Asha sings for Ravi

This blog has been dormant now for 8 months: real life and sheer laziness  had come in the way and I kept putting off updating it. Rains in my city, which forced me to stay home from work today proved to be the catalyst. I decided to post something – just anything at all.

So that this becomes active again.

Asha Bhosle happens to be one of my favourite singers; and what better than a song list featuring her songs! It does so happen that her 83rd birthday falls next week, on September 8.

Reviving my blog with 10 of her songs she sang for the dependable but lesser-known music director Ravi.  Any article / write-up on Ashaji speaks of her collaboration with either OP Nayyar saab or the Burman father-son duo. Yes, after all they played a pivotal role in her rise. While not as feted, her collaboration with Ravi resulted in a substantial output, both in terms of quantity and quality.

Here are 10 songs Asha Bhosle sang for Ravi, that I like in no particular order. While I have tried to limit it to solos only, a single duet has crept in! I have also tried limit myself to songs that have not been listed on this blog. This meant that my all-time favourite Aage bhi Jaane na tu does not find a place in this list. 

  1. Chanda mama door ke (Vachan, 1955):  Born Ravi Shankar Sharma, he started his career in the music industry as an assistant to Hemant Kumar. Hemant Kumar encouraged him to venture out as an individual music director and he made his debut in Vachan (1955). This lullaby, picturised on the delightful Geeta Bali, remains one of the most popular Hindi lullabies ever. I learnt this song way back in school, only to realise much later that this is a filmy lullaby and not one of those Hindi folk songs!   Incidentally, Ravi has composed several popular children’s songs, for example Dadiamma dadiamma maan jao (Gharana, 1961) and Hum bhi agar bacche hote (Door ki aawaaz, 1964).

2.  Raat raat bhar jaag jaag kar (Pyar ka saagar, 1961): Even though Lata Mangeshkar sang most of Meena Kumari’s songs on screen, I have always felt that the voice of Asha Bhosle suited Meena Kumari more. The depth that Asha ji brought to her singing, in my opinion conveyed the pathos of the tragedy queen more. This song is a rare song sung by Asha ji for Meena Kumari and conveys the pangs of separation as she pines for her estranged beloved. Sad yet sweet as the song is sung without much melodrama.

3. Halki halki sard hawa (Bombay ka chor, 1962): The next song is from a movie that stars Kishore Kumar and Mala Sinha. I remember watching it vaguely back in the eighties/ nineties; but have no clue what the context of this song is or for that matter what the picturisation is like. Regardless of who sings it on screen, this ‘typical’ Asha song, complete with its ‘western’ melody and instruments is memorable because of its lilting melody!

4. Yeh raastey hain pyaar ke (Yeh raaste hain pyar ke, 1963): Now this is one of my all-time favourite songs ever. Thanks to the release of the much hyped Akshay Kumar starrer, Rustom last month, this movie, Yeh raaste hain pyaar ke found a re-mention in the media – as it was one of the earliest movies based on the Nanavati scandal of the 1950s. While the movie was not that good, despite starring a gorgeous Sunil Dutt and a breathtaking Leela Naidu and the versatile Rehman, the musical score by Ravi was superlative. It had the lovely Rafi-Asha duet, Yeh khamoshiyan yeh tanhaiyan and that pathos filled Asha solo, Aaj yeh meri zindagi, among others. However, this song picturised on a dignified Shashikala remains my personal favourite.

5. Baharon ki kahani sunati hai jawani (Pyar kiya toh darna kya, 1962): Another song in the cabaret/ western/ supporting genre, this one, wrongly marked in the video as a duet, is picturised on the inimitable Helen and Shammi Kapoor. I love the way Asha sings the line – ‘deewane zara sunn..’, infusing it with a different emotion each time.

6. Dil ki kahani rang layee hai (Chaudhvin ka chand, 1960): This classic Guru Dutt Muslim social had a fantastic score with memorable songs. This mujra (?), picturised on Minu Mumtaz, has the lady waxing eloquent about love as an ailment and what it makes people do. Asha Bhosle sings it with the much-needed lilt and energy.

7. Itni jaldi na karo (Aadmi aur insaan, 1969)Ravi had a very close association with B.R Films along with Sahir Ludhianvi – and the duo did pair up to compose some truly memorable scores. Aadmi aur Insaan is one such movie. I was torn as to which song to pick from the philosophical Zindagi ittefaq hai or the sad Zindagi ke rang kayi re or the melodious romantic duet, O neele parbaton ke dhaara;  but settled on this one. While not as popular as the others, this is sensuous, soft and melodious at the same time. And Mumtaz and Dharmendra look good!

8. Uljhan suljhe na (Dhund, 1973): Another song from the Asha-Sahir-Ravi-BR chopra stable. I picked this over my  all-time favourites from Waqt (Aage bhi jaane na tu or Kaun aaya ki nigahon mein), which creep in every post of mine. Dhund, a suspense film starring Sanjay Khan, Zeenat Aman, Danny Denzongpa and Navin Nischal had two very good songs from what I seem to remember. One was the philosophical Sansaar ki har shae ka and then this one.

9. Hey rom rom mein basne wale ram (Neel Kamal, 1968):  A bhajan composed by Ravi for this 1968 Raaj Kumar- Waheeda Rehman – Manoj Kumar. The Ravi-Asha combination has produced several classic devotional songs – two  that instantly come to my mind are Tora man darpan kahlaye (Kaajal, 1965) and then there is that Jai raghunandan jai siya ram (Gharana, 1961). And then there is this Ram bhajan from Neel Kamal;

10. Yeh hawa yeh nadi ka kinara (Ghar Sansar, 1958 – with Manna Dey): Ending this song list with a melodious, romantic superhit duet picturised on Rajendra Kumar and Kum Kum and sung excellently by Ashaji and Manna Dey.


My Favourite Songs of Sadhana

This blog had been much neglected over the past two months and I had been planning to revive it before the year ends.  A list of 10 of my favourite songs picturised on Sadhana, one of the best actresses of the 60s, had been lying incomplete in the drafts folder for many weeks now and I did not imagine that it would finally be completed as a tribute. This certainly was not how I planned to revive the blog.

S4 S3 S2 s6 S2

Named after Sadhana Bose, the renowned actress and dancer of the 1930s, Ms. Sadhana Shivdasani was born in Karachi on September 2, 1941. Post partition, her family moved to Bombay; where she made her screen appearance first as an extra in a blink-and-you-miss-it part in the song, Mud Mud ke na dekh (Shree 420) and then in a supporting role in the Sindhi film Abaana (1958).  It was in Filmalaya’s Love in Simla (1960), that she made her big debut opposite Joy Mukherjee – a movie that was directed by her future husband, R.K. Nayyar. It was also R.K Nayyar who suggested the fringe (to cover her large forehead) that was to become the trademark ‘Sadhana cut’.

In a brief but successful career that lasted just over 17 years, Sadhana played a variety of roles. However, interestingly, she is more remembered more for her glamour and inherent stylishness than her acting chops!

It is telling that she did not win any popular Filmfare awards in her career, despite packing in a punch in many of her roles. Be it the sweet, simple village girl in Parakh (1960) or the mysterious woman-in-white/ double role in Woh Kaun Thi? (1964) or the supportive girlfriend in Hum Dono  (1961) or her double role in the superhit Mera Saaya (1966), Sadhana was much more than the glamour doll. She could act and would look good too! There was something soft and reassuring about her presence on screen – she was extremely convincing as the supportive, understanding wife or girlfriend and completely devoid of hysterics or melodrama or general weepiness.

Health issues were largely responsible for her calling it quits in the seventies, when she made it clear that she had no interest playing side/character roles. Leading a reclusive life in the past two decades, her public appearances were rare. She was clear about not wanting to be photographed and stayed away from the limelight.  One did not get to know/ read much about her – just a couple of articles here and there – either about the legal hassles troubling her in her latter years or some rare appearances in fashion shows/ such events.

Not at all surprising that her hospitalisation due to an undisclosed ailment just before her death was also not reported. On Christmas morning at 10:00 am, Sadhana breathed her last and the news was reported by her advocate. Her husband, R.K. Nayyar had died in 1995 and they had no children. She was also reportedly not on talking terms with her cousin, Babita (daughter of her uncle Hari Shivdasani).

As a tribute to an actress who could act and look good no matter what she wore, here are 10 of my favourite songs picturised on her, in no particular order. I have restricted the list to only solos ‘sung’ by Sadhana on-screen.

