Wahan ke Log (1967)

This is a film I’ve known about for many years now: I first heard about it on Greta’s blog, and have since been in two minds about whether to watch it or not. It sounded too nutty to miss (aliens toting laser rays and stealing diamonds? NA Ansari in a double role and Nilofer in a bad wig? Tanuja as ghost-who-sings?), but from my previous experiences of films directed by NA Ansari, I’ve realized that after a while, the madness of the script, the plethora of plot holes and the sheer pointlessness of much of what’s happening, can become very tedious.

But this is considered somewhat of a cult film, and one of the very few early Hindi films that had an element of sci-fi in it. So, if just for that (I like sci fi as a genre), I decided to watch Wahan ke Log.

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Kannur Deluxe (1969)

I finally managed to get hold of a subtitled version of an old Malayalam film!

I should explain the reason for that exultation: one of the most frustrating aspects of my film-watching, film-reviewing career (or whatever) is that I find it so difficult to find subtitled versions of old Indian regional films. Every time a blog reader recommends a regional language film, I rush off searching the net for subtitled versions, but I usually end up disappointed. Unless the film happens to be a Bengali one (where chances of a subbed version are usually higher), I can pretty much expect a 0% chance of success.

No-one recommended Kannur Deluxe to me, but when I stumbled across it on Disney Hotstar, I looked up reviews and found it was a thriller, and possibly the first Malayalam road film. That was enough to make me want to watch it.

The film begins at night. Jayasree (Sheela), being chased by a couple of policemen, takes shelter in the garden of a Mr KB Pillai (GK Pillai). The Pillais, husband, wife, son Venu (KP Ummer) and their maid emerge, but since they’ve not seen any woman running by, the cops go their way. The Pillais are about to return to their beds when Jayasree emerges, weeping and nervous. She says she isn’t a thief, and on being encouraged, tells a tragic tale of her woes.

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Julie (1956)

Most of the Hollywood films I’ve watched over the past few years have been suspense films. And, oddly enough, a disproportionate number of those have ended up following a similar pattern. A wealthy woman falls head over heels in love with a very attractive man and marries him. They’re blissfully happy—and then, the shattering truth emerges: he wants to kill her. In several of these films (Midnight Lace, Sudden Fear, Love From a Stranger), the man’s motive for wanting to kill his wife (and to marry her, in the first place) is to get at her money.

Not so in Julie, where Louis Jourdan’s character, playing the evil husband, is out to kill his wife for a very different reason.

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Sunghursh (1968)

This was the first film I watched after Dilip Kumar passed away on July 7 this year. The tributes and reminiscences were still in full flow two days later, on July 9, which marked what would have been the 83rd birthday of Sanjeev Kumar. On a Sanjeev Kumar tribute post on Facebook, I read a comment in which someone recalled Dilip Kumar’s remark about Sanjeev Kumar, who was his co-star in Sunghursh: “Is Gujarati ladke ne toh paseena nikaal diya!” (“This Gujarati boy made me sweat!”)

This, I thought, might be an interesting film to review by way of tribute to both Dilip Kumar as well as Sanjeev Kumar. But I had other Dilip Kumar films to also watch: Musafir and Sagina Mahato for the first time, Ram aur Shyam for a long-overdue rewatch. So, while I watched this and wrote the review, I decided the publishing of the review could wait for now.

Because today, August 21, 2021, marks the birth centenary of Harnam Singh Rawail, the director of Sunghursh.  HS Rawail, as he was usually billed, debuted in 1940 with the film Dorangia Daaku, but it wasn’t until 1949, with Patanga (of Mere piya gaye Rangoon fame) that he became famous. Rawail was to make several well-known films through the following decades, but his two best-known works are probably Mere Mehboob (1963) and Sunghursh.

The story, based on Mahashweta Devi’s Laayli Aashmaaner Aaina, begins in Banaras of the 19th century (the riverfront, sadly, looks very mid-20th century). Bhawani Prasad (Jayant), bearded and seemingly benevolent, walks back from the temple after pooja. At his heels follows his grandson Kundan (?). Bhawani Prasad is much venerated, and the way he hands out alms to the poor and blesses those bowing before him, one might be forgiven for thinking him a good man.

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La Grande Vadrouille (1966)

Which literally translates as ‘The Great Ramble’, but the English title of this hilarious French film is Don’t Look Now—We’re Being Shot At.

And, that English title is explained within the first couple of minutes of the film itself. This is in the middle of World War II, somewhere over Germany.  An RAF plane, part of an operation to bomb this area, is flying along, commanded by Sir Reginald (Terry-Thomas), along with his co-pilots Pete Cunningham (Claudio Brook) and Alan MacIntosh (Mike Marshall). The operation is code-named Tea for Two, after the Irving Caesar/Vincent Youmans song.

The plane encounters some heavy anti-aircraft fire and sustains some damages. The worst damage of all seems to be to their map, which has a great big hole burnt through the middle of it, as a result of which Sir Reginald & Co. lose their way…

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Teen Bahuraaniyaan (1968)

I had read a review of this film on a blog years ago, but besides the fact that it starred Prithviraj Kapoor as the father-in-law of three women, I remembered nothing of what I’d read. Then, some weeks back, when Shashikala passed away, a couple of people remembered her role, as a popular film star, in this film. I was tempted to watch it.

