Dharti ke Laal (1946)

Balraj Sahni devotes several pages of his autobiography to one of his first films, KA Abbas’s directorial debut, Dharti ke Laal (1946). Here, among other behind-the-scenes reminiscences, is an anecdote which especially struck me.

A scene of the film depicts the death of one of its characters, an old peasant who has come to Calcutta to escape the famine in the countryside. In his dying delirium, the old man ‘sees’ the ready crop, fields of rice waiting to be harvested. Around him, his friends and family hover, as the man’s eyes open wide in joy and then, suddenly, he keels over.

It’s a dramatic scene, and was envisioned as taking place under a street lamp, with the light shining on the dying man’s face in his moment of delirium. The set was ready, but somebody had blundered, and the bulb that was supposed to shed its light on the character refused to light up. Abbas, Sahni, Shombhu Mitra (who played the role of the dying peasant), the cameraman and the rest of the crew were in a flap, when a mazdoor—a labourer—suggested an alternative: let the light be provided not by a street lamp, but by the headlights of an approaching car, shining on the dying man’s face. And, as the car moves away, its tail lights should provide the last glow before the man finally dies.

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Do Dulhe (1955)

Today is the birth centenary of one of a handful of Hindi film actors who managed to cross from one type of role to another—again and again. Like Ajit, Pran, and Premnath (though not in the same league as them, when it came to success and popularity), Sajjan Lal Purohit—better known simply as Sajjan—appeared in leading roles in several of his early films (including, notably, in Saiyyaan, where he acted opposite Madhubala), then drifted into supporting roles (as Dev Anand’s sculptor friend in Paying Guest; as Mini’s father in Kabuliwala; and more), and eventually into villainous roles (in April Fool, Aankhen, Farz, etc).

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Funtoosh (1956)

Today may (or may not) be the birth centenary of the film maker, writer, and actor Chetan Anand, eldest brother of Dev Anand and Vijay Anand. Different sources list different dates of birth: most sites (including IMDB) list his birth date as January 3, 1921; others, including Wikipedia (yes, I know not the most reliable of sources) say it’s January 3, 1915. (This article says it’s 1921, but then goes on to write that Chetan Anand was 27 years old in 1943, which is either dodgy maths or a suggestion that the year of birth was indeed 1915). The article, barring that slip, is a good, interesting introduction to the life and career of Chetan Anand.

Anyway. Even if I’m six years too late to the party, at least today is Chetan Anand’s birthday.

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Dillagi (1949)

A couple of months back, a blog reader had remarked that Hindi cinema, during the 1930s and 40s, seemed to have a fairly unimpressive-looking lot of leading men. The good-lookers, was the theory, were the ones that came later, though there had been a very few rare exceptions, like Shyam.

While I didn’t agree that most of the leading men of the 1930s and 40s were ugly (or at best, plain), I did agree about Shyam. Shyam was one of those very handsome actors who, with his impressive height and build added to his charisma, could have posed a serious threat to the triumvirate of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Dev Anand. Sadly, Shyam died tragically young, just 31 years old, after sustaining a head injury caused by a fall from a horse during the shooting of Shabistan in 1951.

Born in Sialkot on February 20, 1920, Shyam Sunder Chadha ‘Shyam’ debuted in a Punjabi film, Gowandhi (1942) and continued to work sporadically in cinema over the next few years. After Partition, Shyam shifted to Bombay, and that was when his career really took off. Over the next four years, he worked in a slew of films, including some big hits like Dillagi, Samadhi, and Patanga. One can only speculate on what trajectory his career might have taken had he lived into the 60s. (Interestingly, Shyam was a very dear friend of Sa’adat Hasan Manto: it was a friendship that outlasted Partition, and Manto was deeply affected when Shyam passed away).

I hadn’t realized, back in February this year, that it was Shyam’s hundredth birth anniversary. But the year is still the same, so in celebration of Shyam’s birth centenary year, a review of one of his biggest hit films. In Dillagi, Shyam acted the role of Swaroop, a dashing young man who falls in love with a village girl named Mala…

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Zindagi ya Toofaan (1958)

After many years of telling myself I should read Mirza Hadi ‘Ruswa’s Umrao Jaan Ada, I finally got around to reading a Hindi translation a couple of weeks back. This turned out to be an underwhelming experience (more details here, on my Goodreads review of the book), but it impelled me to read a synopsis of Umrao Jaan Ada. I ended up reading, too, about the screen adaptations of the book (which is regarded by many as the first Urdu novel), and was surprised to discover that, besides the Rekha-starrer and the (much later) Aishwarya Rai-starrer, there were two other films, both released in 1958, based on Umrao Jaan Ada. One was Mehendi; the other was Zindagi ya Toofaan. I haven’t got around to watching Mehendi yet, but the fact that one of my favourite actresses of the 50s, Nutan, starred in Zindagi ya Toofaan, made me eager to watch this one.

