Happy birthday, Tanuja ji


Tanuja ji turns 79 today. Reams have been written about her talent, vivacity, spirit and spontaneity, her illustrious family, and her career – what more can I possibly add?

Born on September 23, 1943 to Shobhana Samarth and Kumarsen Samarth, Tanuja was the second of four children (Nutan, Chatura and Jaideep being the other three; Chatura and Jaideep stayed away from movies). With both her parents being in movies, her father, a director and mother, a famous actress, films were no novelty. Why, Tanuja’s first film was when she was some 4/5 years old. That it was a home production and the role required a baby actress is another story altogether. Her debut as an actress was when she turned 16 – not because she wanted to; but because films were a solution to the financial crunch the family faced.

Tanuja made her debut in Chhabili (1960) opposite Kaysi Mehra. The film, directed and produced by her mother, also starred Nutan. While the film didn’t do any wonders in the box office, Tanuja’s impish charm was noticed. Film offers followed, not only in Hindi but also Bengali. While her Hindi film career has been chequered, especially with her early films in the 1960s not doing too well, her films in Bengali (during the same time period) garnered her much fame. Acting across film industries, what set Tanuja apart, in those days and now, was that she didn’t fall prey to the rat race. She steered clear of that!

The late 1960s and early 1970s proved to be productive and successful for Tanuja. With movies such as Baharein Phir bhi Aayengi (1966), Izzat (1968), Haathi Mere Saathi (1971), Anubhav (1971), Mere Jeevan Saathi (1972), she cemented her place in the annals of Hindi cinema. Marriage to filmmaker Shomu Mukherjee (son of Sasadhar Mukherjee and brother of actors Joy and Deb Mukherjee) and the birth of two daughters, Kajol and Tanisha followed. Acting never stopped though.

Tanuja continues to light up the screen, her innate sparkle, vivacity and intelligence intact and shining through. On her 79th birthday, here is a list of my favourite songs picturised on her.

  1. Kabhi tanhaiyon mein bhi (Hamari Yaad Aayegi, 1961, Mubarak Begum; Snehal Bhatkar): This song from Hamari Yaad Aayegi is remembered for Mubarak Begum’s soulful singing and Snehal Bhatkar’s music, immortalising both of them for posterity. This movie, made by cinema great Kidar Sharma, to launch his son Ashok Sharma was Tanuja’s first foray outside her home production. And there is an interesting anecdote that she recounts about this film, also corroborated by Kidar Sharma in his autobiography. During the shooting of this movie, Tanuja was unable to get the nuances of a particular serious scene right. She kept getting it wrong and would start giggling. After a point, Sharma lost his cool and probably yelled at her. And that was it. Tanuja left the set in a temper, only to be dragged back to the sets by her mother Shobhana Samarth. In her interview, she said that her mom had smacked her for being unprofessional and got her back. A lesson she never forgot!
  2. Raaton ko jab neend ud jaaye (Memdidi, 1961, Lata Mangeshkar, Salil Chaudhury): Fresh and pretty, Tanuja is a delight to watch in this endearing Hrishikesh Mukherjee film. This song introduces her character, Rita, on screen. She is bubbly, cute and effervescent as she plays the role of an 18 year old girl in a boarding school, caught in the innocent joy and passion of a first love. Kaysi Mehra, her co-star in her debut film, is her co-star in this movie also; and their pairing onscreen is cute.
  3. Baag mein kali khili (Chand aur Suraj, 1965, Asha Bhosle, Salil Chaudhury): If I were to pick my favourite song of Tanuja ji, this would be it.  Or it would at least put up a close fight for position no 1! Sung by Asha Bhosle,  Salil Chaudhury composed this fantastic melody for Chand Aur Suraj. Dharmendra and Tanuja paired up for the first time. Becoming friends on the set of this movie, their friendship continued – with their pairing extending to three other movies after this – all hits – Baharein phir bhi aayengi (1966), Izzat (1968) and Do Chor (1972). In a recent interview, Tanuja narrated an interesting anecdote – Dharmendra tried to flirt with her; she slapped him and called him besharam and then tied a rakhi on his wrist! An anecdote that my father had told me years ago – and since I hadn’t come across this in any magazine or website, I hadn’t believed him back then!
  4. Koi keh de keh de (Baharein phir bhi aayengi, 1966, Asha Bhosle, O.P. Nayyar): The first title card of this movie, when the credits roll, announces – “Guru Dutt’s last offering” for this was supposed to be a Guru Dutt film. In fact after his untimely death, the entire movie had to be reshot with Dharmendra. Remembered even today for some of its melodious songs, this melodrama stars Mala Sinha as a proprietor of a newspaper, Dharmendra as a journalist and Tanuja forms the third angle in this love triangle. In an era where the leading ladies were Sati-Savitris on and off screen, Tanuja essayed roles that were spunky and puckish in nature. Quite a firebrand – and oh so refreshing. Here too, she is impish, spontaneous and natural. And exceedingly pretty!
  5. Raat akeli hai (Jewel Thief, 1968, Asha Bhosle, S.D. Burman): One of her most famous songs, what comes across in this number is how much fun Tanuja seems to be having. A sensuous song, her interpretation is playful, teasing and refreshing. Asha Bhosle’s vocal range, S.D. Burman’s genius – this song is a classic.
  6. Meri jaan mujhe jaan na kaho (Anubhav, 1971, Geeta Dutt, Kanu Roy): Tanuja comes into her own in Basu Bhattacharya’s brilliant take on marriage and marital discord. In Meeta she invests inner strength, spontaneity and warmth. A modern movie, out and out, it shows Meeta as the one with a past – one that her husband (Sanjeev Kumar, as fabulous as always) accepts, and a conflict that she resolves pro-actively. Geeta Dutt’s swan song, the soundtrack composed by Kanu Roy is memorable. This song conveys intimacy and seduction, like no other – its melody, lilting, has minimal orchestration; its picturisation – focusses on both Sanjeev and Tanuja’s superior facial expressions and the rain outside. This movie, made on a shoestring budget, was supposedly shot at her own flat!
  7. Aaj gun gun gun kunje amar eki gunjaran (Rajkumari, 1970, Asha Bhosle, R.D. Burman): Some of Tanuja’s finest performances were reserved for Bengali cinema. With Uttam Kumar, the Bengali legend, she formed a fine pair and worked in three successful movies. This famous song is from one of the three films.
  8. Madhobi modhupey holo mitali (Deya Neya, 1963, Arati Mukherjee, Shyamal Mitra): Another Bengali song in this list. Not sure what this song or movie is about it, but Tanuja is refreshingly innocent and vivacious.
  9. Yaaron kisi se na kehna (Chhabili, 1960, Nutan and Geeta Dutt, Snehal Bhatkar): Ending this list with a song, the video of which is not available. This is a duet sung by Nutan and Geeta Dutt for Chhabili, Tanuja’s debut film.  The print of this movie had accidentally gotten destroyed many decades ago, and sadly does not exist any more. This probably was filmed on the two sisters. We will never know!


