not have anything to say that somebody or the other hasn’t already said, and probably in a far better and more informed way than I could.
Among the films about which I’m asked, again and again, is Mughal-e-Azam.
This one is a somewhat more puzzling omission from my list of reviews, given that I am deeply interested in Mughal history, I am very fond of Madhubala, and that the film really does have near-cult status. So much so that it was even the first full-length film anywhere in the world to be digitally coloured for a theatrical re-release (in 2004). But what would be the point of me writing about Mughal-e-Azam? Almost anybody who’d be interested enough in the film to read my review of it would almost certainly have already seen the film, and chances are, would know not just the story, but would have decided and definite views about much of the rest of the film, too: the characters, the songs, the dialogue, the historicity (or lack of it).
All of this, too, was in my mind when I began reading Anil Zankar’s Mughal-e-Azam: Legend as Epic (Harper Collins Publishers India, 2013; 200 pages; Rs 250). I was intrigued: what would Zankar have to say about a film so well-known?
In all the years I’ve been writing this blog, one film maker whose name keeps cropping up every now and then—whose films I’ve reviewed, whose work I’ve commented on—is the brilliant Hrishikesh Mukherjee. From his editing of classics like Do Bigha Zameen, Madhumati and Chemmeen, to his direction of both popular hits like Asli-Naqli and relatively little-known works like Majhli Didi and Biwi aur Makaan, Hrishikesh Mukherjee has had a hand (and a mind and a heart, and sometimes—as I discovered when I read Jai Arjun Singh’s ‘sort of biography’ of the man—a house) in some of my favourite films.
I know I’m a bit late to the party here; Anu had already written about Bhattacharjee and Vittal’s latest book over at her blog, and Harini reviewed it recently on her blog—but better late than never, I guess.
Bhattacharjee and Vittal’s book’s subtitle says it all: 50 Classic Hindi Film Songs. They define ‘classic’ too, in the prologue to the book, where they discuss what is for me truly a classic, the brilliant Baabul mora, by KL Saigal. A timeless song, a song as capable today as it was in the 30s of touching hearts, of making people catch their breath in sheer awe at the music, the lyrics, the rendition—and a song with a story behind it: the story of the exiled Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, ousted from his Awadh and sent away to Calcutta. A song rendered repeatedly by different singers, including some of the greatest voices. And the story, too, of its filming in Street Singer.
I have a confession to make: despite my love for cinema, I’ve never been too keen on film magazines. When I was a child, my parents never bought film magazines, and by the time I’d grown into my teens and had the freedom (and pocket money) to buy whatever reading material I chose, all my major interest in films had shifted to films made before I’d even been born.
As a result, I never knew of Filmindia (or, as it was later renamed, Mother India) until a few years ago, when I read, on Greta’s blog, about Baburao Patel and his film magazine, Filmindia. Reading excerpts on Memsaabstory from Filmindia (and, more often than not, snorting out loud at Baburao Patel’s irreverence), or gushing over the fabulous artwork, I couldn’t help but think: if there’s ever one film magazine I would want to read, it would be the erstwhile Filmindia.
When I heard that Sidharth Bhatia was going to be releasing his book on Baburao Patel and Filmindia, I knew this was right up my alley. Not so much for Baburao Patel (who, I had convinced myself, after having read some of his writing, I did not like—not a nice man), but for the art, the ads, the feel of the 30s, the 40s, the 50s. Even the 60s. The golden age of Hindi cinema. That—the cinema—was what I wanted to read about, what I wanted to see.
Since I am a writer, I’m always on the lookout for good books to read—there’s so much to learn from other writers. And, when the book in question happens to be about cinema, the film fanatic in me rejoices. A … Continue reading
For those of you who like cinema, and who like reading about cinema (which is probably why you’re reading this), a piece of news I wanted to share: the launch of a new book. The Popcorn Essayists: What Movies Do To Writers is an anthology of film writing—by writers who don’t professionally review or otherwise write about cinema. Compiled and edited by Jai Arjun Singh, the book contains essays by a wide range of authors, most of them very well-respected and well-known. Anjum Hasan, Manjula Padmanabhan, Namita Gokhale and Amitava Kumar are among those who’ve contributed to The Popcorn Essayists.
Apologies for the long silence. It isn’t as if I’ve packed up pen and paper (rather, my laptop) and gone off to vegetate somewhere. There are things happening in my world of writing; the problem is that writing takes such a long time. There’s many a month between the inception of an idea and the day the book hits the shelves… I have a book coming out probably in October 2011; this will be the sequel to The Englishman’s Cameo, and I’m currently writing the sequel to that book. So, Muzaffar Jang fans have something to look forward to – both this winter, and the next.
In addition to that, Westland-Tranquebar will be releasing a collection of my short stories – all on the theme of dark humour – probably in November 2011.
And, meanwhile, here’s another book to which I’ve contributed: The Popcorn Essayists: What Movies do to Writers. It’s an anthology of film-related writing from well-known Indian writers who don’t typically write about cinema: Manjula Padmanabhan, Sumana Roy, Amitava Kumar, Anjum Hassan and others – including me. Published by Westland-Tranquebar, compiled and edited by Jai Arjun Singh, the book will be formally released in March 2011. It’s already available online on Flipkart, though, so if you live in India, you can order it here.
The stories in this book promise to be very interesting. If you’re a cinema buff, don’t miss this one.
Oh, and yes: an excerpt from my essay for The Popcorn Essayists: What Movies do to Writers. I contributed an article on one of my favourite themes from cinema, suspense thrillers from Hindi cinema in the 1950s and 60s. The piece is called Villains and Vamps and All Things Camp, and here’s a sneak peek:
“The spy kings also seemed to command the hottest molls and the most ingenious torture equipment. I suppose finances come into that; you can’t have Helen as a ‘secretary’ who operates a machine that slowly grills the hero over a bed of coals, when all you’re doing is running a backyard bootlegging outfit. But ooh, the spy kings, with their truckloads of dirty money! They were the ones who could afford the works: the leopard skin-hot pink satin-mirrored ceiling dens, the bars crowded with bottles of Vat 69, the hordes of henchmen clad in too-tight pants and T-shirts.
There’s something so giddily, gorgeously glorious about it all.”