A hundred years ago, on January 27, 1922, in Golconda (Hyderabad) was born Hamid Ali Khan, known to thousands of Hindi film viewers (and, even thousands more who have perhaps never watched any of his films) as Ajit. The man of ‘saara shahar mujhe loin ke naam se jaanta hai’. The iconic villain, suave and eerily soft-spoken though at the same time very oily and dangerous, of films like Zanjeer, Yaadon ki Baaraat, and Kalicharan. The baas of Raabert and Lilly (who was constantly being told not to be silly).
But long before he became the stuff of really bad jokes, before he attained the stature of one of Hindi cinema’s greatest onscreen villains, Ajit was a hero. Coming to Bombay in the face of parental opposition (having first sold his college books to finance the trip), Ajit had to struggle a lot to find work in the cinema industry. He began as an extra, and worked in several films until being noticed by the Gujarati-Hindi director Nanabhai Bhatt (Mahesh Bhatt’s father) who not only gave him the screen name Ajit, but also launched him in a leading role. Across the 50s and 60s, Ajit acted in a slew of films, both as leading man (Nastik, Dholak, Baradari, Marine Drive, Tower House, Opera House, etc) as well as in major supporting roles (of special note here are Naya Daur and Mughal-e-Azam, in both of which he appeared alongside Dilip Kumar).
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.
There are several reasons why I decided to review this film, even though it’s not a particularly impressive one. For one, it’s one of the rare Indian films set outside India and the Middle East (more on this later). For another, its music by Naushad, who (I would have thought) would not have been the most obvious choice to compose music for a film that’s distinctly Latin in tone. And, because this is a film I’ve long been wanting to see—ever since I first watched Lo pyaar ki ho gayi jeet on Chitrahaar as a pre-teen.
I have to admit that I watched this film against all advice. Anu had watched it a couple of years back (and had written up a review of it); but I—remembering a long-ago viewing of Hum Sab Chor Hain, which I’d enjoyed immensely—decided to give it a try anyway.
And, it seems the version I got to watch, while as incoherent in the second half as the one that Anu saw, at least had some more parts intact. The main problem, from what I could see, was that—possibly in transferring the film from celluloid to digital—the reels got mixed up, with one of the reels that should’ve come early in the film ending up later, thus making things very confusing. Despite that (and despite some shameful editing in the last half-hour by the video production company), this evoked one reaction in me: If only this could’ve been available in the original version. Because, if you try to fit the pieces together and imagine what might have been in the bits so summarily chopped off, you can see the outline of what must have been a pretty funny and entertaining film.
Railway Platform begins, not on a platform, but in a train.
It starts with a song, Basti-basti parbat-parbat gaata jaaye banjaara, lip-synched by a philosopher and poet (Manmohan Krishna) as he rides in a crowded train compartment. This man, only referred to as ‘kavi’ (poet) throughout the film, acts as a sort ofsutradhar. Not strictly the holder of the puppet strings, not always a narrator, but a voice of reason, of conscience, of dissent. His favourite saying is that “Two and two do not always make four; they sometimes make twenty-two.”
There is a story behind how I ended up watching this film last week.
I had first seen Shikast on TV years ago. I was a pre-teen, and didn’t much care for the film: it was too tragic, too angst-ridden, too lacking in entertainment, as far as I was concerned. For years afterwards, the only thing I remembered about the film was that it starred Nalini Jaywant and Dilip Kumar, and that through most of the film, Nalini Jaywant’s character sported a vivid crescent-shaped scar on her forehead. I had even forgotten the name of the film.
My introduction to this film occurred when I was perhaps 12 years old. At the time, my sister and I relied mainly on Doordarshan–India’s sole TV channel way back then–for entertainment. A half-hour programme of Hindi film songs called Chitrahaar used to be among our favourite programmes. One day, on Chitrahaar, we saw Thandi hawaaein lehraake aayein. Both of us had heard the song before; one couldn’t live in the same house with a music-lover like my father and not have heard it—but we’d never seen it.
I don’t recall the exact conversation that followed, but I think I can paraphrase it pretty easily.
It has been a sad year for us lovers of classic cinema. After the passing away of Spanish filmmaker Berlanga, I’d hoped December would pass in the usual round of festivities, punctuated perhaps with a couple of posts on some Christmas-themed old films, or a list of ten songs with which to usher in the New Year. Alas, instead, there have been two deaths. The first, on December 15, was director, producer and writer Blake Edwards, the man famous for having made the Pink Panther series starring Peter Sellers. The second, on December 24, was the beautiful and highly expressive Nalini Jaywant. I’ll do a review of a Blake Edward classic later; this post is dedicated to Ms Jaywant. RIP.
Two confessions, to start with. Firstly, although I am very fond of Ashok Kumar—I think he was a great actor—I find it difficult to envisage him as the dashing hero of a spy thriller. Secondly, I think 50’s and 60’s Hindi cinema (with the notable exception of Haqeeqat) never quite manages to depict war properly. Battlefields are too often obviously sets or, at the most, a bunch of extras letting off firecrackers in a patch of woodland.
So Samadhi, despite being 1950’s top-grossing Hindi film and starring the beautiful Nalini Jaywant—was a film that I approached with trepidation. Which was perhaps just as well, because if I’d begun watching it with expectations way up there, I’d probably have been disappointed. As it was, by the end, I decided it wasn’t bad; in fact, pretty watchable.