For many years now, I’ve been fascinated by what I call the ‘supernatural’ subgenre of Indian suspense films. Offhand, I can’t recall too many [any?] non-Indian films that used a supposedly supernatural theme to veil what was a definitely corporeal, criminal deed. Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, Mahal, Woh Kaun Thi?, Bees Saal Baad, Poonam ki Raat, Anita—all of these (and plenty more) used tropes such as spooky songs, ‘ghosts’ (invariably women in white), mysteriously creaking doors, swinging lampshades and seemingly haunted havelis, all forming part of a grand plan to convince someone that they were surrounded by bhoots when in reality they were surrounded by crooks.
A lot of my memories of 50s and 60s cinema date back to the 1980s, when almost all the films I watched were those shown on Doordarshan. In the early years, with Doordarshan being the sole channel, my sister and I (our parents were rather more discerning) watched every single Hindi film that was telecast, down to painful stuff like Jai Santoshi Ma and the thoroughly obscure Fauji, with Joginder Singh (who, if I remember correctly, also produced and directed it) in the lead role.
But, to get around to the topic of this post: Abhilasha, not a very well-known film but one which made an impression on me because of two songs I liked a lot. And because it depicted a mother-son relationship that was a little different from the usual.
This post is two weeks late. Late, because it’s a tribute to the actress Kalpana, who passed away on January 4 this year. I didn’t get to know about her death till the 8th, and then – though I did want to do a tribute post – I couldn’t think of a film I hadn’t reviewed, and liked well enough to want to review. (Two of my favourite films – Professor and Pyaar Kiye Jaa – starred Kalpana, but I’ve already reviewed them. And other Kalpana films I’ve seen include Naughty Boy and Saheli – both of which I found almost impossible to sit through). Last weekend, in desperation, I watched Teesra Kaun, thinking I’d review that; but that was a disappointment too. So, finally: an old classic. Not a great film, but very pretty. And a good Kalpana showcase.
There’s something a little strange about seeing a film you’ve heard so much about. An English film, but with a primarily Bollywood star cast? With a story line that wavers between the usual hiccups of a middle class urban couple, doing the painful transition from carefree single existences to married life—and an American, floundering about as he tries to reach for a higher spirituality? Part Indian, part foreign outlook? And all of it with its roots in the Manusmriti, which says that of the four states of man, that of the grihastha (the householder) is the most important…?
After all the lightheartedness of the past few posts, time to get back to serious stuff. I had three none-too-cheery films lined up: Khamoshi, Andaz, and this one. Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam had been popping up in some recent posts (one song was part of the daaru list, and a discussion on Jawahar Kaul—one of the leads in Dekh Kabira Roya—ended up with a general wondering of what role he played in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam). So Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam it was, a rewatch of a memorable film with some fine performances and superb music.
There are some films that offer deep, mind-searing insights into human life. There are some that allow one to escape for a couple of hours into a world of make believe where good and beautiful people always win and the bad always come to a sorry end.
And there are films like this one, which I seriously think should be prescribed as an anti-depressant. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy Gyne and Bagha Byne) isn’t among Satyajit Ray’s most profound works—it’s not in the same league, perhaps, as the Apur trilogy or Nayak. It is, however, one of the most charming films ever made in India, and a sure cure for the blues. I adore this film. Every delightful little bit of it.