What a dreadful year this is turning out to be. As if the communal violence at the start of the year wasn’t bad enough, we were then hit by coronavirus. And as I struggle to cope, trying to keep my spirits high in the face of failing economies, loss of income, and of course the threat of a lethal disease—the last thing I needed was the passing of two of my favourite actors. Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor, both very good actors, immensely watchable and with a charisma hard to match, died within 24 hours of each other.
This blog is not about cinema after 1970, so there will not be a separate tribute piece for these two brilliant actors, but yes: I did want to put it out there, my sorrow at their passing, a blow that oddly enough (given that I never even met either of them) hit really hard.
What this is, though, is a tribute to another actor, someone whose birth centenary it is today. Achla Sachdev.
Over the years, I have heard and read much praise for this relatively little-known film. Its songs, which various people have introduced to me over the years, are good, and Anu—whose taste and opinion usually match my own—had good things to say about New Delhi in her review of the film. I decided it was time to watch it for myself.
New Delhi is set, of course, in New Delhi (though a bit of Old Delhi intrudes now and then, even as it does in everyday life in Delhi today). The film begins outside New Delhi Railway Station, where Anand Kumar (Kishore Kumar) has just arrived from Jalandhar, to study radio engineering. Anand hails a passing taxi at the same time that Janaki (Vyjyantimala), who is standing a few steps further along the road, does too. One taxi draws up; both Anand and Janaki get into it, and then start arguing over whose taxi this is.
I ended up re-watching this film in a roundabout sort of way, which is a story in itself. A few months back, my sister (a historian, whose PhD was on 19th century Delhi) remarked, “I’d like to watch Lal Qila. I’ve never been able to find it in stores.” So, good little sister that I am (and a shameless opportunist), I figured out at least one of the things I’d gift my sister for Christmas.
Before gift-wrapping the VCD, I decided to watch Lal Qila, and write up a review right after. The latter didn’t happen – because Lal Qila is so badly written, so badly directed, and such a crashing bore, I couldn’t make head or tail of it most of the time. Only Rafi’s superb renditions of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s poetry – especially Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon – are a saving grace.
I was so peeved and disappointed after Lal Qila, that I needed this to buoy myself up. In any case, I told myself: logically, the two films are related (other than the fact that both feature Helen): the Lal Qila and the Taj Mahal were both built by Shahjahan.
Here we go, then. One of Hindi cinema’s better historicals, with a stellar cast and very good music.