Book Review: Guide, The Film: Perspectives

I watched Guide for the first time when I was about twelve or so. Till then, all the Hindi cinema I had watched was predictable, comfortable, simple enough for a pre-teen to know what to expect. Or so I thought.

Because Guide defied every norm I thought I understood. Heroes, not even when they were the anti-hero Dev Anand had played in earlier films like Baazi, Kaala Bazaar or House No. 44, did not go anywhere near another man’s wife. Heroines, even when they were married off against their wishes to men other than those they loved (as in Dil Ek Mandir, Gumraah, or Sangam) stayed true to their marriage vows and sooner or later left their past behind (I was to watch Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke only much later). They absolutely did not leave their husbands and start living with another man.

And heroes did not die. As when I watched Anand, when I watched Guide too, I kept thinking, “This isn’t it. He isn’t dead, he can’t be dead.”

Several years later, I had to study RK Narayan’s The Guide at school, and I pretty much knew what to expect—but once again, I found myself surprised, because the book was in many ways different from the film. The book had won its author the Sahitya Kala Akademi Award (the first book in English to win the award), and the film won accolades by the handful—and continues to do so, fifty-five years after it was released. It has been analyzed, discussed, derided, lauded. Personally, other than for its music and Waheeda Rehman’s dancing, I have never really liked Guide much—but even I, when offered the opportunity to read this collection of essays about Guide, couldn’t resist it. Partly, perhaps, because I hoped to be able to discover what fans of the film saw in it that I didn’t.

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Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja (1961)

In 1956, Waheeda Rehman made her debut in Hindi cinema in CID, with Dev Anand (Waheeda wasn’t the heroine of CID—Shakila was—but she had a good and somewhat offbeat role as the vamp with a heart of gold). Over the next decade and a half or so, Waheeda and Dev Anand were to go on to act together in several more films, probably their most famous pairing being in the hugely popular Guide (1965).

I have watched, as far as I know, all of the Waheeda-Dev films over the years. The only one that (again, as far as I know) I hadn’t watched yet was this one. Time, I decided, to make amends for that.

As in many other films of his, Dev Anand in Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja is a crook—a thief, to be precise. We are introduced to Chhagan (Dev) when he’s in a shady-looking dive, buying a bottle of booze. Shortly after, Chhagan is accosted by ‘Langad Deen’, a partly-crippled character (played by Jeevan), who has a bit of news for Chhagan: a steamer is about to begin the journey down the river to the pilgrimage spot of Shivsagar. Langad Deen has it on authority that among the people on board is a wealthy jeweller who is carrying a very valuable diamond to be offered up to the god Shiv at Shivsagar.

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Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya (1963)

For those who’ve been following this blog since pretty much its inception, or who’ve explored some of the older posts and specials on Dustedoff, it should come as no surprise that I am a fan of Shammi Kapoor. I have seen most of the star’s films from after his watershed year of 1957 (which was the year Tumsa Nahin Dekha was released, catapulting him to sudden stardom), and I’ve seen several from the early 1950s as well.

Finding a 60s (or late 50s) Shammi Kapoor film that I’ve not seen before is therefore a matter of singular excitement [or was; I have begun to realize, after several less than enjoyable experiences, that there is a reason most of these films aren’t better-known]. This time, when I came across Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, I approached it with caution. Pandit Mukhram Sharma’s name among the credits bolstered my hopes somewhat; he wrote some good stories, so I began thinking this might not be too bad.

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Miss Mary (1957)

This film has been on my watchlist for a long time now. Earlier this year, when I reviewed the delightful Maya Bazaar, my attention was drawn to Miss Mary, because—like Maya Bazaar—this was a film that was originally made in Tamil and Telugu (as Missiamma/Missamma) and, in this case, then into Hindi too. I was already aware that the film had some lovely songs, and Meena Kumari in a light-hearted role is always a pleasure to watch.

Plus, it stars Gemini Ganesan, whose birth centenary it is today. He was born on November 16, 1919, into a distinguished family that included his aunt Muthulakshmi Reddi, a much-respected social reformer who was instrumental in passing the Devadasi Abolition Act. Thanks to Muthulakshmi, Ganesan was enrolled at Ramakrishna Mission Home, and acquired a fairly strong ‘classical’ education here, including Sanskrit, the Vedas and Upanishads, and yoga. As an adult, though, Ganesan’s career graph was rather more eccentric: he harboured dreams of becoming a doctor, attempted to join the Indian Air Force, and ended up teaching chemistry at Madras Christian College. In 1947, a job at Gemini Studios (from which Ganesan drew his screen name) led him to receive a casting offer from the studio—and Gemini Ganesan’s acting career was launched.

Gemini Ganesan, b Nov 16,1919

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Aakhri Khat (1966)

Hindi cinema has, for many decades (much of its existence?) been stereotyped. Mush, melodrama, music. The usual plot of countless films over the years has been dominated by a few given elements, even when the film’s main story may straddle other genres, such as thriller or comedy. You can’t have a Hindi film without romance, song and dance, and melodrama, seems to be the rule followed by most film makers.

