A Very Strange Man | Ajeeb Aadmi by Ismat Chughtai translated by Tahira Naqvi (Book Review)

A-Very-Strange-Man

I devour anything that I can lay my hands on, especially if it is about Hindi cinema covering the 50s or the 60s. When I came across a mention of this book in an article two years back, I was intrigued. A fictionalised retelling about Guru Dutt, Geeta Dutt and his rumoured relationship with Waheeda Rehman, and that too by Ismat Chughtai – there was no doubt in my mind that I had to read it.

I tried hard to get a copy – in any condition of format – of this book. Went to a numerous book stores in the city and even dragged myself to Nai Sarak; but all to no avail. Not even a single copy was available. The book was out-of-print and was soon forgotten…. until a reminder from Amazon showed up informing me that the book was back in print and had been brought out by Speaking Tiger in association with Women Unlimited.

Set in the heady days of the Hindi film industry (late 1940s and early 1950s), A Very Strange Man (Ajeeb Aadmi) is at once both an analysis,  an understanding of the life of a sensitive, creative genius and a candid, critical account of the film industry itself. An industry Ismat Chughtai was familiar with – her husband Shahid Latif was an established director with whom she had worked – in fact, she had written scripts for more than 10 films, notable among which are Ziddi (1948), Sone ki Chidiya (1958) and Garam Hawa (1973).

A Very Strange Man is about Dharam Dev and his success first as a film-maker and later as an actor, his relationship with his singer-wife, Mangala and his subsequent love for Zarina, a starlet whom he discovered and groomed into a star. A royal mess this story was to be. It is clear that the story is Guru Dutt’s life – with the names of the three main protagonists and the names of Dutt’s movies changed.

Chughtai is true to form – her tone is frank and critical as she exposes the frailties and flaws of the key “actors” in the plot. Along with this, she delves deep into the foibles and follies of the movie stars and the Hindi film industry itself. Using the insights she drew from her personal equations, Chughtai outlines the pressures, ups and downs in the topsy-turvy world of movies. The late 40s and early 50s was a tumultuous time for the nascent Indian film industry. It was a time when the production house system was collapsing and the independent star system was gaining prominence. Independent stars, not tied to any production house  – actors, music directors, directors, singers were becoming more important. They were soon calling the shots and shooting their way to success and fame.  How this transition, the ephemeral and fairly fickle nature of the success that seemed to change on a weekly basis (depending on how the movie fared at the box office), and how this highly volatile and insecure business, ridden with exploitation,  affected the industry people – the stars, producers, directors, writers and their families is what Chughtai explores. The author’s astute observations and analyses  about the stresses, insecurities, creative angst of legendary film personalities are all strung together to create this masterpiece of  a book.

Chughtai, in an interview,  mentioned that she had changed the names of the main protagonists on purpose as she did not want to be sued. However, they are easily recognisable. However, certain well-known personalities, who help move the story along in a manner, are referred to by their real names – Meena Kumari, Mohd Rafi (supposedly a good friend and confidante of Geeta Dutt) and Lata Mangeshkar make their entry in this book as themselves.

While the book is at once a riveting and a gripping read, Chughtai is merciless in her narration, when it comes to the portrayal of the characters. What she does retain is a humaneness in the tone. While candid in her tone, the writer is sympathetic to their failings.

As a major Hindi film buff, I did find the brutal portrayal rather disconcerting. It is hard indeed to digest, even though the older cynical mind knows it to be true, that one’s childhood favourites had feet of clay. For instance Zarine – the ambitious starlet who cleverly used the opportunity she got to further her career, backstabbing her friend and supporter Mangala in the process without any qualms. No she doesn’t cut a fine figure. One lands up feeling more sympathetic towards the creative genius director and his wronged wife. A couple of other characters, names changed, also left me disturbed. Not too sure who were being referred to but I do think Geeta Bali and Shammi Kapoor were the characters.

Even though the Guru Dutt-Geeta Dutt-Waheeda Rehman story is familiar and known to film buffs, the book makes for an interesting and gripping read, albeit unsettling. The writer has definitely achieved what she set out to achieve – an analysis and examination of the topsy-turvy Hindi film industry, while narrating the life of a creative genius whose short life was marred with angst and guilt!

Do read – if you are interested in the topic of Hindi films and stars.

From An-Other Land: Making Home in the Land of Dreams – Tanushree Ghosh (Review)

From An-otherland

“The Land of Dreams”; “The Land of the Brave and Free” – is that not how most Indians view the United States of America? Added to that is the American way of life that most Indians know about only via TV shows and movies.  To most Indians, irrespective of strata, therefore, America has been that aspirational land to which one must look up to. Not surprising, the efforts made to get to that country.

This book, therefore, offers an extremely interesting premise. How is it to make one’s home in the Land of Dreams? The author, Tanushree Ghosh, who has lived and worked in the US for over a decade, brings us this other perspective – that of immigrants who have moved to the US and are living there. 

Going by the overall tone of the introduction, I presumed that this was a non-fiction book- but it is not. It is a collection of short stories – of lives of different people and how they go about the various challenges, relationships in their lives.

The book starts off with a chapter at the airport, where she looks at the travellers.  All of them have reached US and are  going to, perhaps, the same town; but are from different strata and parts of India. Some are nervous, some excited. Her idea of introducing all the characters in the beginning – at least their names – and then delve into each of their lives, one by one, in subsequent stories is clever. However, as a reader, I found the execution of the same confusing- there are too many names mentioned and that too passingly as the characters get through the formalities of immigration.

The individual stories, however, are extremely interesting. The characters, she introduces, are relatable. As an observer, she dwells upon the dynamics of her characters – be it their old relationships with people back home and their home country and their newly-formed ones in the US and their equation and feelings for this strange country they now call home. The stories have underpinnings of humour; irrespective of the grimness that is there in their lives. Introspective and reflective, the stories bring to life the biggest dichotomy an immigrant has to cope with – how to balance the Indian heritage and sensibilities of one’s upbringing  with the vastly different American sensibilities. What is normal in one culture may not be perceived as normal in the other. The insecurities, ambitions and aspirations of immigrants are very deftly brought out in this collection of myriad stories.

