After many years of telling myself I should read Mirza Hadi ‘Ruswa’s Umrao Jaan Ada, I finally got around to reading a Hindi translation a couple of weeks back. This turned out to be an underwhelming experience (more details here, on my Goodreads review of the book), but it impelled me to read a synopsis of Umrao Jaan Ada. I ended up reading, too, about the screen adaptations of the book (which is regarded by many as the first Urdu novel), and was surprised to discover that, besides the Rekha-starrer and the (much later) Aishwarya Rai-starrer, there were two other films, both released in 1958, based on Umrao Jaan Ada. One was Mehendi; the other was Zindagi ya Toofaan. I haven’t got around to watching Mehendi yet, but the fact that one of my favourite actresses of the 50s, Nutan, starred in Zindagi ya Toofaan, made me eager to watch this one.
When I did my post on ‘unusual singers’—actors and actresses who are familiar to movie-watchers, but have very few songs to which they’ve lip-synced—a couple of people suggested Ajit as a possible candidate for the list. For those who associate Ajit only with the leering villain of films like Yaadon ki Baaraat, the man of classic (not to mention corny) dialogues like “Lily, don’t be silly” and “Ise liquid oxygen mein daal do. Liquid ise jeene nahin dega aur oxygen ise marne nahin dega”—all delivered, of course, in classic Ajit style—the idea of Ajit ‘singing’ was novel enough.
But the Ajit I first knew in cinema was the Ajit of the old black-and-white Hindi films: the hot-headed rival -and-friend of Dilip Kumar’s character in Naya Daur. The embittered cynic in Nastik. The quiet, handsome and very dependable Durjan Singh of Mughal-e-Azam. Meena Shorey’s friend-enemy-accomplice from the hilarious Dholak. Yes, before he slipped into middle age and the villain roles, Ajit acted the hero in plenty of films (and, more to the point when it came to the ‘unusual singers’ post, lip-synced to many songs, including some big hits).