Nastik (1954)

A hundred years ago, on January 27, 1922, in Golconda (Hyderabad) was born Hamid Ali Khan, known to thousands of Hindi film viewers (and, even thousands more who have perhaps never watched any of his films) as Ajit. The man of ‘saara shahar mujhe loin ke naam se jaanta hai’. The iconic villain, suave and eerily soft-spoken though at the same time very oily and dangerous, of films like Zanjeer, Yaadon ki Baaraat, and Kalicharan. The baas of Raabert and Lilly (who was constantly being told not to be silly).

But long before he became the stuff of really bad jokes, before he attained the stature of one of Hindi cinema’s greatest onscreen villains, Ajit was a hero. Coming to Bombay in the face of parental opposition (having first sold his college books to finance the trip), Ajit had to struggle a lot to find work in the cinema industry. He began as an extra, and worked in several films until being noticed by the Gujarati-Hindi director Nanabhai Bhatt (Mahesh Bhatt’s father) who not only gave him the screen name Ajit, but also launched him in a leading role. Across the 50s and 60s, Ajit acted in a slew of films, both as leading man (Nastik, Dholak, Baradari, Marine Drive, Tower House, Opera House, etc) as well as in major supporting roles (of special note here are Naya Daur and Mughal-e-Azam, in both of which he appeared alongside Dilip Kumar).

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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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Harry Black and the Tiger (1958)

February 1920 was a very important month for Hindi cinema, though of course the fledgling cinema industry in India back then didn’t know it. But that month, a century ago, marked the births of three major actors (and one not so major, but by no means a non-entity). One was Pran, born on February 12th. Another was Iftekhar, born on February 22nd (a birthday shared with Kamal Kapoor). And between Pran and Iftekhar, born on February 16th, a man who was not just actor, but also writer, director and producer: IS Johar.

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Raaz (1967)

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.

Raaz is one of those films. And yet not.

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Hum Sab Chor Hain (1956)

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.

Ram Avtar, Shammi Kapoor, Nalini Jaywant, Rajendranath in Hum Sab Chor Hain

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Nanak Naam Jahaaz Hai (1969)

Early in 2013, to mark hundred years of Indian cinema, I dedicated an entire month to regional Indian cinema. I reviewed several films of different languages, and realized, in the process, just how difficult it is to get hold of old regional films that have subtitles. Even when they’re blockbuster hits, National Award-winning films, films that must have been subtitled at some stage to enable a jury to judge them worthy of a prestigious award.

Among the films that I came across, but which wasn’t subbed, was this extremely popular Punjabi film, which won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Punjabi, as well as the National Film Award for Best Music Direction. My husband’s a Punjabi but speaks the language very rarely, and that too when he has no other option (as a result, his Punjabi is pretty shaky). As for me, the less said about my Punjabi, the better. But I had this film bookmarked from 2013, and when I discovered last year that Nanak Naam Jahaaz Hai had been digitally restored and re-released, I thought I may as well take the plunge.

Prithivraj Kapoor as Gurmukh Singh in Nanak Naam Jahaaz Hai

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Ek Gaon ki Kahaani (1957)

What is it about Bengali directors—Bimal Roy, for instance, or Hrishikesh Mukherjee, or (if one steps out of the realm of just Hindi cinema, Satyajit Ray)—that they manage to bring so vividly to life the everyday happenings in the lives of everyday people? Not the escapist fare that most people tend to equate Hindi cinema with, but stories about real people, people one can relate to? Films like Majhli Didi, Parivaar, Parakh, Sujata, Anand: not larger than life, not without a shred of reality. Not art films, not angst-riddled, songless films about the search for the meaning of life, but everyday stories. Songs and all, still very much commercial cinema, but easy to relate to.

Add to that list Dulal Guha, who while he also went on to make films like Mere Humsafar, began his career as a director in Hindi cinema with this charming little film about a sleepy village named Chandangaon, that’s jolted by the arrival of a new doctor…

Talat Mahmood and Mala Sinha in Ek Gaon ki Kahaani

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Johny Mera Naam (1970)

One day in August, I checked my blog roll and discovered that not one, but two, of my favourite bloggers had posted reviews of films based (even if only in spirit) on The Arabian Nights. Anu had reviewed Ali Baba aur 40 Chor, and Ira (aka Bollyviewer) had reviewed The Thief of Baghdad. Coincidence? Planned? If the latter, then why hadn’t I, the third of the three soul sisters, been included in the plan?
It turned out to have been sheer coincidence, but Anu, Ira and I decided it would be a good idea to actually do a themed set of posts. And what better theme than the one Ira suggested: long-lost siblings, such a favourite trope in Hindi cinema.

So here goes. Head over to Anu’s blog to read her review of the delightful Yaadon ki Baaraat (singularly appropriate, considering the link between Anu and me) and to Ira’s blog to read her take on another extremely popular (and superb!) lost-and-found-siblings film, Seeta aur Geeta. And here, of course, is mine: a review of a film which just manages to make the cut for my blog when it comes to time period. A classic story of long-separated brothers who grow up, unknown to each other, on opposite sides of the law.

Dev Anand and Pran in Johny Mera Naam Continue reading

Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1959)

Raja, while commenting on my post on saheli songs, mentioned that Akhiyaan bhool gayi hain sona from Goonj Uthi Shehnai was his “all-time favourite”, and In my list of 1-10, I’d fill all 10 spots with this song.” I’ve had the VCD of this film lying around at home for quite a while, but I’d been putting off watching it (largely because Rajendra Kumar isn’t one of my favourites), but after I had a closer look [hear?] at the songs of Goonj Uthi Shehnai—and realized that some of my favourite songs were from this film—I figured I had to watch it soon.

This post, therefore, is for Raja. For having spurred me on to watch this film. And yes, I think Akhiyaan bhool gayi hain sona is pretty awesome too.

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Shrimatiji (1952)

Among the lesser-known films for which my Uncle Vernie played was Shrimatiji, made by (and featuring) some of his closest friends. IS Johar, who was one of Vernie Tau’s chums, wrote, directed, and acted in it. The three music composers for the film (Jimmy, Basant Prakash, and S Mohinder) too were friends of Vernie Tau’s, Jimmy an especially close pal.

My father had recently expressed a desire to watch this film, mainly to hear his elder brother’s music. When I discovered it starred Shyama (whose gorgeous smile and dancing eyes make her one of my favourites), I decided I needed to watch it too. And, since the only other film in which I’ve seen Nasir Khan was Ganga-Jamuna, I wanted to see if he was any different in a much earlier film.

Shyama and Nasir Khan in Shrimatiji

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