By this realistic portrayal of what immigration really entails, the author has demolished the rose-tinted view that most people have of life abroad. Life abroad can be lonely and it is this theme of loneliness and also that of  human resilience that runs through the book.

I enjoyed reading this book – once I was past the first story. While the device of introducing all of them was indeed very clever, the execution failed to deliver and hold the reader’s interest. The author more than makes up for it in the subsequent individual stories and then in the conclusion where she ties in all the characters. They are all people living in the same town in Phoenix and their lives intersect. That for me, bringing all the characters in the last, and tying up their loose ends per se, worked much more.

However, barring this slight peeve, I did enjoy reading about life in the US – from the perspective of so many different people – a housewife from rural Punjab who is forced to marry her brother-in-law for a visa; a new mother coping with postpartum depression; a young techie who falls in love with an American but fails to understand the  the differences in cultural nuances. It is clear that the author has based her characters on real people she has met and interacted with. And precisely this is what works for the book. As she paints their life, with many layers, and explores their personalities, she does not judge them or their frailties. Instead she tries to understand them and their actions and aspirations. The tone throughout is gentle, non-judgemental and laced with humour.

Definitely worth a read!

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die | Goynar Baksho – Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, translated by Arunava Sinha (Book Review)

auntwhowouldntdie

A few months ago, a friend told me about an extremely entertaining Bengali movie she had watched – Goynar Baksho and urged me to watch, whenever it became available on Netflix/ Amazon. For whatever reason, the name stuck – mainly because it stars Moushumi Chatterjee and I did keep an eye for it in the hope of watching it. Therefore, when I read an article recently about the English translation of Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s Goynar Baksho (The Aunt who wouldn’t die), on which the movie is loosely based, and that too by the prolific and brilliant translator, Arunava Sinha, I knew I had to read it.

The book is rather short, a novella, which makes it a quick read.  An accurate and touching portrayal of three women from three different generations, all grappling with the challenges life has thrown their way, the book gives an insight into the workings of a typical Bengali zamindar joint family in the 1940s and how it changes through time

Somlata is a young woman from a poor family who gets married into a joint Bengali landlord family known for its ancestral wealth. Somlata soon realises that the family’s wealth is just for show and in reality the fortunes were dwindling. The wealth was slowly going and so were its possessions, for typical of the landed rich, the men in the family ( her father-in-law, her brother-in-law and husband) did no work and abhorred taking up any profession or getting into trade. They were perfectly happy being completely useless and living off the dwindling family riches.As she quickly adjusts to her new family, Somlata gets to know of their idiosyncrasies and what makes them tick. She is the typical wife – the one who intelligently knows how to manage her husband – and uses her intelligence to avert the impending financial ruin (by helping them start and run a saree shop), by resolving the various disputes and quietly get what she wants – while being in the background.

Then there is Pishima, her husband’s aunt (the aunt from the title – who is by far, the most unforgettable character of the book). Widowed at the age of 12, she is bitter, lonely and angry, with her family, society and world for having been forced to lead a life of deprivation – for no fault of hers! Unfulfilled and terribly disgruntled, Pishima is furious at the callousness and hypocrisy of her male relatives – who have mistresses – when she was denied her desires, for no fault of hers. This rage and bitterness make her mean and petty and that continues after her death, when she becomes a ghost and starts haunting the poor Somlata.

Finally there is Somlata’s daughter, Boshon – modern and ‘feminist’ – angry with men, serious, headstrong and thoughtful. Many in the book feel that she is Pishima reincarnated. Fair enough, she does have her fiery temperament. However, whereas in Pishima’s case, the fury is justified; it is not in Boshon’s case. Unfortunately, it is this character that is a bit of dampener in the book. Also her whole personal dilemma, which is part of her anger, doesn’t really add up. And hence not a surprise that in the film version (according to the synopsis on Wikipedia), Boshon’s story has been etched out in more detail and reinterpreted giving it more depth and a political angle.

This shortcoming does not take away much from this fantastic book which is a must-read. Highly recommended!

Bhumika (1977)

Today is a good day to revive this blog (yet again), which tends to get severely neglected as I juggle my professional and personal commitments.

Let me start off by wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May this season bring good cheer and joy to all!

                                                      ******************

Smita Patil died the day I saw the Taj Mahal for the first time. We had come back from Agra, when Doordarshan relayed the news of her untimely and tragic demise. Memories do have a strange way of resurfacing. This recollection came back as I was surfing through some site and came across an article remembering Smita Patil on her 32nd death anniversary a couple of weeks back. What this recollection did was to hasten my viewing Bhumika (1977), so that it could be reviewed.

Bhumika_poster

Inspired by Sangtye Aika (which I had read and reviewed on the blog), Bhumika, a Shyam Benegal movie won two National film awards (Best Actress for Smita Patil; and Best Screenplay – Shyam Benegal, Satyadev Dubey and Girish Karnad) and the Filmfare award for Best Film.

The film launches into the story straight away, into a set where a Lavani number  Mera ziskila balam na aaya is being shot. As the credits roll in the background, the shooting is aborted mid-way due to a pulled ankle of a supporting artist and the rude director calls the shooting off.  We see the heroine, Usha waiting for her car (that never comes) and she is dropped home by her co-star (Anant Nag). As she gets into the car, we see some studio workers carrying a poster of her new movie, Agni Pariksha. As she reaches home, her suspicious, jealous and mean husband Keshav Dalvi (a brilliant Amol Palekar) is angrily looking down from the terrace and a bitter row ensues. And a defiant, angry Usha packs her sarees (very hastily and badly) into a suitcase and leaves the house as her subdued mother (Sulabha Deshpande) and daughter (a cute Kiran Vairale making her debut. Does anyone know what happened to her? Where is she now?) watch on.