PS: There are some conversations, unexpected but so meaningful that they leave a deep impact. I was privileged to have such a conversation with Tanuja ji sometime back. A conversation that I cherish deeply. It was a brief interaction that revealed her feistiness, spontaneity, strength of character, and most importantly her kindness and warmth.

As she turns 79 today, I would like to wish her a happy, healthy and a wonderful birthday. Happy birthday, Tanuja ji!

A tribute to SP Balasubrahmanyam (4 June 1946 – 25 September 2020)

This has been a post that has been long overdue and has been extremely difficult for me to write. The demise of S.P. Balasubrahmanyam on 25 September, even though not unexpected, considering his condition the days before, still came as a major shock. It was painful, to put it bluntly.

A.R. Rahman’s heartfelt tribute to the singer kind of summed it up – “Growing up in south India, SPB is part of our culture, our victories, love, devotion and joy.”

I may have grown up in Delhi but Tamil, Kannada music were constant staples at home. If at all there was one voice I was acquainted with right from my childhood (Sankarabharanam was the first movie I ever watched), it was SPB’s. So much so that it was a given and something that was taken for as granted – like MS Subbulakshmi’s Suprabhatam or Carnatic kritis. While I would go ga ga appreciating and listening to old Hindi film music, whenever down and tired, it was to the Tamil songs (of the late 70s and 80s) that I turned. Even without realising it consciously. And in those, specifically SPB/ Ilayaraja. Comfort music really. The news, therefore, of SPB’s being critically ill since August and then passing away in end September. hurt much more than expected. His loss felt almost deeply personal.

So much has been written about his contributions as a playback singer who ruled Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada movies: a much loved playback singer, a mentor and guide to many (in the South), a loved, cuddly, actor in his later days.

Where do I even begin? How does one pay a tribute to someone whose songs (Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Hindi) have had so many personal memories and associations linked to them? The meaning his music has brought into thousands of lives over the past 5 decades cannot really be summed up. Someone who has sung 41K songs in more than 16 languages for over five decades?

One of the greatest singers ever, Sripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam was born on June 4, 1946 in an orthodox Telugu family in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh. Not going to sum up his life here, but it is incredible that this incredibly gifted artiste achieved what he did, with zilch training in classical music! Those achievements are mind-boggling: 6 National Awards in 4 different languages; numerous State Awards (Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka); a number of Filmfare awards and national distinctions such as Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan. Long before Hindi film going audiences recognised him as being Salman Khan’s voice, he was the voice of so many South Indian heroes – Rajinikanth, Kamalahasan, Mohan, Karthik! An opening track in his voice was almost a must in a Rajini movie!

