Pehla Aadmi (1950)

Today is the birth centenary of one of Hindi cinema’s most familiar character actors, the very well-known Nasir Hussain (or Nazir Hussain, or Nazir Hussein, or Nazir/Nasir Husein, whatever; Hindi cinema credits are famous for being inconsistent). Not the same man as the film maker of the same name, but an important personality in his own right. Born in Usia (Uttar Pradesh) on May 15, 1922, Nasir Hussain came to cinema in a roundabout sort of way. Having worked briefly in the railways (where his father too was employed), Nasir had ended up joining the British Army, and was posted overseas—in Malaya—during World War II. Taken captive, he was freed and subsequently went oj to join Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, the INA.

After his INA experience, Hussain could not find an alternate career and wound up doing bit parts in theatre. From here, a chance meeting with Bimal Roy finally brought him into cinema. Their very first film together (they were to go on to make several more films, with Nasir Hussain in front of the camera and Roy behind, such as Parakh, Do Bigha Zameen, and Devdas) was this one: Pehla Aadmi, in which Nasir Hussain was not just an actor, but also assistant to the director—as well as the writer of the story and the dialogues.

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Wahan (1937)

Aka Beyond the Horizon.

When I began this blog, it was with the intention of indulging in my love for old cinema. While that has remained the main objective of my writing here, I’ve added to it a desire to make this a means of documenting old cinema (especially Hindi cinema) too. Not all old cinema, since that would be too mammoth a task for one person to take up; but films that I think are worth documenting, in particular if they seem to be otherwise obscure now. Films that are landmarks in Hindi cinema history; films that were somewhat different, perhaps, from the usual.

Or, as in this case, films that allow us a glimpse of familiar faces that we know from another, later, period. Leela Chitnis, the perennially poverty-stricken and very distressed mother of 60s cinema, stars in Wahan as an Aryan princess, and Ulhas, the well-known character actor of the 50s and 60s, appears in his debut role as her fiancé.

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Do Phool (1958)

I have watched hundreds of Hindi films. Many of these I’ve reviewed here on this blog, and for many of those, I’ve had readers mention that so-and-so film was actually a remake of so-and-so Hollywood film, or was inspired from this novel or that play. In some, of course, I’ve been able to spot a source immediately: the grand mansion being run as a hotel by its manager who then forces the owner to pretend to be a guest is lifted from Come September and used—without any credit for the original idea—in both Kashmir ki Kali and Mere Sanam. Adalat is a remake of Madame X; Aradhana of To Each His Own; Gumnaam of And Then There Were None… all uncredited. And umpteen others.

This is something I find very irritating. The amount of work that goes into coming up with a good plot is substantial, and if you’re acknowledging that by thinking it worthy of being copied, then you should certainly think it worthy enough to pay for. But by calmly hogging all the credit and assuming that Indian audiences won’t cotton on to this plagiarism, and Hollywood (or foreign writers), too far from the world of Hindi cinema, will be oblivious.

Anyway, that’s a long, convoluted and messy topic, which I should probably leave for later. For now, the reason why all of that came to my mind: because this film does give credit where it’s due. Not, unfortunately, to the writer of the book (Johanna Spyri), but at least to the book itself.

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Three Men in a Boat (1956)

Today is World Book Day, so it seemed appropriate to post something related to books: a review of a film based on one of my favourite books.

I must have read Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat when I was in my early teens. A not-quite-story of three men who go down the Thames in a boat, along with their dog. Many descriptions of the countryside, of sights to see and places to visit. Several reminiscences of various events and incidents that aren’t even part of this trip. No romances (and yes, I must admit to having been a fairly typical teenage girl in being quite addicted to romances). Three Men in a Boat, seen only from that limited point of view, would not have sounded like a novel that would appeal to me.

But it did. And how. I laughed my way through all the adventures, the madness, the utterly hilarious trip that this was. Jerome K Jerome (who, by the way, was amazingly versatile, writing very well in various genres, including horror) brought to Three Men in a Boat a humour that I find irresistible. He’s very witty, of course, but what makes that humour even more brilliant for me is the fact that it’s so relatable. The circumstances, the incidents, the dialogues: all could have happened to one of us; what makes Jerome so hilarious is that he manages to exaggerate the nuttiness just that wee bit that turns it utterly hilarious. Something as simple as what happens when two men try to put up a tent in pouring rain; or when they get together to pack for a trip…

How would that translate into a film? I have always been a little sceptical, since much of the humour of Three Men in a Boat lies in Jerome’s language, in the brilliant way he looks at everyday incidents through that deliciously witty lens of his. The story itself is bare of a plot of any sort.

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The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

I knew something connected to Doris Day long before I had even heard of her. When I was about six years old, my mother used to sing Que sera sera to me, and that song became such a favourite of mine that I ended up writing down the lyrics (misspelt, I admit: Kay sera sera is what I recall having written) and belting  them out, night and day.

