Devi (1960)

When I posted on Twitter about the person who’d advised me to not ‘waste my time’ watching ‘silly Indian films’, a Twitter follower pointed out that Satyajit Ray was also Indian. And I had to concur: Ray, in fact, was the first person who came to my mind as a refutation of that ‘silly Indian films’ generalization. His films are works of art. Occasionally ‘silly’ (Goopy Gyne Baagha Byne fits there), but that silliness is on genius level. It takes brains and creativity to be silly in the way Ray was with that film.

But Devi, ‘The Goddess‘, is nothing like that. There is no silliness here, unless you interpret toxic superstition as silliness.

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Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan (1961)

Some days back, a blog reader wrote to me (after having recommended several Hollywood films over the past weeks) to tell me that I was ‘wasting my time’ watching and reviewing ‘silly Indian films’.

I was initially too furious to be able to respond, but I eventually wrote back to say how unjustified and insulting this comment was. This, after all, is my blog. Nobody— not my family, not my friends, not the people who might be considered to have some sort of say—tells me what to watch. Recommendations, requests: more than welcome. Judgemental and rude remarks, no. You do not govern how I spend my time.

Once I simmered down a bit, I decided this called for a tribute to ‘silly Indian films’. So, for the duration of August 2022, I’m only going to be focusing on Indian cinema. Not one film from outside India is going to feature on Dustedoff all through this month.

So, to kick off ‘Silly Indian Film Month’, a review of a film I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time now.

Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan begins by introducing us to Mohan (Master Aziz), who lives with his elder brother Shyam (Balraj Sahni). Shyam and Mohan only have each other for family; their mother died giving birth to Mohan, and their father died a few months later. On his deathbed, he entrusted to Shyam the care and bringing up of Mohan. Shyam works as a clerk, and in order to be able to focus on Mohan’s education and upbringing, hasn’t even married. The two brothers somehow make do, but on days such as this—when Shyam has been too busy to make it to Mohan’s school function, where Mohan is getting various prizes—there is angst. Mohan is annoyed and tearful.

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Jeevan Naiyya (1936)

While I knew of this film, I hadn’t paid enough attention to it until I read Nabendu Ghosh’s Dadamoni: The Life and Times of Ashok Kumar. Jeevan Naiyya, produced by Himanshu Rai and directed by Franz Osten (at a time when there were several European, especially German, technical experts in the Hindi film industry) is not a landmark film in itself, but simply viewed as Ashok Kumar’s first film, this is worth a watch.

The story begins bang in the middle of things. Ranjit (Ashok Kumar) and Lata (Devika Rani) are engaged to be married, and the film begins with a telephone conversation in which they’re cooing sweetly inane nothings to each other. Ranjit’s boisterous friends barge in on this conversation and break it up, but it’s obvious that these two are very much in love with each other, and looking forward to being married.

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The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first Sherlock Holmes mystery I read: an abridged version of the book was there in our home when I was a child, and since I was a voracious reader, always looking for ‘new’ books, I read it fairly early on. Later, I slowly made my way through whichever other Holmes stories I came across, and finally, in my twenties, I bought the complete Sherlock Holmes, the omnibus edition. There are many Holmes stories that I like a lot, but this one, I must admit to a special fondness for.

When Popka Superstar mentioned this film the other day (as part of a list of favourite Christopher Lee films), I decided it was high time I watched it.

The film begins with a voiceover, a narrator describing a scene set many years earlier. Near Dartmoor, abutting the Great Grimpen Mire, lives the dissolute, debauched Sir Hugo Baskerville (David Oxley). On a dark night, he and his equally evil friends are whooping it up at Baskerville Hall; they’re drunk and in the mood for cruelty. Baskerville has forced his butler’s daughter upstairs and locked her in a room; when the butler protests, Baskerville thrashes him…

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Kati Patang (1970)

Our recent trip to Nainital prompted me (actually, even before we left on our trip) to read Gulshan Nanda’s novel Kati Patang. Gulshan Nanda, for those who may be unfamiliar with his work, wasn’t just a hugely successful writer of Hindi social-romantic popular fiction, but also a script writer for Hindi cinema: he wrote the scripts (many of them based on his own novels) of blockbusters like Saawan ki Ghata, Khilona, Kati Patang, and Jheel ke Us Paar. This insightful article about Nanda’s writing, as well as its adaptation to the big screen, is worth a read.

