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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Dharti ke Laal (1946)

Balraj Sahni devotes several pages of his autobiography to one of his first films, KA Abbas’s directorial debut, Dharti ke Laal (1946). Here, among other behind-the-scenes reminiscences, is an anecdote which especially struck me.

A scene of the film depicts the death of one of its characters, an old peasant who has come to Calcutta to escape the famine in the countryside. In his dying delirium, the old man ‘sees’ the ready crop, fields of rice waiting to be harvested. Around him, his friends and family hover, as the man’s eyes open wide in joy and then, suddenly, he keels over.

It’s a dramatic scene, and was envisioned as taking place under a street lamp, with the light shining on the dying man’s face in his moment of delirium. The set was ready, but somebody had blundered, and the bulb that was supposed to shed its light on the character refused to light up. Abbas, Sahni, Shombhu Mitra (who played the role of the dying peasant), the cameraman and the rest of the crew were in a flap, when a mazdoor—a labourer—suggested an alternative: let the light be provided not by a street lamp, but by the headlights of an approaching car, shining on the dying man’s face. And, as the car moves away, its tail lights should provide the last glow before the man finally dies.

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Madame X (1966)

I still remember the very first Lana Turner movie I watched: The Three Musketeers, in which she starred as the evil but beautiful Lady de Winter. I watched that film mostly for Gene Kelly, one of my favourites; but I remember being struck by Lana Turner. So icily beautiful, but so ruthlessly, coldly calculating and vicious too. She was exactly as I’d imagined Lady de Winter to be when I’d read The Three Musketeers (it’s a different matter that the film diverged considerably from the novel).

Today may be the birth centenary of Lana Turner (the ‘may be’ because some say she was born on February 8, 1920, rather than 1921). Born in Idaho, as Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner, ‘Lana’ came to California with her mother after her father was murdered in 1929. By the time she was 17, Lana had landed her first role in cinema, and by the early 40s, had started becoming an actress to be reckoned with. ‘The Sweater Girl’, as she was known, ended up being projected mostly as little more than a sex symbol by MGM, but proved, over time, that she could act with the best of them. Films like Peyton Place, Imitation of Life and The Postman Always Rings Twice gave her a chance to show that her acting talent was everywhere as good as her legendary beauty.

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Thillana Mohanambal (1968)

Finally. Finally, finally, finally!

Okay, perhaps I need to step back and explain that a bit. Back in 2013, to mark a hundred years of Indian cinema, I watched my first-ever Tamil film (actually, first-ever South Indian film, as far as I can remember), the excellent suspense thriller Andha Naal. Someone, commenting on the review, recommended another Tamil film for me to watch: Thillana Mohanambal.

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Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958)

One of my favourite genres is suspense. Give me a good Hitchcock film, and I’m a happy camper (Hitchcock happens to be among my favourite directors, but no, that doesn’t mean I regard only him as a great director when it comes to suspense films; there are many films not directed by Hitch that are favourites of mine, including Charade, Gaslight, and How to Steal a Million).

Anyway, talking of suspense: someone mentioned Chase a Crooked Shadow, telling me that it was a good suspense film, and I decided I had to watch it. This one wasn’t directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but by Michael Anderson.

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Do Dulhe (1955)

Today is the birth centenary of one of a handful of Hindi film actors who managed to cross from one type of role to another—again and again. Like Ajit, Pran, and Premnath (though not in the same league as them, when it came to success and popularity), Sajjan Lal Purohit—better known simply as Sajjan—appeared in leading roles in several of his early films (including, notably, in Saiyyaan, where he acted opposite Madhubala), then drifted into supporting roles (as Dev Anand’s sculptor friend in Paying Guest; as Mini’s father in Kabuliwala; and more), and eventually into villainous roles (in April Fool, Aankhen, Farz, etc).

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Dillagi (1949)

A couple of months back, a blog reader had remarked that Hindi cinema, during the 1930s and 40s, seemed to have a fairly unimpressive-looking lot of leading men. The good-lookers, was the theory, were the ones that came later, though there had been a very few rare exceptions, like Shyam.

While I didn’t agree that most of the leading men of the 1930s and 40s were ugly (or at best, plain), I did agree about Shyam. Shyam was one of those very handsome actors who, with his impressive height and build added to his charisma, could have posed a serious threat to the triumvirate of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Dev Anand. Sadly, Shyam died tragically young, just 31 years old, after sustaining a head injury caused by a fall from a horse during the shooting of Shabistan in 1951.

Born in Sialkot on February 20, 1920, Shyam Sunder Chadha ‘Shyam’ debuted in a Punjabi film, Gowandhi (1942) and continued to work sporadically in cinema over the next few years. After Partition, Shyam shifted to Bombay, and that was when his career really took off. Over the next four years, he worked in a slew of films, including some big hits like Dillagi, Samadhi, and Patanga. One can only speculate on what trajectory his career might have taken had he lived into the 60s. (Interestingly, Shyam was a very dear friend of Sa’adat Hasan Manto: it was a friendship that outlasted Partition, and Manto was deeply affected when Shyam passed away).

I hadn’t realized, back in February this year, that it was Shyam’s hundredth birth anniversary. But the year is still the same, so in celebration of Shyam’s birth centenary year, a review of one of his biggest hit films. In Dillagi, Shyam acted the role of Swaroop, a dashing young man who falls in love with a village girl named Mala…

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Zindagi ya Toofaan (1958)

After many years of telling myself I should read Mirza Hadi ‘Ruswa’s Umrao Jaan Ada, I finally got around to reading a Hindi translation a couple of weeks back. This turned out to be an underwhelming experience (more details here, on my Goodreads review of the book), but it impelled me to read a synopsis of Umrao Jaan Ada. I ended up reading, too, about the screen adaptations of the book (which is regarded by many as the first Urdu novel), and was surprised to discover that, besides the Rekha-starrer and the (much later) Aishwarya Rai-starrer, there were two other films, both released in 1958, based on Umrao Jaan Ada. One was Mehendi; the other was Zindagi ya Toofaan. I haven’t got around to watching Mehendi yet, but the fact that one of my favourite actresses of the 50s, Nutan, starred in Zindagi ya Toofaan, made me eager to watch this one.

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