The teen bahuraniyaan (the three daughters-in-law) live in one rambling house along with their husbands, their children, and their father-in-law Dinanath (Prithviraj Kapoor)a retired school teacher. The patriarch’s three sons, from eldest to youngest, are Shankar (Agha), Ram (Ramesh Deo) and Kanhaiya (Rajendranath). Appropriately enough, their wives, respectively, are Parvati (Sowkar Janki), Sita (Kanchana) and Radha (Jayanthi). Sita’s sister Mala (Vaishali), who’s come to town to do college, also lives with them.

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Love from a Stranger (1937)

Aka A Night of Terror.

I was introduced to Agatha Christie through her short stories. My mother had inherited several fat tomes from her grandfather, and among these were a couple of anthologies of detective fiction. In those books, I first came across Poirot, Miss Marple, Harley Quinn, Tommy and Tuppence… and, what still remains one of my favourite crime stories, Agatha Christie’s Philomel Cottage.

This film is based on Philomel Cottage. A story of a woman who suddenly finds what seems to be all the happiness in the world: a sudden windfall, and true love.

Or is it, really?

The story begins by introducing us to Caroline ‘Carol’ Howard (Ann Harding), who lives in a tiny apartment with her friend Kate (Binnie Hale) and Carol’s hypochondriac Aunt Lou (Jean Cadell). The three women have a hard time, not exactly poverty-stricken, but not comfortably off either. Aunt Lou keeps cribbing about her poor health all the time, and the two younger women keep either humouring her or laughing it off (Aunt Lou keeps forgetting whether she’d been complaining of a headache or a stomachache, or which side of her was supposed to be hurting).

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Ram aur Shyam (1967)

I wanted to watch a Dilip Kumar film to commemorate the life and career of this extraordinary actor. But which one? There are lots of iconic Dilip Kumar films that I have either seen long ago (Devdas, Footpath, Daag, Deedaar, Udan Khatola, Andaaz) and not reviewed on this blog, or which I’ve never seen (Tarana, Jugnu, Mela, Shaheed, Musaafir). I could watch a film I’d never seen before, but—knowing what a lot of Dilip Kumar’s early films are like—there was always a chance I’d run up against something depressing.

I finally decided to rewatch a film I’d seen years ago. A film that’s a good showcase of Dilip Kumar’s versatility, his ability to pull off comic roles as well as the tragic ones for which he was better known. Ram aur Shyam is an out-and-out entertainer, a film I’d watched and loved as a teenager, and which I knew for a fact would cheer me up.

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Baksa Badal (1970)

I admire Satyajit Ray immensely. Not only for his keen understanding of human nature and his ability to interpret that in a meaningful, restrained and memorable way, but also for so much more: his intelligence, his eye for detail, his artistic ability. And, up there with all the rest of these qualities, his versatility. Several people have called him a ‘Renaissance Man’, and I agree completely: this man was a fine director, as well as a great writer, artist, costume designer, font designer- and so much else.

And he was versatile even in the world of cinema itself. For those who equate Ray only with ‘art’ films, works like Chiriakhana, Shonar Kella, Joy Baba Felunath and Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne may come as a surprise: but to me, at least, they constitute a happy surprise. Different from Jalsaghar or Charulata (or so many other films of Ray’s) but in their own way, manifestations of Ray’s genius. Comedy, whodunnit, adventure: Ray could do it all, and do it well.

Or romantic comedy. While Ray did not direct Baksa Badal (his assistant Nityanand Datta did), he wrote the screenplay for this delightfully romantic comedy about two people whose identical suitcases get switched, and what that switch leads to. (Ray also composed the music for Baksa Badal).

Note: The original story of Baksa Badal was a short story by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. You can read an English translation of it here.

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Ek Nazar (1951)

June 23, 2021 marked the birth centenary of one of my favourite actors, the very talented and charismatic Rehman. Born Sayeed Rehman Khan in Lahore, Rehman joined the Royal Indian Air Force in 1942 and underwent training at Pune as a pilot. The Air Force soon lost its charm for Rehman (he failed a test) and he went off to Bombay to join the cinema industry. Initially taken on as a third assistant director by the writer-director Vishram Bedekar for Bedekar’s film Lakharani (1945), Rehman went on to assist director DD Kashyap in the film Chaand, where, completely by chance, Rehman appeared onscreen. In a dance sequence in the film, a Pathan character was needed—and the only person around who knew how to tie a turban the Pathan way was Rehman. And he knew how to tie it only around his own head.

The Hindi proverb ‘Daane-daane pe likha hai khaane waale ka naam’ comes to mind.

Rehman was required to say a couple of lines in that brief appearance, and fluffed it repeatedly; thirty takes were required to get it right, possibly because the first line began with a K: “Kitna achha naach thha”. Rehman, even years later, and as a seasoned actor, found it very difficult to begin a dialogue with the K sound and would request that a different word be substituted, or the words moved around.

Rehman had enough of a presence for his potential as an actor to be recognized, and he went on to act as a lead, working opposite major actresses like Madhubala, Suraiya, Nalini Jaywant and Nigar Sultana.

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