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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Doctor (1941)

I tend not to watch too many Hindi films from before the 1950s, and even those that I do, don’t always end up getting reviewed. Mostly, that’s because I either find them fairly forgettable (though there are exceptions, like the superb Neecha Nagar) or otherwise not landmark films in any sense. Nothing that deserves a review.

This one, though, probably needs to be reviewed, even though it’s not extraordinary. Based on a story by Sailajanand Mukhopadhyay (the same story being remade in 1977 as the Uttam Kumar-Sharmila Tagore starrer Anand Ashram), Doctor was made simultaneously in Hindi and Bengali. This was the first Pankaj Mullick film I’ve seen (though I’ve heard his songs many times earlier); and given its music, it deserved, I thought, a review.

Doctor begins with the eponymous doctor, a young man named Amarnath (Pankaj Mullick) returning by train to his ancestral home in the village after finishing medical studies.

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The Clerk and the Coat (1955)

Aka Garam Coat, though The Clerk and the Coat is the title as it appears in the credits of this film, and is also the title for which the Censor Certificate was issued.

This film had been among my bookmarks for a long time, but I’d been putting off watching it because I had a suspicion it would turn out to be very depressing. And I’ve not been in a state of mind conducive to being able to watch depressing cinema. But after having watched several rather ho-hum films (Kismat ka Khel, Passport) I figured I should take the plunge and watch something good, even if not exactly frothy and cheery. Garam Coat, after all, was written by Rajinder Singh Bedi, for whom I have a great deal of respect.

The story is set in an unspecified North Indian town, where Girdhari (Balraj Sahni) lives with his wife Geeta (Nirupa Roy) and their three children: two girls and a pampered toddler named Chanda. Girdhari is a clerk at the post office, where he handles money orders. His two best friends are his colleagues Munilal ‘Muni’ (Rashid Khan) and Sher Khan (Jayant). Girdhari’s salary is so meagre that he and Geeta have to carefully monitor every paisa. This for the rent, this for the milkman, this for the kiraane ki dukaan from where they buy their groceries. This much for the insurance premium, for the electricity bill, for the girls’ school fees.

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Do Dil (1965)

Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Music by Hemant, lyrics by Kaifi Azmi.

That, by itself, would be enough to make me want to watch the film. But then, there was the fact I hadn’t known anything about Do Dil before other than its name. And that, for a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, is odd. I guessed there must be something about it that was very forgettable.

There was only one way to find out: to watch the film for myself. With a crew like that, I figured that it would almost certainly not be outright awful.

Do Dil begins at a palace, with the death of the Maharaja (we are never shown this man). Some days later, though, a number of courtiers convene along with the Maharaja’s lawyer, who reads out the will. The Maharaja appoints his grand-nephew Kunwar Pratap Singh (Pran), who also happens to be the state’s senapati (commander) as his successor, though with Rani Indumati, the Maharaja’s sister (Durga Khote) as regent (this is all spelled out in very vague terms, so it’s not exactly clear what powers Ranima, as she’s known, will wield). Pratap Singh looks very pleased with himself…

The Maharaja's will is read out
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Doctor in the House (1954)

Today is the birth centenary of British actor Dirk Bogarde, which is why I’m revisiting a film that was a favourite of mine in my teens.

Dirk Bogarde, born Derek Bogaerde (his father was of Flemish ancestry, and Derek ‘Pip’ was born in Birmingham) served in the British Army, mostly as an intelligence officer, during World War II. The war took him to Europe (where he was one of the first Allied officers to arrive at the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, a traumatic experience which he recalled, even years later, with horror and pain). In the wake of the war, Bogaerde (who had already begun working in theatre before the war) went back to acting, this time to cinema, where he took on the screen name by which he became famous. He signed a contract with the Rank Organisation, and it was in the Rank film Esther Waters (1948) that he got his first credited role.

Bogarde’s stint with Rank lasted till the 60s, after which he went on to work in a very varied set of films, moving on from the primarily matinee-idol, stereotypical leading man role he played in Rank’s films. This included several highly acclaimed and/or award-winning roles in films like King and Country, The Servant, Accident, The Fixer, and A Death in Venice. Bogarde’s homosexuality, which he never tried to hide, probably came in the way of his being a big hit in Hollywood, although back home in Britain he was very popular.

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Aranyer Din Raatri (1970)

In English, Days and Nights in the Forest.

In one important scene in Aranyer Din Raatri, a successful business executive named Ashim (Soumitra Chatterjee) tells Aparna, a poised young woman he’s met in the jungles of Palamau, that life in the city is all about rules. If you have to work, you have to abide by the rules.

Rules, the implication is, suffocate. And every now and then, to survive and to give yourself a break from those oppressive rules, you rebel. You go away, you flee. You find yourself again, you refresh yourself, regain your energy and then come back to start conforming all over again.

This seems to be the premise with which this film, one of Satyajit Ray’s best-known works, begins. Ashim, along with three other friends, is driving down from Kolkata to Palamau for a holiday. The men are a mixed bag. Sanjay (Shubhendu Chatterjee) works in the jute industry and, as they’re driving along, is sitting in the back of the car and reading a book about Palamau from which he reads out excerpts now and then.

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Jigri Dost (1969)

Mostly, the films I review on this blog are either the ones I like so much I want more people to watch them; or films I hate so much I want to warn people off them. Or, sometimes, films which may not be otherwise exceptional but have, I think, something that sets them apart: they’re unusual, or they’re somehow of historic importance.

Now and then, along comes a film I decide I have to review because while I don’t find it dreadful, I wonder what it would have been like with a different cast. Even just one actor being replaced by another.

Jigri Dost begins in the palatial home of Chairman Neelkanth (KN Singh), who is a baddie of the first order. He summarily orders his henchmen to raze this bunch of poor people’s huts, extort money from that lot, and so on. He has no scruples, no mercy, no nothing… no inkling, either, that a maid (Aruna Irani) in his home eavesdrops on his every conversation.

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