When you listen to SPB’s songs, what comes across is not just the mellifluousness of his voice, but his sheer range and versatility. He felt all those emotions – pain, sorrow, joy, happiness, love, romance when he sang. That laughter, that one sigh, inserted so fluently lend his renditions that unique touch.

What follows then is a list of 20 songs primarily in Tamil, with a few in Kannada, Telugu and Hindi included; these are the first songs that came to my mind; songs that I have listened to and loved over the years (and still listen to) and with which so many memories of my childhood are associated with – the South Indian songs more than the Hindi ones. I haven’t watched most of these films, and in certain cases, I saw the songs on Youtube only while making this list. Since these songs are special for the singing and music (Ilayaraja is God – but that is a topic for another time), I will list only the song and post a link to it on YouTube.

So here goes:

  1. Pani Vizhum Malar Vanam (Ninaivellam Nithya, Tamil, 1981, Ilaiyaraja): In my opinion, this song is one of the best SPB-Ilaiyaraja collaboration. Much has been written about this legendary astonishing collaboration which defined the music of South Indian cinema from the 1970s to 1990s. This melodious song was picturised on a very young Karthik and Jiji (one of Gemini Ganesan’s children). The picturisation, fashion, dance steps now seem outdated – but the one thing that hasnt gotten outdated four decades later is the music, orchestration and the soulful singing. Listen to that little laugh when he croons Kaalai yelludha parihasam. Brilliant!
  2. Ilaya nila pozhigarathu (Payanangal Mudivathillai, Tamil, 1982, Ilayaraja): Any list of SPB-Ilayaraja best songs will definitely feature this beautiful number. Hindi audiences are also familiar with this tune, after all it had been adapted by Kalyanji Anandji the very next year for the Kunal Goswami-Sridevi starrer, Kalakar (1983): Neele neele ambar par, crooned by Kishore Kumar. Sorry, but this was not a patch on the original. Neither the music, nor the singing! One of SPB’s best in my opinion. Soulful and mellifluous.
  3. Jotheyali jothe jotheyali (Geetha, Kannada, 1981, With S Janaki, Music- Ilayaraja): Another of Ilayaraja’s superb tunes sung flawlessly by SPB. What is amazing is that no matter what the language he sang in, SPB’s pronunciation was perfect – and he got the feeling just right. This tune was used by Ilayaraja in Tamil a few years later – in the film Noorathu Naal (1984) with the same singers at the mike: Vizhiyile en Vizhiyile. Ilayaraja again reused the same tune much later at R. Balki’s request for the 2007 film Cheeni Kum.
  4. Poonthalir Ada (Panneer Pushpangal, Tamil, 1981, With S. Janaki, Music: Ilayaraja): Another superhit by the Ilayaraja-SPB-S Janaki. Through the 1980s, this combo created so many masterpieces – this superb composition from one of Tamil cinema’s first teeny-bopper love stories is just one of them. The music, guitar and the fine singing render it an evergreen classic.
  5. Oru Naal unnodu Oru Naal (Uravaadum Nenjam, Tamil, 1976, With S. Janaki, Music: Ilayaraja)
  6. Andhi Mazhai (Raaja Paarvai, Tamil, 1982, With S.Janaki, Music: Ilayaraja)
  7. Sippi irukkodu (Varumayin Niram Sivappu, 1980, With S.Janaki, Music: Ilayaraja): Sridevi and Kamal Haasan were quite the onscreen pair of the late 1970s and early 1980s in Tamil cinema. And a whole number of lovely songs are picturised on them, such as this.
  8. Nilave Vaa Selladhe vaa (Mouna Ragam, 1986, Music: Ilayaraja): A masterpiece from one of Mani Ratnam’s finest movies that starred a super cute Karthik (in a guest appearance). This one is picturised however on Mohan, who is the main hero of the movie.
  9. Sundari Kannal Oru Sethi (Dalapathi, Tamil, 1990, With S. Janaki, Music: Ilayaraja): A memorable movie, starring the Thalaiva along with Mammooty and a young Arvind Swamy, made by Mani Ratnam. It was Ratnam’s version of the Mahabharata, with Rajnikanth playing Soorya aka Karna, abandoned at birth. Shobana stars as the woman he loves but who ends up marrying Arjun (Arvind Swamy). The music by Ilayaraja is remarkable – probably one of his best scores with hits such as Rakamma Kaiyya thattu and Yamunai Aatrile. But this romantic SPB-S.Janaki duet is my pick for this list.
  10. Ilamai enum poongatram (Pagalil Oru Iravu, 1979, Music: Ilayaraja)
  11. Ee Sambhashane (Dharmasere, 1979, Kannada, With S.Janaki, Music: Upendra Kumar)
  12. Aamani Paadave (Geetanjali, 1989, Telugu, Ilayaraja)
  13. Kannukkul Noor Nilava (Vedham Pudhidu, 1987, With S. Janaki, Music: Ilayaraja)
  14. En veetu thottathil (Gentleman, 1993, With Chitra, Music: A.R. Rahman)
  15. Oruvan oruvan mudhalali (Muthu, 1996, Music: A.R. Rahman): A SPB song in every Rajini film, especially the entry song, was said to be a must. This one is one such number. What an entry Rajini makes. What a song! And what music! This was quite a rage in the 1990s.
  16. Manusukkal Oru Puyal (Star, Tamil, 2001, With Sadhana Sargam, Music: AR.Rahman): Not sure whether AR Rehman used this mellifluous tune in Hindi first (Boondon se baatein from Thakshak (1999)) or in this duet in Tamil. It is a beautiful composition and the execution is perfect!
  17. Naguva Nayana Madhura Mouna (Pallavi Anupallavi, 1984, Kannada, With S. Janaki, Music: Ilayaraja): A sweet song from a Kannada movie directed by Mani Ratnam and music by Ilayaraja. This was Mani Ratnam’s debut film that starred Anil Kapoor, Lakshmi and Kiran Vairale in the main roles.
  18. Saathiya tune kya kiya (Love, 1990, Hindi, With Chitra, Music:Anand-Milind)
  19. Sach mere yaar hai (Saagar, 1985, Hindi, Music: R.D. Burman): A superb SPB song picturised on Kamal Haasan but in Hindi!
  20. Sankara nadasarirapara (Shankarabharanam, 1980, Telugu. Music: K.V. Mahadevan): Ending this list with a song from this classic K.Vishwanath movie, which has been listed in the ‘100 greatest Indian films of all time,’ It is said that KV Mahadevan wanted the great Carnatic classical musician, Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna to sing the songs for this film. He could not, due to his schedule. SPB was then asked to sing these classical songs ! And sing he did and how. He won the National Award for playback singing for the songs of this film.

