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

A House for Mr Misra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

SDB_Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharmeelee (1971)

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

S1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My two cents:

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

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

Music:

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

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

Of train journeys….a song list

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

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

steamlocoatdhn

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Rahul Dev Burman – a song list – Part 1

This has been a long overdue post. The last two years, just before Jan 4 and June 27, I would make (mental) plans to come up with a song list of my favourite RD Burman songs, but the two days pass by; and the song list post never happened… up until now. Yes it is past June 27 this year also however, better late than never.

 

I guess no introduction is needed for the Boss. Rahul Dev Burman is the one Hindi music director that most of the younger generations know about. In fact, when I was growing up, a complete Hindi music buff, I would find it rather strange that most of my friends (who did not share my enthusiasm for Hindi film music) would wax eloquent about RDB and know nothing about his illustrious father, Sachin Dev Burman (who is one of my favourite music directors).

For someone who is now considered one of the most influential music composers of all time, this was not always the case. RDB or Pancham spent a long time under the shadow of his father (as his musical assistant, playing the harmonica. He is, however, said to have composed many compositions thought to be his father’s.).

Born on June 27, 1939, before starting out as an independent music director with Chhote Nawab (1961). Success proved elusive for a while, before a dream run that started with Teesri Manzil (1966) and lasted until the early 1980s. Financial and marital troubles plagued him and he is supposed to have died an unhappy man fairly early on January 4, 1994, leaving behind a legacy that is unmatched.

Choosing 10 songs was more difficult than I thought it would be. With my favourite music directors, SDB, and OPN, I have clear favourites (maybe because I do listen to their songs more often.) I know which songs I like and which wouldn’t make it to the cut.

As I started listing the songs for this post, I found there were too many of them I liked. Should I then restrict the list to just include solos or have duets? Should I restrict these to just Hindi (there are many of his Bengali songs that are lovely, and not to forget some melodious Malayalam ones). Should I have a cut-off range(say 1960-1975 only)?

Now, since I could just not decide, here are 10 songs that came to my mind, all solos sung by female protagonists (5 by Asha Bhosle and 5 by Lata Mangeshkar) in no order of preference.

Asha Bhosle sings for RDB:

AshaRDB

While the Burman father-son duo (other than OPN and Ravi) were largely responsible for Asha Bhosle’s rise to fame, her complaint was that their best songs went to her elder sister. Probably true. Asha Bhosle did get to sing for the vamp, and side character more often than not; and its another tale of how she capitalised on the opportunities presented to her! I have avoided including her super-duper cabaret numbers (solos and duets with Pancham da) on purpose – they could fill up an entire list.

Here are 5 songs sung by Asha Bhosle for Pancham da, that I am very fond of:

  1. Logon na maaro ise (Anamika, 1973): This Sanjeev Kumar -Jaya Bhaduri starrer had memorable music with blockbuster songs such as Meri bheegi bheegi, Baahon mein chale aao. Asha Bhosle sings this mischievous number with much innocence and liveliness, aptly conveyed by Jaya Bhaduri on screen
  2. Hamein raaston ki zaroorat nahin hai (Naram Garam, 1981): A gem of a      number that completely got lost in this small-budget movie starring Amol Palekar, Swaroop Sampat and Utpal Dutt. Panchamda re-used the tune resulting in that superhit Lata-Kishore duet, Saagar kinaare dil yeh pukaare (Saagar, 1985).
  3. Katra katra behti hai (Ijaazat, 1987): This Gulzar directed movie starring Naseeruddin Shah, Rekha and Anuradha Patel had four fabulous songs, all sung by Asha Bhosle, each one worth including in this or any other list.  Gulzar and Asha Bhosle won the National Award for lyrics and singing respectively for Mera kuch samaan. It is a pity that Pancham da did not win an award for this marvellous soundtrack – which ranged from Mera kuch samaan to the ghazal, Khali haath shaam aayi hai. I was torn between Chhoti si kahani se, that brilliant number celebrating the rains and this one. Picked this one because of the sensitive lyrics and that amazing voice-over-voice effect that takes this composition to another level.
  4. Bechara dil kya kare (Khushboo, 1975): Picturised on an adorable Farida Jalal and Hema Malini, this is a typical sakhi song. In the context of the movie, Hema Malini’s bethrothed or (was it) husband (?) (a child marriage story) is coming back to the gaon from the shaher, if I remember right. So the heroine is happy and her best friend is teasing her. Playful and zestful, Asha Bhosle’s peppy singing is fully brought out by Farida Jalal on screen.
  5. Phir se aaiyo badra bidesi (Namkeen, 1982): Another soulful number from the Gulzar-Asha-Pancham trio. Not too popular actually If I remember right, Shabana Azmi plays a speech-impaired woman living with her mother (Waheeda Rehman) and sisters (one of whom is Sharmila Tagore) who falls in love with a truck driver,(Sanjeev Kumar), who enters their lives. This haunting melody with its poetic lyrics and soft tune gets the longing, hope, promise and question mark of love right (she does not know her love is unrequited – there is the belief, mistaken, that maybe he loves her back.)