The tone of the movie is set. The movie moves from this tension-filled scene, minimal in dialogues but effortless in conveying the state of Usha’s domestic life, to a flashback of Usha’s childhood in a village. The childhood scenes are shot in black and white. It is said that Benegal was running short of colour stock due to some foreign exchange issues; he decided to shoot the past in b/w and the present in colour, something that the cinematographer (Govind Nihalani) did not approve of, but had to comply with.

A young Usha is running, trying to protect a hen, with her harried mother chasing her. She fails to stop the hen from being butchered; her defiance is unmistakeable. The hen had been slaughtered for the afternoon lunch and she walks out on it. We get a glimpse into their unconventional household – an alcoholic father, a devadasi grandmother and a tired, worn-out mother, Shanta, who wishes for her daughter a semblance of normalcy and social acceptance.   There is also Keshav Damle, a  young cousin/ uncle, who is a frequent visitor to this household. His relationship with the mother can be interpreted as a friendlier than a usual brother-in-law/ sister-in-law one. Interestingly, behind the scenes, he is forcing the young Usha to marry him. Usha finally relents and promises him, just to get him off her back.

While the equation between the mother and daughter is fraught with tension, there is an underlying deep love. Usha cannot sleep at night without her mother. And the mother is trying hard to save Usha from a fate that she seems to be destined for. She does not want Usha to become a gaanewaali. This is made clear when the family is trying to make ends meet after Usha’s death and Keshav suggests that they try sending Usha to become a cinemawali. Shanta protests vehemently; but in the end, tearfully gives in. The four of them then make their way to Surya Movietone where a mythological is being shot, to meet the producer Harilal (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) and find Usha a role in the cinemas. The young Usha is made to sing a song – which has the actress Bala in peals of laughter. Keshav derides Usha, her mother and her grandmother for messing up the audition. As they sit sulking, Bala passes by and informs them that Baby know that she has got the role. Usha has entered the world of movies.

We are brought back to the present. Usha, reminiscing her painful past, is in a taxi – going to her co-star Rajan’s house. Rajan is not there and as she waits for him, she spots a picture of him and her together in happier times.

Another flashback begins. Usha is now an established actress – carefree and playful. She is shooting with Rajan, who is besotted with her. She teases him, laughs at him and is generally having a good time at an outdoor shoot – when Keshav makes an unwanted appearance, subtly asserting his hold on her.  Shanta, Usha’s mother, does not approve of her ‘friendship’ with Keshav and forbids her from meeting Keshav. But a naive Usha is still defiant. She feels bound to Keshav for having helped them out during their troubled times, and yes there was the promise! In her defiance, she runs to Keshav and wants to get married just then and leave films. Soon she announces her engagement with Keshav at a shooting, much to Rajan’s surprise and disappointment, who is unable to understand her choice and come to terms with it. Much drama ensues – Shanta is aghast but since Usha announces that she is expecting Keshav’s illegitimate child, the marriage takes place. Usha is forced to continue working and her dreams of a blissful married life come shattering down like a pack of cards as Keshav turns out to be greedy, controlling, suspicious and boorish and makes her life miserable.  Cut to present – Rajan, her confidante and friend, is back home. She tells him that she has walked out of her marriage. He asks her to stay back and get a divorce. He is ready to wait for her.

As she shifts to a lodge, Keshav also tracks her down and asks her to go back home. Usha refuses and continues to stay at the lodge. It is where she meets Vinayak Kare (Amrish Puri), who becomes a significant part of her life. This turns out to be yet another dissatisfying relationship – as she grapples with her need to belong while retaining her independence and basic freedom.

What happens to Usha? Does she find what she was looking for? Does Usha take up Rajan’s offer of marriage? Does she go back to Keshav?

The rest of the movie answers these questions, as it follows Usha’s life through its various twists and turns.

My two cents:

Interspersed with flashbacks (all in b/w) Bhumika is a fascinating watch – a look into the life of a woman – an impulsive, bold woman who wants to lead her life on her own terms – neither compromising on her dignity or her independence. Longing for an ideal family life, she strives to get away from exploitation, until she realises and accepts her life for what it is.

The acting is superlative. One of Smita Patil’s finest performances, this is her film through and through. She conveys Usha’s character traits subtly – latent anger, her basic kindness and impulsiveness –  using her eyes which breathe fire! No melodrama here. Giving her solid company are the three main male characters, Amol Palekar (excellent – gone is the affable man from Chitchor or Golmaal or Choti Si Baat; instead he excels as a creepy, controlling Keshav); Anant Nag (adequate as the kind besotted Rajan) and Amrish Puri (dignified and convincing as the patriarchal male chauvinist, Vinayak). The supporting cast also delivers – Sulabha Deshpande, Dina Patil and Kiran Vairale all play their parts convincingly.  Using b/w for flashback and colour for present worked extremely well and added to the narrative value. I did not find it jarring at all. The music by Vanraj Bhatia is decent with melodies such as Tumhare bin jee na lage 

All in all, a sensitive film about the life of a complicated woman, from her viewpoint, without judging her or her actions through a conventional prism. A must-watch.

 

Ilaiyaraja reprised – Same tune, different language…

A few days back, the FM channel was blaring “old” songs from the 80s and 90s – some passable tunes and some not-so-bearable. And then a familiar, much-forgotten tune wafted through the sound waves – bringing with it memories long forgotten; something seemed wrong to me. Here was an extremely popular Tamil song (from a movie that is remembered even today – for Rajnikanth and Sridevi’s stellar performances), being reused in Hindi and the result was good but the original was definitely much better! It shouldn’t have been a surprise – the 90s did see a lot of such “inspired”/ plagiarised songs, especially in the case of someone as prolific as as the legendary Ilaiyaraja. However, the difference in this case was that the music director Ilaiyaraja used his older tune in a different film, different language and different context. Not new at all in Hindi music. S.D. Burman, R.D. Burman and Salil Choudhary have reused their Bangla tunes in Hindi to much success – examples are aplenty – and require another list altogether.

