If there’s one person whom I regarded as the last of the great stars of the glory days of Hollywood, it’s the beautiful and very talented Olivia de Havilland. I’ve watched several of de Havilland’s films, and have invariably found her very watchable—she brought a dignity and grace to her roles that made her stand out. Plus, she was a very good (and very versatile) actress, seemingly effortlessly playing standard ‘damsel in distress’ roles (especially in the eight films she did with Errol Flynn), as well as much more nuanced characters, like the immortal Melanie of Gone With the Wind, the mentally tormented Virginia Cunningham of The Snake Pit, and the naïve, gullible Catherine Sloper, the eponymous heiress of The Heiress.
Over a career spanning five decades, Olivia de Havilland won two Oscars (for The Heiress and To Each His Own), and was nominated for many other awards, including various national medals and awards by France, the US and the UK.
Although she had her share of controversy (especially regarding her supposedly strained relationship with her sister, actress Joan Fontaine), de Havilland was in some ways a pioneer too. It was because of her refusal to go on playing ‘sweet young thing’ roles that she ended up suing Warner Bros. —and winning, a landmark decision which led to the law now known by her name. She also went on to be the first female president of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival.
I was in the middle of watching a film to write a tribute to Hollywood star Olivia de Havilland, who passed away on 25th July at the age of 104, when I heard that, closer home, there had been another death. Another actress, much loved. Kumkum, of the dancing eyes and the bright smile. Kumkum who could dance up a storm in Madhuban mein Radhika naache re and be the demure heroine opposite leading men all the way from Shammi Kapoor to Rajendra Kumar to Kishore Kumar.
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.