This wasn’t the film I’d been meaning to watch last weekend. That was the Humphrey Bogart-starrer, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But ten minutes into that, and I realized my mind was wandering. It’s probably a good film (it won several Oscars), but right then, I wasn’t in the mood to watch it. So I scrolled through my list of bookmarked videos, and came across a Cary Grant film, People Will Talk.
Cary Grant, I will have you know, is one of those rare actors for whom I will watch any film (and I have watched some less-than-enjoyable ones, simply because he happened to star in them). Mostly, though, his films range from good to excellent, so I decided I’d watch this one, dedicated to “… one who has inspired man’s unending battle against Death, and without whom that battle is never won… the patient.”
I’ve had this film on my radar for a long time. I first came across a mention of it online about ten years ago, and since Guru Dutt had acted in so few films, I was curious about this one (which, incidentally, was also his last film). Back then, I used to subscribe to a video rental service, and having found Suhaagan on that, ordered it—and what I got was the absolutely execrable, horribly regressive Suhaagan that starred Geeta Bali [if ever I decide to draw up a list of Hindi films you must not watch, that Suhaagan will be on it].
The Guru Dutt-Mala Sinha Suhaagan, which several people on my blog have mentioned in the past (including fairly recently), and which I’d searched for on Youtube now and then, finally cropped up in Youtube’s recommendations for me. So I bookmarked it.
1942, a forgotten and decrepit military base in Montana.
In the middle of a brawl among a group of unruly, ragged and undisciplined American soldiers—guilty of “military and moral delinquencies”, as their commanding officer puts it—the sound of bagpipes comes floating down the road. A contingent of Canadians, the best of the best-trained army in the world, comes marching along in precise formation. Not a man is out of step, not a hair is out of place. They are the picture of discipline. And they are to be, along with the Americans, amalgamated into a fighting force that will be dropped into the middle of Norway.
I started off being a diehard fan of Dev Anand’s. While in school and college, pretty much all of Dev Anand’s films I’d seen were the ones Doordarshan aired: CID, Teen Deviyaan, Tere Ghar ke Saamne, Jewel Thief,Nau Do Gyarah,Munimji… what wasn’t to like? Yes, I drew the line at Dev Anand post the early 70s—those mannerisms by then had begun to be tiresome, and the man’s ‘evergreen’ image really didn’t fool me. It was downright embarrassing to watch films like Warrant or Heera Panna.
And then, when I was in my twenties or so, I began paying a little more attention to Dev Anand’s early career—and found that here was a mix of films, some good and some pretty forgettable except for some good music. After trying out films like Vidya and Sazaa, I sort of gave up. Until Sanam was recommended to me by someone who knows his Dev Anand movies inside-out. A comedy, surprisingly modern, I was told.
For many years now, I’ve been fascinated by what I call the ‘supernatural’ subgenre of Indian suspense films. Offhand, I can’t recall too many [any?] non-Indian films that used a supposedly supernatural theme to veil what was a definitely corporeal, criminal deed. Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, Mahal, Woh Kaun Thi?, Bees Saal Baad, Poonam ki Raat, Anita—all of these (and plenty more) used tropes such as spooky songs, ‘ghosts’ (invariably women in white), mysteriously creaking doors, swinging lampshades and seemingly haunted havelis, all forming part of a grand plan to convince someone that they were surrounded by bhoots when in reality they were surrounded by crooks.
There are some books that have become such a part of me that I sometimes forget if I have actually read the original or not. Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre: all I began by reading in an abridged form. I encountered them again, over the years, in various cinematic adaptations, on television and otherwise.
It has been the same for HG Wells’s classic tale of alien invasion, The War of the Worlds. I’ve been so familiar with this book for so long that I couldn’t remember whether I’ve ever read the full-length book or whether all my recollections of it were based on the film version I’ve seen and excerpts I’ve read. I decided finally to read the original recently (I liked it)—and then, naturally, I had to check out the cinematic adaptations of the book. One of these I had watched, and more than once: the 2005 Steven Spielberg one. But there was another, considered the most iconic version, which dated back to 1953 and which I figured I had to watch ASAP.