Here is a list of Ilaiyaraja songs –  songs from Tamil and Kannada that have been reused/ recreated or blatantly lifted in Hindi cinema. I restricted myself to songs in just these two languages and to songs from either the late 70s or 80s. No song, as in the original version, in this list is post that.

Also, having grown up in the North, I haven’t watched that many Tamil/Kannada movies – just the rare ones that DD showed on Sunday afternoon or the video cassette that would be sourced once in a while from the local South Indian store. So while I have heard these songs a million number of times, I haven’t watched these movies – of course the Mani Ratnam movies are an exception.  Considering these are mainly from the 70s and 80s, the picturisation is not all that great and where I felt it took away from the song/ music, I have included only the audio version.

  1. Kaathal Oviyam (Tamil, Alaigal Oivathillai, 1981) : Released in 1981, Alaigal Oivathillai was a blockbuster movie directed by the legendary Bharathiraja. It was also the debut movie of the lead pair, Karthik and Radha, who went on to make their mark in Tamil cinema. Karthik went on to become quite the heartthrob of the 1980s starring in Mani Ratnam classics such as Mouna Raagam (1986) and Agni Natchathiram. What is interesting is that all the songs of this movie are popular and have been reused in either Tamil cinema or in Hindi cinema. This song, sung by Ilaiyaraja and Jency, makes an appearance in Hindi cinema in a tele-film in the 1990s. Balu Mahendra remade his Kannada hit, Kokila (1977), as a tele-film Aur ek prem kahani (1996), he got Ilaiyaraja to reprise some of his old tunes. This one becomes the plaintive Asha Bhosle ditty, Meri Zindagi. Gone are the opening notes of the Tamil number (shloka followed by the church bells, indicative of the Hindu-Christian plot line) – the music is different, lyrics and language are different, but the tune is the same. In a way, it is a whole new song!
  2. Jotheyali jotheyali (Kannada, Geetha, 1981): This song, starring one of Kannada cinema’s most talented actors, Shankar Nag (Anant Nag’s younger brother), is an absolute masterpiece. Still extremely popular, 38 years after its release, this timeless tune (sung by SPB and S. Janaki) that has been remade in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi is one of Kannada cinema’s best songs!  In a televised tribute to  Ilaiyaraja on his 68th birthday, the ad-film maker turned director, R.Balki, who considers him the greatest composer in the world said that since only one-half of the country has heard the maestro’s compositions. To rectify this and to bring some of Ilaiyaraja’s best compositions to a wider audience, he selected 4 of the maestro’s tunes  and requested him to “recreate” them for his movie Cheeni Kum (2007). This was one of the songs chosen and the end result, the playful, Jaane do na.
  3. Izhaya nila pozhigirathey (Tamil, Payanangal Mudivathilai, 1982); An all-time classic, this lovely SPB solo is said to have been okayed by the music director on the 25th take during recording – it was then that the guitarist got the interludes` absolutely right! The song found its way into Hindi cinema the very next year – when it was “borrowed” by Kalyanji-Anandji for the movie’s remake/ copy and remains popular till date – Neele neele ambar (Kalakaar, 1983).
  4. Thoongatha vizhigal renda (Tamil, Agni Natchathiram, 1988): This sensuous duet based on the Carnatic raga, Amrithavarshini, and sung by Yesudas and S. Janaki is from one of my favourite Tamil movies. Directed by Mani Ratnam and starring Prabhu, Karthik and Amala, Agni Natchathiram was a super-duper hit back then. Each of its songs is an absolute masterpiece. When this movie was remade/ copied in Hindi as Vansh, this song became a melodious Main toh deewani hui!
  5. Mandram vandha thendrulukku (Tamil, Mouna Raagam, 1986): What can I say about this Mani Ratnam classic? I watched Mouna Raagam in the late 80s when Doordarshan telecast it on a Sunday afternoon and the next day to my surprise, many of my classmates in school had watched it too and were blown away. Recess that day was spent discussing and marvelling over this movie. (Ok, ok, we were drooling over Karthik!) Mouna Raagam remains one of Ratnam’s best movies till date and he has so many more to his credit since! This song was one of the 4 tunes picked by R. Balki and the Hindi song is equally popular too: the title track of Cheeni Kum (2007)
  6. Naguva Nayana (Kannada, Pallavi Anupallavi, 1984): Another super popular Kannada song from Mani Ratnam’s debut movie starring Anil Kapoor, Lakshmi and Kiran Vairale. One of my favourites, not just because of the tune, but because it shows Bangalore in all its beauty (and the way I remember it!) R. Balki requested Ilaiyaraja and the film makers for permission when he used it in an ad film he made in 2008. The ad was that of Idea Cellular – it is a popular tune.
  7. Thenpandi cheemayilai (Tamil, Nayakan, 1987): This one is from Mani Ratnam’s collaboration with Kamal Haasan – the gangster classic, Nayakan, that was based on the life of the Bombay don, Varadarajan Mudaliar. Nayakan has been voted as one of the greatest movies of all-time. It promptly was remade in Hindi, the very next year after its release. Dayavan (1988), starring Vinod Khanna, Feroz Khan and Madhuri Dixit, is probably remembered now for some scenes between Vinod Khanna and Madhuri Dixit, if at all. Some of the songs were direct lifts too – and sorry to say, they were butchered. Especially this number sung both by Ilaiyaraja and Kamal Haasan, which plays through the film. I cringe each time I hear the Hindi version, the Mohd Aziz song, Dil tera kisne toda

This is in no way a comprehensive or a complete list – there are so many more tunes of his that have crept into Hindi cinema. An example is Dhak dhak karne laga (Beta, 1992) which was a direct lift of the Telugu song, Abbani Tiyyani (Jagadeeka Veerudu Atiloka Sundari). 

