Ten of my favourite ‘classic poem’ songs

Several weeks back, a two-day festival called Dilli ka Apna Utsav was organised in Delhi. As part of the festivities was a heritage walk led by my sister, Swapna Liddle. This walk took us to buildings and landmarks associated with the poetry spawned in Delhi: famous venues for mushairas (like the Ghaziuddin Madarsa and the Haveli Razi-un-Nissa Begum), or places which were once residences, even if only briefly, of famous poets (Ahaat Kaale Sahib, Zeenat Mahal, Ghalib’s Haveli).

What connection does all of this have to Hindi cinema? Just that it got me thinking of the links between Hindi film songs and classic poets. I can’t think of too many classic poets (except Mirza Ghalib and Meera Bai) who have been made the central characters of Hindi films, but the works of famous poets crop up every now and then in Hindi film songs. Sometimes in their entirety, and very well-known, too (as in most of the songs of the Bharat Bhushan-starrer Mirza Ghalib).

Bharat Bhushan in and as Mirza Ghalib Continue reading

Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960)

In one pivotal scene in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Kammo (Padmini), the daughter of a dacoit chief tells her naïve beloved that they, the dacoits, are not to be scorned or derided, because they wield guns to make things equal between the rich and the poor. They take from the rich and give to the poor, because the poor have always been preyed upon by the rich.

Kammoji, tum log chochilist ho?” asks Raju (Raj Kapoor), wide-eyed. Because chochilists, as he informs Kammo, also work to make things ‘barobar’ between the rich and the poor. And when he is reassured that yes, that is the philosophy of the dacoits, Raju decides there and then that he will no longer think of dacoits as evil people.

Raj Kapoor and Padmini in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai Continue reading

Ten of my favourite Nanda songs

This wasn’t the post I’d planned for this week on Dusted Off. I’d been thinking, instead, of reviewing a Hollywood film—one which I happened to be watching when I received the news that Nanda had passed away on the morning of March 25. I changed my mind about writing a review; instead, I had to do a tribute to Nanda. Not just because I share my birthday with her, but because I think of her as an actress who deserves to be more highly regarded than she usually is.

Nanda, 1939-2014

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Ten of my favourite wind songs

The other day, with a storm in full force, I could hear the crash and rumble of thunder, the pitter-patter of raindrops (and, as it grew more stormy, huge splashes of water against the windows)—and the wind, gusting and whooshing all around. It struck me then that nature, even when it’s not living nature—not birds and animals, but water and wind and clouds—makes its own music.

Wind, in my opinion, wins when it comes to ‘natural music’. From the soft swoosh of the breeze blowing through the leaves of a tree, to the howling, gooseflesh-inducing gusts that can be well mistaken for a banshee: the wind has a life all its own. Appropriate, then, that at least two types of musical instruments—wind chimes and Aeolian harps—are played by the wind.

And the wind, of course, has long been an important motif in Hindi film songs. There have been songs addressed to the wind, songs about the wind. Here are ten of my favourites, in no particular order. The only restrictions I’ve imposed on myself are:
(a) As always, the song should be from a film I’ve seen, from before the 1970s
And (b) the song should have a word synonymous with wind (hawa, saba, pawan, etc) in the first line of the song.

Hawa mein udtaa jaaye... Continue reading

Nakli Nawab (1962)

Muslim socials are among the genres I can never have too much of. Back in their heyday, they had some of the best music around (remember Chaudhvin ka Chaand? Barsaat ki Raat? Mere Mehboob? The inimitable Pakeezah?) There was the chance to savour the mellifluous sound of Urdu; to peek into a social structure and lifestyles that often went otherwise unexplored in cinema; and to see women in shararas and men in achkans [the latter, like military uniforms, equipped with some inexplicable means of making even Bharat Bhushan and Rajendra Kumar look good].

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Intequam (1969)

When Anu listed her favourite Sadhna films, I remarked that another Sadhna film I like—though it’s from later in the actress’s career—is Intequam. Based on Vendetta, a Marie Corelli novel (the only film adaptation of a Corelli work that’s in colour), Intequam is a story of vengeance. Though it features a Sadhna whose gorgeousness had begun to suffer because of her medical problems, she’s still interesting—and the central character in this film.

Sadhna with Sanjay Khan in Intequam Continue reading

Songs of romantic love – in ten moods

Ah, well, the Valentine’s Day bandwagon and all that.

