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.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably realized by now that I’m a sucker for suspense films. And that I have a soft spot for Dharmendra. And Helen. And Pran. Bring all of those together, and I’m pretty much willing to give it a try. Kab? Kyon? Aur Kahaan? is a film I’d watched many years ago, and liked, so I decided it was time for a rewatch [especially since I’d forgotten pretty much everything of it except for one very taut and tense section]. As it turned out, this was one of those films that make me realize how much more forgiving I was in my younger days. I’d forgotten, for instance, how Babita’s eyebrows managed to give Dharmendra’s a run for their money in the bushiness department.
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.
Some months back, I watched two relatively new Muslim socials: Daawat-e-Ishq and Bobby Jasoos. Both were an interesting reflection on the way the Muslim social has changed over the years (after close to disappearing during the 90s). The Muslim social of the 1950s was, more often than not, a film that, even when set amongst the wealthy upper class—the nawabs and their kin—came heavily burdened with all the stereotypical trappings of what was perceived as ‘Muslim’: the qawwalis and mushairas, the shararas and sherwanis. (I’ll write about all of those, and more, in a post to follow).
Bobby Jasoos and Daawat-e-Ishq had shed those to quite an extent. But that process had begun in earlier films, even as far back as the 60s. In Neend Hamaari Khwaab Tumhaare, for example, where Nanda’s character—the daughter of a nawab, no less—doesn’t merely have a Western education, but spends most of her time in skirts and dresses. And this film, where Nutan’s Jameela is a firebrand, giving as good as she gets, and by no means the simpering and demure Muslim girl exemplified by her contemporaries in films like Mere Mehboob, Mere Huzoor, and Chandni Chowk.
Nasir Hussain, as someone (he himself?) once remarked, came to Bombay with one story in his briefcase, and made out of it one blockbuster after another. The story of a son, separated by circumstances from one parent and going through various ups and downs (including falling for the distant parent’s foster offspring, being impersonated by a crook, etc) before the happy ending, was one that was played out in Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Dil Deke Dekho, Phir Wohi Dil Laaya and Pyaar ka Mausam.
But, contrary to popular belief, Nasir Hussain was by no means a one-trick pony. He had other plot elements up his sleeve as well, and they appear now and then sporadically in various films. The ‘couple promised to each other as children’ trope is one [which always ends up with the couple—completely unaware of having been ‘betrothed’ in childhood, even sight unseen—falling in love with each other]. Another was the hero being [mistakenly, of course] believed to have killed a sister [or sister figure] of the heroine’s, after having played fast and loose with her—this, naturally, causing serious heartache and betrayal for the heroine until she realizes that her beloved couldn’t possibly do something so heinous.
One day in August, I checked my blog roll and discovered that not one, but two, of my favourite bloggers had posted reviews of films based (even if only in spirit) on The Arabian Nights. Anu had reviewed Ali Baba aur 40 Chor, and Ira (aka Bollyviewer) had reviewed The Thief of Baghdad. Coincidence? Planned? If the latter, then why hadn’t I, the third of the three soul sisters, been included in the plan?
It turned out to have been sheer coincidence, but Anu, Ira and I decided it would be a good idea to actually do a themed set of posts. And what better theme than the one Ira suggested: long-lost siblings, such a favourite trope in Hindi cinema.
In one pivotal scene in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Kammo (Padmini), the daughter of a dacoit chief tells her naïve beloved that they, the dacoits, are not to be scorned or derided, because they wield guns to make things equal between the rich and the poor. They take from the rich and give to the poor, because the poor have always been preyed upon by the rich.
“Kammoji, tum log chochilist ho?” asks Raju (Raj Kapoor), wide-eyed. Because chochilists, as he informs Kammo, also work to make things ‘barobar’ between the rich and the poor. And when he is reassured that yes, that is the philosophy of the dacoits, Raju decides there and then that he will no longer think of dacoits as evil people.
…and a day or two in Beirut (plus an afternoon in the Lebanese countryside, masquerading as provincial France). A couple of days in Switzerland, and a grey afternoon at the Niagara Falls. Lots of Paris, of course, from the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysées, to the bateau mouche and pretty little cafés.
And Sharmila Tagore. And Shammi Kapoor. And pretty mad masala.
What with reading about Amar Akbar Anthony (and thinking over the lost-and-found trope), I ended up thinking, too, about An Evening in Paris, which is a good enough example of the genre. In this one, Sharmila Tagore is the one who plays the character(s) who’re lost: twin sisters, separated as children, thanks to a villain. They grow up unaware of each other’s existence, and in classic Hindi film style—ranging from Anhonee to Sharmeelee—with one sister good and the other bad, or at least not-so-good.
Bunny Reuben’s biography of Pran, as many Pran fans would know, is called …and Pran: A Biography, a nod to the hundreds of credit sequences in which Pran—invariably one of the most prominent artistes in whichever film he was in—was listed at the end of the credits. A nod, not just to the fact that his character was more often than not at odds with the hero and heroine and their parents/friends/well-wishers listed first in the credits, but also that Pran deserved to be credited separately. A sort of ‘leaving the best for the last’? I like to think so.
In this film, even though he plays the title role, it’s no different. And Pran asHalaku.
You could say Pran played, in a way, an important role in shaping my early film-watching days. My parents tell me that when Majboor (1974) was released, I—then a toddler—completely fell in love with one of its songs. My rendition of Michael daaru peekar danga karta hai (“Michael creates a ruckus after a few drinks”) was a little flawed. I cheerfully (and innocently) sang Michael daadu peekar ganda karta hai (“Grandpa Michael creates a mess after a few drinks”). But I thought the song was fabulous. I thought Michael was a good ‘un. And I thought—as I still do—that Pran (February 12, 1920 – July 12, 2013) was in a class by himself.
Pran, of course, was the quintessential villain. But in a cinema that had as many ‘invariably villains’ as ‘invariably heroes’, Pran stood out. Amongst the Madan Puris, the KN Singhs, the Jeevans, the Prem Chopras (and, to a lesser extent, or later, people like Prem Nath, Ajit, and Rehman), Pran was one of those who just had to appear onscreen for that moment of epiphany: Ah, here’s the villain.