Or pick any Anand-Milind song of the 90s, and you may just find its inspiration in a Telugu / Tamil song. These haven’t been included as these are post my cut-off date, and also mostly they are in Telugu (and I am not too familiar with that language).

Making this list was personally a satisfying experience – I got to hear so many of the maestro’s compositions. A musician par excellence who was awarded the Padma Vibhushan earlier this year, Ilaiyaraaja is a living legend and simply matchless!

Love in Simla (1960)

The first time I heard of Sadhana was when my mother and aunt had dragged me, aged 10, to a hairdresser in Bangalore. Something had to be done about my unruly hair, they had decided. My hair was assessed and so was my broad forehead and the hairdresser pronounced that I should get a “Sadhana cut” – a fringe that would cover my forehead, making it look smaller. I had no clue who the hairdresser was talking about, but the name stuck.

Sadhana

Sadhana Shivdasani, who would have turned 77 on Sep 2, 2018 is still remembered for her immaculate fashion sense and that hairstyle, which incidentally was devised to give her character a makeover and make it fashionable in Love in Simla (1960). And thats the film I planned to watch and review before her birthday. But when do I ever blog on time? Here it is – more than 3 weeks late!

Love in Simla (1960), a Filmalaya production, introduced two new stars – Joy Mukherjee (Sasadhar Mukherjee’s son, who was to become a moderately successful 1960s star, more of a poor man’s Shammi Kapoor), and Sadhana Shivdasani. While it was Sadhana’s first film as a leading actress, it cannot be counted as her debut. She had already made her debut – as an extra and a chorus dancer in Shree 420 (1955) (I have seen Mud mud ke na dekh a million times just to spot Sadhana but have not been able to) and then in a Sindhi film AbaanaLove in Simla, said to be based on an English film Jane Steps Out (1938), also featured two amazing actresses of the 1930s – Durga Khote and Shobhana Samarth (Nutan and Tanuja’s mother) and was directed by R.K. Nayyar. (Sadhana and R.K.Nayyar supposedly fell in love during the shooting of this film and it culminated in their wedding in 1966)

We are introduced to General Rajpal Singh (Kishore Sahu) who lives in Simla along with his haughty wife (Shobhana Samarth), beautiful, spoilt daughter (Azra), a small son and dog. There is also a niece, his late elder brother’s daughter, Sonia (Sadhana), who is a shy, plain, bespectacled chit of a girl. Sonia has been living with General Rajpal Singh and his family since the untimely death of her parents. It is a Cinderella-type situation for the poor Sonia – except that it isn’t that dreary.  Her aunt and cousin are vain, haughty and plain spoilt. Sheela keeps pointing out as to how dowdy and plain Sonia is. Oh yes, there is a kind, witty, likeable grandmother (Durga Khote) also in the household, who keeps sarcastically commenting o her son, a Major General, is so  henpecked and how her daughter-in-law is.  She is genuinely fond of Sonia, who thankfully quickly shows that she has a bit more spunk and does not always keep her mouth shut. Sheela has a special someone in her life, Dev (Joy Mukherjee), who is shortly to visit. And just prior to the visit, other than the introductory song Dil thhaam chale (in which Joy Mukherjee firmly proves why he came to be called the poor man’s Shammi Kapoor), there is a long argument between Sheela and Sonia. Sheela, being the not so nice girl who dances, frequents clubs etc, obviously does not wish to have children and while Dev is dear to her, he is not The One. (She is too ambitious and materialistic to believe in such a concept anyway!) Sonia, appalled at these declarations butts in and extols the virtues of having kids and that she would have some 12 if she could. The argument escalates and the battle lines are drawn. Sheela reminds yet again that poor Sonia is disadvantaged when it comes to the looks department and hence won’t find anyone. Sonia, while hurt, rises up to this challenge and says that she will make Dev hers to prove a point. The audience knows who will win in the end. After all, Sonia is the good Bharatiya naari, while Sheela is a spoilt, anglicised modern chit of a girl.

Dev shows up and Sonia tries to charm him but fails.  She is plain, gullible, and doesn’t seem to have the graces needed or wiles (in this case, to lure Dev) to win a man’s heart.  Dev is genuinely besotted with Sheela. So as Sheela and Dev prance around the house, romancing and singing songs, Sonia is terribly jealous; she gets angry and feels rather sorry for her state. As she breaks down, the grandmother who has been watching all this  steps in for that much-needed Cinderella transformation! Pointing out areas of improvement, she dolls up Sonia and lo, a princess is born. All it takes is getting rid of the glasses (which were being worn to ward off headaches! how very convenient), trousers and yes that now-famous Sadhana cut!

Using her new-found looks and ada to her advantage, Sonia plays on Dev’s jealousies and manipulates situations to spend time with him. You see, the battle lines had been drawn – and everything is fair in love and war. All this goes on while the vain Sheela is playing the belle of the ball or sleeping peacefully (after Sonia spikes her milk). Not surprising, after three / four songs and ridiculous banter, Dev and Sonia fall in love. Sheela also ‘wakes’ up and realises her Dev has been prancing around town with her cousin and she confronts her sister. Of course Sonia points out that she has won the challenge and that this could have been avoided had she not been so unkind all these years. Sonia also tells Sheela in no uncertain terms that she knows that Sheela does not really love Dev; its just his money she is after. Sheela promptly goes into victim mode, wailing and weeping and not eating and Sonia, keeping in line with her good Bharatiya nari image, sacrifices her own love for the sake of her sister!

Does she manage to shake Dev off? Who gets Dev in the end? The rest of the movie answers these questions.

