Regional Star, Hindi Also-Ran: Ten Actors, Ten Songs

(With much thanks to blog reader Dr TN Subramaniam, who suggested the theme for this post, and who also supplied the first three examples of the actors that appear on this list).

I did not watch too many regional Indian films until fairly recently. True, Doordarshan did show regional cinema back when I was a child, but I was never tempted to watch (now that I think about it, I’m not even sure those films were subtitled). But in recent years, ever since I began to make a concerted effort to watch more non-Hindi films, I’ve been struck by the gap between regional cinema and Hindi cinema. A gap in many ways. For one, in the types of films made; in the production values; in the standard of acting and directing (note: I do not at all think that Bombay’s Hindi film industry outdid its regional counterparts in these areas. In a lot of cases, it was the opposite: regional cinema turned out a lot of films that were more original and generally of a higher standard than Hindi cinema, enough for Hindi remakes to be churned out).

And then there were the people who acted in these films. On the one hand, there were the many actors who confined themselves to the cinema of the region they belonged to. These were the majority, some of them even very fine, well-respected actors (think Tulsi Chakraborty, for instance) who were never seen in Hindi cinema. On the other hand, there were actors, big stars of regional cinema, who were also fairly successful in Hindi cinema. Bengalis like Suchitra Sen and Utpal Dutt; stars of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema like Padmini, Vyjyanthimala, and Waheeda Rehman: stars in their own regions, and stars familiar to Hindi filmgoers as well.

But there were some regional stars who, for some reason or the other, never could make it big in Hindi cinema. Perhaps they never felt the need to pursue a career in Hindi cinema (Soumitra Chatterjee, I know, was one of these), and never had the time; perhaps they could not be bothered with the language skills needed (though I can think of several people who did make names for themselves in Hindi cinema without being too good at Hindi). Perhaps they just didn’t have what it took to make them popular with a Hindi-speaking audience. Perhaps they were pure unlucky.

B Saroja Devi
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Ten of my favourite Kumkum songs

Rest in peace, Kumkum.

I was in the middle of watching a film to write a tribute to Hollywood star Olivia de Havilland, who passed away on 25th July at the age of 104, when I heard that, closer home, there had been another death. Another actress, much loved. Kumkum, of the dancing eyes and the bright smile. Kumkum who could dance up a storm in Madhuban mein Radhika naache re and be the demure heroine opposite leading men all the way from Shammi Kapoor to Rajendra Kumar to Kishore Kumar.

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Ten of my favourite Chitragupta songs

Happy 100th birth anniversary, Chitragupta!

A couple of years back, in celebration of the birth anniversary of C Ramachandra, I’d posted a selection of my favourite songs from his oeuvre. In my post, I’d described C Ramachandra as ‘underrated’ (a reflection of the fact that the average person who listens to old Hindi film music—not the diehard enthusiast who knows, or tries to know, just about every detail about the songs of yesteryears—tends to talk about ‘bigger names’ like SD Burman, Naushad, OP Nayyar, etc). A couple of readers refuted that: they said C Ramachandra wasn’t underrated; among the music directors of that period who were underrated was Chitragupta.

I may not have agreed with AK and Kersi Mistry on C Ramachandra, but I do agree about Chitragupta: very talented, and oh, so overlooked when it comes to lists of great composers. Yet, when you listen to his songs, you’ll find some of the loveliest tunes, the most nuanced of compositions. Even some immensely popular songs.

Born on November 16, 1917 in Gopalganj district of Bihar, Chitragupta ended up in the film industry after an initial stint as a lecturer in Patna (interestingly enough, he held a master’s degree in both journalism as well as economics). In Bombay, Chitragupta began his career as an assistant to SN Tripathi; from about 1946 onwards, he was composing on his own. He went on to compose songs for both Hindi as well as Bhojpuri cinema, right up to 1990 (he passed away in January 1991). It’s sad that more people know of Chitragupta’s sons—Anand-Milind—than they do about the duo’s much underrated but extremely talented father.

Chitragupta

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Ganga ki Lehren (1964)

Ganga ki LehrenWho, in case you’re curious, include Dharmendra, Kishore Kumar, Nasir Hussain, Kumkum, Hari Shivdasani, Rehman, Asit Sen, Azra, and Aruna Irani, besides Telugu star Savitri. With, in smaller roles, everybody from Tuntun, Brahm Bhardwaj, Mridula Rani, Manorama and Jankidas, to child star Master Shahid. [All that was missing was wonder dog Tommy]. Continue reading

Ten Ganga songs from classic Hindi cinema

My husband and I are avid travelers. Give us a few days’ holiday and some funds, and we’re eager to race off somewhere. This past year, however, has been unbelievably hectic, what with one thing or another, and after an entire 365 days of not travelling anywhere, we were ready to crack. So we eventually took a holiday—to The Glasshouse on the Ganges, an idyllic little place we’ve visited before, just slightly above Rishikesh. Sitting there one evening, with my feet lapped by the cool waves of the Ganga, I was humming Ganga behti ho kyon (yes, I’m not making this up; I actually was doing that!) when it struck me: there are several songs in Hindi cinema about the Ganga. And that’s where the idea for this post originated.

The Ganga flows for a distance of 2,525 km, all the way from the Himalayas (it begins, officially, at the point—in Devprayag—where its two major tributaries, the Bhagirathi and the Alaknanda, join). Most devout Hindus consider Gomukh, at the foot of the Gangotri Glacier, where the Bhagirathi arises, as the birthplace of the Ganga. The fifth most polluted river in the world, this one is one of Earth’s major rivers (it even appears in classical Western art—the imposing ‘Fountain of the Four Rivers’ sculpture at Rome’s Piazza Navona includes the Ganges). Millions of people live alongside it, millions come from far and wide for a dip in the Ganga.

The river.

The river.

And Hindi cinema has embraced it wholeheartedly, all the way from the dozens of filmi children lost at the Kumbh, to Ganga ki Saugandh, Ganga Tera Paani Amrit, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, etc. Plus, the songs. Here are ten songs from pre-70s (mostly, with one minor exception from 1971) Hindi films which mention the Ganga. In different contexts, to different extents. All from films that I’ve seen.

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