Six months may have passed since SPB’s demise but he continues to live on through his music. Thank you Balu Sir for the music! Om Shanti!

A tribute to Kishore Kumar – A song list


Kishore Kumar, the eccentric, multi-faceted singer-actor-music director would have turned 91 today (August 4, 2020).

Words are simply not enough to describe this legendary genius who is still as popular as he was in the seventies or eighties and whose songs still blare across media channels, either in their original form or remixed versions.

Born Abhas Kumar Ganguly on 4th August 1929 in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, Kishore Kumar followed his elder brothers, the legendary actor Ashok Kumar and Anoop Kumar, to make a living as a singer! But that was not to be…. not for a while, anyway.

Despite some fantastic early numbers, mostly set to tune by S.D. Burman and picturised on Dev Anand (or himself), Kishore Kumar was not really considered a top singer in the 1950s and 1960s (which could be called the first phase of his singing career). Mohd Rafi, Mukesh and Manna Dey were clearly ruling the roost then. This was the also a phase where Kishore Kumar was seen more as a reluctant actor – a part comedian, part serious. In fact I remember reading somewhere that part of his madcap antics on screen was to ensure that the film would flop and he would be spared this torture. It was a ploy that completely backfired. These early films, where Kishore Kumar was the hero cum buffoon, clicked and did well commercially. Kishore Kumar, the actor, continued to act – opposite some of the biggest leading ladies of the 1950s – Vyjayantimala, Madhubala, Nutan and Mala Sinha!

By the late 1960s, by when his acting career had slowed down considerably and he was ready to probably even retire, his second and glorious phase as a singer was to commence. Aradhana (1969), the rise of Rajesh Khanna as a superstar in the subsequent years and RD Burman emerging as the most popular composer ensured that Kishore Kumar the singer had finally arrived. His time had finally come! From the 1970s up until his untimely death in October 1987, Kishore Kumar was the undisputed male playback singer around – effectively dethroning Mohd Rafi for the major part of the 1970s. (Rafi was to make a brief comeback in the late 70s just prior to his sudden demise in July 1980.)

What is amazing is that according to statistics, in this second and glorious phase, Kishore Kumar sang a whopping 2000 songs as compared to only around 170 songs in the first phase. (courtesy an article by Aniruddha Bhattacharjee in The Telegraph).

Selecting 10 songs from such a popular and vast repertoire is obviously too difficult.