1. Aaja aayi bahar (Rajkumar, 1964, Lata Mangeshkar, Shankar-Jaikishen):

A regular in all the antakshari games/ shows, this lilting Lata Mangeshkar song is probably one of the first songs I ever heard/ saw starring Sadhana. She looks absolutely lovely as a princess. While not a dancer as such, her hand movements are graceful.

2. Mila hai kisi ka jhumka (Parakh, 1960, Lata Mangeshkar, Salil Choudhary):

This lovely little gem of a movie made by Bimal Roy (with fabulous music and a delightful story -both by Salil da) is one of my favourite Sadhana movies. Sadhana plays a sweet girl-next-door, a postmaster’s daughter with grace and aplomb.  I was torn between the masterpiece O sajna barkha bahar aayi and the emotional and poignant Mere mann ke diye. But chose this sweet song, simply because I don’t think it has made it to any other list of mine – and I am very fond of it!

3. Ab aur na kuch bhi yaad raha (Prem Patra, 1962, Lata Mangeshkar, Salil Choudhary)

If I were to pick one song picturised on Sadhana, it would probably be this! Prem Patra is a lovely romantic movie, again from the Bimal Roy stable, and starring a very dishy Shashi Kapoor along with Sadhana with a fantastic (though not so popular) Salil Choudhary score. Sadhana turns in an effective performance and she looks very good in her pairing with Shashi Kapoor. While Saawan ki raaton mein and Yeh mere andhere ujale na hote are two of my favourite Lata -Talat duets, here is this wonderful solo sung by Lata Mangeshkar.

4. Meri nazrein haseen hai ki tum ho haseen (Ek musafir ek haseena, 1962, Asha Bhosle, OPN):

This movie, directed by Raj Khosla, paired Sadhana again with her first hero, Joy Mukherjee. While the story was weird and rather disjointed from what I remember (it started off with Joy Mukherjee playing a wounded soldier who falls in love with a married woman and then somehow they all land up in Bombay), this movie did have a very good musical score (by OP Nayyar) and Ms. Shivdasani looked gorgeous (and acted fairly well too, conveying appropriately the conflicted emotions of an abandoned married woman attracted to someone else.)

My favourite songs from this movie are all Rafi-Asha duets – Bahut shukriya, Aap yun hi agar, the unfilmed Main pyar ka rahi hoon and Zuban-e-yaar man turki. But this not-so-popular and underrated solo, sung melodiously by Asha Bhosle does stand out.

5. Lag ja gale (Woh Kaun Thi?, 1964, LM, Madan Mohan):

This classic mystery movie starring Sadhana as the alluring woman in white had a classic score by Madan Mohan – probably his best. This role was to bag Sadhana a Filmfare award nomination and much acclaim. Encouraged by its super success, Raj Khosla directed two more mystery movies starring Sadhana after this – Mera Saaya (1966) and Anita (1967). I was torn between the enchanting Naina barse rimjhim rimjhim, in which Sadhana appears as the ‘woman-in-white’ and this romantic number in which she is beckoning her lover to hold her and be hers. The best of the Lata Mangeshkar- Madan Mohan duo, this song is emotional and touching. A masterpiece!

6. Kaun aaya ki nigahon mein (Waqt, 1965, Asha Bhosle, Ravi):

Sadhana had a substantial role in this multi-starrer movie, a precursor to all the lost-and-found movies of the seventies (Yaadon ki baraat, Amar Akbar Anthony and their like). As the love interest of both Raj Kumar (unrequited in this case) and Sunil Dutt, Sadhana as Meena is beautiful, gentle and kind.

The musical score by Ravi does have some absolute gems (Aye meri zohrajabeen, Chehre pe khushi, Din hai bahaar ke, and one of my all time favourites, Aage bhi jaane na tu) but I picked this breezy, light song which used to be a regular on Rangoli.

7. Nainon mein badra chaaye (Mera Saaya, 1965, Lata Mangeshkar, Madan Mohan):

The second film in the Khosla-Sadhana suspense trilogy partnership, Mera Saaya (1966) was a courtroom drama, a remake of a Marathi film and had a brilliant score by Madan Mohan. Sadhana excelled as both the distraught Geeta trying to convince her husband of her identity and her twin sister Nisha/ Raina, the dacoit. Was torn between the superhit Jhumka gira re, the title track Tu jahan chalega, mera saaya (which in my mind is linked to a maa ka amar pyaar for her son. Think this tune was used in such a Hindi commercial way back in the 80s and hence the association!) and this classical tune for which Madan Mohan won an award.

8. Jahan mein aisa kaun hai (Hum Dono, 1961, Asha Bhosle, Jaidev):

This philosophical song, set to the tune of the playful and romantic Abhi na jao chhod kar, and sung very sweetly by Asha Bhosle conveys unconditional love and support. Dev Anand’s character is dejected and Sadhana, as the loving, supportive girl friend is trying to get him out of his despondency, offering her complete understanding. Sadhana is spot on!

9. Tere pyar mein dildaar (Mere Mehboob, 1963, Lata Mangeshkar, Naushad): 

I picked this song over the soulful title track Mere mehboob, because this is one of those few numbers that I like, where Sadhana is dancing. She is not much of a dancer but she does a fairly good job. Her hand movements are in particular graceful. And she does look gorgeous.

10. O mere bairaagi bhanwara (Ishq par zor nahin, 1970, Lata Mangeshkar, Sachin Dev Burman):

Ending the list with this melodious song from one of Sadhana’s later films, and the only movie in which she acted with Dharmendra.  Sadhana (a figment of Dharmendra’s fevered imagination) is beckoning him to her in this lovely song sung by Lata Mangeshkar and composed by Sachin Dev Burman.

RIP Sadhana ji. You were a good actress, despite gaining more recognition as a style icon for your trademark fringe, fashion choices and general stylish persona!

As the year comes to a close, I also would like to wish you all much joy, peace and prosperity in the coming year! Happy 2016.

Crimson City by Madhulika Liddle

Historical fiction is a difficult genre for an author to attempt; after all it is an imaginary narrative that has to be set in the remote past, while depicting the chosen time period and its cultures with accuracy, believability and depth. It requires extensive research and intensive, imaginative reconstruction. The author has to know the period, and then imagine it and create a believable world in that period.

And it is in this aspect that Madhulika Liddle’s writing shines. Her books in the Muzaffar Jang series stand out as examples of brilliant historical fiction. We are led into the Delhi/ Dilli/ Shahjahanabad, as it was known, of the 17th century, as the hero, the nobleman Muzaffar Jang solves various crimes – some petty and some not so.


Her latest book, Crimson City is no exception. Dilli comes vividly alive as we meet a mellowed and restrained Muzaffar Jang. He has been married to the lovely Shireen for three months now and is slowly getting used to her presence in his life. They are turbulent times and the larger macrocosmic events are creating ripples and unrest in the lives of the common Dilli-walas. Dilli is rocked by a series of unconnected murders and a couple of disappearances; but are they really unconnected? Muzaffar Jang is intrigued by the murders around him and is itching to get into the thick of it; but he is also reluctant to proceed freely with his investigation due to the simmering tension between him and his father figure like brother-in-law, Khan Sahib.

The stories are simple and it is through sheer deduction and intellect that Muzaffar Jang solves them. We get a glimpse into the mind of the detective and its working through his interesting discussions with Shireen and friend Akram wherein the author drops many a clue. If the character of Muzaffar Jang has undergone some transformation between the previous book and this, Shireen too has more of a role in Crimson City. She nudges him, prods him, talks to him and is spunky enough to go out and do a bit of investigation herself.

There is a tautness to the narrative; even in the descriptive passages in which the city as it goes about its humdrum existence is recreated.  The language and syntax are brilliant and pithy phrases conveying much are in plenty. For a long time, after I finished reading this book, I found myself still lost in Muzaffar Jang’s Dilli.

Vivid, colourful, and engaging, Crimson City is highly recommended for readers of historical fiction / historical detective fiction.

Sangtye Aika (You ask, I tell: An autobiography) by Hansa Wadkar transl. by Jasbir Jain and Shobha Shinde

In the late 80’s or early 90’s,  Doordarshan telecast a fantastic series titled ‘Portrait of the Director‘. It featured six documentaries on six acclaimed directors of Hindi Cinema. It was in the episode on Shyam Benegal, that I first heard about this book. His acclaimed 1977 film, Bhumika, starring Smita Patil in the award winning title role, was based loosely on this “autobiography”.


