Dharti ke Laal (1946)

Balraj Sahni devotes several pages of his autobiography to one of his first films, KA Abbas’s directorial debut, Dharti ke Laal (1946). Here, among other behind-the-scenes reminiscences, is an anecdote which especially struck me.

A scene of the film depicts the death of one of its characters, an old peasant who has come to Calcutta to escape the famine in the countryside. In his dying delirium, the old man ‘sees’ the ready crop, fields of rice waiting to be harvested. Around him, his friends and family hover, as the man’s eyes open wide in joy and then, suddenly, he keels over.

It’s a dramatic scene, and was envisioned as taking place under a street lamp, with the light shining on the dying man’s face in his moment of delirium. The set was ready, but somebody had blundered, and the bulb that was supposed to shed its light on the character refused to light up. Abbas, Sahni, Shombhu Mitra (who played the role of the dying peasant), the cameraman and the rest of the crew were in a flap, when a mazdoor—a labourer—suggested an alternative: let the light be provided not by a street lamp, but by the headlights of an approaching car, shining on the dying man’s face. And, as the car moves away, its tail lights should provide the last glow before the man finally dies.

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Godaan (1963)

I am not a one to make New Year’s resolutions; more often than not, it’s just something I silently tell myself I should attempt to do over the course of the coming year. At the start of 2014, I decided I should read more classic fiction this year—and, importantly, more fiction that wasn’t originally in English. Since the only two languages I am fluent in are English and Hindi, it meant that the only untranslated works I could read would be in either of those two languages. So, after many years (if I remember correctly, I last read a Munshi Premchand novel in school), I decided to read his landmark novel, Godaan.

…and didn’t even know, till a couple of months back, that it had been adapted into a film. When I discovered Godaan on Youtube, I bookmarked it immediately (noting, though, with trepidation, that it starred two people I’m not especially fond of: Raj Kumar and Kamini Kaushal). And I vowed to watch it as soon as possible, at least while the novel was still fresh in my mind.

Raj Kumar and Kamini Kaushal in Godaan Continue reading

Charly (1968)

This was not the film I’d been intending to review this weekend.

The film I’d meant to watch was, instead, quite a different one: a Viking/King Arthur historical, the Robert Wagner-Janet Leigh-Debra Paget starrer Prince Valiant (1954). Why, then, am I reviewing this film, which has nothing to do with Vikings or history? Simply because Prince Valiant turned out to be—as a blog reader had so succinctly described The Long Ships in a comment—a ghanta film. (ghanta, for those not familiar with this particular usage of the Hindi word, refers to something cheesy, inferior, and generally avoidable).

Besides the fact that it consisted of slightly pointless (not to mention extended) violence and some very predictable romance, Prince Valiant had Robert Wagner looking like a masculine Amelie, which really put me off. To recover, I decided to watch Charly instead.

Cliff Robertson in and as Charly Continue reading

Neecha Nagar (1946)

I am a bit of an iconoclast. Maxim Gorky’s play The Lower Depths, while considered one of the great classics of Russian literature, left me cold when I read it. To me, it seemed too cluttered with characters, too devoid of plot, and just—well, without anything that would make me want to go back to it all over again.
So I approached Neecha Nagar—Chetan Anand’s debut film as a director—with a good deal of trepidation. Because Neecha Nagar was inspired by The Lower Depths, and I expected something horrendously morbid and impossible to understand without the benefit of footnotes.

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