Early in 2013, to mark hundred years of Indian cinema, I dedicated an entire month to regional Indian cinema. I reviewed several films of different languages, and realized, in the process, just how difficult it is to get hold of old regional films that have subtitles. Even when they’re blockbuster hits, National Award-winning films, films that must have been subtitled at some stage to enable a jury to judge them worthy of a prestigious award.
Among the films that I came across, but which wasn’t subbed, was this extremely popular Punjabi film, which won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Punjabi, as well as the National Film Award for Best Music Direction. My husband’s a Punjabi but speaks the language very rarely, and that too when he has no other option (as a result, his Punjabi is pretty shaky). As for me, the less said about my Punjabi, the better. But I had this film bookmarked from 2013, and when I discovered last year that Nanak Naam Jahaaz Hai had been digitally restored and re-released, I thought I may as well take the plunge.
I remember my very first glimpse of a scene from Sikandar. It was years ago, probably sometime in the mid-80s, and in some Doordarshan programme or the other, a snippet appeared from Sikandar. All I recall is a closeup of Prithviraj Kapoor, dressed as an ancient Greek, plumes flowing from a gleaming helmet as he led his troops into battle. He looked startlingly like Shashi Kapoor, though with the build of Shammi. This film, I thought back then, I must see.
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).
Those who frequent this blog have probably figured out by now that I have a soft spot (a very soft spot) for Muslim socials. So much so that I will watch just about any Muslim social out there, even if it features people who aren’t among my favourites. Even if it has a fairly regressive theme, and even if I end up not agreeing with half the things in the film. So, when I come across a Muslim social that stars some of my favourite actors (Sunil Dutt? Meena Kumari? Rehman? Prithviraj Kapoor? Rajendra Nath? Check, check, check), has lyrics by my favourite lyricist (Sahir Ludhianvi), and had its songs composed by one of my favourite music directors (Madan Mohan—and how appropriate, too, for a film called Ghazal to be scored by the Ghazalon ka Shahzaada): to not watch this would be a crime, I thought.
Poor Biswajeet must have gotten thoroughly sick of romancing spooky women in the ‘60s. True, in this one, the spookiness is rather more pronounced (Waheeda Rehman was pretty sunny and un-mysterious in Bees Saal Baad; everything else seemed steeped in mystery). But there is the inexplicability of everything around, dozens of very loud and pointed hints of someone haunting an area, and a song that’s sung again and again like a broken record.
Yesterday morning, when I woke up and logged on to the Internet, the first news headline I saw was that Shammi Kapoor had passed away. I have never been so affected by the passing away of one of the many stars of the past who have died in the recent past… but the news of Shammi Kapoor’s death brought tears to my eyes. I have a lump in my throat even as I type this.
I had not really intended to write this review now. I am in the midst of a blog project in which each post links to the previous and the next posts in some way or the other. But I could not ignore the passing of my favourite actor. I would never forgive myself for that. So, while this post does have a connection to the last (Humayun was a ‘raja-rani’ – ‘king-and-queen’ – film; so is Rajkumar), it is, first and foremost, a tribute to the brightest, most joyous and most entertaining star of the 60s. A sun that will never set.
Hindi cinema’s fascination for the Mughals is – well, fascinating. Even before independence, we were busy churning out semi-historicals such as Humayun (1945) and Shahjehan (1946); then, in the 50s and 60s, there followed a spate of rather more big-budget extravaganzas, complete with big names, vast armies, glittering palaces and superb music: Mughal-e-Azam,Taj Mahal and Anarkali (Note: As a character, Anarkali seemed to be especially popular. Besides the Bina Rai-Pradeep Kumar version, there were Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam versions of her story; even a Pakistani version starring Noor Jehan. And that list neither includes the two versions made in 1928, nor a 1935 film starring Ruby Myers. Note that Mughal-e-Azam is also about Anarkali).
I’ve lost count of the number of Hindi films I’ve seen in which a bride is left at the mandap just because her family hasn’t been able to provide a massive dowry. I have no idea which was the first such film to be made, but V Shantaram’s Dahej is one of the early ones. And to be expected too, from a film-maker who was deeply sensitive to the many shortcomings in the society of his time.
Frequent readers of this blog have probably realised I have a soft spot for ‘real life’ stories: Gladys Aylward, Dr Kotnis, Changez Khan, Shahjahan: I’m game. Of course, I don’t always end up with films that bear any resemblance to the life of the person in question, but there’s no harm in trying.
So, another. Afanasy Nikitin was a horse trader from Tver in Russia, who came to India in the late 15th century, having started off from Tver in 1466. His travels took him down the Volga River, through Persia, and then via dhow to India. He is believed to have disembarked in present-day Maharashtra; over the years that followed, he travelled through a large part of peninsular India, including Bidar and Vijaynagar. He died in 1472 in Smolensk, on his way home; his travelogue of India, however, endures: entitled Khozhdenie Za Tri Moray (‘The Journey Beyond Three Seas’), it describes in detail all that Nikitin saw of what was to him a wild, exotic land like nothing he knew.