Seema (1955)

Every now and then, I am reminded of a film which I’ve seen—often, many years ago—and which would be a good fit for this blog. Right time period, a cast I like, music I like. Some of these (like Pyaasa, Mughal-e-Azam or Kaagaz ke Phool) have been analyzed and reviewed so often and by so many stalwarts infinitely more knowledgeable than me that I feel a certain trepidation approaching them. Others are a little less in the ‘cult classic’ range, but good films nevertheless.

Like Seema. I remembered this film a few weeks back when I reviewed Naunihaal (also starring Balraj Sahni). At the end of that post, I’d inserted a very striking photo I’d found, of a young Balraj Sahni standing in front of a portrait of Pandit Nehru. Both on my blog and elsewhere on social media, some people remarked upon that photo: how young and handsome Balraj Sahni was looking in it. And I mentioned Seema, as an example of a film where Balraj Sahni appears as the hero. A hero of a different style than the type he played in Black Cat, but a hero nevertheless.

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Ten of my favourite Songs addressed to Krishna

Happy Krishna Janmashtami!

I am not a Krishnabhakt (I’m not even a Hindu), but when you’re a diehard fan of old Hindi cinema, you can’t really avoid noting the many, many references to Krishna, can you? The fact is, Krishna is one Hindu deity who seems to appear in just about every other old Hindi film featuring a Hindu household. Mostly, he’s in the form that little painted/gilded idol, draped dhoti, peacock feather, and flute in his hands, that stands in the little household shrine, seen in passing. Often, when some tragedy hits (or threatens) someone (invariably female) comes and weeps before the idol. Or sings, pleading for mercy, for succor.

But Krishna as the protector, the giver of divine help, is just one of the ways in which Krishna is viewed. He is, as is obvious in songs like Mohe panghat pe Nandlal chhed gayo re or Madhuban mein Radhika naache re Giridhar ki muraliya baaje re, also an embodiment of romance: teasing the milkmaids, wooing Radha, charming them all. And there’s the Krishna who exemplifies mischievous childhood: the matka-breaking, butter-stealing infant that is alluded to in songs like Bada natkhat hai Krishna-Kanhaiyya.

He’s everywhere in old Hindi film songs.

Krishna

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Ten of my favourite Shailendra songs

Invariably, I find that when I’m discussing old Hindi film songs with like-minded friends, we end up praising a song for its music. Often, equally, we admire the singer(s). Then comes the picturisation, the actors and actresses who appear onscreen, even the scenario itself.
Rarely do we talk first and foremost about the lyrics. I’ve been guilty of that, too; more often than not, I pay attention to the words of a song only if the music has already got me hooked.

So, to make amends, a post on one of Hindi cinema’s greatest lyricists, Shailendra, who was born on this day, August 30, in 1923. Janamdin mubarak, Shailendraji!

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Ten of my favourite saheli songs

(And a very brief tribute to Dev Anand, 1923-2011).

This is the second of my ‘prize posts’ for the Classic Bollywood Quiz. The first of these posts was dedicated to Karthik, who’d once suggested I do a list of lesser-known composers. This post is dedicated to Anoushka Dave, our overall winner. Anoushka, whose prize included a signed copy of my latest book, also got the chance to tell me which post she’d like me to do: which film to review, or which list to come up with. Anoushka suggested this one: ten saheli characters, or ten saheli songs.

This was, for me, a very unusual (and interesting) challenge, because I’d never really thought of it. Some pondering, and I realised that while Hindi cinema makes a huge deal about a bromance, the female equivalent of it has been largely pushed into the background. Offhand, I could think of only one film (the forgettable Saheli, starring Kalpana and Vijaya Choudhary) that focused on girl friends. But songs? Yes, with some effort (a lot of it, actually), I could draw up a list of ten songs that featured sahelis, at work, at play, at general saheli-ness.


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Ten of my favourite Manna Dey songs

Prabodh Chandra Dey—better known as Manna Dey—turns 90 years old on May 1, 2009. A long innings, and though with too little recognition (in fact, far less than a talent like his deserves), a superb one. In my opinion, Manna Dey’s was one of the most beautiful male voices to have ever sung playback for Hindi cinema: warm, sensuous, and with a glorious smoothness, throaty and full of feeling, that’s unparalleled. Listen to him sing a qawwali, a raag, a rock-and-roll number—all with equal ease, panache and conviction, and it’s easy to become a fan. Happy birthday, Mr Dey; may you and your songs live long!

Prabodh Chandra Dey, aka Manna Dey

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