Taj Mahal (1963)

I ended up re-watching this film in a roundabout sort of way, which is a story in itself. A few months back, my sister (a historian, whose PhD was on 19th century Delhi) remarked, “I’d like to watch Lal Qila. I’ve never been able to find it in stores.” So, good little sister that I am (and a shameless opportunist), I figured out at least one of the things I’d gift my sister for Christmas.
Before gift-wrapping the VCD, I decided to watch Lal Qila, and write up a review right after. The latter didn’t happen – because Lal Qila is so badly written, so badly directed, and such a crashing bore, I couldn’t make head or tail of it most of the time. Only Rafi’s superb renditions of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s poetry – especially Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon – are a saving grace.

I was so peeved and disappointed after Lal Qila, that I needed this to buoy myself up. In any case, I told myself: logically, the two films are related (other than the fact that both feature Helen): the Lal Qila and the Taj Mahal were both built by Shahjahan.
Here we go, then. One of Hindi cinema’s better historicals, with a stellar cast and very good music.


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Humayun (1945)

One of the main characters in Prince of Foxes was a man who actually existed in history: Cesare Borgia (1475 (?) – 1507 AD). This post is about a film that features one of Cesare Borgia’s contemporaries, a man born halfway across the world, seven or eight years after Cesare Borgia was born. A man as ambitious as Borgia, and a man who had as marked an impact on the history of India as Cesare Borgia did on Italy. This was Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty – without which we wouldn’t have had the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, murgh musallam, and who knows how many Hindi films.

Humayun is (as the name suggests) more about Babur’s son and successor Humayun (who, coincidentally, was born almost exactly a year after Cesare Borgia died – Borgia died on March 12, 1507; Humayun was born on March 7, 1508). But the film begins with Babur (Shah Nawaz) invading India, so Babur does play quite an important role in the scheme of things.

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Announcing: The Eighth Guest & Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries

A number of readers have been asking me when the next Muzaffar Jang book – the sequel to The Englishman’s Cameo – will be out. So here it is.

Muzaffar Jang features again, in this series of mystery stories, nearly all of them set in Shahjahanabad, the Dilli of Shahjahan’s last years as the Mughal Emperor. As the blurb on the back of the book puts it:

“It is the year 1656. Muzaffar Jang, that rare creature in Shahjahan’s Dilli, an aristocrat with friends in low places, is recovering from injuries sustained during his recent adventures involving two mysterious Englishmen and some reprehensible activities against the Imperial Exchequer.

Muzaffar’s bruised shoulder has yet to heal when he finds himself catapulted into a series of mysteries: An elephant in the Royal Elephant Stables goes berserk and kills its mahout – or does it? A scholarly nobleman – but, oh, such a pompous bore – is left a very puzzling legacy by his father. An artist at the imperial atelier is found murdered next to one of his works.

Muzaffar must pit his wits against treacherous noblemen and scheming traders, greedy villagers and lovelorn men – and women.

But who knows? Before the year is out, Muzaffar may just meet his match…”

I am especially fond of writing short stories, so this collection is one I’ve particularly enjoyed putting together – and they’re stories I hope you will like. The book will be formally released in Delhi, at the India Habitat Centre, on August 19, 2011 – but you can pre-order now on any of these online bookstores:

Landmark | Flipkart | Crossword | IndiaPlaza

And yes, there’s even an early review already published, on this blog.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Jahanara (1964)

Hindi cinema’s fascination for the Mughals is – well, fascinating. Even before independence, we were busy churning out semi-historicals such as Humayun (1945) and Shahjehan (1946); then, in the 50s and 60s, there followed a spate of rather more big-budget extravaganzas, complete with big names, vast armies, glittering palaces and superb music: Mughal-e-Azam, Taj Mahal and Anarkali (Note: As a character, Anarkali seemed to be especially popular. Besides the Bina Rai-Pradeep Kumar version, there were Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam versions of her story; even a Pakistani version starring Noor Jehan. And that list neither includes the two versions made in 1928, nor a 1935 film starring Ruby Myers. Note that Mughal-e-Azam is also about Anarkali).

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Shama Parwana (1954)

This film stars Shammi Kapoor.
If you like Shammi Kapoor, do not watch this film. If you are a glutton for punishment and want to see it anyway, do not watch the last ten minutes. I can guarantee that you’ll be happier for it; you can decide for yourself what you would have liked the end to be, and spare yourself the trauma of sitting through what is definitely the most horrifying end I’ve ever seen in a Hindi film.

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Shahjehan (1946)

After a longish hiatus, I’ve begun working on my next novel. Like my first book, The Englishman’s Cameo, this one too features the Mughal detective Muzaffar Jang, and is set during the final years of Shahjahan’s reign. I’ve been doing other bits of writing—very little of it related to history—and decided I needed something to help build up atmosphere and get me back in the mood. A historic film, set in Shahjahan’s time? Shahjehan? With Naushad’s hit score, and the chance to hear (and see) K L Saigal singing some of his best-known songs?

Alas. Alas, alas, alas. Or, to put it more bluntly: &$%@##%@!!!

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