Which is why the exceptions to the rule come as such a breath of fresh air. Majhli Didi, Dekh Kabira Roya, Kaanoon, Ittefaq… and this touching, tragic yet heartwarming story of a toddler wandering through the streets of big, bad Bombay.

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Seema (1955)

Every now and then, I am reminded of a film which I’ve seen—often, many years ago—and which would be a good fit for this blog. Right time period, a cast I like, music I like. Some of these (like Pyaasa, Mughal-e-Azam or Kaagaz ke Phool) have been analyzed and reviewed so often and by so many stalwarts infinitely more knowledgeable than me that I feel a certain trepidation approaching them. Others are a little less in the ‘cult classic’ range, but good films nevertheless.

Like Seema. I remembered this film a few weeks back when I reviewed Naunihaal (also starring Balraj Sahni). At the end of that post, I’d inserted a very striking photo I’d found, of a young Balraj Sahni standing in front of a portrait of Pandit Nehru. Both on my blog and elsewhere on social media, some people remarked upon that photo: how young and handsome Balraj Sahni was looking in it. And I mentioned Seema, as an example of a film where Balraj Sahni appears as the hero. A hero of a different style than the type he played in Black Cat, but a hero nevertheless.

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Sitaaron Se Aage (1958)

When I was reading Balaji Vitthal and Anirudha Bhattacharjee’s The Prince Musician, I came across a mention of this film, which I had never heard of. But the songs listed as being part of Sitaaron Se Aage were familiar to me, and both leads—Ashok Kumar and Vyjyanthimala—are among my favourites. Recently, reading HQ Chowdhury’s Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, I was reminded again of Sitaaron Se Aage, and decided it was high time I watched it.

And what a showcase of SD Burman’s music this film is—right from the start. It begins with Sambhalke yeh duniya hai nagar hoshiyaaron ka, with Lattu (Johnny Walker) and his cronies, the pickpockets Bajjarbattu and Nikhattu, going about relieving passersby of their belongings. The three end up outside a theatre, where the superstar actor Rajesh (Ashok Kumar) has just completed yet another highly-acclaimed performance.

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Aurat (1940)

In 1957, Mehboob Khan produced and directed a film that has achieved almost iconic status in the history of Indian cinema. Mother India was the first Indian film to receive a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and won several Filmfare Awards, including Best Film and Best Actress.

Mother India is a fine example of the importance of perseverance. If you don’t get it right the first time, try again. Sometime along the way, somewhere and somehow, you will get to your goal. Also, if you did something well once, chances are you’ll do it better the next time round. Practice makes perfect.

I’m not talking about how Radha, the female lead character of Mother India (and of Aurat) manages to surmount all the obstacles in her path and emerge strong. I’m talking about Mehboob Khan himself, who was the director not just of Mother India, but of the film, Aurat, of which Mother India was a remake. Based on a story by Babubhai Mehta (and supposedly partly inspired too by Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth) and with dialogue by Wajahat Mirza, Aurat was a film Mehboob Khan only directed. Seventeen years later, now a producer in his own right, he remade the film, both producing and directing it. And how well he proved that if you do something well the first time round, there’s a good chance you’ll do it well, and even better, the second time round.

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Ten of my favourite Rajendra Krishan songs

2019 marks the birth centenary of two major lyricists of Hindi cinema: Kaifi Azmi and Rajendra Krishan. While they may have shared the same birth year, Krishan and Azmi appear to have been very different personalities. Unlike the ardently socialistic Azmi, Rajendra Krishan seems to have pretty much embraced the capitalist side of life (interestingly, he is said to have been the ‘richest lyricist in Hindi cinema’—not as a result of his earnings as a song writer, but because he won 46 lakhs at the races).

Also, unlike Azmi, who wrote songs for less than fifty films (up to 1998, when he wrote for Tamanna), Rajendra Krishan was much more prolific. Though he died in 1987, by then he had already written songs for more than a hundred films.

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Ghar Sansar (1958)

Balraj Sahni ranks as one of my favourite actors. He brought a sense of dignity to pretty much every role he essayed, and there were very few roles which he could not pull off convincingly. That said, there was a certain type of film that he very often got slotted in: the family drama. These films, often made by production houses like AVM Productions, equally often followed a fairly predictable pattern.

A close-knit joint family (with Balraj Sahni as its head, usually as elder brother) lives in one home, each member of the family devoted to the other, each going out of their way and being self-sacrificing to smoothen the way for the others. Then, as the result of a wedding (usually of a younger male relative, often a character who’s the younger brother of Balraj Sahni’s character), a somewhat headstrong chhoti bahu enters the household. She is warmly welcomed and is inclined to be as sweet to others as others are to her [after all, the hero has fallen in love with her; she cannot be out-and-out bad]. But, someone evil and self-serving or just plain old malicious lurks in the vicinity. A neighbour, a close relative (often a step-relative, step-brother, step-sister, etc, of the bahu—since, again, blood relations can’t be all bad) or other person who despises the family for its saccharine sanctimoniousness, decides to throw a spanner in the works.

With the result that poor Balraj Sahni’s character gets the short end of the stick. He and his long-suffering spouse lose their home, their child (or children) fall ill, someone goes blind, they are nearly [not definitely, since they have so much self-respect] reduced to begging in the streets.

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