As I’ve mentioned earlier (nearly a year ago, to be precise), I am – despite being an author and not an absolute recluse – not really one of the regulars at Literary Festivals. Which, if you’re keeping track, are now a staple event in the post-monsoon calendar of almost every Indian city worth its salt. Good, I say, but I go to very few of them, and only when I really feel like it.
This time, I got an invitation for the Pune International Literary Festival, September 18-20, 2014. Would I be interested, asked Dr Manjiri Prabhu (the director), in being part of a panel discussion on detective fiction? Considering home-grown detective fiction (I’m not talking Christie, Rankin, and the like) invariably takes a backseat when it comes to the average Indian reader – who, if bookstore displays are to be believed, is more likely to jump at mythology, self-help, or coming-of-age books – well, considering that, I figured anything I could do to help further the cause of Indian detective fiction was work well done.
One day in August, I checked my blog roll and discovered that not one, but two, of my favourite bloggers had posted reviews of films based (even if only in spirit) on The Arabian Nights. Anu had reviewed Ali Baba aur 40 Chor, and Ira (aka Bollyviewer) had reviewed The Thief of Baghdad. Coincidence? Planned? If the latter, then why hadn’t I, the third of the three soul sisters, been included in the plan?
It turned out to have been sheer coincidence, but Anu, Ira and I decided it would be a good idea to actually do a themed set of posts. And what better theme than the one Ira suggested: long-lost siblings, such a favourite trope in Hindi cinema.
[A quick word for Dusted Off regulars, in case you haven’t noticed the non-cinema related posts that have recently appeared on my home page: this is part of the process of combining Dusted Off with my other writing. I’d gotten a bit tired of maintaining two separate blogs, so decided it was high time the two were combined. So you’ll be seeing the odd post now and then which has nothing to do with classic cinema – more likely, something about history, since that is another passion of mine. But Dusted Off isn’t going anywhere, so please don’t go away, either!]
When I posted an article about Sabz Burj, a friend commented that he used to see it on his way to work – and he mentioned another tomb nearby that he used to see, too. A little bit of to-ing and fro-ing, and we managed to figure out which one he meant: the Tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan. Like Sabz Burj, Rahim’s Tomb is by no means invisible (in fact, standing just off Mathura Road and in clear sight of the Barapullah Flyover, it’s probably one of the more familiar medieval monuments for passersby in the Nizamuddin are). It is, too, unlike Sabz Burj, not a particularly attractive monument—but it has a fascinating history, and the man buried here was one of Mughal India’s most illustrious.
…which could probably have been more appropriately titled How to Jump to Conclusions and Mess up Lives. Or Never Trust a Sinister Mamu. This is one Muslim social – a genre I have long admitted to being very fond of – which has been recommended to me so often, I’ve lost track of the recommendations. On the one hand, I wanted to see it because it has some lovely songs; on the other, the thought of watching Meena Kumari in one of her last few films – well, that wasn’t something I was really looking forward to with anticipation. But all those recommendations tilted the balance.
Every now and then, when I’ve reviewed a Hindi film (Mamta, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, Kabuliwaalah, Khamoshi) or even mentioned one (Devdas, Chori Chori), someone or the other has popped up and either informed me (or reminded me) that this film was originally made in Bengali.
It was a little different with Sagarika. This film nobody told me about. I happened to be trawling IMDB checking out the synopses of all of Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar’s films, and realized—even as I read the plot of Sagarika—that this was exactly the same story as one of my favourite Hindi films, Bimal Roy’s lovely Prem Patra. Could I resist the temptation to watch it? No.
Next up on my list of occasional articles on little-known tombs of Delhi. Yes, macabre as it may sound, Delhi does have a lot of medieval tombs, mainly because—like mosques or forts—tombs were among the few buildings which could endure because they were usually built of stone; ordinary buildings such as houses were often of wattle and daub, or of brick, and therefore less likely to last long. This time, it’s Sabz Burj. Not exactly little-known, since it’s very visible: it stands on the traffic roundabout outside Humayun’s Tomb, at the intersection of Mathura Road and Lodhi Road.
Some time back, I received a request from a blog reader and long-ago professor of mine: would I do a post on songs sung at pianos? Hindi cinema, back in the good old days, invariably had a song at a piano per film, often more. I had to inform my ex-prof: I had already compiled, some time back, a post on piano songs: specifically, women pianists. But this gave me an idea: how about a post on male pianists? After all, there has been no shortage of songs picturised on men sitting at pianos.
Friend, blog reader and sometime fellow blogger Harvey nudged me gently last week with a bit of information I hadn’t remembered. August 13th, 2014 was the 115th birth anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock. Was I planning to post something Hitchcock-related to mark the occasion?
And how could I not? Hitchcock – in my opinion, one of the best directors cinema has ever seen, regardless of time and place – is a firm favourite of mine. I’ve reviewed several of his films; in fact, one of the first films I reviewed on this blog (The 39 Steps) dates from Hitchcock’s early British period. I’ve reviewed a hilariously black comedy (The Trouble with Harry); I’ve reviewed classics like Rebecca, and relatively little-known ones (among those not Hitchcock aficionados, I hasten to add) like Strangers on a Train or Lifeboat.
Time (and occasion) therefore, I concluded, to review one of my favourite of Hitchcock’s colour films, in the classic suspense mould. Rear Window, about a photographer stuck in his tiny apartment with a broken leg…
Most of the tombs I’ve listed so far in my on-and-off series on little known tombs of Delhi have been tombs I’ve been aware of for at least the past 15 years. It’s time, therefore, to move on to a tomb I got to see for the first time just about 6 years back: the tomb of Yusuf Qattaal, near Malviya Nagar.
That love for SD Burman has, instead of abating, increased over the years. With that love has arisen a deep admiration for the sheer versatility and genius of this man, without whom the face (or should that be ‘sound’?) of Hindi film music might have been very different. And much, much the poorer.
Not a surprise, then, that I should get so excited when I discovered that a biography of SD Burman had been published: Sathya Saran’s Sun Mere Bandhu Re: The Musical Journey of SD Burman (Harper Collins Publishers India, P-ISBN: 978-93-5029-849-7, E-ISBN: 978-93-5029-850-3, Rs 499, 258 pages). I had read about and heard various anecdotes about SD Burman over the years: that he was a prince of Tripura, of his love for paan and football, and how he skilfully drew inspiration from just about every type of music: Baul, Bhatiali, Rabindra Sangeet… to actually read a biography of the man himself was something I looked forward to with great anticipation.