Today is the hundredth birthday of one of India’s greatest and most popular dancers of yesteryears. Sitara Devi was born in Calcutta on November 8, 1920, to a father who was a Sanskrit scholar and also both performed as well as taught Kathak. Her mother too came from a family with a long tradition in performing arts, so it was hardly a surprise that from a very young age, Sitara (her birth name was Dhanalakshmi) began to learn Kathak. By the time she was ten, Sitara was giving solo performances; two years later, at the age of twelve, she (having since moved to Bombay with her parents) performed onstage and so impressed film-maker/choreographer Niranjan Sharma that he recruited her to work in films.
Unlike several other skilled danseuses—Vyjyanthimala, the Travancore Sisters, Waheeda Rehman, etc—Sitara Devi did not let cinema take over her dance completely. She danced in a number of films, through the 40s and right up to Mother India (1957), which is believed to be her last onscreen appearance. She continued to give stage performances, even performing at New York’s Carnegie Hall and at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Sitara Devi wasn’t merely a film actress; she was also a great dancer. I wanted to pay tribute to her through a review of one of her films, and decided I’d choose Hulchul, which I wanted to watch for other reasons as well (more on this later).
I am a fan of Meena Shorey’s. I find her a delight to watch: those eyes are very expressive, her smile is wonderful, and the characters she plays seem to be invariably feisty, self-assured young women who are resourceful and witty. Just my type. I’d already watched (and adored) Meena Shorey in Ek Thi Ladki and Dholak, so when my father offered to lend me his VCD of Ek Do Teen, I pounced on it. Meena Shorey with Motilal. Directed by Roop K Shorey, and with music by Vinod. Could it get any better?
My introduction to this film occurred when I was perhaps 12 years old. At the time, my sister and I relied mainly on Doordarshan–India’s sole TV channel way back then–for entertainment. A half-hour programme of Hindi film songs called Chitrahaar used to be among our favourite programmes. One day, on Chitrahaar, we saw Thandi hawaaein lehraake aayein. Both of us had heard the song before; one couldn’t live in the same house with a music-lover like my father and not have heard it—but we’d never seen it.
I don’t recall the exact conversation that followed, but I think I can paraphrase it pretty easily.
I’m doing something I’ve never done on this blog before. I’m offering a free gift for anyone who cares for it: a VCD, once viewed, of Rail ka Dibba. I’ll ship it anywhere in India and you won’t need to pay a paisa for it.
Now, why I’m doing this. First, the preliminaries: it’s a Friends VCD, and we all know what that means. Their logo takes up much of the screen. The print is bad, the sound quality even worse. And their evil villain editor seems to have chewed up frames, scenes, dialogues—everything—in an attempt to fit the film onto two CDs. And though it’s not a really bad film, Rail ka Dibba left me feeling pretty certain that I won’t be watching it again. Anybody who wants it is welcome to it.