It has been a nerve-wracking past few months. And just as I thought things couldn’t get much worse—what with the violence in Delhi, coming on the heels of increasingly acrimonious and violent disputes regarding CAA/NRC/NPR—coronavirus struck, and we, as a country, have ended up in lockdown.
And now, this news came. Nimmi, 88 years old, passed away on March 25.
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…
… and Khayyam, too, is no more. One of the last stalwarts of the Golden Age of Hindi cinema (and one who, like SD Burman, was able to reinvent himself and his music beautifully) passed away earlier this week, on August 19th.
Born on February 18th, 1927 in Rahon (Punjab), Mohammad Zahur ‘Khayyam’ Hashmi was so interested in music from a young age that he ran away to Delhi to become an actor, and ended up being enrolled to learn music—not an endeavour which lasted long, since his family hauled him back home to complete his studies. Khayyam did not show too much interest in studies, however. At the young age of 17, having gone to Lahore to learn music from the Punjabi music director Baba Chishti, he so impressed the man that Baba Chishti took him on as assistant music director.
After serving in the Army during World War II, Khayyam came to Bombay and the film industry, initially working as part of a team: as the Sharmaji of ‘Sharmaji-Varmaji’ (Rahman Varma was the ‘Varmaji’), he made his debut with Heer-Ranjha, in 1948. Varma left for Pakistan shortly after, and Khayyam struck out on his own, notching up, though slowly, some of Hindi cinema’s loveliest songs over the decades to come.
Yes, this is a belated tribute, but since I was about to leave on a summer vacation when the veteran actor, playwright and director passed away, I decided I would wait. Because, though the bulk of Girish Karnad’s career was after the timeline of this blog—his first film was in 1970, which pretty much marks the outer extent of Dustedoff—I had to pay my respects.
I read about the death of Neil Simon, playwright and scriptwriter (among other roles—including producer and director) on August 26th, admittedly with some level of blankness. The name sounded familiar (or was I simply mixing him up with Neil Diamond?) but I couldn’t, without help, associate Neil Simon with any film.
This post may come as a surprise to those who are familiar with my blog, and with its chronological area of interest: Vinod Khanna, after all, debuted in a film that released in 1969, and this blog focuses on cinema from before the 1970s. His was not even, unlike Rajesh Khanna, a meteoric rise that saw one blockbuster hit after the other. No; Vinod Khanna’s star ascended relatively slowly, and he came into his own only a few years down the line. Well into the 70s, in fact.
But how could I not pay tribute to the one actor who really defines the 70s for me? Even though I most like the cinema of the 50s and 60s, the 70s too had some fine films, some fine film makers. Chupke-Chupke, Sholay, Golmaal, Blackmail, Manchali. Inkaar, Gaddaar, Amar Akbar Anthony. The Burning Train, Lahu ke Do Rang… and there was Vinod Khanna, my favourite actor of that decade.
This was not the post I had intended for this week. As a matter of fact, I had not given any thought to what I’d write about, but I had imagined it would be something light-hearted (perhaps a song list I’ve been working on for a while). Something, definitely, cheerful—to help me get over the sadness of one of my favourite actresses having passed away. Something too, to build up the spirit of good cheer for Christmas.
Instead, I began the week by learning that another favourite actress of mine, Joan Fontaine, award-winning lead of Hitchcock’s Suspicion (and the female star of his superb Rebecca), had passed away, at the age of 96, on the 15th of December. Just a day after the death of another legendary star, Peter O’Toole, the Lawrence of Arabia (which I heard about only on the 16th, as it happened).
On my laptop, I have a bunch of wallpapers of some of my favourite actors and actresses. Every now and then, depending upon whose films I’ve been watching—and therefore, who’s my current favourite—the wallpaper changes (right now, in anticipation of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, it’s Richard Armitage). For a short time, the wallpaper had been one of Eleanor Parker.
Because my Ravi tribute was swiftly turning into a Joy Mukherji tribute – and because I thought Joy merited a tribute all his own – I decided to do a Joy Mukherji post. My intention had originally been to review a Joy Mukherji film – until I realised that I’d already reviewed all my favourite Joy starrers.
Joy Mukherji (Feb 24, 1939-Mar 9, 2012) was the son of Shashadhar Mukherji, one of the founders of Filmalaya. Filmalaya, therefore, was the company which launched Joy in the 1960 film Love in Simla (which also marked the debut of Sadhana). Of all the aspiring young actors who tried to emulate the vastly successful Shammi Kapoor in the 60s, the tall and handsome Joy Mukherji was probably the best at projecting some of the effervescence, the joie de vivre, and the sheer attractiveness that made up Shammi’s onscreen persona. Where Shammi danced up a storm with Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera, Joy was joy personified with Duniya paagal hai. While Shammi oozed romance with Ae gulbadan ae gulbadan, Joy was tender in O mere shaahekhubaan, seductive in Aa jaa re aa zara aa.
This was not what I’d planned as my next post. But I learnt this morning that Ravi – the man who composed some wonderful tunes from the 50s and 60s – is no more. He passed away yesterday, the 7th of March, just four days after his 86th birthday. Ravi (born Ravi Shankar Sharma) also had a teeny-weeny link with my family. Like my uncle, he too sang part of the chorus for Vande Mataram!
More importantly, though, Ravi made a name for himself as a composer of songs that ranged from dreamily romantic to peppy, madcap to devotional (Ravi himself learnt how to sing by listening to his father sing bhajans when Ravi was a child).