One style of mystery story popular in the early 60s (though there was the odd film even earlier, like Mahal) was the one where the suspense includes a seemingly supernatural element. A woman in white, singing a ghostly song of eternal yearning as she wanders half-seen (or unseen) through the gloom. Woh Kaun Thi?, Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, Bees Saal Baad, Gumnaam, Raaz: all of them used this trope to the hilt.
As did this relatively lesser-known film [and you’ll probably realize, by the end of this post, why it’s little-known]. Poonam ki Raat was made by actor/writer/director Kishore Sahu, who played an important role in this film, the star of which was Manoj Kumar, quite a veteran of these suspense thrillers.
Muslim socials are among the genres I can never have too much of. Back in their heyday, they had some of the best music around (remember Chaudhvin ka Chaand? Barsaat ki Raat? Mere Mehboob? The inimitable Pakeezah?) There was the chance to savour the mellifluous sound of Urdu; to peek into a social structure and lifestyles that often went otherwise unexplored in cinema; and to see women in shararas and men in achkans[the latter, like military uniforms, equipped with some inexplicable means of making even Bharat Bhushan and Rajendra Kumar look good].
The other day, a fellow blogger, mentioning her distaste for Manoj Kumar’s films said that while she has “nothing against the man himself”, she really hates his films. I know what she meant (at least I think I do): I hate that insufferably xenophobic “all that is Indian is good, all that is Western is bad” philosophy espoused by films like Upkaar or, even worse, Purab aur Pachhim.
But I tend to shove that lot of films to the boundaries of my recollection of Manoj Kumar’s films. For me, his best films are the outright entertainers, the romances and suspense thrillers he worked in. Especially the suspense thrillers: Woh Kaun Thi?, Anita, Gumnaam—and this one.
This is another of the prize posts for those who participated in the Classic Bollywood Quiz I hosted on this blog last year. I’ve two awards left to ‘hand out’ – (read ‘two more posts to dedicate to readers’) – but this post is dedicated to Neha, whose blog is really niche: it’s a collection of interesting trivia about black-and-white Hindi films. Neha won the Hope Springs Eternal Award in the quiz, simply because she didn’t allow herself to be deterred by the fact that she couldn’t guess more than a handful of the answers. Atta-girl, Neha! That’s the attitude.
Anyway, here goes: a post for Neha. Since Neha’s so keen on trivia, I decided to do something along those lines for her post. Not, unfortunately for Neha, from just black-and-white Hindi films, but at least from pre-70s Hindi films. Just some little snippets that I’ve discovered over the years, and thought were fun.
For anybody who’s been following my idea of ‘linked posts’ – each post connected to the one before, and to the one after – this probably comes as no surprise. And Then There Were None was based on Agatha Christie’s highly popular novel and play; Gumnaam is, in turn, an adaptation of And Then There Were None. Not a completely faithful adaptation, but a vastly entertaining one, as you’ll see if you scroll through the comments on my And Then There Were None post: most of my readers, even if they’ve not seen the Hollywood film, have had something to say about Gumnaam.
One thing that has long puzzled me is Bollywood’s reluctance to do real life stories. Where Hollywood has created films on the lives of people ranging from Napoleon’s one-time fiancée to an obscure British missionary in China, we have, to show for years of fascinating history… Shahjehanand Changez Khan, both so badly warped that they bear little resemblance to fact. Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahani is a refreshingly unusual film in being relatively accurate, as well as entertaining—but a flash in the pan.
Our generally avid enthusiasm for the freedom movement and its exponents gave me hope that Shaheed, the story of Bhagat Singh, might be worth a watch. This, after all, was the young man who inspired an entire slew of films, beginning with (or so Wikipedia would have us believe) a film in 1954, followed by a 1963 film starring Shammi Kapoor, and this one: the first of Manoj Kumar’s many patriotic films. There have been later films—2002, for instance, saw two films, one a superb one starring Ajay Devgan and the other with Bobby Deol as Bhagat Singh—but Shaheed was the first major Bhagat Singh story.
My guardian angel in charge of film viewing seems to think I’m in serious need of improvement. Which is probably why I’m finding myself subjected to a series of films centred round the difference between good women and bad women. That Touch of Mink tried to touch on it in a humorous way; Bhabhi was more blunt (are sledge hammers blunt?); and Hariyali aur Raasta, though not quite as in-your-face as Bhabhi, had very much the same message: good women choose honour, family and home over all else.
Sabrina Mathew’s recent post on cinema’s most beautiful women reminded me that it was time for me to do the second of my eye candy posts. Men again, but this time it’s good old Hindi cinema. As a reader pointed out, early Hindi cinema—the 30’s and 40’s—doesn’t seem to have had too many men who could be classified as hunks, but by the 50’s and 60’s (the period I concentrate upon) we had them in deliciously large numbers. Here goes, more or less in order, with my top ten:
Shaadi isn’t one of the better films I’ve seen in recent times. In fact, it had some definitely irritating moments, and it called for more suspension of disbelief than is generally expected in Hindi films. On the other hand, it had quite a cast: Saira Banu, Manoj Kumar, Dharmendra, Indrani Mukherjee, Balraj Sahni, Om Prakash, Manorama, and others. Even more interestingly, it was Saira Banu’s second film and one of Dharmendra’s first few films. Overall bearable, especially since I didn’t have anything better to do.