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.
When I’d decided to dedicate this month to regional Indian cinema, I’d also decided that I wouldn’t restrict myself to only the grim, stark ‘real’ films that win awards (Chemmeen, as you will see over the next few films, was an exception rather than the norm). After all, it’s not only the films which win awards that are remembered and loved. There are also films that may not be award-winning material, but are enjoyable and prove to be hugely popular.
Pathala Bhairavi—originally in Telugu, also dubbed in Hindi and Tamil—was one of these. Although the research I’ve done doesn’t seem to indicate any awards won, this film was a superhit, which ran to packed houses for weeks on end. It was also the only South Indian film to be selected for screening at the first International Film Festival in Bombay in 1952. And—this was what made me want to see it—it was a fantasy film, one of my favourite genres.
When I first began searching the Net to find landmark regional films to review for this special ‘100 years of Indian cinema’ celebration, Chemmeen was one name that cropped up again and again. It sounded impressive. This was one of the first Malayalam films to be made in colour; more importantly, in won the President’s Gold Medal for Best Feature Film at the National Film Awards in 1965. It was screened at both the Cannes and the Chicago Film Festivals, and was greeted with much critical acclaim (not to mention commercial success)—it was even released, dubbed, in Hindi as Chemmeen Lehren, and in English as The Anger of the Sea.
All it needed was for me to discover that the music director of this film was an old favourite (Salil Choudhary) and that Manna Dey sang in it, and my mind was made up: I had to watch Chemmeen.
April 2013 has a special significance: this month marks 100 years of Indian cinema. The country’s first indigenously produced full-length feature film, Raja Harischandra, made by the legendary Dhundiraj Govind ‘Dadasaheb’ Phalke, was shown to a select audience at Bombay’s Olympia Theatre, on 21st April, 1913.
(Note: There is some controversy about this; some film historians believe that Shree Pundalik, 1912, was the first full-length feature film).
But. Celebrating the centennial of Raja Harischandra seemed good enough reason to dedicate this month to Indian cinema. Not just Hindi cinema, as I have been prone to do, but Indian regional cinema. I am painfully aware that the only regional language cinema I’ve reviewed so far has been Bengali, so this is a good place to make a start. April 2013 on Dusted Off is going to be when I set about exploring more of cinema from across the country.
I thought it appropriate to begin with Raja Harischandra itself.
If you’ve read Greta’s latest blog post, you’ll know there are some recent and utterly mouthwatering additions to the Edu Productions page—including this film, Noorjehan’s last to be made in India. Greta, on the Edu Productions page, mentions that “source is a mediocre quality tape supplied by Muz.” Well, no longer. Tom’s cleaned it up beautifully, and Pacifist has subtitled the film. The result is something I’m grateful for. And that, coming from someone who’s not a fan of tragic romances, is a lot.