Alfred Hitchcock is, for me, the cinematic equivalent of writers like PG Wodehouse or Georgette Heyer or Agatha Christie: I see their names on a work, and I know that this is something I can read (or watch, in Hitchcock’s case) and almost certainly not end up finding it a waste of time. The other day, trawling Youtube for something to watch, I came across Under Capricorn. I had heard of this one before, but besides being aware that it had been directed by Hitchcock, I knew nothing of the film. A good opportunity to watch a Hitch film I hadn’t seen.
This story begins in an unusual location (for Hollywood, that is): below the Tropic of Capricorn, in Australia. Set in 1831, Under Capricorn begins one day in Sydney, where the new Governor (Cecil Parker) of New South Wales, having just arrived on the continent from Ireland, is addressing the people. His welcome, while all gleaming brass and starched uniforms on the official side, is lukewarm when it comes to the general public. They aren’t especially impressed.
Much is made of International Women’s Day, and I find myself inundated with messages relating to that, beginning a week in advance of March 8. Promotions from online retailers, newspaper ads, flyers offering discounts on everything from spa treatments to cosmetics: it’s all there. I however tend to mostly ignore Women’s Day and treat it just as another day.
This time, though, I thought: why not post a review of a film that puts women in an important role? It occurred to me then that it had been years—more years than I could remember—since I had watched The Women. And that this might be a good excuse to rewatch a very unusual film: unusual, not because of the story (which isn’t so very offbeat), but because of the fact that the film has no male characters appearing onscreen. Men are there in The Women, but they are neither seen nor heard.
Let’s say you’re a film maker in the Hindi cinema of the late 1960s. You’ve set your heart on making a thriller. You have some money, but not enough to be able to hope to churn out something with Shammi Kapoor, set in Europe. You see all these glittering films—Teesri Manzil, An Evening in Paris, Jewel Thief—being released, and it irks you. If they can do it, why can’t you? So one day you gird up your loins, and inspired by all of these, and all the James Bond movies you can lay your hands upon, you set out to make your own thriller.
You cannot afford Shammi Kapoor [or is he perhaps too discerning to agree after he’s read the script?], so you settle for Biswajeet instead. You don’t have the budget to shoot abroad, but that doesn’t matter. You will make do by bringing abroad here to India, by plonking a bronze wig onto Biswajeet and having him pretend to be a Parisian named Robbie for much of the film.
The very first English language film I remember watching was a war film (a farcical comedy called Our Miss Fred, which I’ve never managed to get hold of since). Over the years, and especially during my teens—thanks to a local VHS lending library which stocked mostly war films—I watched a lot more of this genre. I’ve watched violent war films, adventurous war films, propaganda-heavy films, war films that crossed genres and combined war with everything from crime and mystery to comedy, to romance. I’ve watched war films that showed the futility of war.
War seems to be a favourite subject with many film makers.
But who stops to think of what happens when war is over? The Spanish film Bienvenido, Mr Marshall! did explore this idea in a humorous way, but from the point of view of people who were mostly non-combatants in the war itself. What happens, however, to men who have spent a few years in battle, men who have actually been in combat, and that too on the other side of the world from where they usually live? What happens when men come back to their everyday lives, their families and friends, to find that their world has moved on? And that they, too, have changed?
Some definitions that came to my mind, having—over the course of a little over thirty years—watched three versions of the same story:
Nostalgia. A feeling of deep, intense longing for a film you saw in your childhood, and of which you remember nothing except the vague outline of a story.
Serendipity. Searching for a film you know next to nothing about, and finding an earlier version that turns out to be even better than the one you recall seeing.
Double delight. Finding yet another version of a much-loved film, and discovering that this one is just as good as the other versions.
The point being that Shijibganeun Nal, about which I raved so ecstatically a couple of years back on this blog, turned out to have been only the earliest (as far as I know) cinematic adaptation of a comic play about a greedy country gentleman, a quiet and upright maidservant, and a young nobleman. I had originally seen the 1977 version of this film on Doordarshan three decades ago; I found and watched (with much enjoyment) the award-winning 1956 version some time back; and then, the other day, I came across this version (the name of which translates as ‘A Happy Day for Maeng Jinsa’) on Youtube. And how could I resist watching it all over again?
