I have watched so many Hindi films from the 50s and 60s that now I am always on the lookout for ‘new’ old films that I haven’t watched. And if someone tells me a film isn’t half bad, I’m more than willing to give it a try. So, when blog reader Manuela mentioned Palki, and wrote this about it: “It’s 100% melodrama, and viewers who regard melodrama as sentimental candy floss for the uneducated will probably hate it. But if you consider melodrama as a legit form of storytelling, it’s very enjoyable.”… I bookmarked the film for watching there and then.
The film is set in Lucknow, to which we are introduced by way of a song. Poor but brilliant shaayar Naseem (Rajendra Kumar) serenades the city by singing Ae shahr-e-Lucknow tujhe mera salaam hai at a mushaira. Naseem is the toast of the town, and is soon to be feted at a mushaira hosted by a Nawab (Rehman). That will be a fine recognition of Naseem’s talent, says a friend, When he hears of this, Naseem’s neighbour and friend Sultan (Johnny Walker) agrees.
Chanda aur Bijli is one of those films I’ve known about for a long time—because of a family anecdote that is centred around a song from this film. My sister, a toddler when Chanda aur Bijli was released, quickly fell in love with Bijli hoon main toh bijli. Her version of it, though, was somewhat different (and suggests a mind that dwelt rather heavily on food):
Bijli hoon main toh bijli Bun khaake jab bhi nikli Logon ke dil mein machhli (And here she’d add a little line completely off her own bat: ‘Wohi machhli jo Baby ne khaayi thhi!’)
For those who don’t understand Hindi, that means:
Lightning; I am lightning, When I went out after eating a bun, There was a fish in people’s hearts That same fish that Baby ate!
The original, of course, is a rather more predictable Hindi film song:
Bijli hoon main toh bijli Bal khaake jab bhi nikli Logon ke dil mein machli
(Lightning; I am lightning, Every time I went out, tripping along, I made people’s hearts trip)
Every now and then, I am reminded of a film which I’ve seen—often, many years ago—and which would be a good fit for this blog. Right time period, a cast I like, music I like. Some of these (like Pyaasa, Mughal-e-Azam or Kaagaz ke Phool) have been analyzed and reviewed so often and by so many stalwarts infinitely more knowledgeable than me that I feel a certain trepidation approaching them. Others are a little less in the ‘cult classic’ range, but good films nevertheless.
Like Seema. I remembered this film a few weeks back when I reviewed Naunihaal (also starring Balraj Sahni). At the end of that post, I’d inserted a very striking photo I’d found, of a young Balraj Sahni standing in front of a portrait of Pandit Nehru. Both on my blog and elsewhere on social media, some people remarked upon that photo: how young and handsome Balraj Sahni was looking in it. And I mentioned Seema, as an example of a film where Balraj Sahni appears as the hero. A hero of a different style than the type he played in Black Cat, but a hero nevertheless.
Less than a week after Chitalkar Ramachandra was born in Maharashtra, on January 17, 1918, in the town of Amroha (in north-west Uttar Pradesh) was born, into a wealthy family of landowners, Syed Amir Haider Kamal Naqvi. Syed (or Kamal, as it probably more appropriate to refer to him) began writing Urdu stories at a young age and harboured a dream of making them into films—a dream quickly shot down by a father who did not think cinema a worthwhile profession. Faced with the prospect of having to manage the family’s estates, the 16-year old Kamal sold his sister’s gold bangles to finance his clandestine escape to Lahore. Here, he continued to write stories while studying (at Lahore’s Oriental College) and by managing to have some of these published, was able to finally save up money enough to travel to Bombay.
In 1938, when he was just 21 years old, his story Jailor was adapted to the screen by film-maker Sohrab Modi.
And that was how Kamal Amrohi made an entry into the Hindi film industry. This was the man who would write perhaps the most memorable Urdu dialogues of any film in Hindi film history (Mughal-e-Azam). This was the man who made what is arguably the finest and most memorable Muslim social in Hindi cinema (Pakeezah). This was the man, too, who—even though he directed only five films—made a mark for himself with those films, three of them (Mahal, Pakeezah and Razia Sultan) becoming pretty much cult classics.
I had no particular film review or song list in mind for this week, but when Anu declared August Dev Anand month over at her blog, and Harini reviewed Duniya, I saw a bandwagon that I liked—and decided to jump on to it. With a film that reminds me of Duniya in some ways: Dev Anand, late 60s, suspense.
While watching Pakeezahsome months back (and reading Meghnad Desai’s book about the film), I was struck by how fond old Hindi cinema used to be of the motif of the ‘chaste tawaif’. A paradox, seemingly, because how could a woman be a tawaif – a prostitute, to put it bluntly – and be chaste? But films like Pakeezah and Adalat did just that: they portrayed women who lived in kothas, sang (in Adalat) and danced (in Pakeezah) but were ‘good’ women, chaste and pure, women who may have been lusted after by bad men, but who – thanks to fate, good friends and relatives, kind strangers (both human and animal) – were always able to avoid the fate worse than death: of yielding their chastity to a man they were not married to, or weren’t going to eventually marry, even if only in secret.
Dare I repeat myself by admitting that one of the reasons I wanted to see this film was the music? Shagoon (which I think should have been spelt Shagun) combines Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics with Khayyam’s music, to stunning effect. But my other reasons for watching this film were equally valid. It stars the matchless Waheeda Rehman in the only film where she co-starred with Kamaljit, later to be her husband. What chemistry there must be here, I thought. Plus the film featured some of the most dependable character actors of Hindi cinema: Nasir Hussain, Achla Sachdev, Pratima Devi, Chand Usmani. This one had to be worth seeing, I thought.
The last time I visited my parents, my father lent me a couple of DVDs—old Hindi films (whose pa is he anyway?!) which he particularly likes. One was Ratan, which I’ve yet to see; the other was this. “Bhagwaan is hard to accept as a hero,” my father said. “But the music is C Ramchandra at his best.” I agree, on both counts. Watch Albela for C Ramchandra’s score. And yes, also for Geeta Bali at her loveliest and brightest.
In Sone ki Chidiya, a poet tells a film actress why poor people go to the cinema: “For five annas’ worth of false dreams. And the glow of your beauty.”
On the surface, this may seem as cynical a comment on the Hindi film industry as Kaagaz ke Phool, but it isn’t, really. It’s a much more mainstream commercial film, with all the trappings of melodrama, dewy-eyed romance and oppressed heroine. I saw it because it stars one of my favourite actresses—Nutan—and one actor whom I’m very fond of: Balraj Sahni. And (this came as a surprise to me) the cast also includes someone whom I count among my favourite singers: Talat Mahmood.
I’m doing something I’ve never done on this blog before. I’m offering a free gift for anyone who cares for it: a VCD, once viewed, of Rail ka Dibba. I’ll ship it anywhere in India and you won’t need to pay a paisa for it.
Now, why I’m doing this. First, the preliminaries: it’s a Friends VCD, and we all know what that means. Their logo takes up much of the screen. The print is bad, the sound quality even worse. And their evil villain editor seems to have chewed up frames, scenes, dialogues—everything—in an attempt to fit the film onto two CDs. And though it’s not a really bad film, Rail ka Dibba left me feeling pretty certain that I won’t be watching it again. Anybody who wants it is welcome to it.