Lata Mangeshkar sings for RDB:

Lata_Pancham

In the late 1950s, Lata Mangeshkar had a fallout with SD Burman. During this period, SDB used Asha Bhosle as his main singer. Pancham, who was then branching out as a separate composer, wished that Lata Mangeshkar sing his official first song as composer but was not comfortable to approach her directly. The ‘rapprochement’ between SDB and Lata Mangeshkar was effected by Pancham da’s wish. For the sake of his son, SDB called and spoke to Lata Mangeshkar and the rift ended and the song, Ghar aaja ghir aaye from Chhote Nawab (1961) was composed and an association was formed. Lata Mangeshkar sang a number of songs for Pancham da (lesser in number perhaps, when compared to the no of songs Asha Bhosle sang but memorable nonetheless.

  1. Kya janu sajan hoti hai kya (Baharon ke sapne, 1967): Starting with this absolute gem from his early phase, which was picturised on Asha Parekh and a very young Rajesh Khanna (a nobody back then). The film, a non-Nasir Hussain like movie, with a serious theme, flopped at the box office, despite the memorable soundtrack which has survived to this day. Chunri sambhal gori, Aaja piya tohe pyaar doon remain antakshari favourites and then there is that amazing cabaret Do pal jo teri. I picked Kya janu sajan for its brilliant use of the voice-over-voice effect and the orchestration.
  2. Raina beeti jaaye (Amar Prem, 1972): While Pancham da may have been known more for the Western touch he introduced in Hindi music, he did excel in composing some classical Hindi songs as well. This is a classical composition, in Gurjari Todi, which describes Radha’s anguish as she waits for Krishna (Shyam) to come to her, as promised but half the night  is gone and the clock is ticking. Sung to perfection, Raina beeti jaaye is a masterpiece. Not just this song, the entire soundtrack is filled with musical gems (Yeh kya hua, Kuch toh log kahenge, and Chingari koi bhadke and Bada natkhat hai krishna kanhaiya) remembered even today.
  3. Chori chori chupke chupke (Aap ki kasam, 1974): Another hit semi-classical number from a film that had several hit songs (Paas nahin aana, Karwatein badalti rahein and that Kishore Kumar classic Zindagi ke safar mein jo guzar,)
  4. Kajre badarwa (Pati Patni, 1966): Many Pancham’s finest compositions did not get the name they deserved, simply because they have gotten lost in small films that bombed at the box office. This superb, melodious song picturised on Nanda as she waits for her husband is one such example. Romantic, sweet and absolutely magical.
  5. Rimjhim gire saawan (Manzil, 1979): Ending the list with another song celebrating the rains, simply because the rains have finally arrived here. While the Kishore Kumar version is probably more popular, I prefer the Lata Mangeshkar version of the song. Amitabh Bachchan and Moushumi Chatterjee do share a cute chemistry.

This does feel incomplete. There are so many duets and solos by Mohd Rafi and Kishore Kumar, which should feature in a song post. So I guess this calls for a couple more posts eventually.  Or maybe I should just say, this is the plan as of now!

 

 

Book Review – Kanan Devi – The First Superstar of Indian Cinema by Mekhala Sengupta

KananDevi_The first

I came across this book sometime last year when I was trying to educate myself on the early days of Indian cinema. Since my interest in Indian cinema is in movies from 1950s and onwards, when it comes to the two preceding decades, barring certain iconic names such as K.L. Saigal, Pankaj Mullick, Devika Rani, Himanshu Rai, I know nothing more.

Which is why this book stood out.

Kanan Devi was a name I had heard, courtesy, Lata Mangeshkar’s album from the 1990s, Shraddhanjali: My Tribute to the Immortals wherein she had reprised a couple of Kanan Devi’s superhit songs from Jawab (1942) – Aye chand chhup na jaana  and Duniya yeh duniya….Toofan mail  .And it was about a time period I did not know much about.

I finally got around to reading this book earlier in the year.

Since yesterday (April 22, 2018) was the 102nd birth anniversary of Kanan Devi and today is celebrated as World Book Day, it seems apt to commemorate these days (and yes keep the blog active) with a post about this book.

Written by Mekhala Sengupta and published by HarperCollins in 2015, this is a well-researched account of a superstar, who “spelt charm, glamour, dazzle and grace to the fledgling Indian middle classes (of the 1930s and 1940s)” but one whose name rings no bells these days. Retracing the life and times of someone about whom countless tales abound must have been a challenging task, but the author succeeds in doing so to a large extent. By the time, one is done with the book, the reader is acquainted with Kanan Bala or Kanan Devi, a fascinating personality, who through her single-minded focus and independent thinking scaled heights in both the Hindi and Bengali nascent film industries despite having no lineage or pedigree. An inspiring rags-to-riches story, the book details the achievements and journey of this Diva who donned many hats – child-artiste, internationally recognised superstar of both silent movies and talkies, singer par excellence, producer and fashionista.

