This blog focuses almost exclusively on films from before the 1970s. Very occasionally, though, I make exceptions. For films that are pretty much on the cusp, and which evoke more a sense of 60s cinema than 70s, which were made mostly during the 60s (or even earlier, as in the case of Pakeezah) but were released only later, but basically for films that, when I watch them, seem as if they were made in the 60s. Because of the people who star in them, because of the costumes, the songs, the feel of them.
When Vinod Khanna passed away last week, I wanted very much to review one of his films as a way of paying tribute. There are a couple of 60s’ films of Vinod Khanna’s that I’ve seen—the forgettable Man ka Meet, for instance—but I settled on a rewatch of Mera Gaon Mera Desh, not just because it features Vinod Khanna in one of his most memorable outings as a villain, but also because it is an interesting example of a film that may have only been moderately successful, but is the very obvious inspiration for one of the biggest hits ever in the history of Hindi cinema: Sholay.
This post may come as a surprise to those who are familiar with my blog, and with its chronological area of interest: Vinod Khanna, after all, debuted in a film that released in 1969, and this blog focuses on cinema from before the 1970s. His was not even, unlike Rajesh Khanna, a meteoric rise that saw one blockbuster hit after the other. No; Vinod Khanna’s star ascended relatively slowly, and he came into his own only a few years down the line. Well into the 70s, in fact.
But how could I not pay tribute to the one actor who really defines the 70s for me? Even though I most like the cinema of the 50s and 60s, the 70s too had some fine films, some fine film makers. Chupke-Chupke, Sholay, Golmaal, Blackmail, Manchali. Inkaar, Gaddaar, Amar Akbar Anthony. The Burning Train, Lahu ke Do Rang… and there was Vinod Khanna, my favourite actor of that decade.
Let’s say you’re a film maker in the Hindi cinema of the late 1960s. You’ve set your heart on making a thriller. You have some money, but not enough to be able to hope to churn out something with Shammi Kapoor, set in Europe. You see all these glittering films—Teesri Manzil, An Evening in Paris, Jewel Thief—being released, and it irks you. If they can do it, why can’t you? So one day you gird up your loins, and inspired by all of these, and all the James Bond movies you can lay your hands upon, you set out to make your own thriller.
You cannot afford Shammi Kapoor [or is he perhaps too discerning to agree after he’s read the script?], so you settle for Biswajeet instead. You don’t have the budget to shoot abroad, but that doesn’t matter. You will make do by bringing abroad here to India, by plonking a bronze wig onto Biswajeet and having him pretend to be a Parisian named Robbie for much of the film.
BR Chopra is one director for whom I have a lot of respect: he was one of the most versatile film makers of his time, a man whose films could not easily be dumped together into one broad category. Look at the difference between Waqt and Sadhna, for instance: one stylish and glamorous, the first big multi-starrer in Hindi cinema; the other a low-key yet impactful film with an unusual female lead. Or Humraaz, a sleek suspense thriller, and—on the other hand—Dharamputra, a commentary on secularism and bigotry and several related ills which still plague India.
Whether he was conveying a message, highlighting a social evil, or simply making an entertaining film, BR Chopra was in a class by himself. His films invariably had excellent production values; the music could always be counted upon to be topnotch (and the fact that he often commissioned Sahir Ludhianvi as lyricist meant that it wasn’t just the music that was superb, it was also the words of the songs—some of Sahir’s best songs are for BR Chopra’s films).
Which brings me to this film. Ek Hi Raasta was one of BR Chopra’s earlier films, and while it doesn’t have the impact of (say) Gumraah or Dhool ka Phool, it is still an interesting story.
If there’s one film maker whose films tend to feature fairly prominently on this blog, it’s Nasir Husain. Of all the films he wrote and/or directed in the 50s and 60s, only two—Paying Guest and Anarkali, both of which he wrote—haven’t been reviewed on Dusted Off (though I have watched both, Paying Guest on several occasions). Rarely is a song list posted that doesn’t have at least one song from a Nasir Husain film. And when it comes to posts like this, where would I be without Nasir Husain?
