Do Phool (1958)

I have watched hundreds of Hindi films. Many of these I’ve reviewed here on this blog, and for many of those, I’ve had readers mention that so-and-so film was actually a remake of so-and-so Hollywood film, or was inspired from this novel or that play. In some, of course, I’ve been able to spot a source immediately: the grand mansion being run as a hotel by its manager who then forces the owner to pretend to be a guest is lifted from Come September and used—without any credit for the original idea—in both Kashmir ki Kali and Mere Sanam. Adalat is a remake of Madame X; Aradhana of To Each His Own; Gumnaam of And Then There Were None… all uncredited. And umpteen others.

This is something I find very irritating. The amount of work that goes into coming up with a good plot is substantial, and if you’re acknowledging that by thinking it worthy of being copied, then you should certainly think it worthy enough to pay for. But by calmly hogging all the credit and assuming that Indian audiences won’t cotton on to this plagiarism, and Hollywood (or foreign writers), too far from the world of Hindi cinema, will be oblivious.

Anyway, that’s a long, convoluted and messy topic, which I should probably leave for later. For now, the reason why all of that came to my mind: because this film does give credit where it’s due. Not, unfortunately, to the writer of the book (Johanna Spyri), but at least to the book itself.

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Sadhu aur Shaitan (1968)

Cinema looking at itself is not an uncommon feature; there have been several notable films, both in India (Kaagaz ke Phool, Sone ki Chidiya) as well as abroad (Cinema Paradiso, 8½, The Bad and the Beautiful, etc), which are about cinema and film-making. But this film, relatively obscure, really should be part of the annals, simply because of its sheer devotion to Hindi cinema. Not because it’s about film-making, not because there is even (as in Solvaan Saal), a single scene on the sets of a film. But because it celebrates Hindi cinema in so many ways, on so many levels.

Sadhu aur Shaitan begins by introducing us to the eponymous ‘sadhu’ of the story: Sadhuram (Om Prakash), a widower who lives with his two children Ganesh (Master Shahid) and Munni (Baby Fauzia), and the maid Ramdeyi (Dulari) who looks after home and the children. Sadhuram is a somewhat excessively ‘good and righteous’ man, the living image of piety (all a little over the top as far as I’m concerned, but at least he isn’t stuffy about his righteousness).

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Aakhri Dao (1958)

This was one film where I had a tough time making up my mind: should I review it? Should I not? It’s not a great film, but it’s not absolutely abysmal either. And it has a luminously lovely Nutan, plus some superb songs (courtesy Madan Mohan and Majrooh Sultanpuri) to compensate for other drawbacks in the film. It’s also a film about a murder (as macabre as that may sound, always something that catches my attention).

If for nothing else, as an example of a film that could have been pretty good but ends up a damp squib, this, I decided, was worth reviewing.

The story centres round Raj Kumar Saxena ‘Raju’ (Shekhar), a mechanic who works in a garage, and lives in a tiny room above the garage along with his friend and colleague Popat (Johnny Walker). Popat has been having a chat with a wealthy customer, Muthuswami Chetiyar (Mirajkar) and is keen on getting Muthuswami to invest in a garage for Popat. The incentive Popat offers is a match for Muthuswami’s daughter: Raju, he says, will be a fine bridegroom. Because he guesses Muthuswami will not be eager to marry his daughter to a mechanic, Popat takes care not to let on that the groom he has in mind is that figure hunched over a car at the other end of the garage…

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Hulchul (1951)

Today is the hundredth birthday of one of India’s greatest and most popular dancers of yesteryears. Sitara Devi was born in Calcutta on November 8, 1920, to a father who was a Sanskrit scholar and also both performed as well as taught Kathak. Her mother too came from a family with a long tradition in performing arts, so it was hardly a surprise that from a very young age, Sitara (her birth name was Dhanalakshmi) began to learn Kathak. By the time she was ten, Sitara was giving solo performances; two years later, at the age of twelve, she (having since moved to Bombay with her parents) performed onstage and so impressed film-maker/choreographer Niranjan Sharma that he recruited her to work in films.

Unlike several other skilled danseuses—Vyjyanthimala, the Travancore Sisters, Waheeda Rehman, etc—Sitara Devi did not let cinema take over her dance completely. She danced in a number of films, through the 40s and right up to Mother India (1957), which is believed to be her last onscreen appearance. She continued to give stage performances, even performing at New York’s Carnegie Hall and at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Sitara Devi wasn’t merely a film actress; she was also a great dancer. I wanted to pay tribute to her through a review of one of her films, and decided I’d choose Hulchul, which I wanted to watch for other reasons as well (more on this later).