Born on April 22, 1916 (or 1912 according to some accounts) in Howrah, Kanan Devi’s origins are dubious. Many accounts exist about her lineage (or lack of it). It is not clear as to who her parents were,  but she was under the care of Rajobala Devi and Ratan Chandra Das whom she considered her parents. There is also a mention of an elder sister, Amiya. Kanan Devi in her own autobiography, apparently recollects her early childhood as being happy when her father Ratan Chandra Das was alive. Ratan Chandra Das, in a brief time, played an important role in her life, recognising her talent for music and encouraging it.

As a child, Kanan Bala was said to be quiet and much of a loner, lost in her own world of daydreams, triggered by books she had read and the melodies she heard (of Baul singers, local pooja pandals, jatra theatre.) She was attracted to music and would often get lost, drawn by music and would have to be brought back home. Calcutta, in those early years, was a happening place and attracted popular entertainers, be they circus artistes, jugglers, musicians, dancers and actors. There indeed was much to see and hear.

However, Ratan Chandra Das fell ill and died shortly after. Rajobala, while not being married to Ratan Chandra Das, took upon herself to repay his debts and sold all her jewellery and household articles in the process leaving both her and little Kanan destitute and homeless. Kanan was hardly six years old and from then on the rest of her childhood was difficult, filled with penury, hardship and humiliation. Rajobala had taken to doing chores in homes of wealthy people in Calcutta and Kanan would help her. At an age when she should have been going to school and getting some kind of an education, Kanan Bala was getting real-life experience, working as a maid and living in a notorious neighbourhood.

There is a rather telling anecdote in the book. At one point, Rajobala and Kanan were forced to live with well-to-do relatives in Chandernagore (according to an account the relatives were this elder sister Amiya and her husband Bhim Singh). Instead of living there as family, the mother and daughter were forced to work long hours as unpaid domestic help and were treated badly. Things came to head one day, when Rajobala broke a saucer and was badly reprimanded and humiliated by these relatives. This was the last straw for Kanan Devi. She took her mother and left the house. Despite not knowing where to go and what to do, one thing was clear in the young seven year old Kanan’s mind. It was better to die of starvation than to suffer this kind of humiliation.  A  lesson that she learnt and followed life-long. Her self-respect was prime and that was one thing she would not compromise. Incidentally she never lived in someone else’s house again. Even after her marriage (both times), it was her husband who moved into her house. Self-respect, dignity and independence were the guiding principles of Kanan Devi’s life – a feminist in the true sense of the term, much before the term had gained prominence. (Ironically, this Amiya and her husband were to come to Kanan, once she became a big star and seek her help. While she did not wish to help them, it was Rajobala who insisted that Kanan forgive them. She did and the couple lived off Kanan’s money thereafter.)

After this brief Chandernagore sojourn, the mother and daughter were back in Howrah, in a notorious neighbourhood, known for its brothel, somehow trying to make ends meet. It was a period of extreme financial distress, one during which she remembered being perpetually hungry and near starvation. Kanan Devi was on the lookout for any opportunity to get out of this rut, without compromising on her self-respect.

She was just ten when she met Tulsi Banerji, a character actor in theatre and nascent film industry. Even at that age, Kanan Devi is said to have possessed striking looks, one that got Banerji to notice her. It was Banerji who introduced Kanan to his contacts at Madan Theatres Limited. Her screen test was successful as the owner of Madan Theatre and the director spotted the budding diva in her and she was selected. Kanan Devi made her debut in the silent film Jaidev (1926). She earned a princely sum of Rs 5 per month for the movie, which solved their financial hassles for a while. Kanan was to find out much later that she had been contracted for Rs 25 per month but the staff at Madan Theatre happily whittled off the rest!

Those were tough days. She was a mere child who found the arc lights of the studio very harsh. Waiting in full costume for the director’s instructions was also tough, especially when one could climb fruit trees or just day dream in a corner. There is an amusing anecdote of how the ten-year-old child had once climbed a guava tree to pick fruit, as she had gotten bored waiting for her shot and had promptly fallen asleep, triggering a studio wide hunt for the missing child. Jyotish Banerji, the director slapped and reprimanded her when she had been located for wasting everyone’s time. It was yet another lesson she learnt. Kanan Devi thereafter made it a point to reach at least 10 minutes before any appointment. She had learnt to value people’s time and recognised the need to be disciplined and professional. Her career saw a brief hiatus between 1928-31 due to reasons unknown. It was a period where she continued with her music training and collaborated with the music composer Hiren Bose and lyricist Dhiren Das and the poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and brought out several recordings.