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Detective Story (1951)

Today, June 26, 2022, marks the birth centenary of one of my favourite Hollywood actresses, the beautiful and very versatile Eleanor Parker. Born in Cedarville, Ohio, on June 26, 1922, Eleanor Parker had decided fairly early on that she wanted to become an actress; but despite being noticed and invited for screen tests several times, she turned them down in order to focus on stage performances, preferring to gather experience onstage before getting into films. Finally entering Hollywood with a debut role in Busses Roar (1942), Eleanor went on to work in a very wide and varied range of films over the next nearly 50 years.

Most people associate Eleanor Parker with her role in The Sound of Music: but the elegant, beautiful, scheming but eventually gracious Baroness was only a minor role in what was a blockbuster hit of a film (which, I think, was the main reason for Eleanor’s popularity in it). You only have to watch Eleanor Parker in films where she had bigger, meatier roles—as the wild gypsy in Scaramouche, or the woman who finds herself imprisoned in Caged, or the feisty and funny Mary Stuart Cherne, out to get her man in Many Rivers to Cross—to realize that she was so much more versatile than many of her contemporaries. Of course, she could (and did) swing the standard arm candy roles, as in The Naked Jungle or Escape from Fort Bravo, but she could also do justice to roles that required some hardcore acting skills.

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Anna Karenina (1948)

I have very, very vague memories of watching a Russian version of Anna Karenina years ago—it had been telecast on Doordarshan, with subtitles, and I, probably barely a teenager back then, understood very little of it.

But last year, having finally got around to reading Tolstoy’s novel, I decided I should find a cinematic adaptation to watch. Just to see how a screenwriter might interpret this pretty sprawling work (not as sprawling as War and Peace, but still). I read, in several places, that at least as far as English-language cinema is concerned, the 1935 Anna Karenina, starring Greta Garbo, was considered the best version there is. Despite much searching online, I couldn’t find a copy of it (the ones that were there were dubbed in other languages), but I did find this one, made thirteen years later and starring Vivien Leigh as Anna.

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Lukochuri (1958)

This film has been on my watchlist for a long time—many people, over the years, have recommended it to me as a good Bengali comedy—so when, on my ‘double roles’ post someone mentioned it, I decided it was high time I watched Lukochuri (‘Stealth’). I was a little sceptical; Kishore Kumar tends to go over the top when doing comedy, to the extent that I find him positively irritating in films like Half Ticket, Jhumroo, Naughty Boy, etc. But a Bengali film, I thought, might have a more sophisticated sense of humour? One could only hope.

The story starts in Jabalpur, where Kumar Chaudhury ‘Buddhoo’ (Kishore Kumar) is getting ready to leave for Bombay. Buddhoo works for a company which has transferred him to Bombay, and Buddhoo is bidding farewell to his father (Moni Chatterjee) and his Pishima (?), his father’s sister, who lives with them.

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Pehla Aadmi (1950)

Today is the birth centenary of one of Hindi cinema’s most familiar character actors, the very well-known Nasir Hussain (or Nazir Hussain, or Nazir Hussein, or Nazir/Nasir Husein, whatever; Hindi cinema credits are famous for being inconsistent). Not the same man as the film maker of the same name, but an important personality in his own right. Born in Usia (Uttar Pradesh) on May 15, 1922, Nasir Hussain came to cinema in a roundabout sort of way. Having worked briefly in the railways (where his father too was employed), Nasir had ended up joining the British Army, and was posted overseas—in Malaya—during World War II. Taken captive, he was freed and subsequently went oj to join Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, the INA.

After his INA experience, Hussain could not find an alternate career and wound up doing bit parts in theatre. From here, a chance meeting with Bimal Roy finally brought him into cinema. Their very first film together (they were to go on to make several more films, with Nasir Hussain in front of the camera and Roy behind, such as Parakh, Do Bigha Zameen, and Devdas) was this one: Pehla Aadmi, in which Nasir Hussain was not just an actor, but also assistant to the director—as well as the writer of the story and the dialogues.

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Wahan (1937)

Aka Beyond the Horizon.

When I began this blog, it was with the intention of indulging in my love for old cinema. While that has remained the main objective of my writing here, I’ve added to it a desire to make this a means of documenting old cinema (especially Hindi cinema) too. Not all old cinema, since that would be too mammoth a task for one person to take up; but films that I think are worth documenting, in particular if they seem to be otherwise obscure now. Films that are landmarks in Hindi cinema history; films that were somewhat different, perhaps, from the usual.

Or, as in this case, films that allow us a glimpse of familiar faces that we know from another, later, period. Leela Chitnis, the perennially poverty-stricken and very distressed mother of 60s cinema, stars in Wahan as an Aryan princess, and Ulhas, the well-known character actor of the 50s and 60s, appears in his debut role as her fiancé.

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