Just ten days ago, this blog celebrated the birth centenary of an actor who pretty much came to exemplify the ‘Hindi film villain’ of the 50s and 60s: the inimitable Pran. Today, it’s time to celebrate the birth centenary of another actor who carved such a niche for himself that his name became nearly synonymous with a particular kind of role. Iftekhar, who brought so much dignity and intelligence to his usual role of police officer or lawyer—or army officer, or doctor…
I watched Guide for the first time when I was about twelve or so. Till then, all the Hindi cinema I had watched was predictable, comfortable, simple enough for a pre-teen to know what to expect. Or so I thought.
Because Guide defied every norm I thought I understood. Heroes, not even when they were the anti-hero Dev Anand had played in earlier films like Baazi, Kaala Bazaar or House No. 44, did not go anywhere near another man’s wife. Heroines, even when they were married off against their wishes to men other than those they loved (as in Dil Ek Mandir, Gumraah, or Sangam) stayed true to their marriage vows and sooner or later left their past behind (I was to watch Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke only much later). They absolutely did not leave their husbands and start living with another man.
And heroes did not die. As when I watched Anand, when I watched Guide too, I kept thinking, “This isn’t it. He isn’t dead, he can’t be dead.”
Several years later, I had to study RK Narayan’s The Guide at school, and I pretty much knew what to expect—but once again, I found myself surprised, because the book was in many ways different from the film. The book had won its author the Sahitya Kala Akademi Award (the first book in English to win the award), and the film won accolades by the handful—and continues to do so, fifty-five years after it was released. It has been analyzed, discussed, derided, lauded. Personally, other than for its music and Waheeda Rehman’s dancing, I have never really liked Guide much—but even I, when offered the opportunity to read this collection of essays about Guide, couldn’t resist it. Partly, perhaps, because I hoped to be able to discover what fans of the film saw in it that I didn’t.
In 1956, Waheeda Rehman made her debut in Hindi cinema in CID, with Dev Anand (Waheeda wasn’t the heroine of CID—Shakila was—but she had a good and somewhat offbeat role as the vamp with a heart of gold). Over the next decade and a half or so, Waheeda and Dev Anand were to go on to act together in several more films, probably their most famous pairing being in the hugely popular Guide (1965).
I have watched, as far as I know, all of the Waheeda-Dev films over the years. The only one that (again, as far as I know) I hadn’t watched yet was this one. Time, I decided, to make amends for that.
As in many other films of his, Dev Anand in Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja is a crook—a thief, to be precise. We are introduced to Chhagan (Dev) when he’s in a shady-looking dive, buying a bottle of booze. Shortly after, Chhagan is accosted by ‘Langad Deen’, a partly-crippled character (played by Jeevan), who has a bit of news for Chhagan: a steamer is about to begin the journey down the river to the pilgrimage spot of Shivsagar. Langad Deen has it on authority that among the people on board is a wealthy jeweller who is carrying a very valuable diamond to be offered up to the god Shiv at Shivsagar.
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.
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.
In one pivotal scene in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Kammo (Padmini), the daughter of a dacoit chief tells her naïve beloved that they, the dacoits, are not to be scorned or derided, because they wield guns to make things equal between the rich and the poor. They take from the rich and give to the poor, because the poor have always been preyed upon by the rich.
“Kammoji, tum log chochilist ho?” asks Raju (Raj Kapoor), wide-eyed. Because chochilists, as he informs Kammo, also work to make things ‘barobar’ between the rich and the poor. And when he is reassured that yes, that is the philosophy of the dacoits, Raju decides there and then that he will no longer think of dacoits as evil people.
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!
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.
My sister keeps a stack of CDs in her car. Often, when she gives me a lift, she puts a CD into the stereo and we listen as she drives along. The CDs are a mixed lot: Harry Belafonte, Simon and Garfunkel, 3 Idiots, Wake up, Sid!, The Best of S D Burman… and The Best of Shammi Kapoor. The others are in reasonably good condition; the Shammi Kapoor CD is battered and scratched and sadly in need of replacement.
I can understand why.
Shammi Kapoor is, for me (and I think I can speak for my sister too), one actor on whom some of the most fabulous songs in classic Hindi cinema were filmed. Funny songs, sad songs, romantic songs, madcap songs, rock-and-roll songs: he did them all, and memorably. And – somewhat unusually for an actor – he took a great interest in the music of his films. (There is an oft-repeated story of how Shammi Kapoor was so biased in favour of Shankar-Jaikishan’s music that he at first refused to let R D Burman compose the music for Teesri Manzil. But RDB, by insisting on playing a couple of the tunes he’d already composed, won Shammi over).