Early in 2013, to mark hundred years of Indian cinema, I dedicated an entire month to regional Indian cinema. I reviewed several films of different languages, and realized, in the process, just how difficult it is to get hold of old regional films that have subtitles. Even when they’re blockbuster hits, National Award-winning films, films that must have been subtitled at some stage to enable a jury to judge them worthy of a prestigious award.
Among the films that I came across, but which wasn’t subbed, was this extremely popular Punjabi film, which won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Punjabi, as well as the National Film Award for Best Music Direction. My husband’s a Punjabi but speaks the language very rarely, and that too when he has no other option (as a result, his Punjabi is pretty shaky). As for me, the less said about my Punjabi, the better. But I had this film bookmarked from 2013, and when I discovered last year that Nanak Naam Jahaaz Hai had been digitally restored and re-released, I thought I may as well take the plunge.
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.”
The last Hindi film I reviewed was a Bimal Roy production – and it left me feeling very disappointed. To get over that (and to remind myself that Bimal Roy’s films can generally be counted upon to be good), I decided to rewatch this one, an old favourite that reinforces Bimal Roy’s style of film-making: everyday stories of life, real life, with all its joys and sorrows and mundane happenings.
The main reason I rented this film was that the credits were so absolutely mouthwatering. A cast that included Sunil Dutt, Madhubala, Minoo Mumtaz, Madan Puri and Nishi Kohli. Music by S D Burman. Shakti Samanta as director. A winner, I’d have thought.
Alas, no. While it’s not a dud, Insaan Jaag Utha isn’t more than the sum of its otherwise stellar parts. The story is a mishmash of tropes. It doesn’t seem to know where it’s going, the plot has a lot of holes, and it’s not really too interesting.
My sister and I were discussing, with much fondness, my father’s love for classic Hindi cinema. When my parents bought a DVD player, I offered to look out for old films that I could buy for them. “Any particular favourites you’d like me to buy you?” I asked. Papa’s list included Sangdil, Daag, Anari, Ratan, Andaaz, Albela, Sone ki Chidiyaand a bunch of other films—all of them selected mainly because they had superb music.
And I am very much my Papa’s daughter. It takes just one good song for me to rent a film (I may not go so far as to buy it, though). I’ve done it with Akashdeep, and I’ve done it again with Bhai Bahen. Here, fortunately, I was a little luckier. Even though the best thing about it is the lovely Saare jahaan se achha, Bhai Bahen is, overall, an interesting and rather offbeat little film.