At the age of fifteen, Kanan Bala returned to the movies with the talkie Jorebarat (1931) and this was the phase when she transformed from a cute child artist into a beautiful girl approaching womanhood. Her  expressive eyes, long limbs, and aristocratic mien contributed to the oomph factor. As a young girl in a notorious industry, she had to face much harassment from known directors of those days, thanks to her charms.  Kanan Devi, who valued respectability, maintained her distance and was very clear in her stance. She would not give in to any relationship that was not respectable, nipping several admirers in the bud. She lost many opportunities and rejected several monetary offers because of this adamant stance. She recounts that in one particular case, the director, considering himself an aggrieved party, vilified Kanan and made her life miserable on the sets of a movie they worked together in. It was during her stint at Radha Film Company (from 1933 onwards) that Kanan Bala became Kanan Devi the superstar, “the highest paid woman artiste and Bengal’s best-known female singer-actor” She had also started gaining popularity as a fashion icon becoming the pin-up girl of those times.

Kanan Devi had arrived. The rest of the book is about her iconic career, where in she donned several hats – singer, actor, producer, activist and her turbulent personal life, taking us through her two marriages, one with Ashok Maitra (1940- 1945) and with Haridas Bhattacharjee (1949-1992).

Several things stand out about this remarkable lady.  At her peak, in the 1930s, keenly aware that she could not get a traditional education, Kanan funnelled some of her money and hired a Panditji to teach her the epics and the Puranas. At the same time, she hired a teacher to teach her English and another tutor to educate her in Bangla, Maths and History. It was a phase where she spent her time on the sets, reading voraciously, in between shots. She also made it a point to learn music formally from stalwarts such as Alla Rakha during this phase.

It seems that her low and dubious origins and lack of any lineage did play on her mind, considering her counterparts such as Devika Rani and Sadhana Bose were from cultured, well-known families. But through her single-minded focus and discipline, Kanan Devi transcended her origins through education. She did credit her first husband, Ashok Maitra (who hailed from a reputed family) to give her social recognition and status in conservative Bengali society. Despite the marriage being short-lived, Kanan Devi maintained a good equation with Ashok Maitra’s mother and sister, Rani Mahalanobis and her husband P.C. Mahalanobis, through her life.

By the late 1940s, when it was clear that the old studio system had given way to independent film makers and most opportunities were either in Bombay or Lahore, Kanan Devi took an interesting decision. In order not to relocate to Bombay, she decided to quit acting and turn producer. This is what stands out about Kanan Devi’s personality – she was bold, decisive and gutsy enough to take unconventional decisions through her life. Her discipline and forward looking focus all paint the picture of an independent, resilient, sensible woman who did not rest on her past laurels but instead went ahead and took whatever opportunities came her way. Admirable indeed.

Crammed with numerous interesting anecdotes that help unravel the personality of a performer who may not be well-known today, but one who is, arguably considered, the first superstar of Indian cinema, Kanan Devi: The First Superstar of Indian Cinema is a fascinating book. Definitely worth a read!

 

Ziddi (1964)

I have been meaning to restart this blog for a while – the hiatus, as before, was entirely unplanned – as work and other real-life matters took up much precedence.

Many unfinished drafts later, finally back here with a movie review.  Why this movie?

I read Asha Parekh’s autobiography, The Hit Girl some months back and this triggered a renewed interest in her films.  Not that, the interest required any triggering – I confess, I do have a soft spot for the type of light-hearted movies she starred in, in the late 1950s and early 60s.  And it also helps that I am fortunately blessed with a spectacularly bad memory when it comes to movies – scenes, story, all are forgotten. Which means that I can watch the same movie an umpteen number of times, with the same sense of interest. (Of course there is a vague, niggling feeling that I may have seen it before.)

Ziddi (1964) is one such movie. I know I watched it in another century (literally) when Doordarshan aired it. However, barring the vague recollection of the Yeh meri zindagi song picturised on a sad Asha Parekh (in a lavender saree, or so I thought) I did not remember a thing.

Produced and directed by Pramod Chakraborty,  Ziddi (1964) stars Joy Mukerji and Asha Parekh as the main leads, with Mehmood, Shobha Khote, Sulochana, Mohan Choti, Dhumal and Asit Sen in supporting roles.

Once past the credits, we are introduced to the wealthy Shankar family helmed by the strict patriarch Rai Bahadur Sachin Shankar (Ulhas), a retired judge, who has three sons and one daughter. The movie begins with a scene at the breakfast table. Two of his sons (one of whom is a doctor) and their wives and Shankar’s daughter (a budding classical dancer) are present on time for breakfast. The one missing is the youngest Ashok, a budding writer, who is the bane of his father.

At the very moment, Ashok is with a publisher who gives him negative feedback about his writing and that his stories/ writing belong to the dustbin He also tells Ashok he cannot become a writer as he does not have the face of one. How exactly is a writer supposed to look like? According to the publisher to whom this question was posed, a writer has a unique face. (Umm, don’t we all?)  The conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Chatterjee (Asit Sen) who is, thankfully, not a writer. The publisher (presumably of a newspaper, again not explained actually) informs Mr Chatterjee that he has landed the job of a manager at a tea garden estate, which also includes taking care of their daughter, Asha (Asha Parekh), a gun-wielding, animal-loving dangerous young lady. She loves tigers, lions, elephants and horses and dons clothes of a man (jo mardon wale kapde pahenti hai) and puts them down. Her harassed parents are fed up of her overall behaviour and also her misandry and are worried that she may one day kill someone. Mr. Chatterjee is absolutely petrified and starts making excuses about how he may not be able to leave for Ooty that very day and scoots from there.

