Kangan (1959)

In which Iftekhar, playing against type, acts the part of a lecherous villain. And Chitragupta, composing against type, proves he was no one-trick pony.

But, to begin at the beginning (and Kangan gets into action right at the start, not dilly-dallying about with incidental stuff). Karuna (Nirupa Roy) is about to get married, and her widowed father (?) is giving her his blessings and wishing her mother were still around. Just then, Kamla (Purnima) comes in; she is not just Karuna’s bridegroom’s sister, but also a good friend of Karuna’s. Karuna’s father leaves the two women together and goes off.

Continue reading

Pather Panchali (1955)

What can one write about a film about which so much has already been written? Dare one even attempt a review?

But since I did watch Pather Panchali  (‘Song of the Little Road’) recently,  and since it is such an iconic film, a review is in order.

Satyajit Ray’s debut film has been hailed as one of the hundred greatest films ever made, but its making was fraught with difficulty for Ray. Funds were hard to come by, since investors were unwilling to put their money into a film that had no major stars, no songs (though Ravi Shankar did compose the background music for Pather Panchali, a score which forms an important part of the film), and was so bleakly real. Pather Panchali eventually ended up being funded by the government of West Bengal, and took three years to make.

Based on the 1929 novel of the same name by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Pather Panchali begins in a small, sweet way which nevertheless manages to establish the main theme of the story: the poverty of Hori (Kanu Bannerjee) and his little family. Hori is a priest, a learned man, but he is constantly trying to make ends meet. He is not at home in this scene, where his wife Sarbojaya (Karuna Bannerjee) is doing her chores. Hori’s cousin, the elderly widow Indir Thakrun (Chunibala Devi, an octogenarian veteran actress whom Ray coaxed out of retirement to do this, her last role) also stays with the family.

Continue reading

The Reluctant Widow (1950)

Based on a novel by Georgette Heyer.

Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite authors, and when, the other day I discovered that one of Heyer’s books had been made into a film, I managed to find a copy on YouTube. Though the hard-coded Greek subtitles on this copy are a little distracting, at least I was able to watch The Reluctant Widow, aka The Inheritance.

The film begins on a night in the English countryside. Elinor Rochdale (Jean Kent), who has just gotten off a stage coach, is hailed by a groom with a carriage, asking her if she has come in answer to the advertisement? Elinor says yes, so she gets into the coach and is taken to (as she assumes) the home of Mrs Macclesfield, who has employed Elinor as a governess for her young son. Elinor, once wealthy, is in sadly reduced circumstances since the death of her father, and with nowhere to go and no other means of keeping body and soul together, has chosen to work.

Continue reading

Insaaf ka Mandir (1969)

Insaaf ka Mandir is a relatively little-known film which I’d seen many years back, but had forgotten most of. It was fellow blogger Jitendra Mathur who reminded me of this, and my memories of the film were pleasant enough for me to want me to rewatch and review this.

The story begins with Sunil (Sanjeev Kumar), a student who’s just completed his law studies at college when he receives an urgent telegram: his father is very ill, Sunil should head home immediately. A classmate of Sunil’s, Sunita (Snehlata), comes by and, in a brief conversation, confesses to Sunil of her love for him; Sunil, embarrassed, tells her that he will not do anything against his father’s wishes.

Continue reading

Murder Most Foul (1964)

Agatha Christie is one of those writers I can depend upon to invariably entertain. Often, her books are downright brilliant; the occasional book may not quite match her own standards, but it’s a rare book that is so bad I would regret reading it.

It goes without saying, then, that I am always game for a film based on an Agatha Christie novel. Murder Most Foul is based on Christie’s Mrs McGinty’s Dead; the book was the 25th in the Hercule Poirot series, though the film (directed by George Pollock, with a script by Jack Seddon and David Pursall) made Miss Marple the detective.

The story begins late one night, as a village constable goes about his rounds. He heads for a pub (which is closed, but where he’s obviously expected). At the window, the policeman is handed a mug of beer, which he downs happily, while sitting at a bench outside. He’s so engrossed, he never realizes there’s high drama silhouetted in a nearby window.

