Yes, Shyama, of the dancing eyes and the gorgeous smile, passed away almost a week ago, on November 14, 2017. I could not possibly let the death of one of my favourite actresses go unmentioned on this blog, but I’d already done, some years back, a post of my favourite Shyama songs. A film review, therefore, seemed in order. But which one?
Early in 2013, to mark hundred years of Indian cinema, I dedicated an entire month to regional Indian cinema. I reviewed several films of different languages, and realized, in the process, just how difficult it is to get hold of old regional films that have subtitles. Even when they’re blockbuster hits, National Award-winning films, films that must have been subtitled at some stage to enable a jury to judge them worthy of a prestigious award.
Among the films that I came across, but which wasn’t subbed, was this extremely popular Punjabi film, which won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Punjabi, as well as the National Film Award for Best Music Direction. My husband’s a Punjabi but speaks the language very rarely, and that too when he has no other option (as a result, his Punjabi is pretty shaky). As for me, the less said about my Punjabi, the better. But I had this film bookmarked from 2013, and when I discovered last year that Nanak Naam Jahaaz Hai had been digitally restored and re-released, I thought I may as well take the plunge.
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.
Of the many things that fascinate me about old Hindi cinema, this is one: the making of films set in a time and space wholly alien to India of the mid-1900’s. The 1950’s, especially, seem to favour these sort of films, set in exotic locales and needing costumes, makeup, and sets that were vastly different from what one saw in the more usual Bollywood drama, thriller or even mythological. There was Yahudi (with Dilip Kumar looking far from Roman in a light-haired wig and ankle-length gown); Aurat(based on the story of Samson and Delilah)—and this one, about the Mongol warrior king, Changez (better known to the West as Genghis) Khan.