Whenever people ask me what my movie blog is about, I say pre-70s cinema. Pre-70s, yes, but with a few (very few) exceptions, and those are films released in the very early 70s, but with a distinctly 60s feel to them. Pakeezah is the example I invariably give: a film released in 1972, but with an aura that’s recognisably of an earlier period about it, whether it’s in the fashions, the actors, or the overall look of the film.
Since I generally steer clear of reviewing very well-known films, the format of this review is going to be slightly different from my usual film review. I’ll begin with a much briefer synopsis than usual, then go on to discussing—in far greater detail than I normally do—what I liked about the film, what I didn’t like, and sundry other musings regarding Pakeezah.
I have been meaning to write this post for a long time now—I love qawwalis—but I’ve kept putting it off, because I’ve always thought that it would be impossible to create a list of just tenfilmiqawwalis that are my favourites. (Barsaat ki Raat itself features at least three qawwalis that completely bowl me over).
But. I’ve finally decided to take up the challenge, and do it. These are ten fabulous qawwalis from pre-70s films that I’ve seen (though I must confess that I like the qawwalis of some 70s films—especially Rishi Kapoor ones). To make this post a little more challenging, I decided not to include more than one qawwali per film.
This is another of the prize posts for those who participated in the Classic Bollywood Quiz I hosted on this blog last year. I’ve two awards left to ‘hand out’ – (read ‘two more posts to dedicate to readers’) – but this post is dedicated to Neha, whose blog is really niche: it’s a collection of interesting trivia about black-and-white Hindi films. Neha won the Hope Springs Eternal Award in the quiz, simply because she didn’t allow herself to be deterred by the fact that she couldn’t guess more than a handful of the answers. Atta-girl, Neha! That’s the attitude.
Anyway, here goes: a post for Neha. Since Neha’s so keen on trivia, I decided to do something along those lines for her post. Not, unfortunately for Neha, from just black-and-white Hindi films, but at least from pre-70s Hindi films. Just some little snippets that I’ve discovered over the years, and thought were fun.
Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das Indische Grabmal were, as Anu called them, ‘raja-rani’ (‘king-and-queen’) films, no matter how warped they may have been as examples of that genre. In line with my last post, therefore, here’s another film: also raja-rani, also set in the India of maharajas, evil plotters wanting to make a grab at a throne that’s not legitimately theirs, and a pretty lady at the heart of it all. Kohinoor, however, is a blessedly long way from Fritz Lang’s Indian epic. This film’s a rollicking farce mostly all through, with plenty of good songs, a great cast, and some superb comedy sequences.
This post is dedicated not just to music directors like O P Nayyar and Naushad (who made ‘tonga beats’ an important musical style), but also to friend and blog reader pacifist, who came up with the idea. Writing to me some weeks back, pacifist made a request: that I do a list of horse-drawn vehicle songs.
So: here’s the list, pacifist. Ten of my favourite ghoda-gaadi songs, from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. Other than that, my requisites for the selected songs were:
1. That the person singing (on screen, that is) remains in the ghoda-gaadi through at least 80% of the song (which is why Ae dil hai mushkil doesn’t feature in this list).
2. Horse-drawn vehicles of all types qualify: tongas, Victorias, phaetons, even chariots. Horseback is out.
3. And, no two songs from the same film are allowed.
In an interview, while reminiscing about his first few years in the Hindi cinema industry, Naushad mentioned how, after he had moved to Bombay and become a music director, his parents arranged his wedding. “We have told your future in-laws that you are a tailor,” his mother said. “If we’d said you were into music, you’d never have gotten married!” The irony of the whole thing was, recalled Naushad, that at the wedding, the band that came along was playing all the latest hits – all of which happened to be from Naushad’s first big score.
Which, as you’ve probably guessed by now, was from this film. Naushad came to Bombay from Lucknow in 1937, and though he did get some work over the next few years, it was not until Rattan that he got a chance to compose the sort of music that catapulted him to the top.
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: &$%@##%@!!!
The other day, after a long gap of 16 years, I met someone who used to teach me in college. I never knew back then that he was a Mohammad Rafi aficionado; and now, chatting with him about Dusted Off, I got a request: do a Rafi post.
So, as a sort of gurudakshina, here it is: a Rafi post. And since I cannot even begin to think of trying to narrow down my favourite Rafi songs to just ten (or even a hundred), I’m taking the easy way out. Rafi, in ten moods. Ten songs that showcase the breathtaking versatility of this man and his voice. There will always be dozens of other Rafi songs out there that reflect the same emotions behind these songs, but these are my favourites. And, in keeping with the rules I always set for myself, they’re all from the 50’s and 60’s, from films I’ve seen.
At home, our tastes (when it comes to cinema) are very varied. My husband likes science fiction or fantasy, kung fu, conspiracy, superheroes, and (occasionally) comedy. And very little of it pre-90’s. I watch just about anything that’s pre-70’s. So, when we were deciding which DVDs we wanted to order next from our DVD rental service, I was taken aback when my husband said, “Baiju Bawra.”
“That’s black and white,” I said, wondering if the recent bout of long and stressful work hours had taken its toll. “Early 50’s. Hindi.”
“I know,” he said. “Good music.”
And yes, good music is the outstanding feature of this film. It had to be, since it’s about the legendary 16th century singer and musician Baijnath (‘Baiju’) Bawra.