Sunil Dutt and Waheeda Rehman. The two names themselves conjure up a mix of everything from Pyaasa to Mother India, from Gumraah to Kaagaz ke Phool. Sunil Dutt, whom I tend to associate either with suspense films (Humraaz, Mera Saaya) or angst-ridden (or otherwise philosophical, socially relevant films like Railway Platformor Sujata. Okay, he did do Postbox No 999 and Padosan, but still… Waheeda, whose films with Guru Dutt did showcase her prowess as an actress, but which also tended to paint her as a ‘serious’ actress—although in her case, films like Solvaa Saal and 12 O’Clock showed that she could be as convincing in peppy and light-hearted roles as many of her contemporaries.
If that’s your impression of Dutt and Rehman—two actors who appeared in mostly grim films—this rom-com is worth seeing just for a different, fun, side to both of them.
The last Hindi film I reviewed was a Bimal Roy production – and it left me feeling very disappointed. To get over that (and to remind myself that Bimal Roy’s films can generally be counted upon to be good), I decided to rewatch this one, an old favourite that reinforces Bimal Roy’s style of film-making: everyday stories of life, real life, with all its joys and sorrows and mundane happenings.
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.
And besides that ‘one snake charmer, one bandit’ (and not a single snake, mind you)—there’s also one pretty lady, a nasty patricidal king, a ghost (who appears for all of one very short scene) and a trio of comic courtiers who go bananas trying to differentiate between their crown prince and an impostor. There’s also, to add to the fun, a variety of disguises. And a decent enough score by Usha Khanna, including the depressing hit song Hum tumse judaa hoke.
As I’d mentioned in my last post, I’m not much of a Raj Kapoor fan. I have seen most of his films, but I like very few of them. Jaagte Raho, a flop when it was first released (even though it won an award at Karlovy Vary) is one of the exceptions: an RK film that I found engrossing and worth the watch. Part of it probably is the fact that it features a veritable who’s who of 50’s Hindi cinema character actors. Part of it is due to Salil Choudhary’s superb music. And more than that, it’s because this is a well-scripted story, socially relevant in a tongue-in-cheek way.
No: it wasn’t Dharmendra, and it certainly wasn’t Nanda (old Hindi cinema, at least, doesn’t seem to believe women capable of writing anything more complex than a love letter, if that).
This writer was someone quite different, and one day (I’m guessing) decided that it was time to show the world what he was capable of. So, with a producer and a director, the writer went into action, and what resulted was Akashdeep. Looking at the film, I’m assuming this was somewhat of a collaborative effort. A “how about this?” and a “don’t you think it would be a good idea—?” sort of film.
Much as I do not like like Dev Anand in his post-60’s avatar (the too-black hair, the bandanna and the cap don’t make him look any younger; they just bash home the fact that he’s aging most disgracefully)—I do like him in a lot of the films he did in the 50’s and early 60’s. There are some great suspense films here (CID, Baat ek Raat ki, Kaala Paani, Jewel Thief) and some great drama/thriller/romance/whatever (Jaal, Hum Dono, Paying Guest, Solvaan Saal, Guide, the very unusual Ferry)—and this, a simple story of a thief who finds himself impersonating the long-lost son of a village zamindar.
While I’m a sucker for masala films that bear not a shred of resemblance to reality, I’m also very fond of the sort of films that directors like Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee sometimes made: films about everyday people and their everyday lives. The protagonist of this film, Anuradha, is one of those: a young woman who gives up her dreams for the love of a man—only to discover eventually that even that sacrifice hasn’t brought her what she wanted.
And this is, of course, a belated tribute to one of Hindi cinema’s most luminous faces: Leela Naidu. If I hadn’t been exulting over Robert Mitchum last month when Leela Naidu passed away, I’d probably have reviewed this film then. But better late than never, I guess. RIP.
If I have one major failing when it comes to selecting films to watch, it is the stubborn (naive?) belief that any film which has good songs and a good cast must also necessarily be good. This has been proven to be a completely baseless criterion for film selection, but I plod on optimistically, buying and renting films that have superb music but fall absolutely flat on other fronts: House No. 44, for example, a Dev Anand starrer that tries to be noir but doesn’t quite make it.
For all those who thought I’d deserted classic Hindi cinema to wax eloquent about Robert Mitchum: good news. I’m back. After gushing for a week (well, a little more) about Mitch and his films, I’ve returned to Bollywood—and with a film that’s a must-watch for anyone who likes Muslim socials; who thinks Madhubala is gorgeous; or who loves old Hindi film music—especially qawwalis.
I fall into all three categories, so Barsaat ki Raat was long overdue for a rewatch.