In this song list – I have restricted myself to solos (with the exception of one, if it could be called a duet), 5 from before 1969 and 5 from the 1970s. Many extremely popular songs do not feature here simply because I like these songs more. If I were to make this same list tomorrow, it is very possible that several other songs would be included instead of these. But for now, without further ado, here are the selected 10 songs sung by the versatile and talented Kishore Kumar:

  1. Chhota sa ghar hoga (Naukri, 1954, Salil Chowdhary): This happy, hopeful number is from one of Kishore Kumar’s earliest movies. Directed by Bimal Roy, this film as its name suggests deals with a persisting social issue – that of unemployment. The song describes the simple aspirations of a young man who wants to provide for his sister and his widowed mother. Kishore Kumar’s funny/ comic roles had probably not taken off by this time yet, hence we see a rather sweet and restrained version of him on screen. No crazy antics on display. I read somewhere that Kishoreda had to convince Salil Chowdhary to allow him to record this happy version. There is that sad melodious snippet of the same song by Hemant Kumar, much later in the movie when the young man is unsuccessful and has been unemployed for a while. Kishoreda’s singing is just apt for the situation – sensitive, soulful and simple.
  2. O Nigahen Mastana (Paying Guest, with Asha Bhosle, 1957, SD Burman): Yes, yes, I know, this song is technically a duet, however, since it is just humming and the alaap that Asha Bhosle does in this song, decided to sneak it in. Like most of Kishore Kumar’s early numbers, this one was composed by SD Burman (this can be a list of its own. Kishore sings for Dada Burman!) and was filmed on Dev Anand. A fabulous score with several super-hit songs (Mana janaab ne pukara nahin, Chhod do aanchal, Chand phir nikla), Paying Guest was just one of the many films which had Kishore Kumar singing for Dev Anand where the music had been composed by SDB. This hummable romantic number has Dev Anand serenading a lovely Nutan on the rooftop while a jealous Shubha Khote looks on.
  3. Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si (Chalti ka naam gaadi, 1958, S.D. Burman): Another SDB song on this list. Even though it was rather inspired by Sixteen Tons (it is said that SDB used this tune creatively after being asked by Kishore Kumar to do so!) A creative inspiration if any, this song is memorable not only because of the singing and music but also for its superb picturisation. And of course the many stories behind the making of the movie. Kishore Kumar made this movie, thinking and hoping that it would be a failure and that he would be able to write off the losses. It however, went on to become the second highest grosser of that year and in a fit of panic, Kishore Kumar signed away the rights to his secretary! A crazy story with the three Ganguly brothers, a beautiful Madhubala and then the music make this a classic. The images of a beautiful, wet Madhubala and a naughty Kishore Kumar fixing a broken-down car are probably etched permanently in most cinebuffs’ minds.
  4. Chhoti si yeh duniya pehchane raste hain (Rangoli, 1962, Shankar Jaikishen): Kishore Kumar’s pairing with Vyjayantimala resulted in several hit movies in the 1950s and 60s – New Delhi (1956), Aasha (1957), and this one. All these films had excellent songs – including some super-popular solos such as Eena meena deeka (Aasha) or Nakhrewali (New Delhi). Personally I prefer this philosophical, romantic song to the others. It is said that these lines were actually written by Shailendra in a letter and which were immortalised in this song by Shankar-Jaikishen. This is the peppier version, while Lata’s tandem version is more melancholic.
  5. Aa chal ke tujhe (Door Gagan ki chhaon mein, 1964, Kishore Kumar): The extremely talented Kishore Kumar wrote, directed and produced this movie, which was an adaptation of an English movie, The Proud Rebel (1958). He also composed a memorable score with some superb compositions besides this one – the sweet Asha Bhosle solos Khoya khoya Chanda, Path bhoola ik aya, the hopeful Hemant number Rahi tu mat ruk jaana, and the plaintive Koi lauta de mere beete hue din. Hopeful and optimistic, this song envisions a perfect world sans any suffering and pain. Sung beautifully by Kishoreda, this has RD Burman playing the harmonica and Amit Kumar is the little boy on screen.
  6. Hawaon pe likh do (Do Dooni Char, 1968, Hemant Kumar): Much before Gulzar adapted Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors into Angoor (1982), he had made Do Dooni Char (1968). This version, which unfortunately flopped, starred Kishore Kumar (in a double role) and Tanuja. Asit Sen plays the role that Deven Verma reprised later. I dont remember any of the other songs from this film, but this song, a melodious paean to nature, is one of my favourite Kishore Kumar songs. One can spot a young Neetu Singh in this too.
  7. Guzar jaye din (Annadata, 1972, Salil Chowdhary): Moving on to a faster composition. One of Salil Chowdhary’s finest scores (at least in my opinion), Annadata had a fantastic overall score – each song was mesmerising – be it Lata’s Raaton ke saaye ghane or Nis din nis din or Mukesh’s Nain hamare. Kishore had two solos – O meri pran sajni Champavati aaja and this one. I am not trained musically but from what I can make out, Guzar jaaye din is certainly not an easy song to sing! But how well Kishore Kumar sings it!
  8. Panthhi hoon main us path ka (Door ka rahi, 1971, Kishore Kumar): Behind the eccentric buffoonish image that Kishore Kumar displayed, was a deeply philosophical thinking human. Nowhere was it more evident than in the type of films he produced and directed. This movie, with its theme of the journey of life, was one such thinking film. The music was composed by Kishore Kumar and had some beautiful songs (Beqarar dil tu gaaye ja). If I were to pick one Kishore Kumar song as my favourite, this haunting song would be my pick!
  9. Tum bin jaaon kahan (Pyar ka Mausam, 1969, RD Burman): No Kishore Kumar list can be complete without songs composed by RD Burman. I know, I know, there are so many other Kishore-Pancham songs that are more popular and I had shortlisted several others – Pyaar Deewana hota hai; Yeh kya hua; Zindagi ke safar mein jo. But I love this song. While I do prefer the Rafi version (with a very charming Shashi Kapoor), the Kishore version (picturised on Bharat Bhushan- shouldn’t it have been the other way round?) is still a sweet song – to listen to!
  10. Aane wala pal (Gol Maal, 1979, R.D. Burman): Ending this list which captures how ephemeral life is and how important it is to live in the moment. Kishoreda’s voice, Gulzar’s lyrics, and Pancham’s brilliant music make this song a masterpiece.