My two cents: Love in Simla is a typical 60s movie – with lovely stars, locales, music and a simple story – fluffy and easy to watch. Sadhana is good – the best thing in the movie. She looks pretty; of course there are too many inconsistencies in the way in the character she plays, but she is a delight to watch. Durga Khote, in a rather limited appearance, is brilliant. She literally lights up the scene with her wit, amusement (at her silly son and daughter-in-law) and her fondness for Sonia. Shobhana Samarth may not have been a good actress – she was just so-so as a vain, haughty, sharp-tongued aunt. But she is beautiful; which is amazing considering that by 1960 her eldest daughter Nutan was 25, married and was a sought-out star and Tanuja (who turns 75 today- yet another post in the pipeline) had made her debut.) Both the male characters were silly too (sillier than the women); General Rajpal as the hen-pecked husband with a roving eye and that idiotic, jobless and aimless Dev. He lands up in Shimla, believing himself to be totally smitten by Sheela. Two songs later, he is head-over-heels in love with a now-pretty Sonia. The music by Iqbal Qureishi is good – especially Dil thham chale and Kiya hai dilruba 

All in all, a time-pass movie that is easy to watch.

Book Review: A House for Mr. Misra – Jaishree Misra

A House for Mr Misra

This is a book review that has been long overdue. Jaishree Misra has been one author whose books I have read and enjoyed over the years. I was introduced to her writing when I read her debut novel, the bestseller Ancient Promises, way back in 2000 shortly after it was published. Since then I have kept track of her novels and read all of them – with the exception of the three books published under the Avon imprint.

I had the good opportunity to interact with Ms. Misra personally in 2015 when A Love Story for my Sister came out. It was during this interaction, she mentioned her struggles with a house she and her husband were getting built on the beach in Kerala. She seemed concerned and worried about how slowly things were moving and how difficult it was to get work done, in the face of rules, procedures and established societal mores. As I listened to her troubled tales, little was I to know then that those struggles would result in her first work of non-fiction, “A House for Mr. Misra.”

I must confess that I was hesitant to pick this book up, when I spotted it in the window of my favourite book store earlier this year. I wondered, how would a book, about the struggles of a person in constructing her dream beach house be? Depressing and whiny, perhaps, I thought. Did I really then wish to subject myself to that? Well, I put these concerns aside and did read the book in early February.  And  realised just how wrong I had been.

A House for Mr Misra is anything but that – a whiny, wailing book. Instead, it is an absolutely delightful read that recounts a couple’s real experience in building a house.  The book starts off in London, with the author describing the circumstances that led to their decision to move back and construct a house in Kerala. Not before long, Mr. and Mrs Misra are in the thick of action dealing with nerve-wracking tense situations – mainly springing from their interactions with a wide range of people – unscrupulous builders/ contractors, corrupt government officials and regulatory authorities, terrible neighbours and other general irritants.

What is impressive is the humorous tone employed by the author to describe the harrowing situations the couple find themselves in. The subtle humour crops up in witty sentences when one least expects it. The use of humour and wit to describe what must have been an overall traumatic personal experience (besides dealing with these irritants, there are other life crises that they deal with such as the snake-bite episode and Mr. Misra’s hospitalisation) is admirable.

Visual description has always been one of the strengths of Ms. Misra’s writing. This comes across even in this book. The London borough in the beginning, the lovely Kerala monsoons, the busy Trivandrum roads with traffic and KSRTC buses, seaside dramas, bungling bureaucracy, greedy labourers, maids, why, even the creepy crawlies all come alive, making the reader feel that they are very much there with the couple.

Another thing that stands out is the empathy and kindness Ms. Misra shows towards her fellow human beings. While she points out the foibles of all the exasperating (types of) people she came across during this entire project, what strikes the reader is that she is not overtly critical about them and does not lash out despite all the hassles they faced.  Instead, they are dealt with a subtle, sagacious humour. Now that is impressive indeed.

Life in the state of Kerala is clearly etched out and one gets an insight into the workings of an average Malayali mind. The book ends with the house having been built, yes, but with the Misras deciding to move back to London.

A House for Mr. Misra is a quick, engaging and an interesting book, peppered with realism and subtle humour – I read it in one go and throughly enjoyed it.  A must read.

The book ends with an extremely kind gesture by the author. Ms. Misra is willing to offer the house up for any writer who wishes to go there to write and this is for no compensation at all. Interesting, really.

PS: Trivandrum has not been that much impacted in the recent devastating Kerala floods and the seaside house thankfully still stands!

 

 

Book Review – S.D.Burman – The Prince Musician by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal

The past few years have seen a number of books on SD Burman, like Sun mere BandhuThe musical word of S.D. Burman by Sathya Saran or  S.D. Burman: The World of his music by Khagesh Dev Burman ( a relative of S.D. Burman – the original book being Sachin Kartar Gaaner Bhubhan).  I had been wanting to read these but I did not. Because, some time back, over a chat, Anirudha mentioned to me that he and Balaji Vittal were working on a book on SD Burman. I had thoroughly enjoyed the authors’ previous two books (R.D. Burman: the Man, the Music and Gaata rahe mera dil) and was looking forward to this new book.

SDB_Book

And what a book it is! Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal have done it again.

S.D. Burman – The Prince-Musician is a thoroughly researched and extremely well-written work that traces the life of the ‘Prince- Musician’ from right from his childhood in Comilla to his days as a budding musician in Calcutta and then his glorious phase in Hindi cinema.

Time and again on this blog (and at the cost of repetition), I have written about how much of a fan of Sachin Dev Burman I am. I love his music starting from the early 1950s to up until say early 70s (Not too fan of his later films such as Mili (1975) or for that matter Jugnu (1973). Of course, there were good songs in these films as well, but in my opinion, these weren’t as memorable as his earlier scores)

However, I must admit I did not know much about his life; nothing more than the stuff that was learnt from profiles in various film magazines or some sites on the Internet .