It was only many years later that I finally watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, and got to see Doris Day sing that song onscreen, in a tense, nail-biting climax that both highlighted Doris Day’s singing ability as well as her acting prowess. By the time I watched this film, I had already seen Doris in other, more light-hearted roles, the sort of films (mostly musicals or screwball comedies, including the delightful ones which she did with good friend Rock Hudson) where she lit up the screen with the sheer joy of her presence. I had heard Wham! sing “… You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day…” I had listened to plenty of songs Doris Day had sung, and I had fallen in love with the vivacity and good humour Doris seemed to radiate.

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Sadhu aur Shaitan (1968)

Cinema looking at itself is not an uncommon feature; there have been several notable films, both in India (Kaagaz ke Phool, Sone ki Chidiya) as well as abroad (Cinema Paradiso, 8½, The Bad and the Beautiful, etc), which are about cinema and film-making. But this film, relatively obscure, really should be part of the annals, simply because of its sheer devotion to Hindi cinema. Not because it’s about film-making, not because there is even (as in Solvaan Saal), a single scene on the sets of a film. But because it celebrates Hindi cinema in so many ways, on so many levels.

Sadhu aur Shaitan begins by introducing us to the eponymous ‘sadhu’ of the story: Sadhuram (Om Prakash), a widower who lives with his two children Ganesh (Master Shahid) and Munni (Baby Fauzia), and the maid Ramdeyi (Dulari) who looks after home and the children. Sadhuram is a somewhat excessively ‘good and righteous’ man, the living image of piety (all a little over the top as far as I’m concerned, but at least he isn’t stuffy about his righteousness).

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Chandralekha (1948)

When I did my post on double roles in Hindi cinema, someone mentioned Ranjan as having done a double role in Chandralekha, the 1948 film which was made both in Tamil as well as in Hindi, and was a big hit. Some years ago, I would have probably filed that bit of information away and not acted on it. Ever since I saw Ranjan in Nishaan, however (and liked him), I have been open to the idea of watching other films starring this dashing actor (who, by the way, was a trained pilot as well). Besides, I remembered that Chandralekha was supposed to be a pretty big film: good production value, opulent sets and so on. Why not see it, I thought.

(By the way, Ranjan does not have a double role in this film).

The story is set in a kingdom ruled by a king with two sons. The elder son, the crown prince, is Veer Singh (MK Radha): a ‘good man’, a devoted son and an upright, just would-be ruler. The younger son, Shashank (Ranjan) is the complete opposite of Veer Singh: ambitious, greedy, demanding the throne for himself. The king keeps trying to put him off, to defy him when Shashank tries to bully him, but nothing works. Finally, the king is obliged to banish Shashank.

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Apna Desh (1949)

Happy birthday, Manmohan Krishna.

Today is the birth centenary of one of Hindi cinema’s best-known and most-loved character actors, the very versatile Manmohan Krishna of the beetling brows and the prominently curved lips, who could assay pretty much any kind of role film makers cared to throw his way. Usually slotted as the avuncular older gentleman—the now blind former taxi driver of Dil Tera Deewaana, the philosophical mendicant of Railway Platform, the saintly Abdul Rasheed of Dhool ka Phool, who brings up a foundling to be neither Hindu nor Musalmaan, but a human being—Manmohan Krishna did show, in the rare film where he was given a chance to act a rather less predictable character, that he was perfectly capable of that as well. He could be the evil Lalu Ustad in Sadhna; the wolf in sheep’s clothing in Bees Saal Baad, and the imperious daddy, disapproving of forbidden love, in many films.

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An Inspector Calls (1954)

…at the home of the wealthy and respectable Birling family, just as they finish dinner.

The Birlings have been dining with a guest: Gerald Croft (Brian Worth) has just got engaged to the daughter of the house, Sheila Birling (Eileen Moore). Gerald has got her a wonderful ring, and there’s been much love and affection and congratulations being showered all around.

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Nastik (1954)

A hundred years ago, on January 27, 1922, in Golconda (Hyderabad) was born Hamid Ali Khan, known to thousands of Hindi film viewers (and, even thousands more who have perhaps never watched any of his films) as Ajit. The man of ‘saara shahar mujhe loin ke naam se jaanta hai’. The iconic villain, suave and eerily soft-spoken though at the same time very oily and dangerous, of films like Zanjeer, Yaadon ki Baaraat, and Kalicharan. The baas of Raabert and Lilly (who was constantly being told not to be silly).

But long before he became the stuff of really bad jokes, before he attained the stature of one of Hindi cinema’s greatest onscreen villains, Ajit was a hero. Coming to Bombay in the face of parental opposition (having first sold his college books to finance the trip), Ajit had to struggle a lot to find work in the cinema industry. He began as an extra, and worked in several films until being noticed by the Gujarati-Hindi director Nanabhai Bhatt (Mahesh Bhatt’s father) who not only gave him the screen name Ajit, but also launched him in a leading role. Across the 50s and 60s, Ajit acted in a slew of films, both as leading man (Nastik, Dholak, Baradari, Marine Drive, Tower House, Opera House, etc) as well as in major supporting roles (of special note here are Naya Daur and Mughal-e-Azam, in both of which he appeared alongside Dilip Kumar).

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