As a child, I was surrounded by music. On the radio, on the LPs my parents played so often. The LPs, thanks to the fact that my maternal grandfather had worked with HMV for many years, were a very mixed bag, ranging all the way from Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia to Runa Laila and Geeta Bali to The Golden Gate Quartet, Harry Belafonte, Jim Reeves, Engelbert Humperdinck… and one of my absolute favourites, Nat King Cole.
Life has been very hectic the past few months. I’ve been working on several writing assignments, switching from one novel to another; the LO, now poised to leave kindergarten and progress to Class I, requires a good deal of attention, and various lit fests or other book events have entailed (and are going to entail) some travelling.
So, when British actor Albert Finney passed on February 7th this year, while I did notice the news article about his death in the newspaper, I passed it by without it really registering who Albert Finney was (Poirot, in the 1974 version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, just in case, like me, you were clueless too). It was blog reader Hurdy Gurdy Man who, a few days later, reminded me of Finney’s death and asked me if I was meaning to review a film of his by way of tribute. I thought I would: Two for the Road, I told Hurdy Gurdy Man in an e-mail.
But, the sad irony of fate: just a couple of days back, I got another e-mail from Hurdy Gurdy Man, informing me that the director of Two for the Road, Stanley Donen, had passed away as well. Stanley Donen (who died on February 21) had directed some of Hollywood’s most popular musicals, such as Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, before he directed Indiscreet and then moved to the UK, where he directed (among other films) The Grass is Greener, Charade, and Two for the Road, an important landmark in the history of British cinema—a classic film of the British New Wave.
When you are as devoted to the pursuit of old Hindi cinema as I am—and you assiduously discuss old cinema with other like-minded souls—you keep getting recommendations. Some recommendations I take with a certain amount of leeway automatically assigned, since I know that the recommender has his or her own biases that are likely to be reflected in the film in question. Others I tend to blindly follow, because over time, I’ve realized that these are people who pretty much share my own ideas of what comprises watchable cinema.
One of these is Anu, who blogs at Conversations over Chai. We have our differences (Raj Kapoor is one), but by and large, Anu and I tend to agree about cinema. So when Anu, chatting with me during my trip in August to meet her, recommended Tamasha, I immediately made a note of it. After all, Dev Anand, Meena Kumari, Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar—and a comedy? That certainly sounded like something I wanted to watch.
Or, in English, The Restaurant. Though, personally, I think the ‘grand’ of the original French title suits this film better, because the very grandness and importance of Septime—the eponymous ‘grand (or great) restaurant’—is what makes it the site of a very high-profile abduction…
I watched this film because I found it in a list of ‘food films’ and got very excited at the thought of an old food film. As it happened, there’s not that much food in Le Grand Restaurant, after all. Despite that, it’s a film worth watching.
RIP, Neil Simon.
I read about the death of Neil Simon, playwright and scriptwriter (among other roles—including producer and director) on August 26th, admittedly with some level of blankness. The name sounded familiar (or was I simply mixing him up with Neil Diamond?) but I couldn’t, without help, associate Neil Simon with any film.
Or, in English, The Baker’s Wife.
Recently, across a period of about three months, I’ve had to watch a slew of films from across the world (for an article I needed to research). While making my way through films from the US, Brazil, Spain, France, Mexico, Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam… and of course, closer home, Hindi cinema—it came home to me rather forcibly just how much of a gap there often is (and has been, for many years) between Hollywood and much of the rest of the world.
The Hays Code, applied to Hollywood productions between 1930 and 1968, imposed restrictions on the scenes shown—the sex, the violence, etc—as well as the language, the themes, the messages and more. But even later, after the Hays Code was no longer applicable, I’ve realized how much more tame Hollywood is when compared to other cinema (for instance, from France, Spain, or Mexico, to name just three countries, recently-watched films of which were far removed from what Hollywood would make). Hollywood’s risqué is often tame for Europe. (And Indian cinema, across regions, seems to faithfully follow Hollywood in this matter, though it’s much tamer even than Hollywood).
Anyway, on to one of the films that highlighted this point for me. La Femme du Boulanger is a French film about a middle-aged baker who sets up a bakery and patisserie in a sleepy village in the French countryside, along with his pretty wife to help him out—and within a couple of days, the wife has run off with a local buck. In Hollywood, this would have been probably treated quite seriously; in France, it becomes more a comedy than anything else. All anybody is really worried about is that their baker has gone off his desire to bake, so they’re not getting bread any more…
Blog reader Hurdy Gurdy Man gave me a slew of Beatles-related information some weeks back. More specifically, information related to a film—A Hard Day’s Night—which starred the Beatles and was about them. Not a bio-pic, not a completely fictitious story (as many of Elvis’s films were, with him playing characters in no way related to his real self). But something in between. Fact and fiction.
Hurdy Gurdy Man informed me that the Beatles’ album A Hard Day’s Night had released in the UK on July 10th, 1964. Just four days earlier, on July 6th, 1964, the film of the same name had also been released in the UK (it was released in August in the US). Also, other than Paul McCartney (whose 76th birthday was on June 18th), the only other surviving Beatle—Ringo Starr—has his birthday today.
In celebration, therefore, a review of this very watchable little film about four wildly successful young men who—in the course of a mere decade (they teamed up as a quartet in 1960, and fell apart in 1970)—changed the way pop music sounded and was perceived. The legendary Beatles, acting as themselves, in a film about themselves.
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.
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.
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.