Today is the birth centenary of one of a handful of Hindi film actors who managed to cross from one type of role to another—again and again. Like Ajit, Pran, and Premnath (though not in the same league as them, when it came to success and popularity), Sajjan Lal Purohit—better known simply as Sajjan—appeared in leading roles in several of his early films (including, notably, in Saiyyaan, where he acted opposite Madhubala), then drifted into supporting roles (as Dev Anand’s sculptor friend in Paying Guest; as Mini’s father in Kabuliwala; and more), and eventually into villainous roles (in April Fool, Aankhen, Farz, etc).
When I posted my ‘People with books’ list on World Book Day, I wrote that my favourite scene (in the context of the post) was the one from Izzat: Tanuja and Dharmendra, both holding books (he, Othello, she, The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin), standing in a fairly well-stocked library at her home, and discussing Othello. What more could a book lover like me want from a scene? Especially a scene starring two of my favourite actors.
To those readers who commented, saying that they should probably watch Izzat since it sounded tempting, I was quick to respond: it has been many, many years since I watched this film. My memories of it were very sketchy, with only a vague recollection of the basic plot.
So, for those who want to know what Izzat is all about, I put myself forward as the bali ka bakra. I have rewatched it, and I can safely assure you that despite presence of said library and said bibliophilic conversation (not to mention presence of dishy Dharmendra and gorgeous Tanuja), this is not—emphatically not—a film you want to watch. Unless you’re a Jayalalitha fan (this was her sole Hindi film). Or you love the Himalayas so much you will watch anything as long as there are plenty of snowcapped peaks and deodar woods and bubbling streams.
Give me a period film, and I’m willing to give it a shot. If it happens to be set in Mughal India, so much the better. If the cast features people like Meena Kumari, Pradeep Kumar, Rehman, Veena, Lalita Pawar and Nighar Sultana: well, there’s hope that the acting will be passable. And when I realize that the music composer is Roshan: then I’m certainly on for it.
Noorjehan, of course (though Richard would probably question that ‘of course’) is about the noblewoman who married the fourth of the Great Mughals, Jahangir. Born in May 1577 and named Mehrunissa, she was the daughter of a man who rose to great prominence in the Mughal court: Itmad-ud-Daulah (‘Pillar of the State’) was the title given to him, and the marriage of Mehrunissa to Jahangir made of Mehrunissa a powerful woman, too. Initially given the title Noormahal (‘Light of the Palace’) by her doting husband, she was subsequently given the title of Noorjehan (‘Light of the World’) and went on to become probably the most influential of imperial consorts in the Mughal dynasty, a wealthy woman in her own right, as well as a woman who exercised a good deal of power from beyond the purdah.
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…
Let me begin this review with a quick confession: I don’t cry easily while watching films.
I didn’t sob my heart out while watching Majhli Didi either. But I had a lump in my throat during several scenes, and I wiped away more than a couple of tears.
I spent part of last week reading fellow blogger Todd Stadtman’s book, Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970s Indian Action Cinema (more on that, along with a link to my review of it, at the end of this post). Todd’s book discusses, in affectionate detail, all the iconic action films—spy thrillers included—of the 70s. In a fit of enthusiasm, brought on by Todd’s book, I told my husband, “I want to see Gunmaster G-9”. To which he replied, “I didn’t like that. What I really liked was Aankhen. That was fun.”
…which could probably have been more appropriately titled How to Jump to Conclusions and Mess up Lives. Or Never Trust a Sinister Mamu. This is one Muslim social – a genre I have long admitted to being very fond of – which has been recommended to me so often, I’ve lost track of the recommendations. On the one hand, I wanted to see it because it has some lovely songs; on the other, the thought of watching Meena Kumari in one of her last few films – well, that wasn’t something I was really looking forward to with anticipation. But all those recommendations tilted the balance.
In one pivotal scene in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Kammo (Padmini), the daughter of a dacoit chief tells her naïve beloved that they, the dacoits, are not to be scorned or derided, because they wield guns to make things equal between the rich and the poor. They take from the rich and give to the poor, because the poor have always been preyed upon by the rich.
“Kammoji, tum log chochilist ho?” asks Raju (Raj Kapoor), wide-eyed. Because chochilists, as he informs Kammo, also work to make things ‘barobar’ between the rich and the poor. And when he is reassured that yes, that is the philosophy of the dacoits, Raju decides there and then that he will no longer think of dacoits as evil people.
Inspirations to watch (and review) films come to me from all over. Friends and relatives are occasionally badgered to suggest genres; blog readers’ requests and recommendations (some of them, alas, long-pending) are taken into consideration. And, sometimes, I get inspired by the most outlandish of things. For instance, this film—which I first watched years ago, on TV—jumped to the top of my to-watch list because one day, while washing up in my kitchen, I was reminded of Mala Sinha.
[And no, not because I happened to be scrubbing a colander].
I feel that, no matter how high an opinion one may have of oneself, it is risky business to attempt to remake a classic. If (for example) Alfred Hitchcock made a film, don’t attempt to remake it—especially if you plan on tinkering with the way the story plays out. Biren Nag (who had already made the pretty good suspense thriller Bees Saal Baad) tried his hand at remaking Hitchcock’s atmospheric Rebecca here, and while he got some things right, the end result is not quite as memorable as Rebecca was.