But, all said and done, and while I may poke fun at the formulas and tropes Mr Husain was so good at dishing up (as delectable concoctions, too), one thing I acknowledge: he knew how to make cinema entertaining. Whether it was pure eye candy you were looking for, or the most fabulous music, or pretty locales and total paisa vasool plots, Nasir Husain was the film maker you could safely turn to. Like Bimal Roy or Hrishikesh Mukherjee, this is one director whose films I’ll happily watch simply because he’s the one directing them.
Which is why this book (ISBN: 978-93-5264-096-6; Harper Collins Publishers India, 2016; Rs 599, 402 pages) caught my imagination from the very beginning. No, not when I bought a copy, but when Akshay Manwani first approached me, saying he was going to write about Nasir Husain’s cinema and if I’d be willing to answer some questions. From that very first discussion till now, I’ve been looking forward to reading this book.
I remember watching Padosan as a child, and I remember my sister saying, “How could someone so handsome consent to be made up as someone like Bhola? And to act so silly?” I already liked Sunil Dutt a good deal, but that comment made me sit up and respect him a lot more than I already did. In a period when there was a very definite idea of what a ‘hero’ should be like (and the 60s was a decade where heroes tended to be more cookie-cutter than in the 50s), Sunil Dutt did roles that ranged from a man having an affair with another man’s wife (Gumraah), a dacoit (Mujhe Jeene Do), a buffoon (Padosan), a cuckold (Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke)… and in a slew of everything from suspense films (Mera Saaya, Humraaz) to family melodramas (Milan, Meherbaan, Khaandaan, etc).
Versatile, unafraid of experimenting—and a man, too, who seems to have worked in several films that focused on social reform. In Nartakee, for instance, where his character is that of a college lecturer, Nirmal, who comes in contact with a reluctant nautch girl who would much rather learn how to read and write than dance and sing for patrons.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably realized by now that I’m a sucker for suspense films. And that I have a soft spot for Dharmendra. And Helen. And Pran. Bring all of those together, and I’m pretty much willing to give it a try. Kab? Kyon? Aur Kahaan? is a film I’d watched many years ago, and liked, so I decided it was time for a rewatch [especially since I’d forgotten pretty much everything of it except for one very taut and tense section]. As it turned out, this was one of those films that make me realize how much more forgiving I was in my younger days. I’d forgotten, for instance, how Babita’s eyebrows managed to give Dharmendra’s a run for their money in the bushiness department.
A scene near the beginning of Oonche Log is an interesting revelation of some of the themes that govern the film, and eventually have a bearing on its climax.
Major Chandrakant (Ashok Kumar) is a blind, widowed ex-officer of the Indian National Army. He now lives in Ooty. One evening, he receives at his home a friend, the school teacher Dhuni Chand (Kanhaiyyalal). There are more dissimilarities than similarities between the two men: Dhuni Chand is poor, barely managing to make ends meet on his salary and what he makes from the odd tuition, while the major is comfortably off, spending his time writing his memoirs.
Rajendra Kumar is one of those actors whom I’ve repeatedly mentioned as ‘not being one of my favourites’. Saira Banu, beyond her first few films (notably, Junglee and Shaadi), I find too shrill for my liking. Despite the fact that these two star in Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan, it remains one film I like a good deal—because it has such an unusual story.
A story to which there’s a brief nod in the first scene. Sanjay (Rajendra Kumar) and Priya (Saira Banu) meet in what looks like an obviously ‘indoor set’ representation of a cliff. There’s a little banter, she insisting that he’s irritating her with his wooing, he professing his love for her and asserting that he could do anything for her—even give up his life. Priya eggs him on: yes, please. Go ahead. Show us.
I have to admit that I watched this film against all advice. Anu had watched it a couple of years back (and had written up a review of it); but I—remembering a long-ago viewing of Hum Sab Chor Hain, which I’d enjoyed immensely—decided to give it a try anyway.
And, it seems the version I got to watch, while as incoherent in the second half as the one that Anu saw, at least had some more parts intact. The main problem, from what I could see, was that—possibly in transferring the film from celluloid to digital—the reels got mixed up, with one of the reels that should’ve come early in the film ending up later, thus making things very confusing. Despite that (and despite some shameful editing in the last half-hour by the video production company), this evoked one reaction in me: If only this could’ve been available in the original version. Because, if you try to fit the pieces together and imagine what might have been in the bits so summarily chopped off, you can see the outline of what must have been a pretty funny and entertaining film.