Saqi (1952)

I still remember my first glimpse of Premnath in a different persona than the fat, balding, beetle-browed villain of so many ‘70s films.

This was in the mid-80s. My sister and I (I was then not even in my teens) were watching Chitrahaar, and Thandi hawaayein lehraake aayein came on. It was proceeding fine, with Nalini Jaywant flitting across the screen, when suddenly a strikingly handsome man, tall and broad-shouldered, sprang up by her side, danced with her, and then disappeared. Who was that? We asked each other, and couldn’t supply an answer. We turned to our father, our source of information for all things old Hindi cinema. Papa said that Naujawan starred Premnath. Who Premnath, we asked in disbelief. That paunchy and somewhat repellant man in Johnny Mera Naam?

It took a watching (incomplete, sadly, because the electricity went) of the 1951 film Sagaai to convince us that yes, Premnath was indeed quite a hottie in his heyday.

If you think so too (or if you haven’t seen Premnath in the early 50s, when he was paid more than Raj Kapoor and several other leading actors), you should watch Saqi.

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Dragonwyck (1946)

A poor and impressionable young woman arrives at a grand mansion and is blown away by its magnificence—and by the attractive man who is master of the manor. Except that the manor (and the man himself) may have secrets to hide…

Dragonwyck begins at the Wells farm in Connecticut. The Wells are stolid peasant stock: hard-working, sensible, god-fearing. One of their two daughters, Miranda (Gene Tierney) is somewhat less stolid than her parents—especially her father Ephraim (Walter Huston)—would like her to be. At the start of the film, Miranda comes racing into the farmhouse, bearing a letter for her mother Abigail (Anne Revere). The fine envelope and the grand address from which it’s come—Dragonwyck—are enough to convince Miranda that this is a letter of some worth.

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Door Gagan ki Chhaaon Mein (1964)

Just ten days ago, this blog celebrated the birth centenary of an actor who pretty much came to exemplify the ‘Hindi film villain’ of the 50s and 60s: the inimitable Pran. Today, it’s time to celebrate the birth centenary of another actor who carved such a niche for himself that his name became nearly synonymous with a particular kind of role. Iftekhar, who brought so much dignity and intelligence to his usual role of police officer or lawyer—or army officer, or doctor…

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Harry Black and the Tiger (1958)

February 1920 was a very important month for Hindi cinema, though of course the fledgling cinema industry in India back then didn’t know it. But that month, a century ago, marked the births of three major actors (and one not so major, but by no means a non-entity). One was Pran, born on February 12th. Another was Iftekhar, born on February 22nd (a birthday shared with Kamal Kapoor). And between Pran and Iftekhar, born on February 16th, a man who was not just actor, but also writer, director and producer: IS Johar.

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Khandaan (1942)

If Hindi cinema has ever had an iconic onscreen villain—not a villain in one film, but in film after film—it has got to be Pran. There have been other actors, from Wasti to Ajit, Ranjeet to Madan Puri, who have played memorable villains in films: but none, in my opinion, was quite able to sustain it and make it so much his forte that his own name became a synonym for villainy (it’s common knowledge that for many years, Indian parents refused to name baby boys Pran because of Pran).

In film after film, from period dramas like Halaku to comedies like a Half Ticket, from weep fests like Do Badan to supernatural stuff like Madhumati—Pran was in them all. With aplomb, he carried off every shade of villainy, whether it was the lisping and ruthless truck driver Mohan of Kashmir ki Kali or the tuneless dacoit-cum-gentleman of Munimji. He even did the occasional unusual role (as a doctor in Aah, and as a kotha frequenter in a cameo in Devdas), until, in the late 1960s, he began to play some sympathetic characters as well. From the cynical Malang Chacha of Upkaar, to Dev Anand’s long-lost brother in Johny Mera Naam, to his role in Zanjeer: Pran proved that he wasn’t just a great villain, he was a great actor, period.

Today would have been Pran’s hundredth birthday: he was born on February 12, 1920 in Delhi. And, to mark the occasion of his hundredth centenary, I thought I’d review a Pran film with a difference. Not Pran as the villain, but Pran as the hero. A young, gangly Pran, probably not even twenty-two years old yet, plays opposite a girlish Noorjehan in one of the first Hindi films to get a lot of pre-release publicity: Khandaan.

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Spartacus (1960)

RIP, Kirk Douglas.

One of the last living legends of Hollywood has gone. Kirk Douglas passed away on February 5th, at the age of 103. A ripe old age, and a life that seems to have been as heroic as the characters he portrayed onscreen. Kirk Douglas grew up in a Jewish ghetto as the son of immigrants from what is now Belarus; his athleticism (he became a professional wrestler at an early age) was what eventually helped him pay for an education and go on to win a scholarship at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Douglas’s acting career (on stage, at the time) was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, and he, having enlisted in the US Navy, did not return to theatre until ceasefire in 1945.

