Shart (1969)

Some weeks back, I and a blog reader were reminiscing about the good old days of Doordarshan, and ended up agreeing that Doordarshan and its penchant for old Hindi cinema had an important part to play in our love for this period of cinema. For me, at least, Doordarshan was the introduction to the cinema of the 50s and 60s: by the time I was old enough to be able to really make sense of cinema, my father had been posted to Srinagar, and the sole movie hall there was too dangerous to visit: it stood in Laal Chowk, in the heart of town, where every other day there was violence of some sort or the other.

So we stayed at home and watched just about everything Doordarshan cared to show. And a lot of it was old cinema.

Shart was one of those films I first began watching on Doordarshan. Barely a few minutes into the film, the electricity went kaput, but by then something sufficiently intriguing had happened for me to want to watch it again. I remember waiting for years before this film appeared again—this time on one of those many channels that had emerged sometime during the early 90s.

I liked the film back then, but over the years I’d forgotten much of it. Time for a rewatch, I decided, if only to see whether it merited a rewatch.

Shart is aptly named, because it centres around Raj (Sanjay Khan), who is always eager to bet on just about anything. He goes about with a bunch of friends, one of whom, Kailash, is always on the lookout for opportunities to have a wager with Raj [Kailash keeps losing, so I cannot see why he continues to bet]. For instance, when the film starts, Kailash bets that Raj won’t be able to walk up to a passing girl and hug her without getting slapped in return.

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Suspicion (1941)

Just a little over a week back, I was paying tribute to a cinema personality who played a major role in defining Hindi film music in the 1950s and 60s: Roshan. 1917 was the year Roshan was born, and in the same year, also in Asia (in Tokyo), a few months later, was born a girl who was to go on to become one of the most prominent stars of British cinema as well as Hollywood. Joan Fontaine, award-winning actress, sister to Olivia de Havilland, licensed pilot, Cordon Bleu chef, rider, champion balloonist, licensed interior designer—and scorer of 160 on an infant IQ test.

Most importantly, though, a fine very actress, and one who starred in some memorable films, in memorable roles: Rebecca, Suspicion, Jane Eyre, Ivanhoe, This Above All… her characters were often, in keeping with Ms Fontaine’s features, women of genteel fragility. Sometimes, that fragility teetered over the edge into terror (Mrs de Winter’s character in Rebecca is a fine example of this) before pulling herself together and showing the steel in her.

Rebecca I have already reviewed on this blog, but to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of an actress I have liked since I was quite young, I decided to review another Joan Fontaine film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Like Rebecca, this one too is about a naïve young woman who ends up married to a man who is perhaps not all he had seemed to be at first glance. Joan Fontaine’s portrayal of Lina McLaidlaw won her her only Academy Award for Best Actress.

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The Night of the Generals (1967)

As a young teenager, I went through a phase when I watched a lot of war movies. And when I say ‘a lot’, I mean a lot: everything from Operation Daybreak and Operation Crossbow to The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, Escape to Victory, Von Ryan’s Express—and this one.  I remember The Night of the Generals as being an offbeat war film, because it didn’t have the drama and high adventure of most of the other war films I saw during that period. Instead, it was an unusual film, in that it was shown from the point of view of the Germans—and it combined suspense with war.

The three generals

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Charade (1963)

I hadn’t been able to decide on which film to review after Benazir, so I asked a bunch of friends to help me out – just by suggesting a genre. I got a varied lot of answers. Romance. Comedy. Social drama, à la Ladri di Biciclette. Suspense. Something with Cary Grant.
The result? This film, which is suspense, has a good bit of romance and comedy – and stars Cary Grant. (Sorry, Harvey: I’ll review something along the lines of Ladri di Biciclette sometime soon).

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Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi (1966)

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.

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Midnight Lace (1960)

“Racy stuff, eh?” said my husband, when I told him the name of the film I was going to review next.

No. Not at all. In fact, Midnight Lace has nothing steamy about it except a rather stylish black top that Doris Day wears in the climactic scene.


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Tengoku to Jigoku (1963)

This blog’s been focussing on Hindi cinema for a while now, so I decided it was time to get back to being a bit more diverse. And this time with a film from one director whose work I admire a lot: Akira Kurosawa. If all you’ve seen of Kurosawa are his samurai films, I’d recommend Tengoku to Jigoku (High and Low) as a good way of getting introduced to the films he made in other genres. If you’ve never watched a Kurosawa, this is still one of his best films – and one of the best classic crime films I’ve seen.

Loosely based on King’s Ransom, a novel by American crime writer Ed McBain, Tengoku to Jigoku is about a kidnapping and its repercussions. The result is an unforgettable film that brilliantly combines the personal, the social, the psychological, the dramatic and the mundane, with the sheer sweat-and-drudgery of the police procedural.

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Mahal (1949)

Since my last post was about my uncle, the guitarist David Vernon Kumar, it seemed appropriate to devote this post to one of the films for which he played. Mahal, made when my uncle was about 20 years old, featured the hauntingly melodious Aayega aanewaala, the song that shot Lata Mangeshkar into the limelight – also a song, which, if you listen carefully, has some beautiful guitar notes. Played by my Vernie tau.

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Kanoon (1960)

9 years before he made the superb suspense thriller Ittefaq, B R Chopra produced and directed this film. It too starred Nanda (though not in as pivotal a role as in Ittefaq). It too didn’t have a single song—though it did have a ballet performance. And, like Ittefaq, it hinged on a murder.
But Kanoon wasn’t by any means a precursor to Ittefaq. Ittefaq is mainstream murder mystery; Kanoon straddles with consummate skill the line between crime detection and social issues. It’s an excellent, unusual and gripping film that merits viewing.

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Jewel Thief (1967)

This is one of those films that have a very interesting—and unexpected—twist that can come totally as a bolt out of the blue if you’re watching it for the first time. Subsequent watchings, no matter how far apart, tend to dilute the suspense a good deal because (unless you have a really frightful memory) you know what’s coming. And somehow, unlike films like Teesri Manzil or Mera Saaya or Woh Kaun Thi?, Jewel Thief lacks other elements that could encourage repeated viewings.

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