Mostly, the films I review on this blog are either the ones I like so much I want more people to watch them; or films I hate so much I want to warn people off them. Or, sometimes, films which may not be otherwise exceptional but have, I think, something that sets them apart: they’re unusual, or they’re somehow of historic importance.
Now and then, along comes a film I decide I have to review because while I don’t find it dreadful, I wonder what it would have been like with a different cast. Even just one actor being replaced by another.
Jigri Dost begins in the palatial home of Chairman Neelkanth (KN Singh), who is a baddie of the first order. He summarily orders his henchmen to raze this bunch of poor people’s huts, extort money from that lot, and so on. He has no scruples, no mercy, no nothing… no inkling, either, that a maid (Aruna Irani) in his home eavesdrops on his every conversation.
Considering this is a period film—a ‘raja-rani’ film, so to say—and it has some great music, I’ve not made much of an effort to watch it. I don’t mind Nirupa Roy in leading lady roles (she could look really pretty, and as long as she wasn’t playing the self-sacrificing and long suffering Sati Savitri, she was fine). But Bharat Bhushan isn’t my cup of tea. Along with Pradeep Kumar and Biswajeet, he is one of those actors whom I invariably see lip syncing to great songs, and wish the songs had been picturized on someone else.
But I finally decided it was high time I watched Rani Rupmati.
The story begins by introducing us to the town of Mandavgarh (now better known as Mandu), part of the kingdom of Malwa. Malwa is ruled by Pathans: its Sultan is Shujat Khan, whose elder son, Baazid Khan ‘Baaz Bahadur’ (Bharat Bhushan) seems to be an effeminate, music-loving hedonist who spends all his time doing riyaaz with his ustad.
What is it about Bengali directors—Bimal Roy, for instance, or Hrishikesh Mukherjee, or (if one steps out of the realm of just Hindi cinema, Satyajit Ray)—that they manage to bring so vividly to life the everyday happenings in the lives of everyday people? Not the escapist fare that most people tend to equate Hindi cinema with, but stories about real people, people one can relate to? Films like Majhli Didi, Parivaar, Parakh, Sujata, Anand: not larger than life, not without a shred of reality. Not art films, not angst-riddled, songless films about the search for the meaning of life, but everyday stories. Songs and all, still very much commercial cinema, but easy to relate to.
Add to that list Dulal Guha, who while he also went on to make films like Mere Humsafar, began his career as a director in Hindi cinema with this charming little film about a sleepy village named Chandangaon, that’s jolted by the arrival of a new doctor…
Several readers have told me, over the past couple of years, that I should watch this film. It is, if you go by just the details of cast, crew, and awards won, a promising film. Directed by Yash Chopra, starring Mala Sinha, Rehman, Ashok Kumar, Shashi Kapoor (in his first role as an adult), Nirupa Roy, Indrani Mukherjee, Manmohan Krishna—with guest appearances by Rajendra Kumar and Shashikala. The winner of the President’s Silver Medal for Best Feature Film in Hindi at the National Film Awards.
And with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi, set to music by N Dutta. I could well imagine Dharmputra would be a film worth watching. So when I finally managed to lay my hands on it, I didn’t waste much time getting around to seeing it.
‘Bimal Roy’s Benazir’ is what it says on the DVD cover. Enough to conjure up, for me, memories of some of the greatest Bimal Roy films I’ve seen: tender, thought-provoking, real films about real people. Benazir, perhaps because it wasn’t directed by Bimal Roy himself but by S Khalil (who also scripted the film) falls short of the standard of Parakh, Prem Patra, Sujata, Do Bigha Zameen, or Bandini. A top-notch cast, a very well-respected production company, a master music director—but why does this film rarely get mentioned in the same breath as those?
Or, The Nasir Hussain Rule Book of Fool-proof Rehashing.
I’m beginning to think I’m an idiot for trying to think up new stories every time I write. Look at people like Betty Neels or Nasir Hussain; they managed to get by with basically the same story, over and over again, and very successfully too. [which makes me wonder: were Hussain and Neels long-lost brother and sister?]
Take the latter’s Pyaar ka Mausam, for example. I’d seen this film as a kid and remembered little of it except the very good music and the pretty lead pair. A rewatch last night revealed that it amounted to a cocktail of Nasir Hussain’s earlier films: Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Dil Deke Dekho, and Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon. Same story, same plot elements, same rules from The Rule Book. [Note: These rules will make more sense if you’ve seen one or more of the films I’ve mentioned above. If you haven’t, think of it this way: you’ll get to know about four films just from one review].
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.
One thing that has long puzzled me is Bollywood’s reluctance to do real life stories. Where Hollywood has created films on the lives of people ranging from Napoleon’s one-time fiancée to an obscure British missionary in China, we have, to show for years of fascinating history… Shahjehanand Changez Khan, both so badly warped that they bear little resemblance to fact. Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahani is a refreshingly unusual film in being relatively accurate, as well as entertaining—but a flash in the pan.
Our generally avid enthusiasm for the freedom movement and its exponents gave me hope that Shaheed, the story of Bhagat Singh, might be worth a watch. This, after all, was the young man who inspired an entire slew of films, beginning with (or so Wikipedia would have us believe) a film in 1954, followed by a 1963 film starring Shammi Kapoor, and this one: the first of Manoj Kumar’s many patriotic films. There have been later films—2002, for instance, saw two films, one a superb one starring Ajay Devgan and the other with Bobby Deol as Bhagat Singh—but Shaheed was the first major Bhagat Singh story.
Like Sujata, Chhaya is the story of a girl brought up in the house of someone she’s not related to. Like Sujata, it stars Sunil Dutt (and looking gorgeous, too!), and like Sujata, it’s got great music. Also like Sujata, it was directed by a Bengali director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee in this case.
That’s where the resemblance ends, because Mukherjee makes Chhaya a less poignant, less socially relevant film than Bimal Roy made of Sujata. Where Sujata focussed on the understated emotion of a family and a `daughter who’s not quite one’, Chhaya focuses on a mother who’s forced by circumstances to yield up her child to another.
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.