The post-war period also resulted in a breakthrough into cinema for Douglas, leading him to his first role, in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). From this point onwards, there was no looking back: over the next 60 years, he acted in many films, some of them landmarks in the history of cinema, like Lust for Life, Spartacus, and Paths of Glory. Besides his impressive acting career, Douglas was also involved in various humanitarian causes, donating funds for causes as diverse as a children’s hospital and a television and motion picture fund.

As tribute, therefore, to Kirk Douglas, my review of one of his most famous films, a sword-and-sandals epic about a rebellious (real life) slave.

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Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja (1961)

In 1956, Waheeda Rehman made her debut in Hindi cinema in CID, with Dev Anand (Waheeda wasn’t the heroine of CID—Shakila was—but she had a good and somewhat offbeat role as the vamp with a heart of gold). Over the next decade and a half or so, Waheeda and Dev Anand were to go on to act together in several more films, probably their most famous pairing being in the hugely popular Guide (1965).

I have watched, as far as I know, all of the Waheeda-Dev films over the years. The only one that (again, as far as I know) I hadn’t watched yet was this one. Time, I decided, to make amends for that.

As in many other films of his, Dev Anand in Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja is a crook—a thief, to be precise. We are introduced to Chhagan (Dev) when he’s in a shady-looking dive, buying a bottle of booze. Shortly after, Chhagan is accosted by ‘Langad Deen’, a partly-crippled character (played by Jeevan), who has a bit of news for Chhagan: a steamer is about to begin the journey down the river to the pilgrimage spot of Shivsagar. Langad Deen has it on authority that among the people on board is a wealthy jeweller who is carrying a very valuable diamond to be offered up to the god Shiv at Shivsagar.

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Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya (1963)

For those who’ve been following this blog since pretty much its inception, or who’ve explored some of the older posts and specials on Dustedoff, it should come as no surprise that I am a fan of Shammi Kapoor. I have seen most of the star’s films from after his watershed year of 1957 (which was the year Tumsa Nahin Dekha was released, catapulting him to sudden stardom), and I’ve seen several from the early 1950s as well.

Finding a 60s (or late 50s) Shammi Kapoor film that I’ve not seen before is therefore a matter of singular excitement [or was; I have begun to realize, after several less than enjoyable experiences, that there is a reason most of these films aren’t better-known]. This time, when I came across Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, I approached it with caution. Pandit Mukhram Sharma’s name among the credits bolstered my hopes somewhat; he wrote some good stories, so I began thinking this might not be too bad.

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Miss Mary (1957)

This film has been on my watchlist for a long time now. Earlier this year, when I reviewed the delightful Maya Bazaar, my attention was drawn to Miss Mary, because—like Maya Bazaar—this was a film that was originally made in Tamil and Telugu (as Missiamma/Missamma) and, in this case, then into Hindi too. I was already aware that the film had some lovely songs, and Meena Kumari in a light-hearted role is always a pleasure to watch.

Plus, it stars Gemini Ganesan, whose birth centenary it is today. He was born on November 16, 1919, into a distinguished family that included his aunt Muthulakshmi Reddi, a much-respected social reformer who was instrumental in passing the Devadasi Abolition Act. Thanks to Muthulakshmi, Ganesan was enrolled at Ramakrishna Mission Home, and acquired a fairly strong ‘classical’ education here, including Sanskrit, the Vedas and Upanishads, and yoga. As an adult, though, Ganesan’s career graph was rather more eccentric: he harboured dreams of becoming a doctor, attempted to join the Indian Air Force, and ended up teaching chemistry at Madras Christian College. In 1947, a job at Gemini Studios (from which Ganesan drew his screen name) led him to receive a casting offer from the studio—and Gemini Ganesan’s acting career was launched.

Gemini Ganesan, b Nov 16,1919

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Aakhri Khat (1966)

Hindi cinema has, for many decades (much of its existence?) been stereotyped. Mush, melodrama, music. The usual plot of countless films over the years has been dominated by a few given elements, even when the film’s main story may straddle other genres, such as thriller or comedy. You can’t have a Hindi film without romance, song and dance, and melodrama, seems to be the rule followed by most film makers.

Which is why the exceptions to the rule come as such a breath of fresh air. Majhli Didi, Dekh Kabira Roya, Kaanoon, Ittefaq… and this touching, tragic yet heartwarming story of a toddler wandering through the streets of big, bad Bombay.

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