In 1957, Mehboob Khan produced and directed a film that has achieved almost iconic status in the history of Indian cinema. Mother India was the first Indian film to receive a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and won several Filmfare Awards, including Best Film and Best Actress.
Mother India is a fine example of the importance of perseverance. If you don’t get it right the first time, try again. Sometime along the way, somewhere and somehow, you will get to your goal. Also, if you did something well once, chances are you’ll do it better the next time round. Practice makes perfect.
I’m not talking about how Radha, the female lead character of Mother India (and of Aurat) manages to surmount all the obstacles in her path and emerge strong. I’m talking about Mehboob Khan himself, who was the director not just of Mother India, but of the film, Aurat, of which Mother India was a remake. Based on a story by Babubhai Mehta (and supposedly partly inspired too by Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth) and with dialogue by Wajahat Mirza, Aurat was a film Mehboob Khan only directed. Seventeen years later, now a producer in his own right, he remade the film, both producing and directing it. And how well he proved that if you do something well the first time round, there’s a good chance you’ll do it well, and even better, the second time round.
When I reviewed the 1934 version of this film, I’d been under the impression that I’d never heard of either of these films before. But, when I started watching this film, I realized that I had heard of this. As part of the filmography of Douglas Sirk, whose work I’ve seen too little of, and have been meaning to catch up on. So my viewing of the 1959 Imitation of Life served two purposes: watching another Sirk film, and seeing how it compared to an earlier film I’d already watched.
Like the 1934 Imitation of Life, this version too begins with a harried single mother and her young daughter. Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) is a widow with a six year old daughter called Susie (Terry Burnham). When the film opens, Lora is rushing about frantically on a very crowded beachfront, searching for Susie, who’s vanished.
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.
There are some books that have become such a part of me that I sometimes forget if I have actually read the original or not. Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre: all I began by reading in an abridged form. I encountered them again, over the years, in various cinematic adaptations, on television and otherwise.
It has been the same for HG Wells’s classic tale of alien invasion, The War of the Worlds. I’ve been so familiar with this book for so long that I couldn’t remember whether I’ve ever read the full-length book or whether all my recollections of it were based on the film version I’ve seen and excerpts I’ve read. I decided finally to read the original recently (I liked it)—and then, naturally, I had to check out the cinematic adaptations of the book. One of these I had watched, and more than once: the 2005 Steven Spielberg one. But there was another, considered the most iconic version, which dated back to 1953 and which I figured I had to watch ASAP.
The War of the Worlds starts with a voiceover that talks about how, on Mars, a highly technically advanced civilization realized that its planet was dying and that it was time to look elsewhere for habitation. So it began the search among the other planets of the solar system: considering one and discarding it, one after the other, this one too cold, this too hot. Until its gaze turned on Earth, so serene and beautiful, so conducive to life.
Now, if that isn’t coincidence, serendipity, fate, call it what you will—I don’t know what is. So I made up my mind: this remake had to be watched, and the original (no, I’m not counting the earlier, silent version of the film, but the record-breaking, many-Oscar winning one, directed by William Wyler). Comparisons, of course, would follow.
I have a thing for heist films. Give me a clever one, and I can watch it again and again. The other day, I was reminded ofThe Thomas Crown Affair, which—to a teenaged me—was only about The Windmills of Your Mind, since I’d never seen the film itself. And, to an older me, it was Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo in a film with one of the most deliciously clever endings I’d ever seen. Time to watch the original, I decided, if only to see if it was as clever as the remake.
Taqdeer—a remake of the Konkani film Nirmonn (1966, directed by A Salaam, who also directed Taqdeer)—wouldn’t have been a film I’d have watched had it not been for one particular song that I like a lot: Jab-jab bahaar aayi aur phool muskuraaye. I noticed the film was up on Youtube (incidentally, this is a surprisingly good print, and with seemingly no arbitrary snipping off of sections). So I settled down one night to watch. For the song. And discovered that the film wasn’t bad—and was somewhat different from the usual.
The highlight of last week was—no, not an old film that I watched at home, but a new film that I watched in a cinema theatre. The Artist. A couple of friends, both people with excellent taste in cinema, recommended it to me. So I wheedled my husband into coming to watch The Artist.
And, oh. What a film. What a wonderful combination of humour, emotion, heart-breaking sorrow—and hope. It’s been a long, long time since I saw a new film that made me gush so much. (Yes, well; that probably also had a lot to do with the fact that the gorgeous Jean Dujardin is very gushworthy).
Several people who read my last post – which, as I’d mentioned, was an adaptation of a suspense novel, and in turn was remade in another language – guessed what this post would be all about. You were all kind enough to not let the cat out of the bag, but I guess you all got it right. The Hound of the Baskervilles, made in 1939 with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, was remade in Hindi 23 years later, as Biswajit’s first Hindi film, Bees Saal Baad.
This last Saturday, on a mere whim (brought on by a good newspaper review) I went off to watch True Grit. The 2010 version, starring Hailee Steinfeld in an Oscar-nominated role as Mattie Ross. It was a good film, in true time-honoured Western mould, with tinges of both feminism and noir. And it spurred me on to finally watch the original True Grit, the film that won John Wayne his only Oscar.