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Our jobless (and fairly useless) Ashok however is very fascinated as he stares admiringly at the photograph. He decides that he shall keep the photograph as this girl would be able to make him a writer.  Since this girl is the most beautiful and interesting person he has ever met, he is sure that she will transform into a writer! (Somebody please tell Ashok that to become a writer one needs to write, not look at photographs! I hoped that the publisher would. But of course, hero has to meet heroine and story has to move forward. Hence no such advice can be imparted by the publisher.) And by the way, the lady in question apparently has a unique face, which prompts a song, a paen to her. With his new-found purpose in his life, Ashok spends the whole day singing to the photograph. This is how his aghast family find him, singing near the swimming pool of a five-star hotel, late that evening. An argument ensues and the worried father decides to have him examined by a medical professional. Ashok has a diagnosis – he is apparently lonely. Sachin Shankar does not get it (to be honest, neither did I). But it is apparently that kind of loneliness that afflicts young men of a certain age. Ashok completely agrees with the doctor up until the cure is prescribed. Hence Ashok must be married off and the family decides to embark on a bride-hunting spree. Ashok protests but fall on deaf ears. To escape this fate (and to avoid becoming a donkey according to him) Ashok runs away from home in search of romance and adventure. And of course we know where he would find both of these!

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Adventure he finds rather quickly, enroute to Ooty, when his luggage gets stolen. And in the process of running behind the thief, Ashok lands up in the jungle where he comes face-to-face with the lady in the photograph who is busy chasing a donkey (a real donkey not our hero!). The brief encounter is as expected. She is wearing mardon wale kapde, toting a gun and all ready to shoot the donkey. (I wished by now that she just shoot Ashok and then herself and spare me the torture. In just 5 mins of her appearance, Asha Parekh in this role proved to be exasperating.) Sparks fly, and soon Ashok lands up in the tea estate where he is mistaken to be the manager. By the time the real manager (Asit Sen) shows up (which is conveniently taken care of), Ashok has inserted himself happily in Mahendra Tea Estate not just as a reliable manager but also into their household, which comprises Thakur Mahendra Singh (Raj Mehra), his wife (Sulochana), and daughters Asha and Seema (Nazima). The sisters are not particularly close and are poles apart. Ashok also is very pally with their driver Mahesh (Mehmood) who is in love with their old hand Ramdas (Dhumal)’s daughter Sheela (Shubha Khote). This sub-plot wherein Sheela and Mahesh try to meet without her father’s knowledge and carry on their dalliance is there to infuse comedy in this film and runs parallel to the plot.

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As you can expect, Ashok and Asha do fall in love with each other (after many inane scenes which probably were meant to be funny. Most of these feature an elephant Majnu as well.) Ashok, in his bid to make Asha fall for him, uses the age-old trick of making her jealous by showering all his attentions on her sister. As expected, Asha suddenly stops wearing her mardon wale kapde and becomes into a demure, shy lady and Seema also falls for him! Thakur Mahendra Singh decides then to make Ashok his son-in-law and our dear runaway hero finally contacts his sister and family and lets them know of his whereabouts. They are asked to come and meet their hone-wali bahu. And so the Sachin Shankar khandaan descends upon Ooty.

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All would be well but for the fact that the old Judge recognises Thakur Mahendra Singh. Sachin Shankar remembered the Thakur as being the friend of a criminal Moti (Madan Puri) who had murdered his wife, a prostitute. The Judge remembered sentencing this Moti to life imprisonment and recalled that the Thakurs had adopted Moti’s daughter. Incidentally, an ailing Moti, who is now a fugitive after having run away from the jail, lands up wishing to see his daughter before he dies.

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Was Asha the same girl? If so, then of course could and would this match proceed after all the objections the judge had regarding her khoon? Does she find out she is adopted? What happens to Seema when she figures out that she has been taken for a ride?

The hurried last ten minutes of the movie attempts to answer all these questions and provides an utterly contrived resolution.

My two cents:

Please avoid, if you have not seen this. Asha Parekh and Joy Mukherjee have acted in much nicer movies (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, Love in Tokyo for instance).  Asha Parekh is screechy as she portrays the extremely spoilt and obstinate Asha. Also the characterisation is weird. Her transformation from a ziddi ladki to a docile and susheel ladki happens almost overnight. She overhears Ashok tell Seema that he likes saree clad women and next scene onwards she is saree-clad. Her reaction upon finding out that she is their foster daughter is also strange. Instead of feeling grateful, she promptly gets drunk, wallows in self-pity and makes a complete scene singing Yeh meri zindagi ( so my memory was off the mark. The lavender saree that I seem to remember is from a couple of  scenes before the song one!) And where was the need to portray Ashok as a wannabe writer? He wasn’t shown writing a word during the course of the movie. And once he met Asha, all pretensions of wishing to become a real writer were also dropped. Oh yes, there were references once in a while to that editor in some dialogues.