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Hulchul (1951)

Today is the hundredth birthday of one of India’s greatest and most popular dancers of yesteryears. Sitara Devi was born in Calcutta on November 8, 1920, to a father who was a Sanskrit scholar and also both performed as well as taught Kathak. Her mother too came from a family with a long tradition in performing arts, so it was hardly a surprise that from a very young age, Sitara (her birth name was Dhanalakshmi) began to learn Kathak. By the time she was ten, Sitara was giving solo performances; two years later, at the age of twelve, she (having since moved to Bombay with her parents) performed onstage and so impressed film-maker/choreographer Niranjan Sharma that he recruited her to work in films.

Unlike several other skilled danseuses—Vyjyanthimala, the Travancore Sisters, Waheeda Rehman, etc—Sitara Devi did not let cinema take over her dance completely. She danced in a number of films, through the 40s and right up to Mother India (1957), which is believed to be her last onscreen appearance. She continued to give stage performances, even performing at New York’s Carnegie Hall and at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Sitara Devi wasn’t merely a film actress; she was also a great dancer. I wanted to pay tribute to her through a review of one of her films, and decided I’d choose Hulchul, which I wanted to watch for other reasons as well (more on this later).

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Jaadoo (1951)

There are several reasons why I decided to review this film, even though it’s not a particularly impressive one. For one, it’s one of the rare Indian films set outside India and the Middle East (more on this later). For another, its music by Naushad, who (I would have thought) would not have been the most obvious choice to compose music for a film that’s distinctly Latin in tone. And, because this is a film I’ve long been wanting to see—ever since I first watched Lo pyaar ki ho gayi jeet on Chitrahaar as a pre-teen.

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Jagriti (1954), Bedari (1956)

One review suffices for two films, really. Jagriti was an Indian film, Bedari a Pakistani one. Why I say one review suffices is because Bedari was a blatant copy of Jagriti: so blatant that when Pakistanis cottoned onto the fact that it was a copy, there was a furore which resulted in the Federal Board of Film Censor in Pakistan banning Bedari.

I’ll discuss the synopsis by looking at Jagriti, since Bedari used exactly the same plot, down to the scenes.

Jagriti begins by introducing us to the very wild teenager Ajay Mukherjee (Raj Kumar), who spends his after-school time gallivanting around the village with his gang of equally wild friends. They steal mangoes from an orchard and leave the irate gardener with a bump on his head; Ajay slips onto a ferry and deprives a banana-seller of an entire day’s worth of bananas.

By the time Ajay gets home, his uncle (Bipin Gupta) has been besieged by some very upset villagers. He’s had to soothe them, pay up their damages, and promise that the situation will be amended.

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Sharaarat (1959)

It might surprise some of you to know just how many films I watch. No, not new ones, but old films, in the hope that I will find something worth reviewing for this blog. Perhaps one in five of those films gets reviewed, and that because either it’s worth recommending, or conversely, it’s worth warning people off. 

A lot of the Hindi films I watch, I watch because of the music. Occasionally (Duniya Jhukti Hai, Bank Manager, Chandni Chauk) there’s just one song that has prompted my viewing of the film, and the film itself turns out to be so ho-hum that I decide there’s not much point reviewing it. I assume, you see, that most people (unlike me) are sensible enough to not waste a couple of hours watching a film just because it has one good song. 

Sometimes, though, a film has a bunch of good songs, and a cast I have great hopes of. Then, even if it ends up being a bit of a dud, I feel obliged to review the film. Because I want to tell you: steer clear; despite the cast and despite the songs, this is really not worth your while. 

Also, in the case of Sharaarat, there was the fact that this film starred Meena Kumari. And, as I’ve seen from films like Miss Mary, Tamasha, Kohinoor, Azaad, etc, Meena Kumari was very good at comedy. Here, she was paired with Kishore Kumar. I settled down, hoping for some fun. Sharaarat, after all: that sounded promising. 

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Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya (1966)

It took me five days to watch this film: I couldn’t bear to watch more than fifteen minutes of it at a time, and I couldn’t do more than two sessions in a day.

That’s what Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya is like. Despite starring Dharmendra, Nutan, and Rehman. Despite being picturized in some very pretty locales. And despite having a couple of not-too-bad songs. By the time this travesty of a film ended, I was wanting to tear my hair out. I thought I wouldn’t review it, but then decided this did need to be reviewed, so that other potential viewers could be warned.

This is going to be a shortish review, since I can’t bring myself to explain every fiddly little detail along the way in what is a convoluted (but pointlessly convoluted) plot.

Ashok (Dharmendra) and Amjad (Rehman) are best friends. They live in the same pokey little flat (for which they haven’t paid the rent in a long time), they work in the same toy store, and they spend all their free time telling each other about their respective girlfriends. Ashok’s sweetheart is Ashu (Nutan), who lives back in the village and is constantly being plagued by Ashok’s nasty stepbrother Bhagat (Jeevan)…

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