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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.