June 23, 2021 marked the birth centenary of one of my favourite actors, the very talented and charismatic Rehman. Born Sayeed Rehman Khan in Lahore, Rehman joined the Royal Indian Air Force in 1942 and underwent training at Pune as a pilot. The Air Force soon lost its charm for Rehman (he failed a test) and he went off to Bombay to join the cinema industry. Initially taken on as a third assistant director by the writer-director Vishram Bedekar for Bedekar’s film Lakharani (1945), Rehman went on to assist director DD Kashyap in the film Chaand, where, completely by chance, Rehman appeared onscreen. In a dance sequence in the film, a Pathan character was needed—and the only person around who knew how to tie a turban the Pathan way was Rehman. And he knew how to tie it only around his own head.
The Hindi proverb ‘Daane-daane pe likha hai khaane waale ka naam’ comes to mind.
Rehman was required to say a couple of lines in that brief appearance, and fluffed it repeatedly; thirty takes were required to get it right, possibly because the first line began with a K: “Kitna achha naach thha”. Rehman, even years later, and as a seasoned actor, found it very difficult to begin a dialogue with the K sound and would request that a different word be substituted, or the words moved around.
Rehman had enough of a presence for his potential as an actor to be recognized, and he went on to act as a lead, working opposite major actresses like Madhubala, Suraiya, Nalini Jaywant and Nigar Sultana.
Harvey’s recent post on Mr Sampatsparked off a brief discussion on one of Hindi cinema’s finest character actors, Motilal. Since Motilal was known—at least in the 50’s and 60’s—as a character actor, it seemed appropriate to review a film in which he’s the hero. Not that Ek Thi Ladki (‘There was a girl’) really allows much scope for a hero. True to its name, it centres around its heroine, the spunky and vivacious Meena Shorey. But Motilal is a very likeable leading man; I S Johar, in his debut, is a deliciously crooked crook; and one of my favourite vamps—Kuldeep Kaur—is in it too.
At home, our tastes (when it comes to cinema) are very varied. My husband likes science fiction or fantasy, kung fu, conspiracy, superheroes, and (occasionally) comedy. And very little of it pre-90’s. I watch just about anything that’s pre-70’s. So, when we were deciding which DVDs we wanted to order next from our DVD rental service, I was taken aback when my husband said, “Baiju Bawra.”
“That’s black and white,” I said, wondering if the recent bout of long and stressful work hours had taken its toll. “Early 50’s. Hindi.”
“I know,” he said. “Good music.”
And yes, good music is the outstanding feature of this film. It had to be, since it’s about the legendary 16th century singer and musician Baijnath (‘Baiju’) Bawra.