Ram aur Shyam (1967)

I wanted to watch a Dilip Kumar film to commemorate the life and career of this extraordinary actor. But which one? There are lots of iconic Dilip Kumar films that I have either seen long ago (Devdas, Footpath, Daag, Deedaar, Udan Khatola, Andaaz) and not reviewed on this blog, or which I’ve never seen (Tarana, Jugnu, Mela, Shaheed, Musaafir). I could watch a film I’d never seen before, but—knowing what a lot of Dilip Kumar’s early films are like—there was always a chance I’d run up against something depressing.

I finally decided to rewatch a film I’d seen years ago. A film that’s a good showcase of Dilip Kumar’s versatility, his ability to pull off comic roles as well as the tragic ones for which he was better known. Ram aur Shyam is an out-and-out entertainer, a film I’d watched and loved as a teenager, and which I knew for a fact would cheer me up.

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Ek Nazar (1951)

June 23, 2021 marked the birth centenary of one of my favourite actors, the very talented and charismatic Rehman. Born Sayeed Rehman Khan in Lahore, Rehman joined the Royal Indian Air Force in 1942 and underwent training at Pune as a pilot. The Air Force soon lost its charm for Rehman (he failed a test) and he went off to Bombay to join the cinema industry. Initially taken on as a third assistant director by the writer-director Vishram Bedekar for Bedekar’s film Lakharani (1945), Rehman went on to assist director DD Kashyap in the film Chaand, where, completely by chance, Rehman appeared onscreen. In a dance sequence in the film, a Pathan character was needed—and the only person around who knew how to tie a turban the Pathan way was Rehman. And he knew how to tie it only around his own head.

The Hindi proverb ‘Daane-daane pe likha hai khaane waale ka naam’ comes to mind.

Rehman was required to say a couple of lines in that brief appearance, and fluffed it repeatedly; thirty takes were required to get it right, possibly because the first line began with a K: “Kitna achha naach thha”. Rehman, even years later, and as a seasoned actor, found it very difficult to begin a dialogue with the K sound and would request that a different word be substituted, or the words moved around.

Rehman had enough of a presence for his potential as an actor to be recognized, and he went on to act as a lead, working opposite major actresses like Madhubala, Suraiya, Nalini Jaywant and Nigar Sultana.

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Doctor (1941)

I tend not to watch too many Hindi films from before the 1950s, and even those that I do, don’t always end up getting reviewed. Mostly, that’s because I either find them fairly forgettable (though there are exceptions, like the superb Neecha Nagar) or otherwise not landmark films in any sense. Nothing that deserves a review.

This one, though, probably needs to be reviewed, even though it’s not extraordinary. Based on a story by Sailajanand Mukhopadhyay (the same story being remade in 1977 as the Uttam Kumar-Sharmila Tagore starrer Anand Ashram), Doctor was made simultaneously in Hindi and Bengali. This was the first Pankaj Mullick film I’ve seen (though I’ve heard his songs many times earlier); and given its music, it deserved, I thought, a review.

Doctor begins with the eponymous doctor, a young man named Amarnath (Pankaj Mullick) returning by train to his ancestral home in the village after finishing medical studies.

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The Clerk and the Coat (1955)

Aka Garam Coat, though The Clerk and the Coat is the title as it appears in the credits of this film, and is also the title for which the Censor Certificate was issued.

This film had been among my bookmarks for a long time, but I’d been putting off watching it because I had a suspicion it would turn out to be very depressing. And I’ve not been in a state of mind conducive to being able to watch depressing cinema. But after having watched several rather ho-hum films (Kismat ka Khel, Passport) I figured I should take the plunge and watch something good, even if not exactly frothy and cheery. Garam Coat, after all, was written by Rajinder Singh Bedi, for whom I have a great deal of respect.

The story is set in an unspecified North Indian town, where Girdhari (Balraj Sahni) lives with his wife Geeta (Nirupa Roy) and their three children: two girls and a pampered toddler named Chanda. Girdhari is a clerk at the post office, where he handles money orders. His two best friends are his colleagues Munilal ‘Muni’ (Rashid Khan) and Sher Khan (Jayant). Girdhari’s salary is so meagre that he and Geeta have to carefully monitor every paisa. This for the rent, this for the milkman, this for the kiraane ki dukaan from where they buy their groceries. This much for the insurance premium, for the electricity bill, for the girls’ school fees.

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Do Dil (1965)

Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Music by Hemant, lyrics by Kaifi Azmi.

That, by itself, would be enough to make me want to watch the film. But then, there was the fact I hadn’t known anything about Do Dil before other than its name. And that, for a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, is odd. I guessed there must be something about it that was very forgettable.

There was only one way to find out: to watch the film for myself. With a crew like that, I figured that it would almost certainly not be outright awful.

Do Dil begins at a palace, with the death of the Maharaja (we are never shown this man). Some days later, though, a number of courtiers convene along with the Maharaja’s lawyer, who reads out the will. The Maharaja appoints his grand-nephew Kunwar Pratap Singh (Pran), who also happens to be the state’s senapati (commander) as his successor, though with Rani Indumati, the Maharaja’s sister (Durga Khote) as regent (this is all spelled out in very vague terms, so it’s not exactly clear what powers Ranima, as she’s known, will wield). Pratap Singh looks very pleased with himself…

The Maharaja's will is read out
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Book Review: Vinod Mehta’s ‘Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography’

On 31st March, 1972, a Good Friday, Meena Kumari died, after a long and painful battle with cirrhosis of the liver. She had been admitted to St Elizabeth’s Nursing Home in Bombay on 28th March, and died three days later surrounded by the people who had played an important part in her life, both personal and professional. Her sisters Khursheed and Madhu; her estranged husband Kamal Amrohi; and various luminaries of the film world, including Begum Para and Kammo, from whose house the Aab-e-Zamzam (holy water from Mecca) was fetched to be spooned into Meena Kumari’s mouth as she was dying.

Over the next few days and weeks and months, Meena Kumari’s name dominated Hindi film news. Her magnum opus, Pakeezah, had just been released, having been 15 years in the making; Meena Kumari’s death served to make the film a success: thousands went to watch Pakeezah simply as a way of paying tribute to the much-loved actress. Praise was lavished on ‘India’s greatest tragedienne’ and there was much speculation about who, really, was responsible for her lifelong misery, and the alcoholism that had finally taken her life. People who had worked with her—co-actors, directors, and others—paid homage.

And Vinod Mehta, based on the success of a book he’d already written (not a biography) was asked if he would be up to writing Meena Kumari’s biography.

Vinod Mehta's 'Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography'
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Jigri Dost (1969)

Mostly, the films I review on this blog are either the ones I like so much I want more people to watch them; or films I hate so much I want to warn people off them. Or, sometimes, films which may not be otherwise exceptional but have, I think, something that sets them apart: they’re unusual, or they’re somehow of historic importance.

Now and then, along comes a film I decide I have to review because while I don’t find it dreadful, I wonder what it would have been like with a different cast. Even just one actor being replaced by another.

Jigri Dost begins in the palatial home of Chairman Neelkanth (KN Singh), who is a baddie of the first order. He summarily orders his henchmen to raze this bunch of poor people’s huts, extort money from that lot, and so on. He has no scruples, no mercy, no nothing… no inkling, either, that a maid (Aruna Irani) in his home eavesdrops on his every conversation.

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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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