I have watched hundreds of Hindi films. Many of these I’ve reviewed here on this blog, and for many of those, I’ve had readers mention that so-and-so film was actually a remake of so-and-so Hollywood film, or was inspired from this novel or that play. In some, of course, I’ve been able to spot a source immediately: the grand mansion being run as a hotel by its manager who then forces the owner to pretend to be a guest is lifted from Come September and used—without any credit for the original idea—in both Kashmir ki Kaliand Mere Sanam. Adalat is a remake of Madame X; Aradhana of To Each His Own; Gumnaam of And Then There Were None… all uncredited. And umpteen others.
This is something I find very irritating. The amount of work that goes into coming up with a good plot is substantial, and if you’re acknowledging that by thinking it worthy of being copied, then you should certainly think it worthy enough to pay for. But by calmly hogging all the credit and assuming that Indian audiences won’t cotton on to this plagiarism, and Hollywood (or foreign writers), too far from the world of Hindi cinema, will be oblivious.
Anyway, that’s a long, convoluted and messy topic, which I should probably leave for later. For now, the reason why all of that came to my mind: because this film does give credit where it’s due. Not, unfortunately, to the writer of the book (Johanna Spyri), but at least to the book itself.
Sometime during the 1990s, I pretty much stopped watching contemporary films. By then, there were a few channels on TV that regularly aired old films, and that was enough for me—in any case, I was in a job so time-consuming that I barely got time to sleep, let alone watch films. For several years, I watched a handful of films that were the current rage. As it was, the songs rarely appealed to me; I didn’t much care for a lot of the people who seemed to be the hottest stars; and some of the biggest films—or so I gathered—were action blockbusters, not really my idea of fun.
And then I watched Parineeta. The 2005 one, which marked the Hindi film debut of one of my favourite present-day actresses. It also proved a turning point for me with reference to Saif Ali Khan, whom I didn’t like before, but began to like (in some roles) after this one. It’s one of the few films in which I’ve not minded Sanjay Dutt. Plus, it has perhaps my favourite score of any film from the 2000s so far.
It wasn’t till much after I’d seen Parineeta—perhaps a few years—that I discovered that there had been an earlier Parineeta as well. Made by Bimal Roy, and starring Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar. Just those three names in themselves are enough to make me watch a film. And a film based on a novel by Sarat Chandra, no less? I realized it was high time I watched this.
I started off being a diehard fan of Dev Anand’s. While in school and college, pretty much all of Dev Anand’s films I’d seen were the ones Doordarshan aired: CID, Teen Deviyaan, Tere Ghar ke Saamne, Jewel Thief,Nau Do Gyarah,Munimji… what wasn’t to like? Yes, I drew the line at Dev Anand post the early 70s—those mannerisms by then had begun to be tiresome, and the man’s ‘evergreen’ image really didn’t fool me. It was downright embarrassing to watch films like Warrant or Heera Panna.
And then, when I was in my twenties or so, I began paying a little more attention to Dev Anand’s early career—and found that here was a mix of films, some good and some pretty forgettable except for some good music. After trying out films like Vidya and Sazaa, I sort of gave up. Until Sanam was recommended to me by someone who knows his Dev Anand movies inside-out. A comedy, surprisingly modern, I was told.
Hindi cinema has, over the years, borrowed liberally from English literature. Shakespeare (Hamlet, and in more recent years, Angoor, Omkara, Maqbool, and Haider), Agatha Christie (Gumnaam), Arthur Conan Doyle (Bees Saal Baad), AJ Cronin (Tere Mere Sapne): Hindi cinema seems to have drawn inspiration from a lot of authors, whether or not that inspiration has always been acknowledged or not.
Here, then, is another film derived from a literary work by a writer in the English language. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, published in 1847, has spawned a number of cinematic adaptations (one of the first I ever saw starred Orson Welles and featured a very young Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns; one of my favourites stars the brilliant Toby Stephens as Rochester). In Hindi cinema, too, Jane Eyre was made into a film: Sangdil. I’ve been wanting to watch this for a while, and when recently I finally got around to reading the complete, unabridged version of Jane Eyre, I decided it was also time to watch the film.
Inspirations to watch (and review) films come to me from all over. Friends and relatives are occasionally badgered to suggest genres; blog readers’ requests and recommendations (some of them, alas, long-pending) are taken into consideration. And, sometimes, I get inspired by the most outlandish of things. For instance, this film—which I first watched years ago, on TV—jumped to the top of my to-watch list because one day, while washing up in my kitchen, I was reminded of Mala Sinha.
[And no, not because I happened to be scrubbing a colander].
My family first acquired a TV in 1982. For the next few years, Doordarshan remained our main source of entertainment. And the films Doordarshan telecast at 5.45 PM every Sunday (and a couple of times during the week, mostly at odd times) were the highlights of the week. We saw loads of films during those years. Everything that was shown—from the simply horrendous Fauji to Fedora, which I didn’t understand—was grist to the family mill.
Looking back, I now realise just how tolerant I was back then of cinema that now induces irritation at best, ‘kill-this-film maker’ fury at worst. Watching Adalat now, after having first seen this when I was a pre-teen, I can see that what I thought of as a tragic but entertaining film is really not that great. In, fact, almost tedious.
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.
After having done a fairly thorough job of lambasting The Charge of the Light Brigade for depicting India idiotically, I decided I had to show that I’m unbiased. If Hollywood could make a mess when it came to foreigners and foreign settings, Hindi cinema could surpass it. And how! Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahani is based on the real-life story of Dr Dwarkanath S Kotnis, who went to China in 1938 as part of a medical mission and did exemplary work in China. This, on its own, would be too insipid for the average Hindi film. But the fact that Kotnis married a Chinese girl while he was treating the ailing masses—well, that gives this story plenty of potential, and V Shantaram, director and lead actor of this film, milks it to the melodramatic full.
Considering my mother’s part Bengali, I suppose I should be feeling a little ashamed that I don’t know the language. The only time it’s bothered me, though, is when it means I can’t see Uttam Kumar’s Bengali movies without subtitles. Chhoti si Mulaqat is one of the few Hindi movies the Bengali superstar ever made, and luckily for me, this is (unlike Anand Ashram or Amanush) in his pre-pudgy days. Sneak peek: