Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

In response to that unwarranted comment about me ‘wasting my time watching silly Indian films’, I’ve done something (reviewed Bhabhi ki Chudiyaan and Devi) to uphold my contention that all Indian films are not silly. Now it’s time to look at Indian films which are silly, but where the silliness is intelligent, and deliberate.

What, after all, is wrong with silliness, or with humour? For me, the stuffy idea that humour is somehow low is very irritating. Some humour may be unpalatable to certain people (I, for one, find nothing humorous about sexist or racist jokes, or toilet humour), but humour can be sophisticated, it can be the result of a great intelligence.

As, I think, comes through in this delightful film about three brothers, all motor mechanics, who run a garage.

Brijmohan Sharma ‘Bade Bhaiya’ (Ashok Kumar), as he’s known, is the eldest of the three, and he rules with an iron fist in an iron gauntlet.  Bade Bhaiya is a hard taskmaster, and lords it over Jagmohan ‘Jaggu’ (Anoop Kumar) and Manmohan ‘Manu’ (Kishore Kumar), as also their apprentice Maujiya (Mohan Choti). One important aspect of Bade Bhaiya’s personality is his aversion to women: he sees red even when Maujiya hangs up a calendar with a painting of a woman on it.

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Jigri Dost (1969)

Mostly, the films I review on this blog are either the ones I like so much I want more people to watch them; or films I hate so much I want to warn people off them. Or, sometimes, films which may not be otherwise exceptional but have, I think, something that sets them apart: they’re unusual, or they’re somehow of historic importance.

Now and then, along comes a film I decide I have to review because while I don’t find it dreadful, I wonder what it would have been like with a different cast. Even just one actor being replaced by another.

Jigri Dost begins in the palatial home of Chairman Neelkanth (KN Singh), who is a baddie of the first order. He summarily orders his henchmen to raze this bunch of poor people’s huts, extort money from that lot, and so on. He has no scruples, no mercy, no nothing… no inkling, either, that a maid (Aruna Irani) in his home eavesdrops on his every conversation.

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Funtoosh (1956)

Today may (or may not) be the birth centenary of the film maker, writer, and actor Chetan Anand, eldest brother of Dev Anand and Vijay Anand. Different sources list different dates of birth: most sites (including IMDB) list his birth date as January 3, 1921; others, including Wikipedia (yes, I know not the most reliable of sources) say it’s January 3, 1915. (This article says it’s 1921, but then goes on to write that Chetan Anand was 27 years old in 1943, which is either dodgy maths or a suggestion that the year of birth was indeed 1915). The article, barring that slip, is a good, interesting introduction to the life and career of Chetan Anand.

Anyway. Even if I’m six years too late to the party, at least today is Chetan Anand’s birthday.

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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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