Hansa Wadkar (1923-1972), born Ratan Bhalchandra Salgaokar, was a well-known Marathi actress of the 1930s and 40s. Making her debut at the age of 10, Hansa Wadkar starred in several Marathi and Hindi movies, including two of Marathi cinema’s biggest hits, Lokshahir Ramjoshi (1947) and Sangtye Aika (1959).

It was a set of interviews appearing in a Marathi magazine, Manoos, in 1966 that culminated in her autobiography, Sangtye Aika (You ask, I tell). The book form, which became a bestseller, was published in 1970 and received the State Government Award for Best Autobiography in 1971. The English translation, by Jasbir Jain and Shobha Shinde, was published by Zubaan Books last year.

Episodic in structure and forthright in tone and voice, Hansa Wadkar’s memoirs give us an insight into her unconventional, difficult and tragic life, dwelling upon certain events more than others.


Born on January 24, 1923 in Bombay to Bhalchandra and Saraswati Salgaokar, Ratan was the third of four children. Her eldest sister (whose name she later took as her screen name, Hansa), and her youngest brother died early. Her brother Mohan and Ratan were the two surviving children.  Her grandmother Jiji was a wealthy courtesan and an influential figure in her childhood. Hansa’s mother was from a family of devadasis belonging to the kalavantin community. To avoid any family disputes, Jiji divided her property and left a house in Sawantwadi to Ratan’s father. So from Bombay, the family moved there.

Ratan’s upbringing was in a household, dominated by strong women – her grandmother, aunts and mother.  Her grandfather was bedridden, after having contracted tuberculosis. Her father did nothing for a living, besides being passionate about the tabla and addicted to alcohol. Ratan’s aunts (father’s sisters) Kesharbai and Indirabai  were already acting in the movies. To protect the family honour against the stigma of women working in the movies, Indirabai had adopted the name ‘Indira Wadkar’. Her youngest aunt, (whom she was very close to), Susheela tai was married to Master Vinayak (the renowned actor/ director and Nanda’s father). Ratan’s early childhood was fairly happy. She was extremely fond of her father and was close to her brother, Mohan. The mother-daughter relations are fraught with tension from the beginning. Her grandmother, Jiji, was of the opinion that girls should be trained in all arts – music, dance, swimming, reading. And hence paid attention to Ratan’s training. Ratan hated learning music, even though she had a good voice.

Her education was in a Marathi medium school in Sawantwadi (till fourth standard ) followed by two years in an English school in Bombay. Ratan enjoyed studying very much and had wanted to study further. But that was not to be. In Sawantwadi, there lived a rich family, across the road from her house, whom they were close. Her mother often encouraged visits from the boys of the household and would keep sending Ratan there. Jagannath Bandarkar, Hansa’s first husband, was from this family. He was 10 years older than her and would constantly fondle her and pressure her to marry him. To escape from this constant harassment, a 10 year old Ratan promises to marry him. Her father’s increasing alcoholism soon meant that money was tight. Her aunt, Kesharbai, suggested that she act. And the decision was made. At the age of 10, to supplement the family income, Ratan entered the world of movies and became Hansa Wadkar.


By the age of 16, Hansa Wadkar was a name. According to the translators, she did achieve unprecedented success and much acclaim back in those days. She was also married to Jagannath Bandarkar, who then controlled her finances and contracts.  The marriage, needless to say, was an unhappy, abusive one. After having been coerced to hold good on her childhood promise, Hansa soon found that there was no basic compatibility on any level. All Hansa wanted was a simple domestic life. He clearly had married her so that he could ride on her success. She was not allowed to stop working. Pregnancies were either forcefully aborted by her husband or ended in miscarriages due to her stressful life! Her only surviving child, Rekha, was born in 1942. She had no family support. Her father and brother had died; she had no one to share her sorrows with. Slowly she was driven to alcohol. She speaks about how she used to come home at 3 am or 4 am every morning, eat alone and then go to bed and then wake up at 11 am and go for shooting. Days would pass in such a routine and complete silence. And whenever she and Jagannath would talk, it would end in a quarrel as he would try to control each and every movement of hers. “Domestic bickering, worry for my child, the loathsome ways of the film world, all pushed me to drown myself in alcohol.” While she tried not to drink during shootings, the rest of the day was spent in a drunken stupor. During the shooting of Sonaiychi Lanka in Kolhapur, one night, she was desperate for a bottle of alcohol. The shops were shut and the waiter could not get her any alcohol. As she begged and pleaded, the man in the room next door sent her one. Joshi, this man, and Hansa soon became friends. After a particularly bitter fight with Jagannath, one evening, Hansa ran away to Joshi and spent the next few days drinking in different hotels. Soon money for alcohol was tight and they went to his village. It was then that she realised, he was an already married man with three wives (one dead and two alive)!! The next three years were spent in forced captivity. Having no place to return to, Hansa quietly accepted this and tried fitting in. Hansa worked hard, toiled and soon got along with the other wives and all of his children. She secretly wrote a letter to Jagannath, who then came with the police to take her away. The police took her to an old magistrate’s house, where that man raped her. She did not say a word – she was angry but chose not to file a complaint. Jagannath had been sent away earlier on some pretext of getting a signature. Hansa came back and got back to movies. Soon she walked out on Jagannath and also decided not to claim custody of Rekha. She did not want her daughter in the world of movies and theatre. By the time, her memoirs end, Hansa had given up alcohol for ten years and had settled to a ‘more normal life. Her daughter by then had grown up, gotten married and had two kids. She did not keep in touch with Jagannath Bandarkar, even though she held him in great regard – as he was her anchor in many ways. At the time when these interviews were conducted by journalist, Arun Sadhu and the book was published in 1970, Hansa Wadkar was very ill. She had been living with Rajan Javle, a kinder and a more supportive man than the others in her life. He was the one who helped her when she had walked out on Jagannath and gave up her alcohol. She died , at the age of 49, in September 1972.

What struck me about the book was the candour of the tone. She states the facts of her life, as is. There is no attempt to glorify either her fame/ success or the innate tragedy. She did not get what she wanted. She was abused and exploited in all her roles – daughter, wife, actress. But there is no attempt to portray herself as a victim. Her dignity and self-respect stand out in each chapter. What also amazed me was the lack of any bitterness or resentment.

Jagannath Bandarkar manipulated her, sexually abused her when she was a child, and then exploited her fame for his material benefit. But there is no rancour, when she writes about him. She is objective enough to see the good side in him. He was a good father to their daughter and she gives him that credit. She is also honest about her own flaws. Stubborn, fiery and rather contrary, some of her misfortunes were a result of her own character flaws. Angry at being accused by her mother (in a drunken fit) of sleeping with Jagannath, Hansa then proceeds to do just that in an act of defiance and becomes pregnant. Again, later, when the suspicious Jagannath accuses her of flirting with her co-stars and drinking and beats her up, she pig-headedly decides to do that. In trying to spite others, she ends up causing the most harm to herself. All this is recounted with an innocence and dignity that is touching. One feels for the lady.

In the book, Hansa Wadkar talks extensively about her co-stars, directors, and writers, creating, through small anecdotes, a picture of the nascent Marathi film industry. She talks about her conflict between the charms of  a simple, domestic life and the lure and intoxication of the face paint and arch lights. She writes warmly about Himanshu Rai, Devika Rani, Master Vinayak, Baburao Pendharkar, V. Shantaram, among many others. Durga Khote finds mention, as a co-star, in an anecdote in which she saved Hansa’s life during the filming of a tonga scene for the film, Khel Challa Naseebcha. They were picturising the shot in a mountainous terrain, where the tonga (with both Durga Khote and Hansa on it) would go a few steps forward and then a few steps backward. Durga Khote would sit on the tonga during the forward shot and would step down the moment, it would start going backward. She advised Hansa to get down too but Hansa didn’t listen. The third time this backward shot was being taken, the frightened horse didn’t stop and started hurrying backward towards the precipice. The rest of the unit watched in horror and Hansa was too scared to do anything. Durga Khote, showing extreme presence of mind, pulled Hansa out of the tonga. Hansa landed on a heap of stones; but the tonga and the horse fell down the mountain. The tonga was broken and the horse dead.

