It’s not as if I’ve not done a Manna Dey song list before (I have, several years back). But today, when Manna Dey would have turned a hundred years old, cannot pass without my doing a tribute to the beautiful voice and the versatility of one of my favourite singers.
Happy 70th birthday, Mumtaz!
I have gone through phases when I’ve been very fond of a certain actor, only to later start disliking them. Or vice-versa. Dev Anand, for a while, I could watch in anything (until I discovered his post-Johny Mera Naam films, and began disliking him even in some of his earlier films). Mehmood I was fond of as a child; now, it’s only the rare film where I like him. Balraj Sahni I found boring when I was a kid: for many years now, he’s been an actor I admire immensely.
Mumtaz (born in Bombay, on July 31, 1947) is one of the exceptions. I have adored Mumu ever since I can remember. From that gorgeous smile to that cute little button nose, to those dancing eyes: I have never not loved Mumtaz. Initially, I remember loving her just for the fact that she was so very pretty and vivacious; later, when I saw films like Khilona, I realized just how good an actress she is, too.
When I was in school, all school functions—even, on special occasions, school assembly—would have one particularly talented child presenting a solo (the first time I heard Ae mere pyaare watan was in school assembly, sung brilliantly by a classmate of mine; her rendition made me want to listen to the original song because I guessed that if she sang it so well, what must the original be like?). For very special occasions, like the annual day, there would be a couple of solo performances. But the norm for school songs (most of which, by the way, were patriotic, with the occasional folk song here and there) was the group song. A choir, picked from those who could more or less hold a tune, had loud voices, and didn’t mind standing and singing Tu zinda hai toh zindagi ki jeet par yakeen kar while the rest of the school trooped slowly out of the assembly ground.
In contrast, ‘group songs’ in Hindi cinema tend to be relatively few and far between. Yes, choirs there are aplenty, singing for dancers, supporting actors, and so on—even, at times (Ajeeb daastaan hai yeh being a very good example) providing a certain magic to the song without which one now cannot imagine the song being complete. But the overwhelming bulk of Hindi film songs tends to consist of solos or duets. With, as I mentioned, a choir joining in now and then.
But how many good songs are there that have three (or more) well-established singers in them? Not ‘Rafi and Lata with chorus’, but ‘Rafi, Lata, Manna Dey, Asha Bhonsle’ (or along similar lines)?
Of the three Kapoor brothers—Raj, Shammi and Shashi—Shashi Kapoor is the one who falls in the middle when it comes to my personal preferences. Raj Kapoor I tend to not like (except in the occasional film now and then, like Chori-Chori or Teesri Kasam). Shammi Kapoor I am nuts about and will gladly watch in just about any film from his heyday. And Shashi Kapoor—well, he did act in some films I don’t like at all (Bombay Talkie, Benazir, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Raja Sahib…), but he also acted in some of my favourite films. In Prem Patra, for instance. And Waqt. And Pyaar Kiye Jaa. And my guilty pleasure, Sharmeelee.
He was wonderfully handsome in a boyish sort of way, he was a versatile actor (compare, for instance, his hot-headed young Hindu radical of Dharmputra with the madcap of Pyaar Kiye Jaa), he was extremely watchable. (And, to his credit—or his wife, Jennifer Kendall’s?—remained relatively well-preserved until quite late. Of the three brothers, Shashi had the longest innings as a believable leading man, all the way from the start of the 60s to the early 80s).
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Nina Hilger, who works with Dzintars Cers of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Nina said she’d read my list of ten favourite monsoon songs, had been inspired to rent the films in which those songs featured—and wanted to do a radio show on the monsoon in India. Would I be willing to do an interview? Of course, I was very happy to do so—and had an extremely enjoyable hour chatting with Nina and Dzintars, telling them about why I chose those songs, and what the monsoon means to us here in India (both the good and the bad—from hot chai and pakoras, to waterlogging and floods. This was, happily, before disaster struck in Uttarakhand).
It also inspired me to try my hand at another tribute to rain in Hindi cinema. A list of ten rain-related scenes (from pre-70s Hindi films) that I find utterly memorable. These may be memorable for different reasons, both good and bad, but what sets them apart for me is that they’ve stuck in my mind over the years.
Birdsong? No, really. Bird songs.
I spent a bit of last Sunday at Delhi’s Okhla Barrage Bird Sanctuary. The barrage on the Yamuna hosts a vast number of migratory birds through the winter. Most of them are gone by this time of the year, but there’s plenty of bird life still to be seen:
Some months ago, Bawa—to whom I will always be indebted for inspiring me to watch and review films in languages other than English and Hindi—sent me an interesting article. It listed selected scenes that leading film critics pegged as cinema’s most memorable. Bawa’s suggestion: why not do a list like that for Bollywood?
It’s taken time and effort, but this is it: ten scenes from 50’s and 60’s Hindi cinema, which are for me the most memorable—for whatever reason. These are in no particular order, though the scenes that came immediately to my mind (so, I suppose, the most memorable for me) are grouped at the top.
Note: some of these have spoilers.
I’d planned to watch (and review) something quite different this week, but when Beth announced Shashi Fest, I couldn’t resist the temptation to participate. That resolve was strengthened when I realised that in a year and a half of blogging about cinema, I’ve never once reviewed a Shashi Kapoor starrer. For shame! This, therefore: a farcical and fun film that never lets itself slip into seriousness. It features some of Hindi comedy’s greatest stalwarts, has superb music, and—of course—stars Shashi Kapoor, showing how good he is at comedy.
Prabodh Chandra Dey—better known as Manna Dey—turns 90 years old on May 1, 2009. A long innings, and though with too little recognition (in fact, far less than a talent like his deserves), a superb one. In my opinion, Manna Dey’s was one of the most beautiful male voices to have ever sung playback for Hindi cinema: warm, sensuous, and with a glorious smoothness, throaty and full of feeling, that’s unparalleled. Listen to him sing a qawwali, a raag, a rock-and-roll number—all with equal ease, panache and conviction, and it’s easy to become a fan. Happy birthday, Mr Dey; may you and your songs live long!