Considering some of you might not understand the reason for all the fuss and excitement, I ought to back up and provide some context.
I must admit that till fairly recently, I’d never been a huge fan of 1930s Hindi film music. My first brush with the decade was when I watched Main ban ki chidiya bankeas a teenager—it was showing on Chitrahaar—and was in splits because it was so funny. Ashok Kumar was so awkward, the singing was so nasal, the entire song was so far removed from what I liked (the songs of the 50s and 60s), that I couldn’t bring myself to regard the song with anything but mirth.
I still know very little about the songs of the 30s, and would be hard put to it to name even ten songs from the decade. But if asked to name just one song from the decade, the song that I would name without even stopping to think would be the utterly brilliant Baabul mora naihar chhooto (I actually went out on a limb and named this song as my pick for the 30s in this article I wrote to commemorate hundred years of Indian cinema).
When you are as devoted to the pursuit of old Hindi cinema as I am—and you assiduously discuss old cinema with other like-minded souls—you keep getting recommendations. Some recommendations I take with a certain amount of leeway automatically assigned, since I know that the recommender has his or her own biases that are likely to be reflected in the film in question. Others I tend to blindly follow, because over time, I’ve realized that these are people who pretty much share my own ideas of what comprises watchable cinema.
One of these is Anu, who blogs at Conversations over Chai. We have our differences (Raj Kapoor is one), but by and large, Anu and I tend to agree about cinema. So when Anu, chatting with me during my trip in August to meet her, recommended Tamasha, I immediately made a note of it. After all, Dev Anand, Meena Kumari, Ashok Kumar, Kishore Kumar—and a comedy? That certainly sounded like something I wanted to watch.
I have been wanting to watch this film since 1985.
That was the year, while watching Chitrahaar on Doordarshan, that I first heard (and saw) Chaand bhi koi deewaana hai. My sister and I, who loved old Hindi film songs even back then, used to keep a blank VHS permanently cued to record every time Chitrahaar came on, so we recorded this song—and over the years, I watched it so often that I memorized the entire song without ever having heard it anywhere else. When the Internet became easily accessible, I spent ages looking for the song (and finally found it, audio only, a few years back). Since then, I’ve been looking for the film. VCD, DVD, even a grainy version on Youtube would do.
And finally, after countless tries, I got to see the film. When I sat down to watch Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani, I kept reminding myself: most of the films that I’ve watched just because of one good song (or more) have turned out to be duds. I shouldn’t expect much.
Surprise, surprise. Not only did Apna Ghar Apni Kahaani have some good music and a lovely Mumtaz, it was also quite a good film.
A scene near the beginning of Oonche Log is an interesting revelation of some of the themes that govern the film, and eventually have a bearing on its climax.
Major Chandrakant (Ashok Kumar) is a blind, widowed ex-officer of the Indian National Army. He now lives in Ooty. One evening, he receives at his home a friend, the school teacher Dhuni Chand (Kanhaiyyalal). There are more dissimilarities than similarities between the two men: Dhuni Chand is poor, barely managing to make ends meet on his salary and what he makes from the odd tuition, while the major is comfortably off, spending his time writing his memoirs.
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.