Another interesting and telling anecdote was how Shobhana Samarth refused to shoot when Hansa Wadkar was on the sets of a film. Hansa, then 15, had gone there with an acquaintance to watch the shooting. Samarth, from an elite and moneyed family said that she would not act as long as these cheap, low-born people are on the sets! Marathi cinema seemed to be dominated by upper middle class people and Hansa Wadkar, hailing from a family of devadasis and courtesans was definitely outside this ‘respectable’ circle! Hansa, to her credit, neither looks down upon her family, nor glorifies it. She simply decided not to go to any other film set without a prior invitation.

The one thing that comes out in the entire narrative is how much Hansa Wadkar valued her self-respect and independence. She aspired for some independence and control over her own finances, making her, as Shyam Benegal put it, an early feminist. Yes, her wilfulness and rashness were responsible for some problematic situations and equations; but it is to her credit that she faced most of the nasty turns her life tossed up with a quiet and remarkable dignity. It is this honesty and lack of self-pity that makes the book a worthy read!

Mem-didi (1961)

I was reminded of this wonderful but little-known Hrishikesh Mukherjee film (a movie that I had watched and liked way back), as I leafed through Jai’s recently released book a couple of nights back.

I had forgotten most of the movie, except that it starred an utterly delightful Tanuja (in one of her earliest roles) and Lalita Pawar and had a couple of very sweet songs.

Incidentally 23rd September happened to be Tanuja’s 72nd birthday, and a post on this blog was long overdue, I decided to watch and review this.


Mem-didi (1961) starred Lalita Pawar, David and Jayant in central roles. A very young Tanuja played the heroine and Kaysi (K.C.) Mehra played her love interest. Incidentally Kaysi Mehra made his debut along with Tanuja in Chhabili (1960). He quit films after this movie and embarked on a successful corporate career!

Hrishikesh Mukherjee wrote the screenplay (story by Sachin Bhowmick) and directed this film. This is one of Mukherjee’s earlier films, following Musafir (1957), Anari (1959), and Asli-Naqli (1961). L.B. Lachman, who also produced Anari, Asli Naqli, and Anupama, produced this gem of a movie.

It is a typical morning in a typical chawl, with its residents going about their day-to-day chores. Residents are queuing up to fill water.  Petty squabbles ensue as the people push and jostle for their turn. A roadside romeo sits there, brushing his teeth, hooting and singing songs to attract the attention of the passing by women. It is then we meet our main protagonists. These are Sher Khan (Jayant) and Bahadur Singh (David, endearing as always), the local goons of this chawl, whom everyone is afraid of. They step out of their homes and things fall back in order outside. “Dekho dada aaya, bhaago“, exclaims a lady shooing a young boy, when the portly Dada makes his appearance. They throw their weight around, chastise the roadside romeo suitably (two tight slaps!) and get on to drinking their chai at the local chaiwala.

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A quick set of episodes that ensue set the tone of the movie. We get to know that these local dadas are a pair of loud, loveable burly men – bullies on the exterior, but with a heart of gold. Brute strength and very little brains is also what they have got. Shera is all bluster, while Bahadur is the one with the brains – a little bit at any rate.

As they go about setting the bad guys right,  and doing their good deeds of the day, they hear about a new tenant, a memsaab shifting to the chawl. They do meet her soon enough. Shera and Bahadur, along with other chawl members, are playing a game of pithoo on the street blocking way. The new tenant walks up to them and chides them for blocking up the street. The two goons laugh and mock this lady and she slaps them.

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They decide to avenge this public humiliation – and come up with a rather idiotic plan. Since they do not believe in raising their hands on a woman, they plan to get her to sit on a chair (in her house) and then throw the chair out!

The plan backfires and how. They are utterly confused when the memsaab, Mrs Rosie Roy, welcomes them warmly and gets them some sweets to eat. She also gets them, in the process, to help with the furniture. The confused and frustrated Shera soon blurts out what their mission was. The irate memsaab sits on the chair and demands that they throw her out. She wants to know if this is the way women are treated in this chawl. This angry rant of hers soon dissolves into tears. The shamed men apologise and call her Mem-didi. She shall be their sister from now on.

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We then find out that Mem-didi has a daughter, Rita, who studies in an expensive finishing school in Shimla. Mem-didi works hard to makes end meet and pay the school fees – she regularly sends a money order to her daughter. She sells pickles to the grocer, takes up additional sewing work from the tailor and works into the wee hours of the night.

This is when the heroine makes an entry and how!

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Rita is a boisterous, pretty 18 year old, who has no clue about the difficulties her mom is facing. Her life is all about friends, teachers and love! She heads a club called the Boy Haters club in her school (while carrying on a secret dalliance with Dilip.)

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Meanwhile, Mem-didi and the two dadas bond and become good friends, going on picnics, sharing confidences and discussing philosophy. Mem-didi, by now, also has earned a reputation of being a miser. Her two friends come to her defence till things come to a head. Mem-didi refuses to donate some money for the chawl’s Holi celebration. Shera and Bahadur are angry with her; and she then breaks down and tells them what has happened. Earlier that day, her purse had been stolen as she was going to the post office to send a money order to Rita. Shera and Bahadur nab the thief and get her money back. An emotional scene follows, with Mrs Roy declaring Shera and Bahadur as Rita’s mamas.

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Meanwhile in Shimla, Rita, unaware of all the turmoil back home, is prancing about prettily with her friends, singing Bachpan O Bachpan. She also has a stealthy rendezvous with her boyfriend, Dilip (Kaysi Mehra) who we find out is very scared of his strict dad.

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Back home, Mem-didi‘s overworked and wrought nerves give way and she falls ill. Shera and Bahadur flex their muscles and drag the local doctor to check Mem-didi.

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Seeing that Mem-Didi has not regained consciousness, the men decide to write to Rita. Shortly a telegram arrives from Shimla: Rita is on her way. This coincides with the time that Mem-didi regains consciousness.

She is horrified to find out that Rita has been informed and she freaks out. And we get to know why! Rita is NOT her daughter. Mem-didi is her ayah and has taken care of her since childhood. Especially now, since Rita’s parents died. Rita’s parents had been wealthy but they did not leave any riches behind for their daughter. Mem-didi had been pretending all these days that the inheritance was intact. And to keep this pretence alive, has been slogging to keep Rita in that posh school.

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Does Rita find out the truth? How does Mem-didi continue paying the posh school fees? What happens to the Rita-Dilip love story? And what role do the two goons play in the scheme of things?

The rest of the movie answers these questions.

My two cents:

Mem-Didi is a delightful gem of a movie, with stellar performances by Jayant, David and Lalita Pawar. Jayant and David as Shera and Bahadur respectively are goofy and absolutely adorable. Their chemistry is top-notch, making all their scenes together stand out.

Like most of Mukherjee’s movies, it is a warm, endearing film. The ending, though predictable and melodramatic, is a bit sad.

Lalita Pawar is superb as the sacrificing but righteous Mem-didi. Her role is somewhat similar to her role in Anari.

Tanuja is simply perfect – as the fresh, young school girl. It does help that she looks like one too. She is bubbly, cute, and very charming. And one can see traces of both Nutan and Kajol in her gestures and performance.

Kaysi Mehra is cute (He reminded me just a wee bit of Joy Mukherjee.) Tanuja and Kaysi Mehra look sweet together.

Hari Shivdasani is competent as Dilip’s greedy rich father – the only ‘villain’ in this drama.

Music: Salil Chowdhury composed the music for this film. While this is not his best soundtrack, almost all the songs are good. My personal favourites are Bachpan o Bachpan, Bhula do zindagi ke ghum (plays during the opening credits) and Raaton ko jab neend ud jaaye.

The Beta wowow song is cute and innovative – both in the picturisation and the actual song. It is almost a duet sung by Lata Mangeshkar and a dog.

All in all, this is a very sweet film – definitely worth a watch, if you have not already.

And yes, belated happy birthday, Tanujaji!

Awadheshwari by Shankar Mokashi Punekar translated by P.P. Giridhar


Shankar Mokashi Punekar (1928-2004) was a well-known Kannada novelist, poet, literary critic and translator. Known to be radical and non-conformist in his views, Punekar’s output was prolific. He wrote extensively in Kannada and English – in varied genres – novels, short stories, poetry, and literary criticism.