What this book does does exceedingly well is to chart out his entire life and music, by providing a timeline. His childhood and early years are all sketched out in great detail – showing the evolution of the royal from Tripura into a complete musician. All his music – starting from the early Bengali scores are analysed from a technical musical perspective (not surprising as both the authors are trained in music, if I am to understand). But the technical analysis is less than what it was in their RDB book (one of my complaints as a reader and a Hindi movie buff with that book was exactly this. It was too “musical”- the technicalities and the analysis was too heavy for me, as a person who enjoys music but hasn’t studied it.) Thankfully that is not the case in this book. The technicalities are very much there but interspersed with many and some lesser known anecdotes/ back stories about the composition, the movies and the maestro’s life.

Like most composers who compose in different languages simultaneously, both the Burman father-son duo used their Bengali tunes in Hindi films. The book traces and mentions the Bengali equivalent of every Hindi composition (wherever applicable). Not that I know anything at all about Bengali music, but I found this trivia interesting. As I do that with Ilaiyaraja and AR Rahman’s music – that is trace the corresponding number in Tamil / Kannada/ Telugu music.

A fascinating portrait emerges of the prince who renounced royalty to become a King among musicians through quotes, stories and anecdotes still vivid in the memories of the people who had a chance to know SDB.

This is a must-read for music buffs and film lovers.

Sharmeelee (1971)

A tribute to Shashi Kapoor who died last December had been long overdue but I did not want to draw up another song list. An unplanned break from work this week meant that suddenly I had time to read and watch some movies.  And when this movie and its music was analysed in a delightful book on S.D. Burman I recently read (review to be up shortly),  I knew I had found a Shashi Kapoor movie to review. So Sharmeelee it was to be. For some reason, the title of this 1971 Subodh Mukherjee movie is spelt as “Sharmeelee” (Should it not be Sharmilee?)

S1

This was a movie I had not watched earlier, mainly because I am not so fond of Rakhee – well, I find her irritating. But surely a charming Shashi Kapoor and good music would offset a double dose of Rakhee, or so I thought.

Sharmeelee starts off with an introduction to the protagonist, Kanchan, a painfully shy young girl who has a golden heart and lives with her parents and her twin, Kamini (who is confident, boisterous and absolutely gorgeous) in some hill-station in Himachal Pradesh.

So shy is she that she is comfortable only with animals and birds. In front of the people she lives with, not one word comes out of her mouth. Her critical mother is desperately trying to marry her off (but to no avail, as everyone who comes to see her chooses Kamini over her). So shy is Kanchan that she has even dropped out of her school, whereas Kamini is in college, pursuing some degree. There is a local priest, Father Joseph (Nazir Hussain, in a role that he has reprised a million times), who runs some kind of dispensary, who is fond of her.

Kamini, when on some college tour to Kashmir, meets a young army Captain, and there is some chhed-chhad, gaana-bajana and bas, the Captain has fallen for her. However, the acquaintance and the romance is short-lived. Meanwhile, the kind priest decides to get his adopted son married to poor Kanchan. The son turns out to be none other than our dear Captain Ajit.

Mistaking Kanchan to be Kamini, he happily agrees but soon enough the truth comes to fore. Kanchan, despite being heartbroken, wishes for her sister to be happy and soon Kamini and Ajit’s wedding is fixed. It then turns out that Kanchan had a past boyfriend Kundan (keeping with her modern girl image) who is not so shareef who comes back to haunt her (a very young Ranjeet making his debut, playing a rapist!) a few days before the wedding. In a bid to escape from his clutches, Kamini kills Kundan by running a car over him. And then drives the car over a cliff, in order to escape from the police, who surprisingly land up there.

The marriage still goes ahead, with Kanchan as the bride. The shocked parents have conveniently not told Ajit or Father Joseph, after all khandan ki izzat mitti mein mil jaayegi. Kanchan protests tearfully but is forced to go along with the plan. She pens a letter to Ajit asking him to come for the wedding only if he is okay with this. Of course, the letter gets intercepted and never reaches him.

Much drama ensues. Upon being told the truth (by Kanchan of course), Ajit accuses Kanchan of killing Kamini to take her place and drives away (to his regiment Kashmir) in anger. The ill-fated Kanchan attempts suicide, only to be rescued by Father Joseph. Months pass, Ajit doesn’t come back. Kanchan lives with Father Joseph, who is furious with his adopted son and wants Kanchan to break off all relations and remarry.

Does Ajit reconcile with Kamini? Does Kanchan win Ajit’s heart? Is Kamini really dead?

The rest of the movie deals with what happens to the three main protagonists as they deal with their changed circumstances.

My two cents:

Largely unwatchable. I found all the characters irritating. Captain Ajit was an idiot through the movie who claimed to be in love with Kamini and ill-treated Kanchan till the penultimate scene when he had a sudden change of heart. Very convenient. Kanchan was infuriatingly servile, more of a doormat than shy! This is not how shy girls behave. Kamini had spunk (in the first half) but being the modern woman, she had to be shown as a wayward girl who smokes, drinks, has affairs and becomes a spy!

Shashi Kapoor is charming (but when he is singing songs or looking shocked). His Captain Ajit was just not likeable, for me to enjoy his acting.  Rakhee does her best – but again Kanchan deserves a whack and later Kamini does too! Less said about the annoying parents. Only Nazir Hussain as Father Joseph was tolerable.

Music:

The sole plus point of this two and half hour long film. Sachin Dev Burman’s composition is top notch. My favourite songs are Khilte hain gul yahan and the two sad songs Megha chhaye aadhi raat and Kaise kahen hum.

Sharmeelee is a movie you should skip, especially if you haven’t seen it. Listen to the album instead.

Of train journeys….a song list

There is something charming about train journeys. As the locomotives whizz past different landscapes, routes and places, towards their destination, taking a whole set of travellers with them, they become a bit more than just a convenient mode of transportation. Accidental meetings take place – people meet, connect and go their separate ways. Long journeys can spark intense reflection and thought as the traveller sits still. A scenic train journey earlier this month had me thinking at first about lofty, existential matters but the mind, being an unchained monkey, soon went haywire and I started thinking of how trains have been used in literature and film.