I get it that no list can completely summarise the life of a legend like Kishore da. This is not even an attempt to do so. This is a tribute to a legendary multi-faceted singer-actor-director. Happy birthday, Kishoreda!

My favourite songs picturised on Kumkum (22 April 1934 – 28 July 2020) – In memoriam


Kumkum, the leading lady who lit up the screen with her expressive limpid eyes and her with her expressive limpid eyes in the 1950s and 1960s passed away this morning (28 July 2020).

Born in Hussainabad, Bihar on 22 April 1934 as Zaibunnissa, her Hindi film career started when Guru Dutt cast her for a song in Aar Paar (1954). The song became a hit and so did the movie. Kumkum’s innings had begun. She was 20 at the time. Over the next two decades, she acted in more than a hundred films – in Hindi and also in Bhojpuri.

My introduction to Kumkum, as with most Hindi actresses was via Chitrahaar and Rangoli – she was a common face on them- after all so many melodious hummable numbers had been filmed on her.

As a tribute to the late actress, here are a list of my favourite ten songs – mostly those songs which came to my mind when I read the news. I am sure that I will remember some more tomorrow…

These are in no particular order – I have tried to stick to as many solos as possible – though some duets have crept in.

  1. Kabhi aar kabhi paar (Aar Paar, 1954, Shamshad Begum, O.P. Nayyar): Starting the list with her debut song from Aar Paar. A common trope in Hindi film songs was that of a narrator – a third party interpreting a scene unfurling in front of them through a song. Here, thats what Kumkum is doing. Shyama’s car has broken down and the car mechanic (a smart Guru Dutt) is fixing it. While doing so, he is, of course, teasing her – along with the urchins on the street (Jagdeep, who passed away just a few weeks back, is one of the young boys here). Kumkum, an unnamed construction worker near the site, is witnessing this scene and commenting on it through this song – which hints at the unfolding romance. Shamshad Begum’s lilting vocals and OP Nayyar’s music make this a classic remembered even now, more than six decades later.
  2. Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yahan(CID, 1956, Mohd Rafi and Geeta Dutt, OP Nayyar): OK, yes, perhaps this is too early in the list that a duet has crept in – however, this iconic song – describing a cynical view on life in Bombay – is too much of a favourite for it to be left out either. Again, in this song, we see two supporting characters share their take on city life in general. Johnny Walker espouses a bleak view – the city is full of thieves, rogues and deceit rules. Not a place for gentle good souls, making every moment lived here a struggle. Kumkum counters this in the last stanza, offering him some hope and gently exhorting him to shed his cynicism and naivete and learn the rules of the jungle! The musical composition of this piece, with its light western touch (perhaps because it was picturised on Johnny Walker), sung expertly by Mohd Rafi (with the right amount of pathos and comic touch) and Geeta Dutt (sweet and gentle) makes it a memorable one. Kumkum is perfect as the supportive Maharashtrian woman here.
  3. Tera jalwa jisne dekha(Ujala, 1959, Lata Mangeshkar, Shankar Jaikishen): Quite a many dance numbers in the late 1950s and 1960s were filmed on Kumkum. For she was a trained dancer – she is said to have learnt Kathak from Pandit Shambhu Maharaj. Skills that were clearly on display in all the dance songs. Even though, her name doesnt automatically come up when dancing stars of that time (Vyjayantimala, Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh, Helen) comes up, the classical and non-classical songs filmed on her tell a different tale. Kumkum could emote through her eyes as well as her dance. In this song from Ujala, Kumkum packs in an energetic and spirited performance. Vibrant and graceful, there is something utterly charming and captivating about her here. And then there are Lata’s vocals.
  4. Yeh hawa yeh nadi ka kinara(Ghar Sansar, 1958, Manna Dey and Asha Bhosle, Ravi): This melodious Asha -Manna Dey duet used to be regularly played on Rangoli and in my mind it is forever equated with Kumkum – who looks absolutely gorgeous.
  5. Madhuban mein Radhika naache re(Kohinoor, 1960, Mohd Rafi, Naushad): How could this one be left out? One of the finest classical songs in Hindi movies, it showcases Kumkum’s Kathak skills. I was a bit torn between this song and Jadugar qatil (sung by Asha Bhosle) where Kumkum gets to lip synch while dancing and even playing tablas on screen.  But I picked this one simply because this is a masterpiece!