Deeply critical of the modernist movement in Kannada literature, his own literary works were rooted in the past – not just in terms of the time period he set his works in, but also in terms of the narrative styles he employed.  Gangavva Gangamayi, considered to be one of the first existential novels in Kannada literature, was based in the days of the freedom struggle. It essentially was a study of the clash between orthodoxy and modernity. His other novels include Awadheshwari and Nata Narayani. His non-fiction works include a comparative study of Western literature and culture and a study of Kannada literature. One of his English works that is worth a mention is  Mohenjodaro Seals, a study of Harappa-Mohenjodaro seals, in which he explains his own theory and interpretation of about 100 seals.

Awadheshwari was first published in 1987. This translation, by P.P. Giridhar, a well-known scholar and translator in his own right, was published by Sahitya Akademi in 2006. It is a political story set in Ayodhya in the Vedic times. The first half of the book tells us the story of the Queen Purukutsani, and the second half is about her son, King Trasadasyu, as he tries to come to terms with secrets surrounding his birth. It also details Trasadasyu’s conflict with Vrisha Bhatta, a Rig Vedic Brahmin and his father, the cunning, lowly Bhima Bhatta.

The book begins by telling us of the incestuous marriage between Purukutsa and his sister Purukutsani, decided by King Mandhata, their father and some royals. This union is so ordained to maintain the pure Egyptian blood of the dynasty. The marriage is not consummated and soon the philandering Purukutsa is taken captive by a rival kingdom. Queen Purukutsani then takes over the reins of Ayodhya, ruling  with astuteness and sagacity. Upon the advice of her guru, Sage Devadema, the Queen performs the niyoga ceremony with Simhabhatta, a Brahmin from Ayodhya and Trasadasyu is born. Trasadasyu grows up believing himself to be the son of King Purukutsa till Vrisha Bhatta and Bhima Bhatta start their mischief. How Trasadasyu grapples with this dilemma, tackles Vrisha Bhatta and establishes himself as the great King forms the rest of the story.

Awadheshwari was a difficult text for me to read – maybe because I approached it like any other novel in English. It is not really a novel. There are way too many lengthy plots and subplots running through it – some of it unrelated to the two main threads mentioned above. It reads closer to the Indian storytelling contexts – where in unrelated stories are threaded together in a vast epic. This is where Punekar explicitly steers away from the modernist forms of writing. The narrative structure is more like a set of unrelated happenings, occurring at the same time in different places, that is being retold by the author. The author re-creates the Vedic times vividly and in an engrossing manner. Once I got past the first 100 pages and got a hang of the writing style, I was hooked.

What I found particularly interesting was the way he uses both Vedic hymns and the Harappa-Mohenjodaro seals and re-interprets them in the story of Trasadasyu and his conflict with Vrisha Bhatta. The author does not believe in the old theory of Aryan invasion but falls more in line with the alternate view that believes in the indigenous growth of civilisation in India and equates the Harappan civilisation to the early Rig Vedic times.  So according to Punekar, the people who composed the Vedas are also the ones who built the Great bath at Mohenjodaro. He takes one Vedic hymn that talks about Trasadasyu and proceeds to explain how one of the Harappan seals depicts exactly the same story.

Another interesting aspect of the work is the way in which S.M Punekar fictionalises the known Vedic myth/story.

Purukutsa, one of the sons of King Mandhatri/ Mandhata of the Ikshavaku dynasty (solar dynasty) has been mentioned in the Rig Veda as a famous, generous, good king who ruled Ayodhya for a long time. (The great sage Muchukunda who is mentioned in the Mahabharata is another of Mandhata’s sons.) Purukutsa’s sons include the great king Trasadasyu and Trishanku (who is said to be stuck in his own space between heaven and earth – caught in between Vashishta’s and Viswamitra’s rivalry, all because of his own desires.) 

What the author does in Awadheshwari is that he portrays Purukutsa in a particularly negative light and makes Queen Purukutsani a strong female protagonist. Purukutsa is indolent, hedonistic, leading a debauched life. When he is busy chasing and fulfilling his baser desires, the Queen Purukutsani takes charge, subsumes her personal disappointment and rules the kingdom effectively. Purukutsani is sagacious, brave, kind, respected and loved by her people. For the sake of maintaining Ayodhya’s sovereignty, she rejects a marriage proposal from a neighbouring king. And she performs niyoga upon the advise of her spiritual preceptor.

If the book is a difficult text to read, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to translate!

The overall translation is good but what did irritate me is the verbosity of the language. The sentences were too long and could have been made simpler and shorter. There were a couple of errors that I spotted – one instance where the names of characters have been interchanged; and another wherein a footnote appears on the wrong page. An introduction explaining the literary and historical context in which S.M. Punekar wrote this work and also mentioning the known Vedic stories would have added immense value to this book.

Despite these minor irritants, Awadheshwari is a highly recommended book. Not at all surprising that S.M. Punekar won the Sahitya Akademi award for this in 1988!

Prarambh – The Beginning by Gangadhar Gadgil (translated by Arvind Dixit)


The National Book Trust brings out an interesting series called Aadaan- Pradaan (interchange/ give and take). As the name suggests, the objective of the series is to introduce well-known works (mainly novels or collection of short stories) of a particular region/ language to people from other regions to foster national integration. This is a valuable series especially for readers interested in regional Indian literature – albeit in its translated form.

One of the books in this series is PrarambhThe Beginning by Gangadhar Gadgil and translated by Arvind Dixit. Gangadhar Gadgil (1923-2008), an Economics professor by profession, was recognised in the literary world (for his stellar contribution to the modern Marathi short story. His prolific literary output extended to other forms such as novels and articles. Some of his notable works include Ek Mungiche Mahabharat, Durdamya (a two volume biographical novel on Bal Gangadhar Tilak) and Sahityatale Maanadanda.

(I was unable to glean any information on when Gangadhar Gadgil penned Prarambh – though this particular translation came out in 2006.)

Prarambh- The Beginning is a biographical novel, tracing the life and times of Jagannath Shankarshet, one of the architects of modern Bombay. The novel starts when Nana Shankarshet is a 15-year-old lad and follows his life, detailing his immense contribution to the city till 1869, the year of his death. In the process, Gadgil crafts an unforgettable, panoramic, vivid biography of the city, as it transformed from a set of islands into the first capital of the Bombay presidency and the buzzing, commercial capital of India.

A period of major upheaval, 1818 was the year of the third and final Anglo-Maratha war, which led to the British East India Company in control of Indian territories. The novel begins after the fall of the Peshwa. Abashastri, a fictional Brahmin priest from Pune moves to Bombay with his family after a backbreaking journey. (There were no bullock-cart paths connecting the two cities and the rocky, treacherous terrain had to be traversed by foot.) His nephew, Bapu, who had moved to this new city of Bombay some years earlier, had called him with the promise of employment at the house of a prosperous trader, Shankarshet, whose family had migrated from Konkan in the 18th century. Abashastri comes to Bombay and is soon employed as their family priest, in charge of the daily rituals and the upkeep of the Bhawani temple in the premises of their wada in Tardeo.

The author employs a deft narrative tool by having two parallel threads running through the novel. On one, there is the narration dealing with Shankarshet’s son Nana ‘s dazzling rise in his public career, and the epoch-making events taking place in Bombay and in the larger macrocosm of India and the world.

On the other hand, there is the exploration of the ramifications of these events on the common man. The author achieves this by focusing on the doubts, prejudices, fears of Abashastri as he struggles with getting Waman an education. (Should he go against the rules of his caste and religion and get him a Western education? Won’t sending Waman to an English teacher mean that he will lose touch with his own religion and convert to Christianity? What would the future of Sanskrit education be in India? Will the coming generations be rooted to their traditions and identity? Or would they discard their own culture for a foreign one? Is the Hindu/ Indian culture indeed inferior to these Britishers?) Such questions are raised and discussed vividly using fictional characters, events in their lives and through their voices.