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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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Chanda aur Bijli (1969)

Chanda aur Bijli is one of those films I’ve known about for a long time—because of a family anecdote that is centred around a song from this film. My sister, a toddler when Chanda aur Bijli was released, quickly fell in love with Bijli hoon main toh bijli. Her version of it, though, was somewhat different (and suggests a mind that dwelt rather heavily on food):

Bijli hoon main toh bijli
Bun khaake jab bhi nikli
Logon ke dil mein machhli
(And here she’d add a little line completely off her own bat: ‘Wohi machhli jo Baby ne khaayi thhi!’)

For those who don’t understand Hindi, that means:

Lightning; I am lightning,
When I went out after eating a bun,
There was a fish in people’s hearts
That same fish that Baby ate!

The original, of course, is a rather more predictable Hindi film song:

Bijli hoon main toh bijli
Bal khaake jab bhi nikli
Logon ke dil mein machli

(Lightning; I am lightning,
Every time I went out, tripping along,
I made people’s hearts trip)

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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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Talaash (1969)

There are a bunch of films that I’ve read a plot synopsis of, found it interesting, thought I’d try and watch it—and then taken a look at the cast, only to discover it starred someone I didn’t like. It’s happened time and again; with Talaash, having discovered that the film starred Rajendra Kumar, I decided to put the film on the back burner, even though the synopsis sounded interesting.

Then, reading Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal’s SD Burman: The Prince Musician, and seeing the list of songs (some of them truly lovely ones), I thought I may be able to sit through the film. Perhaps the rest of the cast, the interesting story, and the good music, would compensate for Rajendra Kumar.

Talaash begins with the graduation of Raj Kumar ‘Raju’ (Rajendra Kumar), who is being congratulated by all his classmates for having once again come first in the class. Raju goes off to meet his friend Lachhu (OP Ralhan, who also directed this film, which was produced by Rajendra Kumar). Lachhu has, after seven tries, finally managed to graduate too. They congratulate each other, and talk briefly of their futures. Lachhu will be roped in to work at his wealthy father’s cloth shop; Raju doesn’t know what he’ll do, but he’s certain: the wealth of his family will only be doubled. Yes, he’s not known want, ever, and he will continue to enjoy all that wealth, now through his own hard work.

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Ten of my favourite ‘Unusual Singer’ songs

By which I mean:

(a) That it’s the person who’s lip-syncing to the song (and not the playback singer) who’s unusual…

(b) and unusual because the actor in question is a well-known face, but doesn’t usually lip-sync to songs.

The idea for this post arose because of this wonderful post on Ashok Kumar’s songs, over at Ava’s blog. Ava drew attention to the fact that Ashok Kumar—one of the stalwarts of Hindi cinema, and with a pretty long stint as hero, too—rarely lip-synced to songs. In the post, another similar example was pointed out, in the case of Balraj Sahni: also a major actor, also a ‘hero’ in a lot of films, yet a man who didn’t lip-sync to too many songs.

That set me thinking of other people, other actors and actresses, who have rarely ‘sung’ songs onscreen. Not that they’re otherwise unknown; this is not a case of ‘Who’s that lip-syncing?’, but a case of people one generally doesn’t associate with doing too much singing onscreen. The leads of films (barring exceptions like Ashok Kumar or Balraj Sahni) are invariably excluded, because most songs end up being picturized on them. Major comedians, like Johnny Walker, Rajendranath, and Mehmood, also often had a comic side plot and a romance of their own, which allowed them to ‘sing’ often enough in films (have you ever seen a film that featured Johnny Walker and didn’t have him lip-syncing to at least one song?) And the dancers—Helen, Kumkum, Madhumati, Laxmi Chhaya, Bela Bose, et al—may appear in a film for only five minutes, but you could bet those five minutes would be a song.

Which leaves us with the somewhat more unusual people, the actors who played non-comic roles, character actors. Not stars, not dancers, not comedians. The Manmohan Krishnas, the Lalita Pawars, the other not-often-seen-‘singing’ characters. Here, then, are ten songs that are picturized on people not usually seen lip-syncing. As always, these are in no particular order, and they’re all from pre-70s films that I’ve seen.

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Ek Hi Raasta (1956)

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.

Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar in Ek Hi Raasta

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