Music:

S.D. Burman is one of my favourite music directors. However this score isn’t one of my favourites. The Lata Mangeshkar solos, Raat ka sama and Yeh meri zindagi ik pagal hawa are absolutely lovely. And the Rafi-Asha duet Champakali dekho jhuk gayi is also melodious. There are a couple of hummable Rafi solos too Pyar ki manzil mast safar and Janu kya mera dil.

A waste of time, with a fairly inane plot and irritating acting, this movie can be avoided.

 

Kashmir ki Kali (1964)

If you have read any of my older posts,  you would know about my fondness for Shammi Kapoor (well, you do not even have to read any post; the image in the banner is probably enough!) And then October is such a special month – Shammi Kapoor’s birthday would have turned 86 today (October 21).

To coincide with this day, I was initially planning to review Rauf Ahmed’s biography. However I received some news a few days back that disturbed my peace of mind. Since I couldn’t get into the frame of mind that one requires for reading a book intended for a review, I watched Kashmir ki Kali (1964) for the nth number of time.

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Kashmir ki Kali is a typical 1960s film – a Shakti Samanta production that could very well belong to the Nasir Hussain stable.  It has all the elements – good looking protagonists (Shammi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore), scenic location, great music (a superlative soundtrack by O.P.Nayyar, one of his best), a comic track  featuring the hero’s friend (Anoop Kumar in this movie) and a fairly convoluted backstory (involving the hero/ heroine’s origins; something that the villain (who else but the inimitable Pran) gets to discover first!)

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So the movie begins at a mill’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations. The loyal manager, Shyam Lal (Madan Puri) addresses the workers and announces that the mill will now be taken over by Shri Rajeev Lal (Shammi Kapoor), the son of the deceased mill ka maalik, Shri Sanjeev Lal. The heir apparent takes centre-stage and announces a 5 lakh reward to the workers – after all, “maalik aur naukar ka rishta badal chuka hai and yeh mazdooron ka zamana hai.” He is clearly a young man of the times, fully in sync with the prevalent Nehruvian socialist agenda. While his shocked mother and manager have no choice but to agree to this proclamation, they soon hold a conference as to how to handle this man. His old nursemaid, Karuna (who has a different opinion), also butts in this conversation and adds her two cents.  The young man must be married off, it is decided.

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A procession of eligible girls is soon presented for Rani Maa/ Mataji’s approval. Just as Mataji has found a girl of her choice (after rejecting one for being too modern and another for being too traditional), Rajeev enters the room. He quickly assesses the situation and since he is unwilling to be led to the altar, he puts on an act of being a mute, dumb, deaf, mad guy with a pronounced limp. As expected the girls disappear and Mataji is furious. Rajeev couldnt care less; he tells her pointedly that he has no wish to marry a girl of Mataji’s choice – he will marry a girl of his choice. An argument ensues between the mother and son, following which Rajeev runs to the club to meet his friend Chander (Anoop Kumar). Rajeev confides in Chander, who along with a drunk colonel in the club, convinces him to run away to Kashmir. Rajeev takes Chander’s car and off he goes.

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The beautiful scenery in Kashmir plays tricks on his mind; so our hero who had sworn never to get married in the previous scene starts singing a song about meeting that special someone, some where, some day, some time! A wooden bridge enroute to Srinagar has collapsed, forcing our hero to seek shelter at a local sarai that night. Unfortunately, a group of flower girls including our heroine, Champa  (Sharmila Tagore, extremely charming in her debut role), accompanied by Mohan Seth (Pran) are already occupying the two rooms in the inn. The inn owner allows Rajeev to sleep under the staircase and light an angithi for warmth. A resulting confusion, with the girls thinking that the inn is on fire and pouring water on the angithi ensures that Rajeev and Champa meet! The next morning, on his way to his home in Srinagar, Rajeev once again comes across Champa (whose name he knows not) and the other flower girls and tries to find out her name. He even pretends to be a driver just to get her to talk to him. Mohan Seth thwarts this meeting and soon Rajeev gets to his house to find out that Bhola Ram (Dhumal), the caretaker had converted it into Hotel Lakeway and had let it out to a three young ladies, Chhaya, Maya and Rekha and their guardian, Rama Devi (Tun Tun) for the entire season. This is a parallel comic track in the movie, where in  Bhola Ram paints Rajeev as a crazy friend of Seth Rajeev Lal. (His antics definitely convince the four women!) Since Mataji is now trying to trace him, Rajeev plays along with this charade.

Meanwhile, the romance between Rajeev and Champa is quickly established (he engineers a meeting with Champa on pretext of buying flowers and buys her entire stock at four times the price). Champa’s blind father, Dinu (Nazir Hussain) expresses his displeasure and distrust about her new acquaintance and forbids her to meet him. She agrees and returns the extra money to Bhola Ram. Meanwhile, Chander, now impersonating Seth Rajeev Lal, also enters the fray – Chhaya, Maya and Rekha all try to woo the fake Rajeev Lal, giving much scope to both the asli and naqli Seths to carry on with their antics.

