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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favourite songs picturised on Shakila (Jan 1, 1935- Sep 20, 2017) – in memoriam

While I had been meaning to revive this blog – as the rather long hiatus was unplanned – my efforts at actually doing so were rather half-hearted and excuses plenty. A sweet and touching message from Madhu yesterday was the push that I needed. Thank you, Madhu.

Considering this is my first post in more than a year, it did take a while to decide what it would be about. As I toyed between a movie review and a song post, what tipped it in the latter’s favour, besides the rather obvious fact that a song post is quicker to finish, was the fairly recent news of the demise of Shakila, one of the sweetest actresses of the 1950s and early 60s.  Perky, lively and likeable, I had been fond of her when I used to watch Hindi movies frequently. In a brief career that spanned just over ten years, Shakila (Jan 1 1935- Sep 20 2017)  had made her mark as a sweet, fragile looking leading lady who had been cast opposite leading actors of the time such as Guru Dutt, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Sunil Dutt.

Unlike the more famous actresses of her time, there isn’t much information available on Shakila. Her wikipedia page also does not give much information about either Shakila the actress or the person. She quit acting on her own volition after her marriage in 1962, bringing to a close a 10 year career; at atime when she was probably at her peak working with actors such as Raj Kapoor (Shriman Satyawadi), Manoj Kumar (Reshmi Roomal, Nakli Nawab) and Pradeep Kumar (Ustadon ke Ustad). Once out of moviedom, Shakila faded away from the limelight, content with her life as she shuttled between London and Bombay.

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The songs chosen for this list are in no particular order. The list includes both solos and duets and may also be from the same film. These are songs that sprung to my mind when I read about her demise that Wednesday afternoon and are the ones I associate with this sweet, petite looking actress I was fond of back in my childhood days.

1. Hoon abhi main jawan aye dil (Aar Paar, 1954, O.P. Nayyar, Geeta Dutt):  Shakila’s debut as leading lady  was in the lesser-known 1953 Homi Wadia film Alibaba aur chalis chor. While the movie may not be remembered today, back in those days, it did good business at the box-office and her career took off.It was Shakila’s turn as the side role, the moll in Guru Dutt’s Aar Paar (1954) that catapulted her to the limelight. Ironically, even though the heroine Shyama did have some lovely songs picturised on her (the entire soundtrack is fantastic), the two club classics, filmed on Shakila, Babuji dheere chalna and Hoon abhi main jawan are the ones that are more remembered today.

A gorgeous Shakila, drunk, conveys the pathos and futility of time, as she holds on to and looks for the last vestiges. The song is aided by the subdued music and Geeta Dutt’s sultry voice. A classic for all times.

2. Aye mere dil-e-naadan tu gham se na ghabrana (Tower House, 1962, Ravi, Lata Mangeshkar) 

Shakila puts in a rather winsome show in this song as she wafts along the room, lip-synching this melodious haunting song. Her wavy hair, aided by those loose sleeves of her nightdress (which I assume to be white), help in creating the atmosphere. After all the song is from the 1962 film Tower House. As the title suggests, the action and the mystery is centred in a tower house, of which this sweet sad lady is an occupant.

Despite the melancholic setting and the subdued tune, Aye mere dil-e-nadaan is also a strangely hopeful number, where in the protagonist is coaching herself to brave up to the storms and vagaries of life. In the movie, if I remember correctly, her mother (the lady in the portrait) kills herself (by jumping out of the tower house) and the whole movie is about some secret associated with it.  Shakila is sad but not distraught – like a little lost girl trying to find her feet.

3. Aankhon hi aankhon mein ishaara ho gaya (CID, 1956, O.P. Nayyar, Geeta Dutt and Mohd Rafi)

This is probably the most famous song filmed on her. An antakshari favourite, Aankhon hi aankhon mein ishaara ho gaya stars a debonair Dev Anand along with Shakila. While Waheeda Rehman may have garnered all the popularity in this movie (on account of being Guru Dutt’s protege), it is Shakila who is the leading lady in this Raj Khosla directed crime thriller.