Continue reading

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960)

I got introduced to Mark Twain’s books about the rambunctious, adventure-seeking Tom Sawyer and his best friend, Huckleberry Finn in my early teens. I read a lot of Twain in those days, and—as tends to happen with me when I’ve read a lot of one author’s works—over a period of time, they started to blur. I forgot which books I’d read, and which I hadn’t.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one such: I couldn’t recall whether this was among the books I’d read. But, while making my very sporadic way through The Daily Telegraph’s list of 100 Great Novels Everyone Should Read, I found this book on it, and decided I may as well read it. And, as often happens when I read a book that’s fairly popular (in this case, an acknowledged classic), I followed that up with seeing if it had been made into a film. Sure enough, it had: a 1960 adaptation starring Tony Randall was what I chanced upon.

Continue reading

Mem-Didi (1961)

Today marks hundred years of the birth of one of Hindi cinema’s finest directors: Hrishikesh Mukherjee was born on September 30, 1922, in Calcutta.  Beginning in the late 1940s, Mukherjee worked as a film editor in Calcutta, before moving on to Bombay, where too he continued as editor, gradually moving on to direction as well. Mukherjee’s first film as director was Musafir (1957), and while it didn’t fare too well, it set the tone for a lot of Mukherjee’s later works: films about everyday people, with everyday triumphs and everyday sorrows. His were not the masala films that have always tended to dominate Hindi cinema, and yet—whether he was making classic comedies like Chupke-Chupke or Golmaal, or more nuanced, sensitive films like Majhli Didi, Satyakam, or Abhimaan, Hrishikesh Mukherjee made films that were hard to fault. He is one of the rare directors for whom I will watch a film just because it’s been made by this person.

Continue reading

L’armata Brancaleone (1966)

Which is literally translated as The Army of Brancaleone, though this Italian film, directed by Mario Monicelli, was marketed to the English-speaking world as For Love and Gold.

Can one list, as a favourite, somebody whose work you’ve only encountered a few times? Is it necessary to view all (or most) of an actor’s films in order to be able to label them a ‘favourite’?

I think not. I hope not, because Vittorio Gassman is one I count among my favourites, even though I’ve watched probably not even ten of his films. And, given that today is Gassman’s birth centenary (he was born in Genoa on September 1, 1922), I decided it was a good day to show some Gassman love.

Continue reading

Bhoot Bungla (1965)

The last of the ‘silly Indian films’, at least for now.

I watched Bhoot Bungla for the first time as a child, when it was aired on Doordarshan. I remembered very little of it, except that RD Burman struck me as very funny (even funnier than Mehmood, who—back then—I had still not begun to think of as irritating). And that my mother, sitting beside me and watching Tanuja lip-sync to O mere pyaar aaja, remarked that she (Mummy) used to sing this song as a lullaby for my sister when she was a baby.

Then, when I reviewed Adhey Kangal some time back, a few blog readers observed that the plot was pretty similar to that of Bhoot Bungla.

Time, I decided, for a rewatch.

As the credits roll, an unidentified man screams “Lakshmi!” and having pulled a bloodied dagger out of his chest, proceeds to keel over, dead. A woman (Minoo Mumtaz), presumably Lakshmi, goes running out of the house, clutching a toddler to her, looking panicked.

Continue reading

Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

In response to that unwarranted comment about me ‘wasting my time watching silly Indian films’, I’ve done something (reviewed Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan and Devi) to uphold my contention that all Indian films are not silly. Now it’s time to look at Indian films which are silly, but where the silliness is intelligent, and deliberate.

What, after all, is wrong with silliness, or with humour? For me, the stuffy idea that humour is somehow low is very irritating. Some humour may be unpalatable to certain people (I, for one, find nothing humorous about sexist or racist jokes, or toilet humour), but humour can be sophisticated, it can be the result of a great intelligence.

As, I think, comes through in this delightful film about three brothers, all motor mechanics, who run a garage.

Brijmohan Sharma ‘Bade Bhaiya’ (Ashok Kumar), as he’s known, is the eldest of the three, and he rules with an iron fist in an iron gauntlet.  Bade Bhaiya is a hard taskmaster, and lords it over Jagmohan ‘Jaggu’ (Anoop Kumar) and Manmohan ‘Manu’ (Kishore Kumar), as also their apprentice Maujiya (Mohan Choti). One important aspect of Bade Bhaiya’s personality is his aversion to women: he sees red even when Maujiya hangs up a calendar with a painting of a woman on it.

Continue reading