  6. Kaanha jaa re teri murali(Tel Malish Boot Polish, 1961, Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar, Chitragupta): Among Kumkum’s classical dance numbers, I must say that I am rather partial to this one. From a lesser known film, this Manna Dey – Lata duet definitely ranks as among their best – and there are so many. Not only does Kumkum dance gracefully here, her expressions are top-notch. And the way Lata’s voice echoes at Kaanha jaare.…. its simply brilliant!
  7. Dekh Idhar O Jadugar (House No 44, 1955, Asha Bhosle, SD Burman): From a classical number to a not-so-classical song that was picturised as a mujra. Why I remember this is because when I viewed this for the first time (after having heard it on tape many many times), my only thoughts was – oh it doesnt sound like a mujra. For some reason, I wasn’t expecting to see Kumkum dance. But that she does – as it was one of her early movies, a bit of her rawness in terms of her dance comes through. While not one of her best dance songs, this song still is good enough – largely due to the lyrics, music and singing  and her presence on screen.
  8. Daga Daga vai vai(Kali Topi Lal Rumal, 1959, Lata Mangeshkar, Chitragupta): A folksy number which was hugely popular in its time – and is remembered even now. Pretty as a picture, Kumkum dances her way through this song.
  9. Khoobsoorat Haseena (Mr. X in Bombay, 1964, Kishore Kumar & Lata Mangeshkar, Laxmikant-Pyarelal): I know, there are some nice solo songs that Kumkum dances to in this film – such as Chali re chali re gori, but I like this duet much more. Kumkum starred in a number of films with Kishore Kumar in the 1960s – this and Ganga Ki Lehrein being some of the more well-known ones. This romantic, teasing duet has a pleasant soothing tune (one that was lifted by Anand-Milind for a song in Baazigar (1993)); Kumkum is pretty, Kishore Kumar is upto his antics and there is a flying car!
  10. Jaya jaya he jagadambe mata (Ganga ki Lehrein, 1964, Lata Mangeshkar and chorus, Chitragupta): Ending this list with this devotional aarti from this film that I am very fond of. Picturised in a temple, the song has both Savitri (the Southern legend) and Kumkum (in pristine white) lip synching to the lyrics. Even though the movie had some brilliant songs – such as the Kishore-Lata duet Machalti hui hawa mein cham cham (another DD favourite), I went ahead with this one.

Even though this list has been put together hastily – based purely on memory rather than any research, it still amazed me as to how many wonderful songs were filmed on Kumkum.  Like Shakila and Shyama (both of whom passed away in the recent past), Kumkum also did not quite get the recognition, she so richly deserved. This list is a mere tribute – to this beautiful, graceful actress. Rest in Peace, Kumkumji.

Of new obsessions – K-drama

The number of times this poor blog has been neglected and re-activated, I know not! The year since my last blog post has been memorable – not necessarily in the sense we wanted it to be… what with the raging global pandemic since January!

Besides work – professional and household, books, and old Hindi music, if there is one thing that has kept me great company, it has been my new found obsession and love for Korean drama and movies.

I first heard about “how awesome K-drama is” from Madhu when we met for lunch many many years ago. She was raving about some shows. I noted them down – for future viewing and then promptly forgot about them. Then again last year, a school friend went on and on about how she watched only K-drama. By this time, K-Pop (aka BTS, EXO) were also names I had encountered – thanks to a teenage music-obsessed nephew. And so it was, and I took the plunge and watched my first K-drama – The Lady in Dignity. That was followed by another, The Last Empress. And boy, before I even realised, I was hooked. A new obsession had begun.

Instead of watching re-runs of old Hindi movies, I was now scouring the net for more information on what serials to watch and discovered a whole new world in the process. And yes, Madhu and that school friend have been contacted regularly for more and recommendations. Thank you!

As for family and close friends, they are more than ready to pack me off to Korea – yes, the obsession had reached such a limit, where I started taking online classes to learn the language.


