The world of Hindi cinema is peppered with names that anyone familiar with the industry (at least the industry of the 50s and 60s) can quickly slot into categories. Star. Villain. Comedian. Character actor. There are many, many names that automatically fall into (almost exclusively) one of these categories. Those that have shifted from one category to another—like Pran, for instance, once the quintessential villain but in later years the more interesting ‘good man’, or Ajit and Premnath, both initially hero and later villain—have again usually not done too many shifts.
Abhi Bhattacharya is one of those relatively rare individuals who seem to have appeared in a wide variety of roles, a wide variety of films. He was the idealistic school teacher of Jagriti, the ‘other man’ of Anuradha. The kind-hearted, principled example of the bhadralok in films like Amar Prem, and the straying older brother of Dev Anand in Love Marriage. He played Krishna and Arjun and Vishnu (the latter in a slew of mythologicals). He even played the villain, in the Vinod Khanna-Yogita Bali starrer, Memsaab.
This year marks the birth centenary of Abhi Bhattacharya (as far as I’ve been able to find out, he was born in 1921, though I’ve not been able to discover exactly when in 1921). To commemorate his career, I wanted to watch a Bhattacharya film, but a dilemma presented itself: which one? Hindi or Bengali? (since Bhattacharya had what seems to have been a very successful career in Bengali cinema as well). Eventually, I homed in on this film, a rare whodunit in Hindi cinema that’s pretty well made too.
I have a confession to make: I am not especially fond of Kishore Kumar as an actor. He’s a brilliant singer, and he can be pretty funny in films like Chalti ka Naam Gaadi or Pyaar Kiye Jaa or Padosan—but that, as far as I am concerned, is about it. Asha, Rangoli, Naughty Boy, Half Ticket, Jhumroo, Ek Raaz, Naya Andaaz,Bandi, Manmauji: I have lost count of the number of films I’ve seen because of good songs, or a cast that appeals to me, but have ended up regretting because Kishore Kumar’s antics were so very over the top as to be unfunny.
But then there are films like New Delhi and Naukri, where there isn’t a concerted effort to make Kishore’s a comic character. Films about young men who are like most other young men: trying to go from being boys to men, facing trials and tribulations, trying to laugh through them when they can, caving in occasionally. Not heroes, not comedians, just normal men.
One style of mystery story popular in the early 60s (though there was the odd film even earlier, like Mahal) was the one where the suspense includes a seemingly supernatural element. A woman in white, singing a ghostly song of eternal yearning as she wanders half-seen (or unseen) through the gloom. Woh Kaun Thi?, Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, Bees Saal Baad, Gumnaam, Raaz: all of them used this trope to the hilt.
As did this relatively lesser-known film [and you’ll probably realize, by the end of this post, why it’s little-known]. Poonam ki Raat was made by actor/writer/director Kishore Sahu, who played an important role in this film, the star of which was Manoj Kumar, quite a veteran of these suspense thrillers.
What is it about Bengali directors—Bimal Roy, for instance, or Hrishikesh Mukherjee, or (if one steps out of the realm of just Hindi cinema, Satyajit Ray)—that they manage to bring so vividly to life the everyday happenings in the lives of everyday people? Not the escapist fare that most people tend to equate Hindi cinema with, but stories about real people, people one can relate to? Films like Majhli Didi, Parivaar, Parakh, Sujata, Anand: not larger than life, not without a shred of reality. Not art films, not angst-riddled, songless films about the search for the meaning of life, but everyday stories. Songs and all, still very much commercial cinema, but easy to relate to.
Add to that list Dulal Guha, who while he also went on to make films like Mere Humsafar, began his career as a director in Hindi cinema with this charming little film about a sleepy village named Chandangaon, that’s jolted by the arrival of a new doctor…
Serendipity isn’t something I encounter too frequently while watching Hindi cinema. More often than not, it’s the other way round: I watch a film because I liked the cast, or because the story sounds appealing, or (and this happens with appalling frequency) because the music is wonderful. That I should watch a film about which I know next to nothing—on a whim, so to say—and find that it’s not just watchable but actually quite enjoyable is something to be grateful about. Which is why this review. Seriously speaking, I hadn’t expected much of Parivaar (the name itself conjures up one of those extremely melodramatic social dramas AVM used to specialise in).
Worse, I had my memories (I wish I could rid myself of them) of having watched the utterly execrable Nanda-Jeetendra starrer Parivaar, one of the worst films from the 60s I’ve ever wasted three hours upon. But, back to thisParivaar, which brought a smile of pleased anticipation to my face as soon as the credits began to roll. Directed by Asit Sen and produced by Bimal Roy, Parivaar is set completely within the large haveli of the Choudhary brothers, where all of them, with the exception of one brother, live as a joint family. Over the first hour or so of the film, we are introduced to these men, their families, and their servants. Continue reading →
When I first began searching the Net to find landmark regional films to review for this special ‘100 years of Indian cinema’ celebration, Chemmeen was one name that cropped up again and again. It sounded impressive. This was one of the first Malayalam films to be made in colour; more importantly, in won the President’s Gold Medal for Best Feature Film at the National Film Awards in 1965. It was screened at both the Cannes and the Chicago Film Festivals, and was greeted with much critical acclaim (not to mention commercial success)—it was even released, dubbed, in Hindi as Chemmeen Lehren, and in English as The Anger of the Sea.
All it needed was for me to discover that the music director of this film was an old favourite (Salil Choudhary) and that Manna Dey sang in it, and my mind was made up: I had to watch Chemmeen.
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.
I am not – most decidedly not – nuts about red hearts and roses and all that bullshit. Really, if you love someone, you love them. And not just on February 14.
But, anyway, here’s my nod to the bandwagon. I’m not jumping on to it, mind you; just reviewing one of my favourite romance films.
So here we go. A Bimal Roy film that’s a must if you like romances.
A wealthy young man strikes out on his own to see how the rest of the world lives. He pretends to be poor, goes to live in a community of poor people, and falls in love with a poor girl who doesn’t realise he’s a wealthy man. Starring Dev Anand as the protagonist. Asli-Naqli? No. Interestingly, not. This was Maya, made just a year before Asli-Naqli, but with a very similar storyline.
A Johnny Walker film, but one that’s known for a lot else besides.
I always associate Bimal Roy with the Do Bigha Zameen or Parakh sort of film: deeply rooted in reality, both harshly real and heart-warmingly real. Stories about people like us, people with problems and joys like ours. His films are socially relevant ones that discuss issues like untouchability and corruption, poverty, alcoholism and the plight of those who aren’t economically or socially powerful enough to stand up for themselves.
Madhumati is the glaring exception, the extremely surprising entry in Bimal Roy’s filmography: a film that’s chockfull of everything one doesn’t expect of Bimal Roy. Reincarnation, spooks, multiple roles, atmospheric storms: one could almost think Ramsay Brothers. Thankfully, no; because Madhumati, though in a completely different genre than Bimal Roy classics like Sujata, Bandini, Do Bigha Zameen or Devdas, still bears the mark of a master craftsman. And it’s good entertainment value.