Fact and fiction blend, creating a memorable panoramic canvas. The events that made modern Mumbai are etched in vivid detail. We get to witness the statesmanship and foresight of Governor Elphinstone and the founding of the School Society and the Native School of Bombay (first English school for Indians, now existing as the Elphinstone College). The founding of other historical institutions like the Bombay Literary Society by James Mackintosh, the first engineering college by Captain Jarvis. Jagannath Shankarshet’s alleged role in the 1857 mutiny is also covered and so is the founding of the first political association in Western India, The Bombay Association. Real characters like the pioneer Marathi journalist, Balshastri Jambekhar, Bhau Daji Lad (the Sanskrit scholar and doctor who graduated from the first batch of Grant Medical College in 1850), Jamshedji Jeejeeboy, Dadoba Pandurang, Governor Elphinstone, Sir Robert Grant make an appearance, interact and co-exist alongside Abashastri’s fictional family and other fictional characters. And in the midst of this, Nana Shankarshet’s amazing political and social career as a public leader is vividly described. His story, along with the story of Bombay forms the crux – making it a tribute from the author to both the architect of a much loved city and to the city itself. The real characters are the actors, hastening the changes in a rapid, fluctuating society; while the fictional characters are bystanders getting caught up in the whirlpool.

It is an exhilarating phase of rapid social, economic and political change. As Aroon Tikekar, the noted scholar and authority on Mumbai puts it in the foreword, it is a misconception that social Renaissance in India started and existed only in Bengal. In the West, in Bombay, a similar social renaissance took place during this period when existing social norms were questioned and revisited. The arising social tensions and the new social reform movements all find a mention.The first anti-caste movement, the establishment of the first girls’ school (to name a few social reform events) are deftly introduced in the fictional world, giving the reader a complete sense of Bombay at that time.

For lovers of history and residents of Mumbai, this would make for a compelling reading. The general reader probably may not enjoy this book. It is a heavy tome, with approximately 630 pages. One criticism against the book could be that it is boring. And that it is a history textbook more than a novel. But I think that historical narrative style is intentional – it is meant to read like part authentic history and part fiction. Personally this is what appealed to me. I like facts and dates. And when an incident or event takes place in one of the fictional characters’ lives, it is also supplemented with information as to what was happening in Bombay at that time – all the relevant facts, dates and details. For example, Dadoba Pandurang (the social reformer and educationist who worked closely with Balshastri Jambekhar) is shown to be a close friend and classmate of Waman. So we are informed that in the year 1828, the year Waman got married, so did Dadoba. And that it was in this year that Dadoba appeared for the final examination of the Marathi section.

My knowledge of Bombay is limited to reading and viewing Hindi films. But now I feel like I know ‘the city that was’ rather intimately. It is to the author’s credit (and also the translator) that 19th century Bombay comes alive right in front of the reader’s eyes. By connecting the reader to Abashastri and his family, the reader is made to witness firsthand the magnificent growth of Bombay.

The translation by Arvind Dixit seems decent enough – nothing jarring regarding the flow of the book. The vast canvas painted by the author comes out in the translation and often at times it does not feel like one is reading a translated book. I was unsure about the meaning given for some Marathi words – but since I do not know Marathi, my being sure or not does not matter.

For history buffs or people who have something to do with Bombay, this is a must read! Highly recommended.

Basant (1960)


A couple of days back, while browsing through a DVD store, I saw the DVD of An Affair to Remember (1957) and immediately Basant (1960) came to my mind.

Basant (1960) was a movie I desperately wanted to see at one point in time – because I loved Chori Chori Ik Ishaara ho gaya hai(a song that used to be featured regularly in Rangoli during the DD days) and because it starred two actors I absolutely adore – Shammi Kapoor and Nutan.

So after much scouring of various stores, I finally laid my hands on the VCD at a dingy shop in Palika Bazaar, many years ago and got to watch it. And what a thorough and complete disappointment it was! The said VCD was discarded after that one watch…. to be fished out now. This time, I decided to view it with a less critical eye – after all I knew the story (or whatever that is supposed to be!).

Produced and directed by Bibhuti Mitra, Basant turned out to be a complete khichdi of It happened One Night and An Affair to Remember and an absurd Assam related subplot.

Now that you are warned, (if you have not seen this movie), here goes the review.

We meet young Ashim Shom (Shammi Kapoor) who saves an elderly gentleman from being robbed and drops him. A conversation ensues and Ashim tells him of his love story. The lady in question is Meenakshi Roy (Nutan), the spoilt daughter of Rai Bahadur Mrigank Roy (Murad).

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The story of their acquaintance/ love dates back to the time when Meenakshi had set her sight on marrying Rajesh (Pran); much to the disapproval and chagrin of Rai Bahadur.  In a bid to change her mind,  the Rai Bahadur forces a change of scene and the warring father and daughter duo are on a train to Calcutta.

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The contrary daughter, who openly proclaims that she does not do what she has been told, runs away from the train. Not only is she insolent and spoilt, she is also very careless. (That kind of comes with the territory, I guess. No ayah to pick her things up behind her!)

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Her bag gets stolen at the station, barely five mins after her running away and she runs behind the culprit, a charming petty pickpocket, Billoo (Johnny Walker). The purpose of this scene is to get her out of the station. She comes to a crowded circus, in search of the bag and the thief, and voila, she finds it.

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By this time the efficient cops (maybe because their client is the Rai Bahadur Saab) have also landed up at the circus looking for Ms Roy. So she lands up backstage, bag in tow, and then finally on stage. Scene set for a lovely song with our hero!! (How on earth does one just land up on stage and then sing and dance in perfect synch with the other dancers is one thing I never shall know! Oh yes, she also finds a costume to change into in the meantime.)

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Song over, Ms Roy (out of costume) tries running out again. Only to run into Ashim Shom, who we learn is on his way to Bombay. He was dancing by the way to make a quick buck. Typical first meeting clash ensues and they part ways. In the station, Ms Roy overhears her irate father yelling at the poor cops and again manages to lose her bag….. and conveniently gets it back! Scene set for second song – this time dressed as a dancing girl!

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Our hero by now has recognised the lady and offers to help. Time for another squabble. As Ms Roy waits for the bus at the bus stop, Mr. Walker flicks the damn suitcase and runs. This time, our observant hero makes a dash for the thief and the bag but is unable to catch hold of him. When he comes back to report this to the lady, she is completely oblivious!

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On the bus to Bombay, guess who she sits next to – yes Johnny Walker again and he manages to return her suitcase and steal money from her purse!!!! (I know this is all for laughs… but this dumb, really?).

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The cops stop the bus and Johnny Walker slimes off. Our hero then makes an appearance and pretends to be this lady’s hubby. Together they hoodwink the cops.

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Johnny Walker also figures out that this lady, who is such an easy prey, is none other than Ms Roy.

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Ashim and Meenakshi are now on their way to Bombay, with the cops and Johnny Walker behind them. Needless to say that the rest of the journey is peppered with many such nonsensical incidents and songs! Including a sub-plot featuring Johnny Walker’s love story.

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Poor Rai Bahadur is by then quite distraught; in a bid to get his daughter back home, he promises Rajesh (Pran) that he shall wed Meenakshi. Yes Pran finally makes an appearance. As expected, by the time Ashim and Meenakshi are in Bombay, they are in love. (Phew!)

Now Ashim smartly decides that they shall meet only after a month – to see if they are really in love. So they pine for each other, singing yet another melodious song (the best in this movie).

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Story time over. The patient Sethji who had been listening to Ashim’s tale suddenly decides that he has a job for him. Ashim is entrusted with the same naulakha haar that the thief had been trying to steal. He is asked to go and hand it to one of the sethji’s friends. Now this friend is in Kamarup, Assam. Our hero promptly accepts the assignment and decides to go to Kamarup.

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Do Ashim and Meenakshi meet after one month? What happens in Kamarup? Is there a happy-ever after ending?

The rest of the movie answers these three questions, after much meandering and useless side plots!

My two cents:

For a Shammi -Nutan fan, this is a visually appealing movie.

Shammi Kapoor is dashing and Nutan shines – but to no avail. Their combined good looks and acting chops cannot lift this dismal hotchpotch. 

I had an issue with the character Meenakshi – sure, she is supposed to be feisty, spoilt and headstrong – but she comes off as downright rude and ill-mannered. And does she have to be that stupid? Spoilt and sheltered does not necessarily translate to stupid. And that constant “My foot” refrain grates.

But she looks lovely and plus this is the one movie where you see Nutan dance.

The Johnny Walker love story angle comes off as superfluous and is tiresome. Pran is wasted in the villain’s role.

I would have preferred to watch more of his villainy than Johnny Walker’s romance.


On the plus, the musical score is brilliant – While not one of OPN’s best and popular score, it has some very fine tunes. My picks are – Chori Chori ik ishaara ho gaya hai, Naino mein suraj ki kiranein, Raaste mein ik haseen. The dance sequence featuring Cuckoo and Nutan is quite sweet.