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Rajeev manages to woo Champa (aided by so many lovely songs) and win her trust soon and they are very much in love. Mohan, who also has set his sight on Champa, disapproves and starts blackmailing Dinu in order to win her hand. The lovers manage to hoodwink Mohan many a time – through disguises and such ploys and continue meeting. Mohan threatens Baba (reminding him of his own power locally and Baba’s status as a fugitive criminal)  and tells him that he would make Champa his – by force or consent. Mohan suspects that Champa is not this blind old man’s daughter. Dinu, who would like this secret to remain one, relents and Champa’s movements are curtailed.

The entire truth about Champa’s parentage is found out first by Mohan (as he overhears a conversation between the blind man and his friend). The story and its numerous plot complications kick-in. On one hand, Mohan is hell-bent on marrying Champa, on the other the three girls at the hotel figure out the identity of the real Rajeev Lal. Just when his cover is blown in front of Champa, Rajeev gets called back to Bombay. His nursemaid, Karuna is dying. On her deathbed, she tells him the truth. He is not Seth Sanjeev Lal’s son; he is her brother Dinu’s son. Dinu, an alcoholic those days, had sold him off to Karuna. And Mataji had taken him in. Mataji had given birth to a baby girl who had been stolen by Dinu as well.

What happens next? Does Mohan marry Champa? Does Champa figure out she is the true heir to Seth Sanjeev Lal? Does Rajeev forgive Dinu? Do Rajeev and Champa get married? The rest of the movie answers these questions.

My two cents:

It is a quintessential 1960s movie – light, breezy and entertaining. Do not expect too much logic and do not ask too many questions about the convoluted story.

The acting is superlative.  Shammi Kapoor is in his element – as he jaunts, hops, skips and throws himself around in the first half. The second half sees him don a more serious stance as he suddenly realises the benevolence of the lady who has taken him in and feels indebted to her. Spot on.

Sharmila Tagore is delightful, as she plays the innocent Champa to the hilt. The role is rather one-dimensional with not much scope for her other than to look Pran brings in his inimitable style as he plays the villainous Mohan to perfection – the way he pronounces Champa (Shampa) is charming.  The supporting cast – Nazir Hussain, Anoop Kumar, Dhumal and Tun Tun are effective.

Music:

What can I say about O.P.Nayyar’s delectable soundtrack? It remains one of my all-time favourites. Each and every number (sung by Asha Bhosle and Mohd Rafi) is a masterpiece, remembered till date – be it Yeh chand sa roshan chehra, Isharon isharon mein dil lene wale, or Subhanallah haseen chehra.

My personal favourites from the album are Deewana hua badal and the Asha solo that was probably never picturised, Balma khuli hawa mein.

Kashmir ki Kali, even after countless viewings, is still a comfort watch – predictable, light and easy on the eye. 

Happy Deepavali

As a South Indian who grew up in Delhi, Deepavali celebrations at home have always been an amalgam of both the traditions – South and North.. In South India, the festival is celebrated a day earlier and the legend behind it is a story from the Mahabharata (and not the Ramayana) – one in which Krishna and Satyabhama kill Narakasura symbolising the victory of good over evil.

October 18, 2017 is Naraka Chaturdashi.

I ask you (as we do) – Ganga snanam aacha? (the head bath taken in the wee hours of the morning before sunrise is equivalent to a dip in the Ganges – an important part of the Deepavali ritual) and wish you all a very happy and prosperous Deepavali.

Ending this post with this beautiful Lata Mangeshkar song from Bhabhi ki chudiyan (1961) and wishing you all happiness and peace.

Book Review: The one and lonely Kidar Sharma – An anecdotal autobiography

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The one and lonely Kidar Sharma: an anecdotal autobiography resurfaced among a pile of read, unread books in one of my bookshelves during a massive book-sorting exercise recently. As I saw the title, it struck me that despite having picked it up ages back, it had not been read. Worse, still, it had been completely forgotten. A reason why this book may have been neglected could be that I am not that familiar with Kidar Sharma’s work. All I knew was that he was a legendary movie maker responsible for the careers of cinema greats such as Raj Kapoor, Madhubala, Geeta Bali, and Mala Sinha to name a few.

As the sub-heading of the book suggests, the book, edited by Kidar Sharma’s son Dr. Vikram Sharma,  is a compilation of anecdotes narrated by the author (up until the 1960s), as he looked back at his illustrious career, late in life. The manuscript of the book was approved by the author before his demise in April 1999 and the book was published in 2002.