The War of the Worlds starts with a voiceover that talks about how, on Mars, a highly technically advanced civilization realized that its planet was dying and that it was time to look elsewhere for habitation. So it began the search among the other planets of the solar system: considering one and discarding it, one after the other, this one too cold, this too hot. Until its gaze turned on Earth, so serene and beautiful, so conducive to life.
Last May, my husband, my daughter and I shifted house. We’ve shifted house before (though never with a toddler in tow), but this time was rather more harrowing than every previous experience. The movers and packers we’d hired turned out to be a thoroughly inefficient and poorly trained lot, requiring constant supervision. They left debris—newspaper, scraps of cardboard and more—littered all across our new home, and the dumped al my books, each one of my precious books, in one untidy pile on the floor.
Then, on the second day in the new house, an insect flew into my eye and caused an infection that didn’t go for a month. Within the first week, the RO conked out; the kitchen tap suddenly started spewing black water; and we discovered that one of the pipes was so badly choked with plaster left behind by the repair-and-renovation gang that it had to be torn up and redone.
But at least we didn’t have people getting murdered in our backyard.
Fellow blogger and soul sister Anu, at Conversations Over Chai, watched Bahaar for two reasons: one, that it starred Vyjyanthimala; two, that it featured the delightful Saiyyaan dil mein aana re. As it happened (and both Anu and I agreed this was nothing new) she—as I have been, countless times—found herself a victim of the somewhat irrational logic that good music + an actor we like = good film.
But, to get down to this week’s post. A film I watched because, one, it stars Vyjyanthimala; and two, because it has great music. I had steeled myself for something pretty irritating, so perhaps the fact that I began this film with low expectations had much to do with my eventual enjoyment of it. Yasmin isn’t a masterpiece, but I still liked it, predictability and all.
Mere piya gaye Rangoon—and some of the other songs of Patanga—were the main reason I began watching this film. Then, when the credits started to roll and I discovered this film also starred Shyam, I sat up a bit and began watching with a bit more interest. Shyam (1920-51, born Shyam Sundar Chadha) grew up in Rawalpindi and, when he was just 22 years old, debuted in a Punjabi film named Gawandi. He went on to work in several films, including Samadhi, Dillagi, and Shabistan—the last-named was also to be Shyam’s last film: in the course of the shooting, he fell off a horse and died.
I’ve seen precious little of Shyam (Samadhi is the only film of his I remember watching), but he intrigues me in the same way that his older contemporary Chandramohan does: they make me wonder if the honour roll of Hindi cinema would have been somewhat different if these men had lived. Shyam, with that handsome face and that impressive height and build, was definite star material. Plus, he was not a bad actor, either. Had he lived well into the 50s, would his presence have perhaps altered the careers of actors like Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor?
When I did my post on ‘unusual singers’—actors and actresses who are familiar to movie-watchers, but have very few songs to which they’ve lip-synced—a couple of people suggested Ajit as a possible candidate for the list. For those who associate Ajit only with the leering villain of films like Yaadon ki Baaraat, the man of classic (not to mention corny) dialogues like “Lily, don’t be silly” and “Ise liquid oxygen mein daal do. Liquid ise jeene nahin dega aur oxygen ise marne nahin dega”—all delivered, of course, in classic Ajit style—the idea of Ajit ‘singing’ was novel enough.
But the Ajit I first knew in cinema was the Ajit of the old black-and-white Hindi films: the hot-headed rival -and-friend of Dilip Kumar’s character in Naya Daur. The embittered cynic in Nastik. The quiet, handsome and very dependable Durjan Singh of Mughal-e-Azam. Meena Shorey’s friend-enemy-accomplice from the hilarious Dholak. Yes, before he slipped into middle age and the villain roles, Ajit acted the hero in plenty of films (and, more to the point when it came to the ‘unusual singers’ post, lip-synced to many songs, including some big hits).