This viewing, truth be told, I switched off the VCD midway. I knew what was to happen and I had no patience to sit through the silly drama. Even the less critical viewing didn’t quite work.

A pity though, for this movie did have potential. A brilliant cast got wasted and so did a good musical score.

Happy Birthday, Vyjayantimala ji


An accomplished actress, a Bharatanatyam danseuse par excellence, a Carnatic classical singer and a parliamentarian, Vyjayantimala has several feathers to her cap. Her influence on Hindi cinema has been far-reaching. It is because of her, primarily, that training in classical/ semi-classical dance has become a necessary part of a heroine’s resume in Hindi cinema. The original “twinkle toes”, she has numerous dance numbers to her credit, most of which are remembered to-date. She was extremely popular and was the first South Indian actress to click in Hindi cinema (Waheeda Rehman soon followed and then there was Hema Malini later in the 60s.)

Born on August 13, 1932 in a house facing the famous Parthasarathy temple in Madras, Vyjayantimala belonged to an orthodox Iyengar family from Mysore. Her mother, Vasundhara Devi was a renowned classical singer who had acted in some well-known movies in the 1940s.

(Wikipedia and other accounts usually mention her date of birth to be August 13, 1936; However in her memoir titled Bonding published in 2007,  she does mention that she would have been around 13 when her Bhararatnatyam arangetram took place in 1945 and that she was 36 when she got married in 1968. This would mean that she was born in 1931 or 1932. I am going with the 1932 date, as she also mentions that she was 6 and a half when she accompanied her mother to Europe in the summer of 1939.)

Vyjayantimala made her debut in the Tamil film Vazhkai in 1948. It was subsequently made in Telugu as Jeevitham (1950) and in Hindi as Bahar (1951). In a career spanning two decades, Vyjayantimala acted in many memorable films primarily in Hindi and Tamil. Though she also acted in a couple of Telugu movies, a Bengali movie (the National Award winning Hatey Bazarey (1967)) and a Kannada film.

Vyjayantimala has three Filmfare Best Actress awards to her credit; She was awarded the Padmashri in 1968 (the year she quit films, while still at the top) and the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1982 for her contribution to Bharatanatyam.

So, on her 83rd birthday, here are 10 of my favourite solo songs picturised on this dancer and actress par excellence in no particular order.

1) Saiyan dil mein aana re (Bahar, 1951, Shamshad Begum, S.D. Burman): This song is from her debut multi-lingual film, which was a super hit in all the three languages. She was the heroine in all the three movies.

The movie had some wonderful songs sung by Shamshad Begum like Duniya ka maza le lo and O Pardesiya. This particular song is popular till date, with its remixes still doing the round. One of Shamshad Begum’s best known numbers, Vyjayantimala looks so very innocent and vivacious.

2) Jadugar Saiyan Chhodo mori baiyan (Nagin, 1954, Lata Mangeshkar, Hemant Kumar): When AVM had signed Vyjayantimala for Vazhkai, they insisted on an exclusive contract with them, which forbade her from signing any Tamil films outside their banner. They had not anticipated that she would click in the North as well. But after Bahar released, she got a flurry of proposals from Bombay. The first one she took up (based on the advice of her shrewd grandmother and father), was this movie. The reason for her signing this movie was the number of dance numbers. Nagin, released in 1954, clicked and how! It was the highest grossing movie of the year and all the eight solo songs (sung by Lata Mangeshkar) were super-duper hits. The ‘southern sensation’ was here to stay. In her memoir, she does mention that she was often irked and would be in tears during the entire shoot. The director would call her ‘idli’ and Pradeep Kumar ‘rasgulla”, much to the actors’ dislike.

I was torn between Mera dil yeh pukare aaja and this one – the two songs I really like. But decided to go with the happier of the two songs.

3) Jise tu qubool kar le (Devdas, 1955, Lata Mangeshkar, S.D. Burman): When Bimal Roy wanted to sign Vyjayantimala for the role of Chandramukhi in his version of the Sarat Chandra classic, he was dissuaded by many in the industry, including his script writer Nabendu Ghosh. He says, “I did not approve of Vyjayanthimala [as Chandramukhi], but we had no option — no one wanted to play Chandramukhi, and we were committed to our distributors.” Others taunted Roy and were of the opinion that if he was to have Vyjayantimala play Chandramukhi, why doesn’t he sign Kishore Kumar as Devdas?

For whatever reason, financial compulsions or just plain conviction, Bimal Roy persisted with Vyjayantimala as Chandramukhi and his decision paid off. She won the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress award for her role – an award she refused to accept simply because she didn’t think hers was a supporting role, in any way of lesser importance than Suchitra Sen’s!

This song is one of the two songs I like from this movie – the other being Aan milo aan milo shyam sanware, a lovely bhajan (in the Baul tradition) that has not been picturised on her.

4) Jao Jao nand ke lala (Rangoli, 1962, Lata Mangeshkar, Shankar-Jaikishen): Kishore Kumar and Vyjayantimala starred in a number of films together like Ladki (1953), Miss Mala (1954),  New Delhi (1956), Aasha (1957) and Rangoli (1962). This song from Rangoli (1962) is one of my favourites, for a personal reason. It was a song I had danced to, in some semi-classical dance show, way back during my school days. Of course the choreography was slightly different – my dance teacher had made it even less filmy and more classical!

5) Zulmi sang aankh ladi (Madhumati, 1958, Lata Mangeshkar, Salil Choudhary): The years 1957 and 1958 were big years for Vyjayantimala. She replaced Madhubala in B.R. Chopra’s Naya Daur after the messy controversy. The film was a huge success and the Dilip Kumar-Vyjayantimala pairing became a hit pairing. In 1958, Bimal Roy signed her for his reincarnation saga Madhumati again opposite Dilip Kumar. Madhumati was a super duper blockbuster, becoming the highest grossing film of that year. This movie was a good showcase of both her dancing skills and her acting abilities, as she played three roles in it – Madhavi, Radha and the ghost Madhumati. Madhumati is considered to be the first reincarnation saga in Hindi cinema, inspiring movies such as Milan (1967), Kudrat (1980), Karz (1982),  and more recently Om Shanti Om (2007). Vyjayantimala was nominated for the Filmfare Best Actress award that year for this movie, but did not win. She won instead for her role in the B.R Chopra film Sadhna.

The music of Madhumati remains as popular now as before. All the songs are delightful, so I was not sure which one to pick. I decided to stick to the first song I heard from this movie.

6) Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko (Sadhna, 1958, Lata Mangeshkar, N.Dutta): The B.R Chopra classic made in 1958 was Vyjayantimala’s show all the way. Playing a prostitute who turns into a defiant woman, she got ample scope to showcase her talents – both dancing and acting. Sunil Dutt (who else!) was the hero in this progressive woman-centric film. One of the big draws of this movie was Sahir Ludhianvi’s sublime poetry. Take for instance, this soul-stirring song on oppression of women (maybe a bit hackneyed). But Sahir’s lyrics are harsh and rather brutal, painting an unforgettable imagery. I chose this song, not only for the lyrics, but also for Vyjayantimala’s subdued dramatic acting.

7) Dhoondho dhoondho re saajna (Ganga Jamuna, 1961, Lata Mangeshkar, Naushad): This lovely song is from the film, Ganga Jamuna, in which she starred once again opposite Dilip Kumar and is said to have learnt Bhojpuri for this movie. She won her second Filmfare Best Actress Award and this movie is considered one of her best performances. This song is a lilting melody, exuberant and lively, it is about her lost ‘baala’ (earring), symbolising her innocence and even maidenhood. Vyjayantimala looks lovely in red.

8) Jaani tum toh dole (Dr. Vidya, 1962, Lata Mangeshkar, S.D. Burman): Another movie with some lovely songs such as Pawan diwani and Aye Hai dilruba. My favourite is this teasing, playful song, sung very melodiously by Lata Mangeshkar. Interestingly S.D. Burman uses the same folk tune that plays after the mukhda before the 1st and 3rd antara for O Panchchi Pyare (Bandini).

9) Mat ja mat ja mere bachpan (Chhoti si mulaqat, 1967, Asha Bhosle, Shankar-Jaikishen): This song is from a movie that Vyjayantimala made towards the end of her glorious film career. While I loved the Uttam Kumar -Vyjayantimala pairing – they both look gorgeous, I hated the glorification of child marriage and the whole ‘patni ka dharm‘ in this movie. The music by Shankar-Jaikishen is good, with some lovely songs like Jeevan ke do rahe pe  and Tujhe dekha tujhe chaha. This peppy song sung melodiously by Asha Bhosle is one of my favourites.

