When I was going through Chetan Anand’s filmography last year (to commemorate his birth centenary), I stumbled across a Chetan Anand film in which he starred, besides directing it: a film, too, which immediately struck me as unusual, just given its length: a mere one hour. For a Hindi film, rare indeed. Though I didn’t watch Arpan back then, I bookmarked it and decided I’d watch it sometime later.
And it is an unusual film. Not just short, but also somewhat surreal in places. Hauntingly beautiful at times, outright odd at others.
Arpan is set, we are told, 2,500 years ago. A famine is ravaging the land, and people are starving left, right and centre. In this situation, the royalty, of course, is expected to set an example, and thus Princess Madhavi (Sheila Ramani) is going about, a large entourage with her, distributing food to her father’s subjects.
It has been a nerve-wracking past few months. And just as I thought things couldn’t get much worse—what with the violence in Delhi, coming on the heels of increasingly acrimonious and violent disputes regarding CAA/NRC/NPR—coronavirus struck, and we, as a country, have ended up in lockdown.
And now, this news came. Nimmi, 88 years old, passed away on March 25.
No: it wasn’t Dharmendra, and it certainly wasn’t Nanda (old Hindi cinema, at least, doesn’t seem to believe women capable of writing anything more complex than a love letter, if that).
This writer was someone quite different, and one day (I’m guessing) decided that it was time to show the world what he was capable of. So, with a producer and a director, the writer went into action, and what resulted was Akashdeep. Looking at the film, I’m assuming this was somewhat of a collaborative effort. A “how about this?” and a “don’t you think it would be a good idea—?” sort of film.
I’ve been on a Dharmendra-Mala Sinha spree, and it’s been a disaster. Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi started off promisingly, but deteriorated; and Neela Akash was an even bigger disappointment. I had grave doubts about Pooja ke Phool, and sadly, it proved even worse than Neela Akash. I’m not sure I want to watch any more Dharmendra-Mala Sinha starrers. I’ve had enough.
The film begins in a village where a poor blacksmith called Hansraj (Nana Palsikar) is slogging his butt off trying to scrape together money to pay for a college education for his younger brother Balraj `Raj’ (Dharmendra). The only other member of the family is Hansraj’s daughter Vijay (Sandhya Roy).
Mehboob Khan, who directed Aan, Andaz and Mother India, also made this unusual film. It explores themes that were avant garde for the 50’s: a man’s sudden succumbing to sheer lust, while being in love with another woman; a woman’s sympathy for `the other woman’; a villain who’s shades of grey rather than totally black-hearted. Not exactly standard Bollywood fare. There are clichés of course, but on the whole, this is worth a watch.