(pic credit – Channel Korea)

As is the case with the newly converted, I am probably more fanatical in my approach and have been evangelising about the cause and spreading the word. Anyone who has spoken to me the past 6-8 months have heard about how amazing and binge-worthy those shows are. And where once upon a time, the likes of Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand would get a mention, these days, the spot has been firmly taken by the likes of  Ji Chang Wook and Joo Sang-Wook (they are two different stars  – with different personalities – but similar names!)

Now, now, the purpose of this post is not to gush. But also to expand the scope of this nearly-defunct-now-again-revived blog – as in now, along with Hindi music/ movies and books (both of which have rarely been reviewed), I may also post about K-drama.

Ranging from fantasy (While You were Sleeping, Goblin) to time travel (Chicago Typewriter, Faith); historical romances (Love in the Moonlight) to modern day rom-coms (Her Private Life), the dramas offer an escape into a world vastly different from my own (and perhaps equally fantastical to even the common Korean).

With a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief, K-drama is perfect – especially in terms like this when the real world is riddled with challenges.

Dear readers (if there are any left – considering my tardiness at updating this blog), do watch these shows. You probably will hear more about them here!





The Curse of Anuganga is out …


The month of May was a big one for me. My book, The Curse of Anuganga, a historical detective mystery, published by TreeShade Books was released then.

I suppose I can call myself a writer now. Though technically The Curse of Anuganga is my second book – the first being a small children’s story (The Wizard Tales: Adventures of Bun-Bun and His Friends) I had written six years ago (about to go into its second print shortly).

Interestingly this was also the time that The Curse of Anuganga was conceptualised. A conversation about historical detective fiction in India led to my being added to a Facebook Group – of writers who wrote a short story – detective- based in one particular period of Indian history within a stipulated period of time. (Thank you, Madhu)

The era I picked for this writing exercise was the Gupta era – and in particular, the period called the Gupta-Vakataka era – when the King Chandragupta II’s (375 CE – 415CE) influence as a ruler of Pataliputra even extended, by proxy, to the Vakataka kingdom which ruled over present- day Maharashtra through his daughter Queen Prabhavatigupta.  The story that came about from this exercise was called The Gatekeeper’s Son. 

It is thanks to Vineet Bajpai of TreeShade Books, who liked and believed in the synopsis of The Gatekeeper’s Son that it has now become a full-fledged novel. Converting a 10,000 word story to a 70,000 word novel while keeping the basic premise (or as in this case the whodunit) same was rather tough.

Newer characters, subplots, scenes had to be introduced and woven in seamlessly. It also meant that I had to revisit the Gupta-Vakataka period  to refresh my knowledge of the period.

In my experience,  painstaking research, irrespective of where the story is based, is needed, One needs to read – a lot – to be able to write. And a confession here, I personally love the “research” that predates actual writing.

Reading up on the Gupta-Vakataka period threw up so many interesting, enjoyable vignettes that I have tried to include in The Curse of Anuganga – partly as they occurred, while fictionalising a bit. For example, after the death of King Rudrasena II, Queen Prabhavatigupta took over the Vakataka kingdom as the Queen Regent on behalf of her two sons, Prince Divakara and Prince Damodara. It is Prince Damodara, the younger of the two Princes who succeeds her as the King in 410 CE. What happened to Prince Divakara is something that does not come out at all in most available historical material. A brief mention in one of the books on this period indicates the passing of Prince Divakara approximately circa 404-405 CE.  In my story, which is set in 403 CE, I have used this as a sub-plot.

Before I get too carried away with these little historical tidbits, I will stop. For those of you interested, The Curse of Anuganga is about a young man, Shaunaka, a jeweller’s son who lives in Nandivardhana in 403 CE. His life changes when he ends up helping the local police solve a murder he accidentally stumbles upon. The deceased man, Vinayashura, is an affluent trader with mysterious links to the royal family in Nandivardhana. The rest of the story is about how Shaunaka helps the police figure out who killed Vinayashura.

The Curse of Anuganga is available in bookstores across India and on Amazon (both the US and the India site).  You can also read a small excerpt that was featured in The Statesman here.

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


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)


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.


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.



Ramble on and on...blah blah blah

Sai Scribbles

From the Author of Abhaya

Evergreen Indian film music

Great film music and great music directors

Delightful Children's Books

Find a book to delight a child.

Novel approaches

From academic history to historical fiction virtual conference

Vintage Indian Clothing

A Brief History of the saree blouse and Indian fashion before 1960 with an occasional excursion after. All images are credited but if they are here by accident please do let me know and I will take it down. All posts also on vintageindianclothing.tumblr.com


translations of contemporary, modern and classic bengali fiction and poetry by arunava sinha [arunava@gmail.com]

Joanna Kouna

Transitioning into my next 50 years