Ten Avatars of a Magician: The Genius of Sahir Ludhianvi

I am leery of attaching ‘best’ and ‘most favourite’ appellations to anybody or anything, no matter how much I may be fond of the person/creation/whatever in question. I tend to say that so-and-so song or film, for instance, is among my favourites; the same goes for actors, singers, directors, and so on. There are some whom I especially like, there are some for whom I will watch a film just because they’re in it. There are none whom I idolize and place on a pedestal and see no wrong in.

Sahir Ludhianvi may be one of the exceptions. This is one man whose genius blows me away. If I were to list my favourite Hindi songs from the Golden Period, based purely on the sheer memorability of their lyrics, the one lyricist who would lead the pack would be Sahir Ludhianvi. His versatility; his hard-hitting, often brutal, honesty; his occasional humour and his exquisite expressions of romance: all come forth in many, many songs composed across the three decades or so that he was actively writing songs for Hindi cinema.

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Funtoosh (1956)

Today may (or may not) be the birth centenary of the film maker, writer, and actor Chetan Anand, eldest brother of Dev Anand and Vijay Anand. Different sources list different dates of birth: most sites (including IMDB) list his birth date as January 3, 1921; others, including Wikipedia (yes, I know not the most reliable of sources) say it’s January 3, 1915. (This article says it’s 1921, but then goes on to write that Chetan Anand was 27 years old in 1943, which is either dodgy maths or a suggestion that the year of birth was indeed 1915). The article, barring that slip, is a good, interesting introduction to the life and career of Chetan Anand.

Anyway. Even if I’m six years too late to the party, at least today is Chetan Anand’s birthday.

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12 O’Clock (1958)

Years ago, in the good old days when the single channel on Doordarshan was our main source of entertainment and we therefore watched everything that was telecast, I watched 12 O’Clock. I’d already seen Guru Dutt’s big films—Pyaasa, Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, Kaagaz ke Phool, Chaudhvin ka Chaand. I assumed, based on those (I had yet to watch Bahurani or Saanjh aur Savera, and had thought Mr & Mrs 55 a flash in the pan), that 12 O’Clock would be along the lines of the serious stuff Guru Dutt churned out.

… which this is not. Because this is one of a handful of the films Guru Dutt acted in but did not direct.

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Dil Hi Toh Hai (1963)

Some months back, I watched two relatively new Muslim socials: Daawat-e-Ishq and Bobby Jasoos. Both were an interesting reflection on the way the Muslim social has changed over the years (after close to disappearing during the 90s). The Muslim social of the 1950s was, more often than not, a film that, even when set amongst the wealthy upper class—the nawabs and their kin—came heavily burdened with all the stereotypical trappings of what was perceived as ‘Muslim’: the qawwalis and mushairas, the shararas and sherwanis. (I’ll write about all of those, and more, in a post to follow).

Bobby Jasoos and Daawat-e-Ishq had shed those to quite an extent. But that process had begun in earlier films, even as far back as the 60s. In Neend Hamaari Khwaab Tumhaare, for example, where Nanda’s character—the daughter of a nawab, no less—doesn’t merely have a Western education, but spends most of her time in skirts and dresses. And this film, where Nutan’s Jameela is a firebrand, giving as good as she gets, and by no means the simpering and demure Muslim girl exemplified by her contemporaries in films like Mere Mehboob, Mere Huzoor, and Chandni Chowk.

Nutan as Jameela in Dil Hi Toh Hai

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Aankhen (1968)

I spent part of last week reading fellow blogger Todd Stadtman’s book, Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970s Indian Action Cinema (more on that, along with a link to my review of it, at the end of this post). Todd’s book discusses, in affectionate detail, all the iconic action films—spy thrillers included—of the 70s. In a fit of enthusiasm, brought on by Todd’s book, I told my husband, “I want to see Gunmaster G-9”. To which he replied, “I didn’t like that. What I really liked was Aankhen. That was fun.”

Dharmendra in Aankhen Continue reading

Ghazal (1964)

Those who frequent this blog have probably figured out by now that I have a soft spot (a very soft spot) for Muslim socials. So much so that I will watch just about any Muslim social out there, even if it features people who aren’t among my favourites. Even if it has a fairly regressive theme, and even if I end up not agreeing with half the things in the film. So, when I come across a Muslim social that stars some of my favourite actors (Sunil Dutt? Meena Kumari? Rehman? Prithviraj Kapoor? Rajendra Nath? Check, check, check), has lyrics by my favourite lyricist (Sahir Ludhianvi), and had its songs composed by one of my favourite music directors (Madan Mohan—and how appropriate, too, for a film called Ghazal to be scored by the Ghazalon ka Shahzaada): to not watch this would be a crime, I thought.

Meena Kumari and Sunil Dutt in Ghazal Continue reading

Railway Platform (1955)

Railway Platform begins, not on a platform, but in a train.

It starts with a song, Basti-basti parbat-parbat gaata jaaye banjaara, lip-synched by a philosopher and poet (Manmohan Krishna) as he rides in a crowded train compartment. This man, only referred to as ‘kavi’ (poet) throughout the film, acts as a sort of sutradhar. Not strictly the holder of the puppet strings, not always a narrator, but a voice of reason, of conscience, of dissent. His favourite saying is that “Two and two do not always make four; they sometimes make twenty-two.”

The kavi sings a song

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Dharmputra (1961)

Several readers have told me, over the past couple of years, that I should watch this film. It is, if you go by just the details of cast, crew, and awards won, a promising film. Directed by Yash Chopra, starring Mala Sinha, Rehman, Ashok Kumar, Shashi Kapoor (in his first role as an adult), Nirupa Roy, Indrani Mukherjee, Manmohan Krishna—with guest appearances by Rajendra Kumar and Shashikala. The winner of the President’s Silver Medal for Best Feature Film in Hindi at the National Film Awards.
And with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi, set to music by N Dutta. I could well imagine Dharmputra would be a film worth watching. So when I finally managed to lay my hands on it, I didn’t waste much time getting around to seeing it.

Shashi Kapoor in Dharmputra Continue reading