I remember watching Padosan as a child, and I remember my sister saying, “How could someone so handsome consent to be made up as someone like Bhola? And to act so silly?” I already liked Sunil Dutt a good deal, but that comment made me sit up and respect him a lot more than I already did. In a period when there was a very definite idea of what a ‘hero’ should be like (and the 60s was a decade where heroes tended to be more cookie-cutter than in the 50s), Sunil Dutt did roles that ranged from a man having an affair with another man’s wife (Gumraah), a dacoit (Mujhe Jeene Do), a buffoon (Padosan), a cuckold (Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke)… and in a slew of everything from suspense films (Mera Saaya, Humraaz) to family melodramas (Milan, Meherbaan, Khaandaan, etc).
Versatile, unafraid of experimenting—and a man, too, who seems to have worked in several films that focused on social reform. In Nartakee, for instance, where his character is that of a college lecturer, Nirmal, who comes in contact with a reluctant nautch girl who would much rather learn how to read and write than dance and sing for patrons.
Over the years, I have heard and read much praise for this relatively little-known film. Its songs, which various people have introduced to me over the years, are good, and Anu—whose taste and opinion usually match my own—had good things to say about New Delhi in her review of the film. I decided it was time to watch it for myself.
New Delhi is set, of course, in New Delhi (though a bit of Old Delhi intrudes now and then, even as it does in everyday life in Delhi today). The film begins outside New Delhi Railway Station, where Anand Kumar (Kishore Kumar) has just arrived from Jalandhar, to study radio engineering. Anand hails a passing taxi at the same time that Janaki (Vyjyantimala), who is standing a few steps further along the road, does too. One taxi draws up; both Anand and Janaki get into it, and then start arguing over whose taxi this is.
I can blame my not having watched Bahaaron ke Sapne all these years on my father: when I first expressed an interest in the film because it had been directed by Nasir Husain (back then, a teenaged me associated Nasir Husain only with frothy and entertaining films like Dil Deke Dekho, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, and Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon), my father said, ‘It’s a serious film.’
And that was that. Because, back then, I didn’t care to ask how serious. Anything that smacked of reality rather than escapism was not to be touched with a barge pole.
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.
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.”
[To make that clearer to those not in the know: I am a die-hard Shammi Kapoor fan, especially of the Shammi Kapoor between 1957 and 1966. I have watched most of his films from that period, and to find one I haven’t seen is cause for rejoicing. Even if it turns out to be a dud. Therefore the euphoria].
I first came across a mention of College Girl while watching a video of Halke-halke chalo saanwre (from Taangewaali, also starring Shammi). Besides the music (which I loved), I thought the song looked great too, and was eager to try and get hold of Taangewaali—until someone told me that a neat job of mixing had been done here: the audio was of the Taangewaali song, but the video was from College Girl. College Girl went up on my list of films to search for—and I discovered it last week on Youtube.
Dare I repeat myself by admitting that one of the reasons I wanted to see this film was the music? Shagoon (which I think should have been spelt Shagun) combines Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics with Khayyam’s music, to stunning effect. But my other reasons for watching this film were equally valid. It stars the matchless Waheeda Rehman in the only film where she co-starred with Kamaljit, later to be her husband. What chemistry there must be here, I thought. Plus the film featured some of the most dependable character actors of Hindi cinema: Nasir Hussain, Achla Sachdev, Pratima Devi, Chand Usmani. This one had to be worth seeing, I thought.
I watched two old Hindi films last week, both with a love triangle—of sorts—as a central plot element. The first film, Saheli (Pradeep Kumar-Kalpana-Vijaya Choudhary) was an indifferent, predictable, forgettable flick which crescendoed into high melodrama. This one, a rewatch, makes for more satisfying reviewing, since the story is more interesting, the cast is better—barring one glaring and painful exception—and the music is out of this world. Humraaz is a BR Films production and a fine example of the high entertainment value that characterises BR Chopra’s best films. Total paisa vasool.
9 years before he made the superb suspense thriller Ittefaq, B R Chopra produced and directed this film. It too starred Nanda (though not in as pivotal a role as in Ittefaq). It too didn’t have a single song—though it did have a ballet performance. And, like Ittefaq, it hinged on a murder.
But Kanoon wasn’t by any means a precursor to Ittefaq. Ittefaq is mainstream murder mystery; Kanoon straddles with consummate skill the line between crime detection and social issues. It’s an excellent, unusual and gripping film that merits viewing.
Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Guru Dutt, Asit Sen: some of my favourite directors, and all men with a string of poignant, meaningful films to their credit. Not always very happy films, but films that step away from the usual masala of Hindi cinema. Films that, like the classic Do Bigha Zameen, are not about bewigged, gadget-toting gundas and their better-than-good (not to forget immensely strong) nemeses, but about common people with common problems.