What made this collection of anecdotes across 14 chapters such an interesting read was the wry humour and the frankness with which the author recalls his past. In no chronological order, the author recounts his childhood days in Narowal (sometime in the early years of the twentieth century). Wikipedia lists his date of birth as 12th April 1910, however I am not sure of its accuracy. The author clearly mentions that he was born on a rainy, stormy night and that he is a proud Leo. So he certainly is not April born. The year also is not mentioned. In what comes across as a childhood filled with much troubles of the financial kind (his father found himself out of a job many times and had a bit of a drinking problem), he found a pillar of support in his paternal grandmother and gentle mother. His equation with his father was rather interesting. It was Kidar Sharma’s forever grouse that he was not as good-looking as his father; while his father seemed to have a bit of a complex when it came to his successful eldest son. Due to the lack of family finances, Kidar had to dabble in little jobs such as book-binding, painting sketches from a very young age to support his education and then his family. During those bleak days (which saw the death of two of his brothers and a sister, Taro), what comes across is the optimism and unwavering faith in the Almighty that the family had. This unwavering faith is testified by Kidar in other phases of his life when that has paid off in dire situations.

Kidar Sharma’s family seemed to have rather high expectations from him, especially because he was a school and university topper. When he announced his own decision of becoming a film maker and ran away to Calcutta, after seeing D.K. Bose’s Purana Bhagat, his orthodox family was disappointed. They could not digest the fact that their son, a Brahmin boy from Punjab, wanted to enter a profession of “bhands“, pimps and prostitutes. Kidar Sharma may have done an MA but his mind was made up as to what he wanted to do; his parents’ disappointment not withstanding.

He recounts his struggling days when he borrowed Rs 25 from his newly wed wife and moved to Calcutta with an intention to train under D.K. Bose. In Calcutta, as he took on odd jobs (such as a screen and poster painter) in New Theatre, he was to meet three people who were to support him and also become close friends- the singer Kundan Lal Saigal, the actor Prithviraj Kapoor and Durga Khote. Prithviraj Kapoor and Kidar Sharma were to become very close friends. The next few chapters recount his journey in the world of cinema, filled with ups and downs, successes and failures. What comes across is is an unflinching commitment and passion towards his art as Kidar Sharma made a mark as a producer, director, lyricist and scriptwriter. At a time, when new talent was not necessarily encouraged by established producers and film makers, Kidar Sharma was an exception. He remembered promises made to other upcoming artistes during his own struggling days and kept them. Some examples of people who owe their careers  (other than the really big stars he launched in the 1950s) include an actress called Romola (whom a top producer had rejected for being too short) and Vasudev Bhatkar, a small-time AIR artiste (who made a mark as a music director calling himself Snehal Bhatkar – Snehal was the name of his daughter. This way he could continue his job in AIR and compose music for films!)

Of course, Raj Kapoor remains the biggest cinema star to have been given a break by Kidar Sharma. In an interview, Kapoor is said to have said this about his uncle and guru: “Kidar Sharma is a one-man institution who taught me all know about film-making.” As Sharma recollects his association with his favourite, the warmth and the loving relationship they shared is evident. The reason why Ranbir Raj Kapoor became the third assistant to his father’s best friend and uncle, Kidar Sharma is an interesting one in itself. Raj Kapoor, in his college days, was getting too distracted in interested in the opposite gender and this worried his father. His father was worried that Raj Kapoor had no focus or interest and was frittering away his time and he shared this concern with Sharma. Sharma was reminded of an interaction he had had with a six-year old Raj Kapoor and using this as the basis, he offered to teach him film-making and made him his assistant. He was very soon to realise that Raj Kapoor was more interested in appearing in front of the camera than behind. Of course, there is also the anecdote as to when Sharma, the hard task master, slapped Raj Kapoor on the sets of a film. To his credit, Raj Kapoor quietly accepted his mistake and kept quiet.

There is an equally interesting anecdote involving Tanuja. I had read about this in one of her interviews. In the book, Sharma mentions it too. It was during the shooting of Hamari Yaad Ayegi (1961), 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, apparently her mom had smacked her for being unprofessional and got her back.

Sharma mentions that at the time of this movie, he was bankrupt and when this episode took place, he was in a way worried that he would not be able to complete the film. He had decided that he would shelve the film by evening. But she came back and the film was completed. He also mentioned warmly that the affection he received from the very same actress later on was heartwarming.

He also gives his version of how Geeta Bali was discovered – living with her large family in a bathtub. Not very conventionally beautiful, he did rate her to be one of the best actresses he had worked with.

This unconventional, fiery, arrogant film-maker was also responsible for the careers of Roshan, Mala Sinha and Bharat Bhushan. His association with the Children’s Film Society of India also gets a mention in the book. His children’s film Jaldeep (1956) won the Best Children’s film in the International Film Festival in Venice.

Some of his noteworthy films include the 1935 Saigal classic Devdas (1935), Chitralekha (both the 1941 and the 1964 version that starred Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar; though he considered the 1941 version the superior of the two), Bawre Nain (1950) and Kaajal (1965).

While the book proved to be a very interesting read – in terms of the information it imparts and the writing style, the lack of chronology does prove to be an impediment. I have a thing for dates and the lack of dates in the book did prove to be distracting. This minor gripe apart, laced with wit, humour and an innate honesty, The One and Lonely Kidar Sharma is a good read – a must for all cinema buffs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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