When you are as devoted to the pursuit of old Hindi cinema as I am—and you assiduously discuss old cinema with other like-minded souls—you keep getting recommendations. Some recommendations I take with a certain amount of leeway automatically assigned, since I know that the recommender has his or her own biases that are likely to be reflected in the film in question. Others I tend to blindly follow, because over time, I’ve realized that these are people who pretty much share my own ideas of what comprises watchable cinema.
One of these is Anu, who blogs at Conversations over Chai. We have our differences (Raj Kapoor is one), but by and large, Anu and I tend to agree about cinema. So when Anu, chatting with me during my trip in August to meet her, recommended Tamasha, I immediately made a note of it. After all, Dev Anand, Meena Kumari, Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar—and a comedy? That certainly sounded like something I wanted to watch.
Sometime during the 1990s, I pretty much stopped watching contemporary films. By then, there were a few channels on TV that regularly aired old films, and that was enough for me—in any case, I was in a job so time-consuming that I barely got time to sleep, let alone watch films. For several years, I watched a handful of films that were the current rage. As it was, the songs rarely appealed to me; I didn’t much care for a lot of the people who seemed to be the hottest stars; and some of the biggest films—or so I gathered—were action blockbusters, not really my idea of fun.
And then I watched Parineeta. The 2005 one, which marked the Hindi film debut of one of my favourite present-day actresses. It also proved a turning point for me with reference to Saif Ali Khan, whom I didn’t like before, but began to like (in some roles) after this one. It’s one of the few films in which I’ve not minded Sanjay Dutt. Plus, it has perhaps my favourite score of any film from the 2000s so far.
It wasn’t till much after I’d seen Parineeta—perhaps a few years—that I discovered that there had been an earlier Parineeta as well. Made by Bimal Roy, and starring Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar. Just those three names in themselves are enough to make me watch a film. And a film based on a novel by Sarat Chandra, no less? I realized it was high time I watched this.
I started off being a diehard fan of Dev Anand’s. While in school and college, pretty much all of Dev Anand’s films I’d seen were the ones Doordarshan aired: CID, Teen Deviyaan, Tere Ghar ke Saamne, Jewel Thief,Nau Do Gyarah,Munimji… what wasn’t to like? Yes, I drew the line at Dev Anand post the early 70s—those mannerisms by then had begun to be tiresome, and the man’s ‘evergreen’ image really didn’t fool me. It was downright embarrassing to watch films like Warrant or Heera Panna.
And then, when I was in my twenties or so, I began paying a little more attention to Dev Anand’s early career—and found that here was a mix of films, some good and some pretty forgettable except for some good music. After trying out films like Vidya and Sazaa, I sort of gave up. Until Sanam was recommended to me by someone who knows his Dev Anand movies inside-out. A comedy, surprisingly modern, I was told.
Less than a week after Chitalkar Ramachandra was born in Maharashtra, on January 17, 1918, in the town of Amroha (in north-west Uttar Pradesh) was born, into a wealthy family of landowners, Syed Amir Haider Kamal Naqvi. Syed (or Kamal, as it probably more appropriate to refer to him) began writing Urdu stories at a young age and harboured a dream of making them into films—a dream quickly shot down by a father who did not think cinema a worthwhile profession. Faced with the prospect of having to manage the family’s estates, the 16-year old Kamal sold his sister’s gold bangles to finance his clandestine escape to Lahore. Here, he continued to write stories while studying (at Lahore’s Oriental College) and by managing to have some of these published, was able to finally save up money enough to travel to Bombay.
In 1938, when he was just 21 years old, his story Jailor was adapted to the screen by film-maker Sohrab Modi.
And that was how Kamal Amrohi made an entry into the Hindi film industry. This was the man who would write perhaps the most memorable Urdu dialogues of any film in Hindi film history (Mughal-e-Azam). This was the man who made what is arguably the finest and most memorable Muslim social in Hindi cinema (Pakeezah). This was the man, too, who—even though he directed only five films—made a mark for himself with those films, three of them (Mahal, Pakeezah and Razia Sultan) becoming pretty much cult classics.
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.
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.
A lot of my memories of 50s and 60s cinema date back to the 1980s, when almost all the films I watched were those shown on Doordarshan. In the early years, with Doordarshan being the sole channel, my sister and I (our parents were rather more discerning) watched every single Hindi film that was telecast, down to painful stuff like Jai Santoshi Ma and the thoroughly obscure Fauji, with Joginder Singh (who, if I remember correctly, also produced and directed it) in the lead role.
But, to get around to the topic of this post: Abhilasha, not a very well-known film but one which made an impression on me because of two songs I liked a lot. And because it depicted a mother-son relationship that was a little different from the usual.
…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.
Those who frequent this blog have probably figured out by now that I have a soft spot (a very soft spot) for Muslim socials. So much so that I will watch just about any Muslim social out there, even if it features people who aren’t among my favourites. Even if it has a fairly regressive theme, and even if I end up not agreeing with half the things in the film. So, when I come across a Muslim social that stars some of my favourite actors (Sunil Dutt? Meena Kumari? Rehman? Prithviraj Kapoor? Rajendra Nath? Check, check, check), has lyrics by my favourite lyricist (Sahir Ludhianvi), and had its songs composed by one of my favourite music directors (Madan Mohan—and how appropriate, too, for a film called Ghazal to be scored by the Ghazalon ka Shahzaada): to not watch this would be a crime, I thought.