10) Neel gagan ki chhaon mein (Amrapali, 1966, Lata Mangeshkar, Shankar-Jaikishen): Ending the list with a song from one of her best films. She put her heart and mind into this role. This film, however, was a huge flop and the failure of this movie is supposed to have disheartened Vyjayantimala so much that she soon called it a day.

One of my favourite films – a historical period drama set in the Magadha empire, this has Vyjayantimala playing the famous courtesan from Vaishali, Amrapali. When I watched it way back in the eighties/ nineties on DD, I did not like it much due to a historical inaccuracy that bothered me quite a bit.  The version that I knew, thanks to my Amar Chitra Katha reading, was that Bimbisara, the mighty king of Magadha lands up in Amrapali’s house (after being wounded in battle) and becomes Amrapali’s lover. She even has Bimbisara’s child. However in this movie, they show Ajatashatru, Bimbisara’s son played by Sunil Dutt as her lover. I remember being irritated about this when I watched it.

This minor complaint aside, Amrapali is a well-made movie, a through and through Vyjayantimala show. Sunil Dutt and Premnath are also very effective in their roles. The movie, surprisingly, had only 4 songs, but each one of these are classics. Also I seem to have a vague memory of watching Jao re jogi tum jao re when the movie aired on DD. I am now unable to find the song since – it is not on Youtube and not in the DVD I have. (Has it been cut? Or was it never picturised? Am I confusing it with some other song?)

Here is this song that Vyjayantimala herself lists in her memoirs as being her favourite.

Here is wishing Vyjayantimala ji many more happy and healthy years to come! Happy Birthday.

Roop ki Rani Choron ko Raja (1961)

Yes, with Anu flagging off the Dev Anand movie month on her blog (coinciding with my Duniya review) and Madhu following it up with Mahal, it seemed to me that my next review should be of a previously unwatched Dev Anand movie. And what better than a Dev Anand-Waheeda Rehman movie, available on Youtube!


I heard of this movie first from an uncle around the time that the atrocious Anil Kapoor –Sridevi movie of the same name was released. He was bemoaning the lack of good music in that movie and fondly remembering the “superlative score of Shankar-Jaikishen” in the older one. While the music is indeed superlative compared to that atrocious movie of the late 80s, the soundtrack of the 1961 (barring a couple of songs) is not one of my favourites.

Coming to the movie, it starts off in a sharaab ka adda where our hero, Chhagan is busy drinking. A lame goonda (Jeevan, whose name I could not figure out) enters this adda and It is soon established that these men are both thieves and partners. And as they are discussing their next heist (stealing a diamond from a jeweller), aboard a steamer that is leaving for Shivsagar , the next morning, they have a fallout. (Note: Not sure where this Shivsagar is, but I think Shivsagar is probably another name for the well-known Gangasagar pilgrimage (Sagar island) in Bengal.)

Jeevan does not give Chhagan the tickets;  Chhagan, now determined to steal the diamond, lands up at the harbour. 

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At the harbour, Chhagan meets the Bengali manager of the steamer who tells him that there are no tickets available and points to the other devotees who haven’t been able to get tickets as well.

We then get to know that Chhagan is a nastik – he does not believe in God and believes only in his abilities. Yes there is a song to espouse his worldview. That he is an atheist, now on a journey undertaken usually by the devoted is of note – and as Hindi film logic goes, by the end he should get converted into a believer, especially because this was made in the early sixties!

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The morning of the pilgrimage dawns; Chhagan lurks around, trying to get on. And as he waits, along with him, we meet the other passengers.

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There is a Swami (Hiralal)  with his devotees, mainly widows – whom he provides shelter to. He is orthodox and extremely narrow minded. He is shown chastising one of the widows (Sahira), when she gets startled by a camera flashlight. Since the camera was  wielded by a young man, her morals are definitely suspect. She can be forgiven and taken back in the fold only after a deep penance. The flabbergasted young man, who tries standing up for this young dukhiyari vidhwa, is a writer who is on the pilgrimage looking for fodder for his book. Chhagan observes this appalling incident, and immediately has a run-in with the Swami (Wisdom, gained by watching numerous Hindi movies, tells me that by the end of the movie, the Swami would be revealed to be fraudulent or would simply be reformed.)

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Then we meet a khandaani rayeez from Lucknow, Banke Bihari (Sunder). He is here along with his sycophantic chelas (one of them being Rajendranath). This gentleman, fond of his music and shaayari, is on this journey due to remorse, or so we are informed. His wife, who was against his drinking, has now passed away and in a fit of remorse, this gentleman decides to relinquish the habit. And what better way than to just dump the crates of liquor in the Ganga! (No. 2: These characters are there to provide some standard comic relief)

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Next we meet the jeweller (Jagdish Raj, not as a cop!) and his family – our hero’s main interest (till the heroine makes an appearance, of course!) He had vowed to immerse a valuable diamond in the Ganga at Shivsagar if his only son recovered. And the son had. So the family is on their way to Shivsagar.

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Our lame villain, Jeevan now makes an entry all set to steal the diamond,  with a mute pehelwan to do his bidding.

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Then a naachnewali madam, now mature and past her prime (Manorama) enters with her entourange. Some servants and her foster daughter who is hidden from the world’s preying eyes – after all she is a roop ki rani. The madam had vowed that her daughter would first dance in Shivsagar, pure and unsoiled,  and then enter the profession. Our hero, intrigued by the pretty tinkling feet, is now determined to steal a few glances, after all he is the choron ka raja.

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Chhagan swims quite a distance and somehow gets into the steamer. He quickly befriends the writer and the manager and some others. And so the journey to Shivsagar begins.

Soon enough as expected, Chhagan and Roopa meet (in typical Hindi film fashion) and quickly fall in love, even as Manorama, blissfully unaware, has arranged for her to be delivered to Banke Bihari as his new wife. Jeevan and the mute guy try hard to steal the diamond but are foiled by Chhagan. There is also a sub-plot where the Swami continues to harangue the widow and the writer. He is convinced they are having an affair!

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Does Chhagan manage to steal the jewel? Do Roopa and Chhagan get together? How does the widow-writer-Swami plot culminate?

The rest of the movie is about the completion of the journey – both literal and metaphorical. The questions are answered and many characters are transformed.

My two cents:  This was yet another movie that surpassed my expectations! The screenplay (Abrar Alvi and H.S. Rawail) is rather effective. I was surprised at the non-dramatic way in which some plot points were resolved and taken to their logical conclusion (as far as possible). Yes, a little contrived and too convenient, but still refreshing.

As expected, Chhagan turns into a believer; but what was refreshing was that his beliefs didn’t change because of anyone else. He does not get coerced by Roopa (no ‘tumhe meri kasam hai’ type of dialogues) or anyone; but instead changes his beliefs because of his own experiences (even though it was sudden, but well). The Swami, to my pleasant surprise, is not a stock villainous character. He is open minded to change his beliefs and publicly asks for forgiveness and gives credit where it is due.

All in all, an interesting watch.

Acting: Dev Anand plays a morally ambiguous character – he is a thief, but with a heart of gold. This seems to be the standard kind of roles he was doing those days. Yes, he is charming enough and pulls it off. Waheeda Rehman is sweet and gracious, as she plays the sheltered and naive Roopa. Competent enough – she has two lovely dance sequences (Chaand gaya taare and an extended semi-classical performance to Shiv Sagar, set to the tune that S-J used later in this song from Rangoli (1962)!) The rest of the actors also play their parts ably.

Music: The soundtrack, while not my favourite, has a couple of lovely songs. Tum to dil ke taar chhedkar (both the Lata and the Talat versions) is clearly the best of the songs. I also like both the Asha songs – the semi-classical Chaand Gaya taare gaye…Jaaona Sata na rasiya and the bhajan Aaja re aaja re aaja naina dwaare  But the title song did leave me cold. I didnt like it – the song and the picturisation. I am not much of a fashion person, but the costume she wears here just looks so bad; those bold horizontal stripes….

While not one of Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman’s best movies, Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja is definitely worth a one-time watch. Please be warned that the quality of the DVD print on youtube is rather bad.

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