I started mentally making a list of all the songs picturised inside a train in Hindi films. And there are so many!

steamlocoatdhn

Here is a list of songs remembered and much-liked. Two songs that promptly came to my mind have not been included – one because it is a song from the nineties and hence doesn’t qualify as an old song (Chaiyya chaiyya, Dil Se (1999)) and the other because the protagonist singing the song is not in the train himself (Mere sapnon ki rani, Aradhana (1969)).

And then there are others such as Teri hai zameen (The Burning Train, 1980), Hoga tumse pyara kaun (Zamaane ko dikhana hai, 1981) which have been left out simply because  they also felt too recent in my memory (years of watching Chitrahaar and Rangoli, you see)

 

  1. Gaya andhera hua ujala (Subah ka tara, 1954, Talat Mahmood and Lata Mangeshkar, C. Ramchandra): 

Evocative of a happier tomorrow, this sweet song is is in the mellow voices of Talat Mahmood and Lata M and picturised on a young Pradeep Kumar and Jayashree. They are in a train, looking out at the dark sky breaking into dawn, hopeful of tomorrow. This is a dim ray of hope and optimism in an otherwise tragic movie on widow remarriage by V. Shantaram.

2. Rahi matwale tu chhed zara (Waaris, 1954, Talat Mahmood and Suraiya, Anil Biswas):

Another Talat Mahmood duet, this time with Suraiya, also picturised on the singers. Composed by Anil Biswas, this song one appears in Waaris a number of times -happy and sad. One of the sad versions is also picturised in a train, as Suraiya remembers her first meeting with Talat Mahmood (who is presumed dead). Yes, the duet version is sung promptly after they meet.

3. Apni toh har aah ik toofan hai (Kala Bazar, 1960, Mohd Rafi, SD Burman)

My favourite starring a suave Dev Anand and a winsome Waheeda Rehman.  While the melody (SDB), lyrics (Shailendra) and singing (Rafi) are flawless, its the clever picturisation that stands out. Who is the “uparwala” being referred to? – God or Waheeda? 🙂

4. Hai apna dil toh awara (Solva Saal, 1958, Hemant Kumar, SD Burman)

Another Dev Anand- Waheeda Rehman number which is popular to-date. No ambiguity here. You know Dev Anand’s antics are targeted at Waheeda Rehman. In the movie, he plays a journalist who is accompanied by his friend (Sundar, playing a harmonica) on this local train. He suspects something is up with the couple in the seat behind them (Waheeda Rehman’s character is eloping with the guy she is accompanying who is indeed a slimy character) and keeps an eye on them when they get off the train. The singing and music (in this song and the whole album) is exemplary. The song is still remembered as one of Hemant Kumar’s finest songs (in Hindi).

5. Dil mera hai deewana, deewana mohabbat ka (Shart, 1954, Asha Bhosle, Hemant Kumar):

This melodious Asha Bhosle number, picturised on a supporting character played by Mohana Cabral, an actress in the 1940s and early 50s is unfortunately hardly known. A pity considering that this movie, starring Shyama and some unknown actor, is still remembered for Hemant and Geeta Dutt’s  Na yeh chaand hoga 

This lilting melody captures the romance of a train journey – long distances traversed in scenic locales – the mood is upbeat as the character looks forward to welcoming some romance in her life. Asha Bhosle’s breezy singing makes it worth a rewind.

6. Dil thham chale hum aaj idhar (Love in Simla, 1960, Mohd Rafi, Iqbal Qureishi):

Another romantic number, this time, where the hero (Joy Mukherjee) is excited and happy as he  will get to meet his then lady-love (Azra, whose photograph he is staring at), once his journey gets over. Of course, as the name of the movie suggests, he does find true love in Simla, just that it is not the lady in the photograph. Rafi brings out the much needed joie-de-vivre as Joy Mukherjee portrays the impatient man in love on screen.

7. Yeh rang bhare badal (Tu nahin aur sahi, 1960, Asha Bhosle-Mohd Rafi, Ravi):

This one is a romantic duet, sung by Asha and Rafi and picturised on Pradeep Kumar and Nishi. I included the song purely because I like the music and singing and then it is entirely shot inside a train. Listen to it – the singing is much better than the acting onscreen!

8. Badal jaaye agar maali chaman hota nahin khali (Baharein phir bhi aayengi, 1966, Mahendra Kapoor, O.P. Nayyar): 

A philosophical song which speaks about how everyone is dispensable – the world goes on, no matter what happens and how we need to continue moving on with hope, courage and kindness. In an ironic way, fitting. Guru Dutt died during the making of this film, and was completed by Dharmendra in the lead role. No one is indeed indispensable.

A lovely OPN composition sung by Mahendra Kapoor, this one has a young and a handsome Dharmendra in a train, being saccharine sweet to the other passengers!

9. Aao bacchon tumhein dikhayein (Jagriti, 1954, Kavi Pradeep, Hemant Kumar)

This one, a childhood favourite, written and sung by Kavi Pradeep and composed by Hemant Kumar ranks as one of the most patriotic numbers in Hindi film music. It was a played invariably before Independence Day and Republic Day year after year. Abhi Bhattacharya takes his students on a journey across India, educating them about the geography and history of the nation, instilling a sense of pride and love towards the motherland.

10. Main hoon jhum jhum jhumroo (Jhumroo, 1961, Kishore Kumar):

Kishore Kumar, as an actor, has had a few songs picturised on him in a train (two of which I did consider for this list- one being that crazy Cheel cheel chillake kajari sunaye (Half-ticket, 1962) and that equally nonsensical (in terms of picturisation), Yeh hai jeevan ki rail (Mehlon ke khwab, 1960). Ending the list with this extremely popular, happy lively song sung and composed by Kishore Kumar which plays in the background as the credits of the movie roll by and the heroine (Madhubala) is in a train. This was chosen simply because train journeys, for me, have happy associations.

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