This is a film that’s been on my watchlist for a long time. It was recommended to me all over again last year when Sidney Poitier passed away, and since then, I’ve been meaning to watch it. So, finally.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? is a film that can be easily summed up in one sentence: a young white woman and an African American man fall in love, and their shocked families have to learn to cope with their feelings. This is a story not so much of plot—very little actually happens, and most of the nearly two hours of the film consists of dialogue, of people discussing this frighteningly new development that has hit all of them—but in that time, the film manages to make several very pertinent points, not just on racism (which is, naturally, the most obvious) but other issues as well.
When I was going through Chetan Anand’s filmography last year (to commemorate his birth centenary), I stumbled across a Chetan Anand film in which he starred, besides directing it: a film, too, which immediately struck me as unusual, just given its length: a mere one hour. For a Hindi film, rare indeed. Though I didn’t watch Arpan back then, I bookmarked it and decided I’d watch it sometime later.
And it is an unusual film. Not just short, but also somewhat surreal in places. Hauntingly beautiful at times, outright odd at others.
Arpan is set, we are told, 2,500 years ago. A famine is ravaging the land, and people are starving left, right and centre. In this situation, the royalty, of course, is expected to set an example, and thus Princess Madhavi (Sheila Ramani) is going about, a large entourage with her, distributing food to her father’s subjects.
The third, and last, film of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, Apur Sansar came a full three years after its prequel Aparajito had been released. Aparajito, while it hadn’t been received well in India (Indian audiences baulked at the obvious callousness and self-centredness of Apu in the film, so contrary to the established ideas of how a offspring must behave towards a mother), had won critical acclaim—and many awards—abroad. This was what encouraged Ray to make Apur Sansar, rounding off the story of Apu as he grows from a teenager to a man.
Apur Sansar introduces us to Apurba Ray ‘Apu’, (Soumitra Chatterjee, in his debut role) now a young man living in Calcutta. Apu is really down at heel: it shows in the ragged curtain hanging at the window of his single room; in the drab dreariness of that room, even the fact that he has to sleep with his outdoor clothes neatly folded and kept under the mattress so that the wrinkles get smoothed out.
This Gothic mystery story has an interesting claim to fame: it was the film Nutan wasn’t permitted to watch at the premiere, even though she starred in it.
Nutan had debuted in the film Hamari Beti (1950; it was directed by her mother, Shobhna Samarth) when she was all of fourteen. The following year, after having spent the intervening period at a finishing school in Switzerland, she was cast as the female lead in Ravindra Dave’s Nagina, which starred Dilip Kumar’s brother Nasir Khan. Nagina was released under an A certificate because it was considered too frightening for children; Nutan, then not even sixteen years old, was escorted to the premiere of the film by family friend Shammi Kapoor, but was not allowed in because she was underage.
The story begins [rather choppily; I wonder if this is the modern-day slash-and-burn style of video editing that’s reflected here, rather than the original film’s editing] with Srinath (Nasir Khan) having a conversation with his wheelchair-bound mother (Anwari Bai). As it later emerges from the story, Srinath’s father, a jeweller named Shyamlal, has been missing these last twelve years, ever since he was accused of having murdered the wife of a zamindar, Raiji, over a valuable gemstone (a ‘nagina’) set in a ring.
I guess a lot of people would think this an odd film to be reviewing on Christmas. But the fact of the matter is that over many years of reviewing rather more standard and predictable ‘Christmas films’, the sort that stress on the joy and goodwill of the festival, I’ve become a bit jaded to the whole idea—at least onscreen, where it more often than not tends to become a little too syrupy for my liking.
Therefore, for a change: a film that’s set around Christmas, and has lots of props, scenes, and more that reference the celebration of the festival—but is actually a murder mystery. The Thin Man is one I’ve been meaning to watch for many years now, since lots of people have recommended this to me, so it was high time anyway.
Based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, the film begins at the shop of an inventor named Clyde Wynant (Edward Ennant). Wynant is crotchety and impatient with his assistant, but a more affectionate side of him is revealed when his daughter Dorothy (Maureen O’Sullivan) arrives, bringing with her her fiancé Tommy (Henry Wadsworth) and the news that they’re going to be married shortly after Christmas, a few days from now.
It was on this day that Mohammad Yusuf Khan, who was to go on to become one of India’s most-loved and finest actors, was born in Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani Bazaar.
In a career spanning several decades, and some sixty-odd films, Dilip Kumar attained a status all his own. He was one of the first to win a Filmfare Award, and went on to win the most Best Actor Awards (until the record was equalled— though not yet surpassed). His scenes have been copied and re-done, his dialogues have become familiar to fans of cinema, his films and his acting closely dissected.
After the success of Pather Panchali, Satyajit Ray—who had never intended to make a sequel to the film—was encouraged to take the story of Apurba ‘Apu’ Ray forward, a story that emerged in Aparajito.
This instalment of the story of Apu begins a few years after the last scene of Pather Panchali. Apu (now Pinaki Sen Gupta) has now moved to Banaras, with his priest father Hori (Kanu Bannerjee) and mother Sarbojaya (Karuna Bannerjee). Hori goes to the riverside every day to deliver sermons to a group of Bengalis, most of them widows. He makes enough money for the little family to be just about comfortable, no more.
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.
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.
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.