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).
Less than two months ago, a couple whom I am distantly connected to by marriage were in town. The lady’s American; her husband is Indian, and they live in New York. We were chatting about this and that, and the lady told us an interesting story: of how, some years back, they had been invited for a party, the birthday (I think) of someone very wealthy and famous. They were just entering—my ‘relative’ in a lovely purple-blue silk ‘temple sari’—when they ran into Elizabeth Taylor. Ms Taylor had one look at that temple sari and wanted to buy it. “She was willing to offer whatever sum I wanted,” my ‘relative’ recalled. “I couldn’t let her have it, of course. That was the sari I’d worn for my wedding reception; it had sentimental value… but it matched her eyes so completely.”
RIP, Ms Taylor. The lady with the violet eyes. The lady with the seven husbands. The lady who could set the screen on fire—both with her breath-taking beauty and her superb acting. Even though she’s no more with us (she passed away on March 23, 2011, at the age of 79), she will live on in her films, hopefully for many generations to come.
The past year has been a rather tragic one when it comes to classic cinema: Jean Simmons died in January; Lena Horne passed on in May, and then, just a little over a month back, Tony Curtis died. And, about a week ago, I got an e-mail from blog reader and friend Bawa to say that Spanish director Luis García Berlanga had died. Berlanga, the audacious film maker about whom Franco is supposed to have said, “Berlanga is not a Communist; he is worse than a Communist, he is a bad Spaniard.” Berlanga, creator of the superb Bienvenido, Mister Marshall!, which Bawa gave to me and helped spark off an enthusiasm for the work of this immensely talented film maker. Berlanga, who with this film derided capital punishment and made himself so unpopular with the Spanish government that they tried to stop the screening of El Verdugo at the Venice Film Festival… RIP.