It was on this day that Mohammad Yusuf Khan, who was to go on to become one of India’s most-loved and finest actors, was born in Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani Bazaar.
In a career spanning several decades, and some sixty-odd films, Dilip Kumar attained a status all his own. He was one of the first to win a Filmfare Award, and went on to win the most Best Actor Awards (until the record was equalled— though not yet surpassed). His scenes have been copied and re-done, his dialogues have become familiar to fans of cinema, his films and his acting closely dissected.
In which Joy Mukherji single-handedly (with some help from the snow-clad Himalayas) defeats an invading army of Chinese guerrillas, thus lending a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘humsaaya aasmaan ka’.
Years ago, in the good old days when the single channel on Doordarshan was our main source of entertainment and we therefore watched everything that was telecast, I watched 12 O’Clock. I’d already seen Guru Dutt’s big films—Pyaasa, Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, Kaagaz ke Phool, Chaudhvin ka Chaand. I assumed, based on those (I had yet to watch Bahurani or Saanjh aur Savera, and had thought Mr & Mrs 55 a flash in the pan), that 12 O’Clock would be along the lines of the serious stuff Guru Dutt churned out.
… which this is not. Because this is one of a handful of the films Guru Dutt acted in but did not direct.
Let’s say you’re a film maker in the Hindi cinema of the late 1960s. You’ve set your heart on making a thriller. You have some money, but not enough to be able to hope to churn out something with Shammi Kapoor, set in Europe. You see all these glittering films—Teesri Manzil, An Evening in Paris, Jewel Thief—being released, and it irks you. If they can do it, why can’t you? So one day you gird up your loins, and inspired by all of these, and all the James Bond movies you can lay your hands upon, you set out to make your own thriller.
You cannot afford Shammi Kapoor [or is he perhaps too discerning to agree after he’s read the script?], so you settle for Biswajeet instead. You don’t have the budget to shoot abroad, but that doesn’t matter. You will make do by bringing abroad here to India, by plonking a bronze wig onto Biswajeet and having him pretend to be a Parisian named Robbie for much of the film.
I have to admit that I watched this film against all advice. Anu had watched it a couple of years back (and had written up a review of it); but I—remembering a long-ago viewing of Hum Sab Chor Hain, which I’d enjoyed immensely—decided to give it a try anyway.
And, it seems the version I got to watch, while as incoherent in the second half as the one that Anu saw, at least had some more parts intact. The main problem, from what I could see, was that—possibly in transferring the film from celluloid to digital—the reels got mixed up, with one of the reels that should’ve come early in the film ending up later, thus making things very confusing. Despite that (and despite some shameful editing in the last half-hour by the video production company), this evoked one reaction in me: If only this could’ve been available in the original version. Because, if you try to fit the pieces together and imagine what might have been in the bits so summarily chopped off, you can see the outline of what must have been a pretty funny and entertaining film.
At the risk of being labelled an iconoclast and being trolled by diehard Lata fans, I have mentioned several times on this blog how much I like Asha Bhonsle. It’s not that I don’t like Lata: I do, very much, and there are many, many songs of hers that I cannot imagine anyone else singing, or singing better than she does. But when I think of Asha, of Aage bhi jaane na tu and Saba se yeh keh do and Yehi woh jagah hai… I cannot help but think that Asha is too often unfairly dismissed as being second to her Didi.
So, when I was offered a chance to review Raju Bharatan’s Asha Bhosle: A Musical Biography (Hay House Publishers India Pvt Ltd, ₹599, 332 pages), I jumped at it. (If you want to read a shorter and more tactful review, read the one I wrote for The New Indian Express, here).
Considering ‘arranged marriages’ were—and still are—so common in India, the fact that old Hindi cinema tended to focus mostly on ‘love marriages’ seems rather odd to me. It’s more romantic, I suppose, to imagine that one will fall in love and end up, after various trials and tribulations and having encountered sundry obstacles, married to one’s sweetheart.
There were exceptions, though, the occasional film about people getting married first, and falling in love later. There was Ghoonghat, Saanjh aur Savera, Blackmail, or those examples of child marriages, Chhoti si Mulaqat and Ji Chaahta Hai. Most of them about people who are forced—because of their own submissiveness, and because they can’t pluck up the courage to say no to bossy elders—into getting married to near or complete strangers.
Unlike this one. Mohabbat ZindagiHai is one of the few examples (Mr & Mrs 55 was another) of someone getting married for a very mercenary reason. And, as in Mr & Mrs 55, the heroine here is an heiress who needs to get married in a hurry in order to inherit. No husband, no money. But, unlike Mr & Mrs 55, the heroine here doesn’t marry because she thinks she can easily divorce her unwanted husband soon after; she marries him because he’s on death row. He won’t be alive three days after their wedding.
This particular Shammi Kapoor film has a very special place in my heart – because Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra was one of the first Hindi film songs I ever learnt to sing. I must’ve been about eight years old. I’d never seen the film; television was yet to make its way into our lives (it was just round the corner, though I didn’t get to see the song till much later). But I used to hear it now and then on radio, and sometimes on an LP my parents owned. I always did wonder who the heroine was, the woman who was praised for the fact that her ‘zulfon ka rang’ was sunehra, and who had jheel si neeli aankhein. Could she have been an Indian actress, I wondered? She sounded firang.
Nasir Hussain may have made his Tumsa Nahin Dekha story into four separate – and equally successful – films, but did that induce others to be original? On the contrary. Narinder Bedi, at least, probably seemed to think that what worked for Nasir Hussain might well work for him. Therefore, Mere Sanam, which has a storyline similar in many ways to Tumsa Nahin Dekha. (Both films also have fantastic music by OP Nayyar, by the way).
If Rajkumar is the trademark ‘Shammi Kapoor at his peak’ film, then Tumsa Nahin Dekha is an equally – if not more – important film, because this is the one that made Shammi Kapoor into the icon he was by the mid-60s. Till Nasir Hussain got Shammi Kapoor to shave off his moustache and act as the devil-may-care hero of this film, Shammi was (as my father puts it), “Just another actor with a thin moustache and the usual roles. Nothing exceptional.” Tumsa Nahin Dekha gave him the opportunity to transform from the half-hearted, unexceptional sort-of-hero into a Shammi Kapoor who became almost an institution in himself.