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 This, originally made by director Christian-Jaque in 1952, was remade in 2003, this time being directed by Gérard Krawczyk.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.

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The Mouse That Roared (1959)

What is a country to do if its economy suddenly takes a nosedive? What if the country’s sole source of income is a product that’s suddenly no more in demand? Are economic reforms in order? Or a smart political move?

No; I’m not talking a 1950s tale of courage and enterprise in the face of economic disaster (not in the way one would’ve expected, at any rate). Not when you know that the star of this film—in a triple role, too, one of which is a woman—is the inimitable Peter Sellers. And not when you know that it revolves around a fictitious country, supposedly the smallest in the world, which decides that what its economy needs for a turnaround is to declare war on the United States of America.

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Shrimatiji (1952)

Among the lesser-known films for which my Uncle Vernie played was Shrimatiji, made by (and featuring) some of his closest friends. IS Johar, who was one of Vernie Tau’s chums, wrote, directed, and acted in it. The three music composers for the film (Jimmy, Basant Prakash, and S Mohinder) too were friends of Vernie Tau’s, Jimmy an especially close pal.

My father had recently expressed a desire to watch this film, mainly to hear his elder brother’s music. When I discovered it starred Shyama (whose gorgeous smile and dancing eyes make her one of my favourites), I decided I needed to watch it too. And, since the only other film in which I’ve seen Nasir Khan was Ganga-Jamuna, I wanted to see if he was any different in a much earlier film.

Shyama and Nasir Khan in Shrimatiji

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Bringing up Baby (1938)

The other day, I was thinking aloud, wondering what to do for my next blog post, and my husband said, “Review a comedy.”

So here it is. A review of a film that’s intentionally funny, and which, furthermore, stars one of my favourite Hollywood actors: the incomparable Cary Grant, a leading man who had a fantastic flair for comedy. In this one, he teams up with the equally superb Katharine Hepburn in a crazy story involving a millionaire aunt, a big game hunter, a tame leopard, and a Brontosaurus bone, among other odds and ends.

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La Grande Guerra (1959)

My original plan had been to watch and review Neecha Nagar, and follow it up by watching and reviewing Kurosawa’s Donzoko (also based on The Lower Depths). By the time I’d read Gorky’s play and seen Neecha Nagar, that plan had changed a bit—because I was feeling sorely in need of a funny film.
La Grande Guerra was what I chose, because it had come highly recommended by friends whose judgment I trust.

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