Auntie Mame (1958)

Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” says the eponymous Auntie Mame (Rosalind Russell) on more than one occasion in this delightful film about an eccentric woman who is obliged to look after her orphaned nephew. Mame Dennis, indeed, is not one of the ‘poor suckers’ she so derides; this is a woman who lives life to the full (and a little beyond), grabbing happiness with both hands and not giving a damn, mostly, for what the world thinks.

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Kalapi (1966)

A Gujarati film starring Sanjeev Kumar.

I am always keen to watch regional films starring people I’m familiar with from Hindi cinema. With (say) Bengali cinema, it’s not too difficult—so many Bengalis (Sharmila Tagore, Kishore Kumar, Biswajeet, Suchitra Sen, Mala Sinha, etc) were big names in Hindi cinema, and managed to do quite a bit of work in Bengali films too, many of which are subtitled. With Punjabi (which I understand enough of to be able to get the gist without having to rely on subtitles) it’s also satisfying, because Punjabi cinema seems to be pretty much completely populated by the same names one keeps running into in Hindi cinema: Nishi Kohli, IS Johar, Balraj Sahni, Prithviraj Kapoor, Indira Billi…

But to come to this: I stumbled upon Kalapi completely by accident, and immediately bookmarked it. Because a subtitled version is available on YouTube, here (though I must warn you, the subtitles are pretty bad), and because of Sanjeev Kumar, one of the greatest actors of Hindi cinema. Also, I am on an eternal quest to find old regional language films that are subtitled, and since I’d never watched a Gujarati film before, this would be a first for my blog.

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Apradhi Kaun (1957)

The world of Hindi cinema is peppered with names that anyone familiar with the industry (at least the industry of the 50s and 60s) can quickly slot into categories. Star. Villain. Comedian. Character actor. There are many, many names that automatically fall into (almost exclusively) one of these categories. Those that have shifted from one category to another—like Pran, for instance, once the quintessential villain but in later years the more interesting ‘good man’, or Ajit and Premnath, both initially hero and later villain—have again usually not done too many shifts.

Abhi Bhattacharya is one of those relatively rare individuals who seem to have appeared in a wide variety of roles, a wide variety of films. He was the idealistic school teacher of Jagriti, the ‘other man’ of Anuradha. The kind-hearted, principled example of the bhadralok in films like Amar Prem, and the straying older brother of Dev Anand in Love Marriage. He played Krishna and Arjun and Vishnu (the latter in a slew of mythologicals). He even played the villain, in the Vinod Khanna-Yogita Bali starrer, Memsaab.

This year marks the birth centenary of Abhi Bhattacharya (as far as I’ve been able to find out, he was born in 1921, though I’ve not been able to discover exactly when in 1921). To commemorate his career, I wanted to watch a Bhattacharya film, but a dilemma presented itself: which one? Hindi or Bengali? (since Bhattacharya had what seems to have been a very successful career in Bengali cinema as well). Eventually, I homed in on this film, a rare whodunit in Hindi cinema that’s pretty well made too.

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Sudden Fear (1952)

Last year, I read AJ Finn’s thriller suspense novel, The Woman in the Window, in which the protagonist spends most of her time drinking wine and spying on her neighbours. I didn’t like the book, but the protagonist, besides being an alcoholic and a voyeur, had one thing to recommend her: she was a lover of old suspense films. The book had plenty of references to classic noir cinema, and I got a kick out of seeing how many of those I’d watched. And making notes of the ones I hadn’t seen yet, but which I thought I should try to get hold of.

Sudden Fear was one of those I hadn’t seen before, and when I found a very good print on YouTube, I decided to give it a try.

The story begins at a theatre company; rehearsals for a play are in progress, and the playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford), a very wealthy heiress who insists on working for a living because she doesn’t want to live off all her inherited wealth, is sitting with a few other people. Onstage, the lead actor, Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) is speaking a romantic dialogue to his co-star.

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Black Narcissus (1947)

Today is the birth centenary of one of my favourite actresses, the superb Deborah Kerr. Born on September 30, 1921, Deborah Jane Trimmer got a break in the world of show business thanks to an aunt who was a radio star: Deborah began training in ballet at her aunt’s ballet school, and then went on to win a scholarship to Sadler’s Wells ballet school, which led to her appearing onstage as a dancer. Deborah soon came to the attention of the film producer Gabriel Pascal, who gave Deborah her first role in cinema, in Major Barbara (1941).  

Till 1947, Deborah worked in Britain; it was her role as Sister Clodagh in Black Narcissus that got her noticed across the pond and brought with it a contract with MGM. Over the decades that followed, Deborah Kerr became a name to be reckoned with in Hollywood as well: a major actress who went on to play very varied roles in very diverse films. From roles in classic adventure films (The Prisoner of Zenda, King Solomon’s Mines) to horror (The Innocents), from wartime romance-drama (From Here to Eternity, Heaven Knows Mr Allison, Vacation from Marriage – the last-named, in fact, was the basis of the very first review I ever posted on this blog) to musicals (The King and I) to period drama (Quo Vadis, Ivanhoe, Julius Caesar) to classic romance (An Affair to Remember) and many more… Deborah Kerr was always memorable, always likeable.

Which film should I watch to commemorate Deborah Kerr’s centenary? I have watched a good deal of her filmography (some more beyond the films I’ve already listed in the previous paragraph), so I decided I’d finally watch a film I’ve long been hearing praises of. Black Narcissus, which provided a big boost to Deborah Kerr’s career.

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Adhey Kangal (1967)

Which means ‘The Same Eyes’.

The first Tamil film I ever reviewed on this blog was a suspense thriller, the excellent songless film Andha Naal. Since then, I’ve come across recommendations for other Tamil suspense films, and when I found a subtitled copy of this one—a major hit of its time—I was eager to watch. ‘Taut’ and ‘tense’ was how I’d seen it described by reviewers, and it sounded right up my street.

Adhey Kangal begins in a tense, suspenseful manner. A man is murdered—someone hangs him in his room—and the man’s wife (G Sakunthala) discovers her husband’s dead body. She has just about started screaming when the murderer (whom we do not see, except as two disjointed hands reaching for her) tries to strangle her.

It’s an aborted attempt: the murderer flees, and his would-be victim, shaken and traumatized, but not dead, is discovered by her family.

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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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