I still remember my first glimpse of Premnath in a different persona than the fat, balding, beetle-browed villain of so many ‘70s films.
This was in the mid-80s. My sister and I (I was then not even in my teens) were watching Chitrahaar, and Thandi hawaayein lehraake aayein came on. It was proceeding fine, with Nalini Jaywant flitting across the screen, when suddenly a strikingly handsome man, tall and broad-shouldered, sprang up by her side, danced with her, and then disappeared. Who was that? We asked each other, and couldn’t supply an answer. We turned to our father, our source of information for all things old Hindi cinema. Papa said that Naujawan starred Premnath. Who Premnath, we asked in disbelief. That paunchy and somewhat repellant man in Johnny Mera Naam?
It took a watching (incomplete, sadly, because the electricity went) of the 1951 film Sagaai to convince us that yes, Premnath was indeed quite a hottie in his heyday.
If you think so too (or if you haven’t seen Premnath in the early 50s, when he was paid more than Raj Kapoor and several other leading actors), you should watch Saqi.
The last Hindi film I’d reviewed was the Sanjeev Kumar swashbuckler Baadal. When I’ d begun watching that, I wondered briefly if it would be aremake of the Premnath Baadal, a film I’d seen too long back to remember much of. As it happened, while the later Baadal did borrow some of the basics—the rebel hero who falls in love with a noblewoman whom he should probably be hating instead—it is actually a very different film. Premnath’s Baadal, for one, is no poet, and instead of borrowing from The Three Musketeers, this Baadal is explicitly stated as having been inspired from Robin Hood.
I can blame my not having watched Bahaaron ke Sapne all these years on my father: when I first expressed an interest in the film because it had been directed by Nasir Husain (back then, a teenaged me associated Nasir Husain only with frothy and entertaining films like Dil Deke Dekho, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, and Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon), my father said, ‘It’s a serious film.’
And that was that. Because, back then, I didn’t care to ask how serious. Anything that smacked of reality rather than escapism was not to be touched with a barge pole.
Who would’ve thought that the Ramsay Brothers’ first production was a historical worthy of a Sohrab Modi [granted, it does have two far-too-chubby leading men and its fair share of violence, but still; Rustom Sohrab is no horror film, not by a long shot]? But yes, Ramsay Productions—famous for its B grade horror films of the 80s and 90s—did make this rather surprising debut, a film based on the Persian epic poem Rostam and Sohrab (part of the famous Shahnameh).
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.
I’ve been very busy the last couple of days, and the busy-ness doesn’t look like it’ll come to an end soon. My husband, therefore (and what a model of husbandly devotion!) offered to write the review of Abe-Hayat for me. This, mind you, without having seen the film, just on the basis of a very sketchy gist I’d narrated of the first half while we were on our evening walk. Tarun said he’d do a 3-sentence review:
Once there was an evil jaadugar named Saamri. There was a prince, and a princess. The prince killed Saamri, and then he and the princess lived happily ever after.
My introduction to this film occurred when I was perhaps 12 years old. At the time, my sister and I relied mainly on Doordarshan–India’s sole TV channel way back then–for entertainment. A half-hour programme of Hindi film songs called Chitrahaar used to be among our favourite programmes. One day, on Chitrahaar, we saw Thandi hawaaein lehraake aayein. Both of us had heard the song before; one couldn’t live in the same house with a music-lover like my father and not have heard it—but we’d never seen it.
I don’t recall the exact conversation that followed, but I think I can paraphrase it pretty easily.
I’ve had a very enjoyable weekend. I watched two films, The Green Hornet and Anne of the Indies (the former better than reviews made it out to be). I dined at one of Delhi’s best French restaurants. And I bought birthday gifts for myself. Before you start thinking I’m woefully unloved, let me clarify: my relatives often gift me money. On Diwali, Karva Chauth, Christmas, my birthday, etc—I am often given an envelope and told to ‘buy something for yourself’. Since I’m not much of a shopper for clothes and jewellery, and since I already have a huge collection of unwatched DVDs and unread books, this seemed the best alternative. Old lobby cards and film stills. I visited two shops in Delhi, and spent all that money on a handful of lovely old Bollywood photos.
It’ll take me a while to write the review of Anne of the Indies; in the meantime, here’s something for you to feast your eyes upon: scans of the stuff I bought.
First, this one. This is the only one that’s just a still, not a lobby card—so it doesn’t have the name of the film on it. I have no idea which film this is, and though I think the actress is Shashikala, my husband (who, by his own admission, doesn’t know much about old Hindi cinema), doesn’t agree. Any other ideas? If anybody knows which film this is from, I’d welcome that too.
Of the many things that fascinate me about old Hindi cinema, this is one: the making of films set in a time and space wholly alien to India of the mid-1900’s. The 1950’s, especially, seem to favour these sort of films, set in exotic locales and needing costumes, makeup, and sets that were vastly different from what one saw in the more usual Bollywood drama, thriller or even mythological. There was Yahudi (with Dilip Kumar looking far from Roman in a light-haired wig and ankle-length gown); Aurat(based on the story of Samson and Delilah)—and this one, about the Mongol warrior king, Changez (better known to the West as Genghis) Khan.