While ‘food songs’ are not utterly unknown in old Hindi cinema, it’s rather more difficult to track down memorable scenes featuring food. Talk about new cinema, and it’s easier—and when I talk of ‘new’ cinema, I don’t just mean very recent films like Stanley ka Dabba, The Lunchbox, Cheeni Kum, or Chef: I even mean films from the 70s and 80s.
There was Bawarchi, where Rajesh Khanna’s eponymous bawarchi promised Harindranath Chattopadhyay’s character shukto and some three hundred or so types of chutney (he also made kababs out of elephant yams). There was Amitabh Bachchan, surreptitiously stuffing himself on a thali full of puris and other goodies in Do aur Do Paanch, only to be stuffed all over again by a stream of little kids, all instigated by a wily rival (Shashi Kapoor). In Sau Din Saas Ke, Lalita Pawar played an evil mother-in-law, so vicious that she tried to poison her bahu with kheer simmered with gecko.
Pre-70s cinema is a little less easily remembered for its food scenes.
The idea for this post came to my mind when I’d finished writing up my review of Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal’s Gaata Rahe Mera Dil: 50 Classic Hindi Film Songs. For me, one of the songs that was conspicuous by its absence from this enjoyable book was Tum pukaar lo, from Khamoshi. I love that song so much that I posted a Youtube link for it on Facebook—and found a lot of love for it among other friends and family members. A brief discussion with a friend, and we both agreed that it was one of those iconic songs of waiting. Out of that thread arose this idea: a compilation of good songs that are all about waiting.
Waiting, of course, can be of different types, and for different things. It can be a patient wait, for something one knows is coming one’s way. It can be restless, dominated by an urge to do something to alleviate one’s own suffering. Or the restlessness can be one of hopelessness, of knowing that one waits for something that can never come to be.
Hindi cinema has seesawed wildly when it comes to the depiction of women: on the one hand we’ve had films that glorify womanhood (even if it’s long-suffering, almost-always patient womanhood, as in Mother India); on the other, we’ve had appalling stuff like Suhaagan, which made no bones about telling women exactly where their loyalties lie.
But let’s lay aside the filmi angst and sacrifice for the time being, and celebrate International Women’s Day—with a list of female duets. While bromances have been so very popular with film makers, it seems rather surprising that the number of songs in which two men get together are relatively few. But put two (or, even better, more) women together, and—hey, presto—they burst into song.
This post came about because of my recent review of Rangeen Raatein. Another film-lover, an American, noticed that post and said that she thought it was time she began branching out into watching Hindi cinema too (she’d already seen a good bit of Satyajit Ray’s work). She thought she’d begin with Rangeen Raatein. I was quick to dissuade her, of course—even I, die-hard Shammi Kapoor fan that I am, probably couldn’t stomach a rewatch of that film.
But it made me think: if I had to introduce a newcomer to Hindi cinema (or, more specifically, pre-70s Hindi cinema, since that’s what I love most), which films would I recommend? They would have to be films that are available with English subtitles, of course.
So here it is: my list. I do not claim that these are the best Hindi films of that era; by no means. They just happen to be ten of my favourites. These are in no particular order.
My sister keeps a stack of CDs in her car. Often, when she gives me a lift, she puts a CD into the stereo and we listen as she drives along. The CDs are a mixed lot: Harry Belafonte, Simon and Garfunkel, 3 Idiots, Wake up, Sid!, The Best of S D Burman… and The Best of Shammi Kapoor. The others are in reasonably good condition; the Shammi Kapoor CD is battered and scratched and sadly in need of replacement.
I can understand why.
Shammi Kapoor is, for me (and I think I can speak for my sister too), one actor on whom some of the most fabulous songs in classic Hindi cinema were filmed. Funny songs, sad songs, romantic songs, madcap songs, rock-and-roll songs: he did them all, and memorably. And – somewhat unusually for an actor – he took a great interest in the music of his films. (There is an oft-repeated story of how Shammi Kapoor was so biased in favour of Shankar-Jaikishan’s music that he at first refused to let R D Burman compose the music for Teesri Manzil. But RDB, by insisting on playing a couple of the tunes he’d already composed, won Shammi over).
The first time I watched this film was on TV, back in the mid-80s. Luckily enough, our TV was hooked up to a VCR, and a blank tape was in the VCR – so we recorded Professor. I loved the film so much, I rewatched that tape again and again over the next 15 years. By that time, VCDs had come to India and I’d just gotten married. My husband and I bought a VCD player. And guess which was the first VCD I bought?
Now I have the DVD, and I have seen Professor so many times that I know each scene. I remember a lot of the dialogues, and I still love the film as much as I did way back then the first time, as a starry-eyed, Shammi Kapoor-loving 12 year old.
It seems a bit of a paradox that Tumsa Nahin Dekha was both good and bad for Shammi Kapoor. Good, because it turned him from a wannabe to a big star. Bad, because it created a certain persona – the fun-loving, completely madcap yet good at heart rebel. Bad? Was that ‘bad’?
I think so. In film after film, Shammi Kapoor ended up doing pretty similar roles. (Even the films had similar names: Junglee, Jaanwar, Budtameez, Bluffmaster…). You wouldn’t expect a Raj Kapoor, a Dilip Kumar or a Rajendra Kumar to debase themselves by making faces and leaping about like Shammi Kapoor was willing – even eager – to do. The result? Shammi Kapoor got typecast. ‘India’s Elvis Presley’, ‘the rebellious star’, the man who could dance and sing and do comic scenes and romances. But if emotion was needed, directors turned to other stars.
So, when I decided I wanted to do a list of my ten favourite Shammi roles, I began to pick out films in which one can see glimpses of what a fine actor this man actually was. Roles that allowed Shammi Kapoor, even if he was prancing about and singing in places, to show off his skill as a thespian.
Over a year ago, my husband remarked, “You’ve done special weeks on Robert Mitchum and Tyrone Power. You’re also going to be doing one on Johnny Walker. But what about your favourite actor? Don’t you think you should be doing a Shammi Kapoor Week sometime?”
Of course, I said. I just wanted to time it well – in time for Shammiji’s 80th birthday, which would be on October 21st, 2011. That would be quite an occasion, and the right time for me to spend an entire week gushing about my favourite film star.