This catchy song sung by Rafi (listen to how he sings just the one line so differently each time) and Geeta Dutt captures the breezy effervescence of first love in its entirety. Dev Anand is playful, dashing and Shakila complements him with her subtle seductiveness – expressed mainly through her eyes. Running around trees (literally) has probably never been as charming!

4. Tum poochtey ho ishq bala hai (Nakli Nawab, 1962, Babul, Mohd Rafi)

I was probably around 12 years old when this Muslim social was aired on Doordarshan. Shakila, if I remember correctly, is the younger sister of K.N. Singh and Ashok Kumar (who are some Nawabs). Our hero Manoj Kumar is, but naturally, a poor shayar with a golden heart who somehow lands up at a mushaira hosted at the Nawabs’ place.

He presents his soulful defence of ishq, listing all the pluses of love (which has the heroine swooning). Shakila is suitably mesmerized (though I would think this is more because of Rafi saab’s voice and perfect rendition) as she sits in the zenana quarters and listens to this presentation.

5. Sau baar janam lenge (Ustadon ke ustad, 1963, Ravi, Mohd Rafi)

Composed by Ravi, Sau baar janam lenge, one of my personal favourite Rafi numbers is a mellifluous song with an other-worldly feel – listen to the lyrics (by Asad Bhopali), the way it has been sung and it’s picturisation.

The “dead” lover is singing to a distraught Shakila and is asking her to be hopeful….”Sau Baar Janam Lenge, Sau Baar Fanaa Honge, Aye Jaanewafa phir bhi Hum Tum Na juda honge”  There is no one in the vicinity – near the waterfalls or beyond it. Shakila recognises his voice and looks around frantically but fails to spot him. Pradeep Kumar, the hero,  makes an appearance right at the end of the song when he comes and gently taps her on her shoulder. The shock on her face is worth noting – the man she considered to be dead is hale and hearty!

This was Shakila’s last film as an actress – as she moved to the UK shortly after.

6. O neend na mujhko aaye (Postbox 999, 1958, Kalyanji Anandji, Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar)

Sunil Dutt and Shakila make a striking pair as they portray two pining, sleepless lovebirds. The song, one of Hemant-Lata’s best duets, is sensuously picturised, conveying the longing and desire of these beautiful people.

7. Baar baar dekho (China Town, 1962, Ravi, Mohd Rafi)

Well, what can I say about this song? An out and out Shammi/ Rafi classic, where Shammi Kapoor grooves, moves and swings around wooing his  pretty ladylove, Shakila gets her part right. The pretty dame is not at all happy and makes her displeasure known. Magical!

8. Humse na poocho hum kahan chale (China Town, 1962, Ravi, Rafi & Asha Bhosle)

Couldn’t resist adding yet another song from China Town. This lovely Rafi-Asha duet is one in which Shakila also gets to do some acting.  A song that is more Nayyaresque in style, it has a handsome Shammi Kapoor and a gorgeous Shakila traverse through Calcutta, first on a tonga and then on a boat. The handsome couple and the sights of Calcutta make this a pleasing watch.

9. Aye saba unse (Alibaba aur chalis chor, 1953, S.N Tripathi, Rafi and Asha Bhosle)

This is a melodious duet from Shakila’s debut film. Surprisingly, she does not come across as raw, rather displays the innate charm and confidence of her later, more successful ventures. While the movie may not be remembered today, this duet is still popular (most old Hindi film music lovers do remember / know this one).

10. Babuji dheere chalna (Aar Paar, 1954, O.P.Nayyar, Geeta Dutt)

Ending the list with the immortal classic for which Shakila will always be remembered. Countless remixes, cover versions later, this song is still memorable – as much for Shakila’s emoting as she warns men of the pitfalls of love and Guru Dutt’s incredulous expressions; as for Geeta Dutt’s rendition and O.P. Nayyar’s excellent music.

Shakila ji may have passed on; but in my memories of her as a Hindi film heroine, she will be the sweet lost likeable girl with her trademark wavy/curly hair; an actress I was fond of!

 

 

 

 

Asha sings for Ravi

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

So that this becomes active again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Favourite Songs of Sadhana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crimson City by Madhulika Liddle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mem-didi (1961)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is when the heroine makes an entry and how!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest of the movie answers these questions.

My two cents:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yes, belated happy birthday, Tanujaji!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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