The third, and last, film of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, Apur Sansar came a full three years after its prequel Aparajito had been released. Aparajito, while it hadn’t been received well in India (Indian audiences baulked at the obvious callousness and self-centredness of Apu in the film, so contrary to the established ideas of how a offspring must behave towards a mother), had won critical acclaim—and many awards—abroad. This was what encouraged Ray to make Apur Sansar, rounding off the story of Apu as he grows from a teenager to a man.
Apur Sansar introduces us to Apurba Ray ‘Apu’, (Soumitra Chatterjee, in his debut role) now a young man living in Calcutta. Apu is really down at heel: it shows in the ragged curtain hanging at the window of his single room; in the drab dreariness of that room, even the fact that he has to sleep with his outdoor clothes neatly folded and kept under the mattress so that the wrinkles get smoothed out.
When I posted on Twitter about the person who’d advised me to not ‘waste my time’ watching ‘silly Indian films’, a Twitter follower pointed out that Satyajit Ray was also Indian. And I had to concur: Ray, in fact, was the first person who came to my mind as a refutation of that ‘silly Indian films’ generalization. His films are works of art. Occasionally ‘silly’ (Goopy Gyne Baagha Byne fits there), but that silliness is on genius level. It takes brains and creativity to be silly in the way Ray was with that film.
But Devi, ‘The Goddess‘, is nothing like that. There is no silliness here, unless you interpret toxic superstition as silliness.
In one important scene in Aranyer Din Raatri, a successful business executive named Ashim (Soumitra Chatterjee) tells Aparna, a poised young woman he’s met in the jungles of Palamau, that life in the city is all about rules. If you have to work, you have to abide by the rules.
Rules, the implication is, suffocate. And every now and then, to survive and to give yourself a break from those oppressive rules, you rebel. You go away, you flee. You find yourself again, you refresh yourself, regain your energy and then come back to start conforming all over again.
This seems to be the premise with which this film, one of Satyajit Ray’s best-known works, begins. Ashim, along with three other friends, is driving down from Kolkata to Palamau for a holiday. The men are a mixed bag. Sanjay (Shubhendu Chatterjee) works in the jute industry and, as they’re driving along, is sitting in the back of the car and reading a book about Palamau from which he reads out excerpts now and then.
When I read the news of Soumitra Chatterjee’s passing away, my first thought was: I need to write a tribute, talk about how much I liked this actor. Then, reality crept in. It’s not as if I’ve seen too many films that starred Soumitra Chatterjee. Charulata, Kapurush, Jhinder Bondi, Aranyer Din Raatri, Sonar Kella, one of the three episodes of Teen Kanya… and that was it. I didn’t recall having seen any of his other films.
Which might sound odd; how could one like an actor so much based on only such a handful of films? But I suppose when you’re looking at quality rather than quantity, it can work. And Soumitra Chatterjee, even in the few films of his that I’ve seen, proved himself a memorable actor. Not just handsome, not just superficially charismatic, but also so very talented. His ‘coward’ of Kapurush is so very real, so flawed and believable a protagonist; his Mayurvahan in Jhinder Bondi is a deliciously evil portrayal of the flamboyant, boyishly attractive yet very wicked Rupert of Hentzau. It’s easy to see why a bored and neglected housewife would fall in love with this young man in Charulata, and he is Feluda. Sharp, intelligent, well-read (and intelligent and well-read are apt descriptions of the man in real life too, from what I gather).
But a full-fledged tribute, a run-down of all his best films: no, that was not something I thought I would be capable of. Instead, I decided to commemorate the life and career of Soumitra Chatterjee by watching one film I’d only heard of in passing, never really got down to seeing.
There are a bunch of films that I’ve read a plot synopsis of, found it interesting, thought I’d try and watch it—and then taken a look at the cast, only to discover it starred someone I didn’t like. It’s happened time and again; with Talaash, having discovered that the film starred Rajendra Kumar, I decided to put the film on the back burner, even though the synopsis sounded interesting.
Then, reading Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal’s SD Burman: The Prince Musician, and seeing the list of songs (some of them truly lovely ones), I thought I may be able to sit through the film. Perhaps the rest of the cast, the interesting story, and the good music, would compensate for Rajendra Kumar.
Talaash begins with the graduation of Raj Kumar ‘Raju’ (Rajendra Kumar), who is being congratulated by all his classmates for having once again come first in the class. Raju goes off to meet his friend Lachhu (OP Ralhan, who also directed this film, which was produced by Rajendra Kumar). Lachhu has, after seven tries, finally managed to graduate too. They congratulate each other, and talk briefly of their futures. Lachhu will be roped in to work at his wealthy father’s cloth shop; Raju doesn’t know what he’ll do, but he’s certain: the wealth of his family will only be doubled. Yes, he’s not known want, ever, and he will continue to enjoy all that wealth, now through his own hard work.
In which Joy Mukherji single-handedly (with some help from the snow-clad Himalayas) defeats an invading army of Chinese guerrillas, thus lending a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘humsaaya aasmaan ka’.
…and a day or two in Beirut (plus an afternoon in the Lebanese countryside, masquerading as provincial France). A couple of days in Switzerland, and a grey afternoon at the Niagara Falls. Lots of Paris, of course, from the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysées, to the bateau mouche and pretty little cafés.
And Sharmila Tagore. And Shammi Kapoor. And pretty mad masala.
What with reading about Amar Akbar Anthony (and thinking over the lost-and-found trope), I ended up thinking, too, about An Evening in Paris, which is a good enough example of the genre. In this one, Sharmila Tagore is the one who plays the character(s) who’re lost: twin sisters, separated as children, thanks to a villain. They grow up unaware of each other’s existence, and in classic Hindi film style—ranging from Anhonee to Sharmeelee—with one sister good and the other bad, or at least not-so-good.
Poor Biswajeet must have gotten thoroughly sick of romancing spooky women in the ‘60s. True, in this one, the spookiness is rather more pronounced (Waheeda Rehman was pretty sunny and un-mysterious in Bees Saal Baad; everything else seemed steeped in mystery). But there is the inexplicability of everything around, dozens of very loud and pointed hints of someone haunting an area, and a song that’s sung again and again like a broken record.
By some strange oversight, despite the fact that Waqt is one of my favourite masala films, I’ve never reviewed it on this blog. And I’m wishing I didn’t have to end up writing about it on such a sad occasion—because Achla Sachdev, the actress who played the self-sacrificing, long-suffering mother and wife in this film, passed away on April 30, 2012.
This particular Shammi Kapoor film has a very special place in my heart – because Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra was one of the first Hindi film songs I ever learnt to sing. I must’ve been about eight years old. I’d never seen the film; television was yet to make its way into our lives (it was just round the corner, though I didn’t get to see the song till much later). But I used to hear it now and then on radio, and sometimes on an LP my parents owned. I always did wonder who the heroine was, the woman who was praised for the fact that her ‘zulfon ka rang’ was sunehra, and who had jheel si neeli aankhein. Could she have been an Indian actress, I wondered? She sounded firang.