Hoří, má Panenko (1967)

Or, in English, The Firemen’s Ball.

I came across this film some months back, and since its description sounded enticing, I got it. Ever since, I’ve been meaning to watch it; finally, about a week back, having written up the post for a landmark anniversary I wanted to celebrate (William Holden’s birth centenary), I figured it was finally time I got around to watching The Firemen’s Ball. And it was then, just a few days back, that I discovered that the film’s director, Miloš Forman, had passed away, on the 13th of April.

To Hollywood audiences, Forman is known for Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, both of which won him Oscars for Best Director. But before he left his homeland Czechoslovakia and moved to the US, Forman was a well-established director in Czech cinema too, being generally acknowledged as a important personality of Czech New Wave Cinema. His first Czech-language colour film was The Firemen’s Ball, a comedy that satirized the corruption pervading Communist Eastern Europe at the time.

The film begins sombrely. In an office at a fire department, a group of senior firemen have gathered to discuss something important. A finely crafted and engraved piece (a fireman’s axe) is being passed around the table and admired by all. The annual firemen’s ball is coming up, and this item is to be presented on the occasion of the ball to the fire department’s ex-President, who is going to be turning 86.

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A Night to Remember (1942)

Last May, my husband, my daughter and I shifted house. We’ve shifted house before (though never with a toddler in tow), but this time was rather more harrowing than every previous experience. The movers and packers we’d hired turned out to be a thoroughly inefficient and poorly trained lot, requiring constant supervision. They left debris—newspaper, scraps of cardboard and more—littered all across our new home, and the dumped al my books, each one of my precious books, in one untidy pile on the floor.

Then, on the second day in the new house, an insect flew into my eye and caused an infection that didn’t go for a month. Within the first week, the RO conked out; the kitchen tap suddenly started spewing black water; and we discovered that one of the pipes was so badly choked with plaster left behind by the repair-and-renovation gang that it had to be torn up and redone.

But at least we didn’t have people getting murdered in our backyard.

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Pendekar Bujang Lapok (1959)

This blog reminds me sometimes of a sort of railway platform—the type from the Sunil Dutt-Nalini Jaywant starrer, where a bunch of people end up spending several days in each other’s company, and then go their separate ways. Because, while there are some loyal friends who stick to this blog (and have done so over the years), the majority of people who comment on it are those who stay for a few months, a few weeks, maybe even just a few days, commenting like mad, and then vanish, never to be seen again.

One such person was a Malaysian, of Indian origin but settled in Australia, who haunted my blog several years ago. After some very hectic commenting on just about every post I published (and that included multiple comments, and involved conversations), she asked me for some Agony Aunt-ish advice offline, and having received both that as well as a shoulder to cry on, went off. I haven’t heard from her ever since.

But one thing she did manage to do while she was frequenting this blog: she told me enough about Malaysian cinema of the 50s and 60s to make me want to watch it. Something, I realized soon enough, that wasn’t going to be easy, because there didn’t seem to be too many Malaysian films of that era that were available with English subtitles.

I’ve persevered, though, and sometime back I found time one. Pendekar Bujang Lapok (The Three Bachelor Warriors) is the second in a highly successful series of films made by iconic film-maker and actor P Ramlee. It has been called one of the five best Malaysian films to be shot in Singapore, and considering I’ve just returned from a trip to Singapore, I figured it was time to watch this.

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The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)

I have said, time and again, that I have a lot to be grateful for to the readers of this blog. Not only do all of you keep me going by reading my posts, commenting on them and discussing them (even going off on tangents!), you also educate me, enlighten me, entertain me—and, importantly, give me recommendations now and then.

Especially over the past few months, I have seen several memorable (and, at least to me, obscure) films that came to my notice simply because readers recommended them to me. The Outrage was recommended by Hurdy Gurdy Man; Neeru told me about Leave Her to Heaven; and CP Rajagopalan mentioned The Secret of Santa Vittoria. Not once, but in two separate comments, which prompted me to hurry up and watch it. And yes, what a film this turned out to be.

The eponymous Santa Vittoria is a small town in Italy where the story opens just before dawn sometime near the end of World War II. The earnest and excited Fabio (Giancarlo Giannini) comes racing to the church, waking up the priest and insisting on ringing the church bells, because there’s such momentous news… when the dazed, sleepy and generally stoic-looking residents of Santa Vittoria gather around in the square, Fabio shares his news: Mussolini is gone.  Fascism has ended!

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Chakrapani (1954)

Every few months, I go on a rampage, looking for old regional language films with English subtitles.

One of the saddest facts I’ve realized over the past few years—since I became interested in films in languages other than Hindi and English—is that while a considerable number of good foreign language films can be found with subtitles, the same cannot be said for Indian cinema. More modern films can be found subbed (though the quality of subbing is often questionable); but old cinema? Not much hope. About the only Indian language, other than Hindi, for which I have often been able to find English-subbed films, is Bengali. Perhaps the fact that stalwarts like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak are so popular outside India has had a ripple effect on films by other directors of the same era as well.