That’s what’s been flooding my timeline on Facebook, that’s what’s coming my way on text messages, in e-mails from family, friends, even banks and online stores. And yes, don’t we all wish for a happier 365 days ahead? Don’t we all wish that this year to come will be full of good health and joy and realized dreams for ourselves and those we love?
The last thing one wants in the first week of January is a reminder of death, especially that of someone we love. Even if that someone was not friend or family, or even acquaintance—someone we only knew through their work. Sadly, though, this has become an almost-given, come December: yet another film star I loved passes away. A year ago, it was the beautiful Sadhana; in 2013, Joan Fontaine, Peter O’Toole, and one of my absolute favourites, Eleanor Parker. Rod Taylor, Suchitra Sen, Nalini Jaywant, Dev Anand… all gone in December or January. And this year, Debbie Reynolds passed away, just the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died.
In one telling little scene in Pote tin Kyriaki, Greek prostitute Ilia (Melina Mercouri) tells earnest American Grecophile Homer Thrace (Jules Dassin, who also wrote and directed the film) that she is very, very fond of Greek tragedies. In fact, the next performance she’s eager to watch—of Medea—will be the fifteenth time she’ll be watching that particular play. Thrace is surprised, but impressed, too.
… until Ilia, on being invited by her innumerable male friends to tell them the story of Medea, launches forth on a version so garbled and wildly inaccurate that Thrace is left shocked. Not to worry, says a mutual friend, the Captain (Mitsos Ligizos). Ilia likes to be happy; so her interpretation of Medea is tailored to be a happy story, with everybody living happily ever after and going off to the seashore (which is Ilia’s concept of being happy).
It’s that time of the year again—and time for a tradition I’ve kept up on this blog ever since its inception. Time for a Christmas movie.
This time, wondering which film I should review, I came across this one, and it appealed to me at once, because I remembered Dickens’s classic story of an asocial and curmudgeonly miser whose life changes one Christmas. I had seen an animated version of A Christmas Carol ages ago on TV, I’d just read the novella that Dickens wrote to help tide him over during a hard spell when money was short. High time (and appropriate time) to watch the film.
A Christmas Carol begins on Christmas Eve in London. As crowds hustle and bustle through streets covered in snow, people rushing briskly about from one gaily decorated shop to another, a young man (Barry Mackay) goes sliding merrily down a little slope of snow. In the process, he makes friends with Tim Cratchitt ‘Tiny Tim’ (Terry Kilburn), who can’t indulge in such treats because he’s lame—and so Fred happily takes Tiny Tim on his shoulders and allows him a taste of the joy of sliding down a slope.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably realized by now that I’m a sucker for suspense films. And that I have a soft spot for Dharmendra. And Helen. And Pran. Bring all of those together, and I’m pretty much willing to give it a try. Kab? Kyon? Aur Kahaan? is a film I’d watched many years ago, and liked, so I decided it was time for a rewatch [especially since I’d forgotten pretty much everything of it except for one very taut and tense section]. As it turned out, this was one of those films that make me realize how much more forgiving I was in my younger days. I’d forgotten, for instance, how Babita’s eyebrows managed to give Dharmendra’s a run for their money in the bushiness department.
Rajendra Kumar is one of those actors whom I’ve repeatedly mentioned as ‘not being one of my favourites’. Saira Banu, beyond her first few films (notably, Junglee and Shaadi), I find too shrill for my liking. Despite the fact that these two star in Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan, it remains one film I like a good deal—because it has such an unusual story.
A story to which there’s a brief nod in the first scene. Sanjay (Rajendra Kumar) and Priya (Saira Banu) meet in what looks like an obviously ‘indoor set’ representation of a cliff. There’s a little banter, she insisting that he’s irritating her with his wooing, he professing his love for her and asserting that he could do anything for her—even give up his life. Priya eggs him on: yes, please. Go ahead. Show us.