On a stormy night, a Viking longship battles the elements. Waves sweep over, tossing the ship; rocks loom. The men aboard the ship yell in fear and try to hold on to the masts, to each other—to anything—in an effort to stop from being sucked in by the water or dashed against the rocks. But the inevitable happens.
“And so, by the storm’s fury, he lost all that he loved most in this world: his ship, and his shipmates. But he was washed ashore, alone, the only survivor. Then the monks found him and took him to their monastery, where they tenderly nursed him, never asking his name, or his country. And, gradually, he grew stronger…”
Today is the 78th birthday of one of my favourite actresses, the gorgeous Shyama. Born in Lahore on June 7, 1935, Shyama debuted at the tender age of 9, when she appeared onscreen as one of the chorus in the Zeenat (1945) qawwali , Aahein na bhareen shiqve na kiye. In a career that spanned 40 years and close to 150 films, Shyama played everything—from the shrew to the vamp, the tomboy to the domestic goddess. And she invariably shone, quite literally. Shyama’s sparkling eyes and bright, 1000-watt smile could light up the screen like few other actresses were capable of doing.
Last week, chatting with a group of friends (equally mad about old cinema) on Facebook, I was stumped by a quiz question posted by one of them. Which was the first Indian language feature film to be made without any songs? Most of us who attempted to answer that question could only think of Hindi films, and the earliest Hindi non-songs film we came up with was Kanoon (1960). That wasn’t the answer—the correct answer was the Tamil film Andha Naal (That Day), made six years before Kanoon, and (like Kanoon) blending suspense—in the form of a murder mystery—with weighty issues about society and politics.
[Edited to add: According to blog reader and blogger AK, of Songs of Yore, the correct answer to that question is actually the 1937 Wadia Movietone film Naujawan].
Inspirations to watch (and review) films come to me from all over. Friends and relatives are occasionally badgered to suggest genres; blog readers’ requests and recommendations (some of them, alas, long-pending) are taken into consideration. And, sometimes, I get inspired by the most outlandish of things. For instance, this film—which I first watched years ago, on TV—jumped to the top of my to-watch list because one day, while washing up in my kitchen, I was reminded of Mala Sinha.
[And no, not because I happened to be scrubbing a colander].
Though I’d heard of this film – and loved one of its songs (As-salaam-aaleikum babu) – I’d not been too keen on watching it. Firstly, Ashok Kumar is not really my idea of a dashing leading man. Secondly, I’m not a great one for the Travancore Sisters. At the risk of being labelled an iconoclast, I’m going to admit that dance is not generally a big thing for me – I’m awful at any sort of dancing myself, and I don’t have much of an eye for watching it, either. Plus, there’s the fact that both Padmini and Ragini have horrid Hindi accents, which means that when they’re playing Hindi-speaking characters, they are not exactly very believable.
Then Richard reviewed Kalpana, and I got to know a bit more about the film. And then, to add to it all, Tom Daniel praised it too. So, I ended up watching Kalpana. It turned out to be – surprise, surprise – much more engrossing than I’d expected it to be.
I’ve spent the past month—and more—focussing solely on Indian cinema. Time for a change, I thought.
This, therefore. Director René Clément’s Plein Soleil (literally, ‘Full Sun’, but known as Purple Noon) is a French adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley, and was the first major film of Alain Delon, who really does dominate the film. In more ways than one.
Today is the 100th birth anniversary of one of my favourite Hindi film actors, the extremely talented, very versatile Balraj Sahni. Born on May 1, 1913 (an interesting coincidence, considering he went on to become the first president of the leftist All India Youth Federation), Balraj Sahni became a prominent writer—first in English, later in Punjabi—and, of course, a brilliant, much-respected actor, with a dignity and screen presence that made him stand apart in films as different as Do Bigha Zameen, Waqt, Kabuliwaala, Haqeeqat, Anuradha, and Sone ki Chidiya.
When I began April 2013 on my blog, I’d promised this month would be dedicated to celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema—not merely Hindi cinema, as I tend to do, but regional language cinema as well. Apart from a review of the first full-length Indian feature film (Raja Harischandra) and a post on 100 years of Hindi film music (and how could I not post that, in a month commemorating Indian cinema’s centenary)?—I have tried to stick to my promise.
But, the day I was posting Songs for all times, I received a sad piece of news: that Shamshad Begum had died, just a little over a week after her 94th birthday. I did fit in a small tribute to Shamshad Begum in that post, but I had to say a fonder farewell, with a longer post showcasing this singer’s wonderful, very distinctive voice.
Late last year, an editor from ForbesLife India wrote to me, telling me they’d be doing special ‘100 years of Indian cinema’ editions this year. Would I be interested in contributing an article? That was a no-brainer (or so it seemed), but when I got over my initial excitement and began to think, I realised that:
(a) I know virtually nothing about Indian cinema in general. Hindi cinema, yes; other Indian cinema, almost negligible.
(b) It was too vast a canvas. What would I write?
Much thought later, I offered to write about something I know something about: Hindi film music. What follows is a version of the article that appeared in the April-June 2013 issue of ForbesLife India. Do buy yourself a copy to read the final article—and to read some more interesting writing on a century of Indian cinema.
Serendipity: noun. plural: serendipities. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident; the occurrence of such a discovery. Coined by Horace Walpole in 1754, based on a fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendib (‘Serendib’ being present-day Sri Lanka)—the three princes in question often making such lucky discoveries.
And what does this have to do with Chaowa-Pawa (‘To Want and To Have’)? Simply that, while I had set about watching this film because I really, really like the lead pair—Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen—I realized, within the first half hour of the film, that it was a remake of one of my favourite old Hindi films, Chori-Chori (which, as many of you would know, was a remake of It Happened One Night). Serendipity? Absolutely.