Anyway, without further ado: my latest find. A few weeks back, trawling Youtube for subbed films, I came across the Telugu comedy Chakrapani. I’d never heard of this before, but comedy is a genre I am always eager to dive into (perhaps because Hindi cinema itself was so short of outright comedies?). And guess what? This was quite an entertainer.

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Fanfan la Tulipe (1952)

I’ve been on a swashbuckler spree these past few weeks, what with a couple of Hindi films and then the Bengali film, Jhinder Bondi. Before I drift off into another genre, I decided I may as well finally watch a film that has been in my to-watch pile for several years now: Fanfan la Tulipe, or Fanfan the Tulip, a swashbuckler with plenty of comedy and romance thrown in. This, originally made by director Christian-Jaque in 1952, was remade in 2003, this time being directed by Gérard Krawczyk.

Fanfan la Tulipe starts off funnily with a dryly witty narration about war, which plays out against a background visual of French soldiers at war. It is the reign of Louis XV (Marcel Herrand). The Seven Years’ War is in progress, and with more men having been killed than are left alive, Louis (who loses hats, not heads, and is therefore able to swiftly get a new hat every time) announces that more Frenchmen must enlist.

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Hum Sab Chor Hain (1956)

I have to admit that I watched this film against all advice. Anu had watched it a couple of years back (and had written up a review of it); but I—remembering a long-ago viewing of Hum Sab Chor Hain, which I’d enjoyed immensely—decided to give it a try anyway.

And, it seems the version I got to watch, while as incoherent in the second half as the one that Anu saw, at least had some more parts intact. The main problem, from what I could see, was that—possibly in transferring the film from celluloid to digital—the reels got mixed up, with one of the reels that should’ve come early in the film ending up later, thus making things very confusing. Despite that (and despite some shameful editing in the last half-hour by the video production company), this evoked one reaction in me: If only this could’ve been available in the original version. Because, if you try to fit the pieces together and imagine what might have been in the bits so summarily chopped off, you can see the outline of what must have been a pretty funny and entertaining film.

Ram Avtar, Shammi Kapoor, Nalini Jaywant, Rajendranath in Hum Sab Chor Hain

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New Delhi (1956)

Over the years, I have heard and read much praise for this relatively little-known film. Its songs, which various people have introduced to me over the years, are good, and Anu—whose taste and opinion usually match my own—had good things to say about New Delhi in her review of the film. I decided it was time to watch it for myself.

New Delhi is set, of course, in New Delhi (though a bit of Old Delhi intrudes now and then, even as it does in everyday life in Delhi today). The film begins outside New Delhi Railway Station, where Anand Kumar (Kishore Kumar) has just arrived from Jalandhar, to study radio engineering. Anand hails a passing taxi at the same time that Janaki (Vyjyantimala), who is standing a few steps further along the road, does too. One taxi draws up; both Anand and Janaki get into it, and then start arguing over whose taxi this is.

Anand meets Janaki in a taxi

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Biwi aur Makaan (1966)

I’m reading Jai Arjun Singh’s The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee: The Filmmaker Everyone Loves these days (yes; a review will be posted sometime this month). A few pages into the book, and I came across a mention—followed by more interesting stuff—about a film I’d run into once, about ten years back. Biwi aur Makaan, of which I’d happened to find a VCD and had happily bought, guessing (from the synopsis on the VCD cover) that this might be fun.

That VCD turned out a dud: the first disc was fine, the second refused to play. So I set Biwi aur Makaan aside (regretfully), and ended up forgetting about it. Until earlier this week, when, reading Jai’s book, I was reminded of it, and on a whim, decided to see if I could find it on YouTube. Sure enough, there it was. And here is my review.

Biswajeet, Keshto Mukherjee, Kalpana and Shabnam in Biwi aur Makaan

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Gustakhi Maaf (1969)

Happy New Year!

The other day, someone mentioned that after Omkara, Maqbool and Haider—based respectively on Othello, MacBeth and Hamlet—Vishal Bhardwaj was going to be making a trio of films based on Shakespeare’s comedies. The thought came into my head: had any Hindi film maker remade a Shakespearean comedy before? The very next moment, the answer popped up. Of course: Angoor. And (my brain was beginning to work overtime by now), another film based on A Comedy of Errors and also starring Sanjeev Kumar: Gustakhi Maaf.

I hadn’t heard of Gustakhi Maaf until a few years back, when I happened to find (and subsequently buy) a delightful lobby card featuring Sanjeev Kumar in this film. I went looking for the film, discovered that it was based on A Comedy of Errors and that it starred the ever-bubbly Tanuja—but I couldn’t get hold of the film anywhere. Until Harini (over at bagsbooksandmore) pointed me to it. So here goes: review #1 of 2015, of a fun, frothy film.

Tanuja as Asha and Seema/Asha in Gustakhi Maaf Continue reading