Seriously, I’ve blogged through five Valentine’s Days, and steered clear of the temptation to post something even vaguely romantic (largely because my idea of what constitutes ‘romantic’ is more often than not at odds with what old Hindi cinema, or even a lot of Hollywood, thought of as romantic). This year, however, I’ve decided to throw in the towel. Romance is in the air. And Hindi cinema, as any Hindi film buff will know, has always loved romance (especially in the 50s and 60s, when any self-respecting film had at least one romance in it, if not more).

Happy Valentine's Day!
But, since I’m a bit of a non-conformist, I’m doing this with a twist: not necessarily a serenade to a loved one, and not necessarily two lovers billing and cooing to each other. Instead, romantic love in its different forms and shapes and tones and hues. All of these songs are about romantic love (not maternal/fraternal/patriotic/devotional or other forms of the sentiment), and they’re all from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. And they’re each in a distinct mood that shows some aspect of romantic love. Enjoy!

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Book review: Akshay Manwani’s ‘Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet’

I grew up in a house that resonated with the sound of Hindi film music. My maternal grandfather had worked many years for HMV; my father, whose elder brother was a guitarist in Bombay’s film industry, had inherited his love for music. And, with a large collection of gramophone records (later to be supplemented with cassettes and even later CDs), there was hardly a waking moment when we weren’t listening to music. Even if we didn’t put an LP on the turntable, we’d turn on our radio and listen to film songs.

Looking back, I realise now that for many years I didn’t really pay attention to the words. It wasn’t till I was well into my twenties that I finally began to notice—really notice—how words went, what they meant. I discovered that Allah tero naam was not merely a bhajan, but also a plea against war. I found that Sar jo tera chakraaye had strains of socialism running through it.

Slowly, as I got to know more and more about the works of different lyricists, a strong favourite emerged: Sahir Ludhianvi. Sahir, who wrote songs so widely differing in tone as the boisterous, country-loving Yeh desh hai veer jawaanon ka and the quietly defiant Jurm-e-ulfat pe humein, the bitter Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko and the harshly cynical Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai.  Sahir, who was a brilliantly brave poet and an equally brilliant and brave lyricist.

It is this man—poet, lyricist, son, friend, rival, colleague, in all his many avatars—who is the subject of Akshay Manwani’s biography, Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet (Harper Collins Publishers India, ISBN 978-93-5029-733-9, Rs 399, 320 pages). I had been introduced, online, to Akshay a couple of months before the book was released—in December 2013—and had been all enthusiastic eagerness when asked if I’d like to read and review the book.

Sahir Ludhianvi: The People's Poet, by Akshay Manwani

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An Evening in Paris (1967)

…and a day or two in Beirut (plus an afternoon in the Lebanese countryside, masquerading as provincial France). A couple of days in Switzerland, and a grey afternoon at the Niagara Falls. Lots of Paris, of course, from the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysées, to the bateau mouche and pretty little cafés.

And Sharmila Tagore. And Shammi Kapoor. And pretty mad masala.

What with reading about Amar Akbar Anthony (and thinking over the lost-and-found trope), I ended up thinking, too, about An Evening in Paris, which is a good enough example of the genre. In this one, Sharmila Tagore is the one who plays the character(s) who’re lost: twin sisters, separated as children, thanks to a villain. They grow up unaware of each other’s existence, and in classic Hindi film style—ranging from Anhonee to Sharmeelee—with one sister good and the other bad, or at least not-so-good.

Sharmila Tagore as Deepa and Suzie in An Evening in Paris Continue reading

There you are!: The ‘lost and found’ trope in Hindi cinema

I suppose I should have dedicated this blog post to fellow blogger Anu Warrier, since the uncanny coincidences that dog our two respective lives and blogs seem straight out of a Hindi masala flick. There is also the fact that Anu and I got slightly acquainted with each other online years ago, then lost touch—until ‘meeting’ again on a film blog a couple of years ago, and realising that yes, this was the same person.

But no, this post is dedicated not to Anu, but to Sidharth Bhatia, whose delightful book Amar Akbar Anthony: Masala, Madness and Manmohan Desai, I’ve been reading.  Here, by the way, is my review of Sidharth’s book—if you like Amar Akbar Anthony (and I, despite my love for 50s and 60s cinema, have to admit that I do, wholeheartedly), do get hold of Sidharth’s book. It’s a very satisfying read.

Sidharth Bhatia's book: Amar Akbar Anthony: Masala, Madness, and Manmohan Desai Continue reading