I’ve been blogging for more than five years now, and over the years, I’ve discovered a lot of things that make me want to continue. One is the enthusiasm and support of readers. Another is the vast amount of knowledge I’ve gained, simply by blogging and watching so much cinema—a lot of which I’d probably never have seen otherwise.
And, there’s the laughter one gets out of logging into my blog’s dashboard and checking out the day’s stats. WordPress has a fairly comprehensive statistics page, with detailed information on stuff like how many views my blog got, which have been the most popular pages and the most popular posts, who comments the most on my blog—and, the icing on the cake—the web searches that bring visitors to Dusted Off. Most of these are fairly innocuous: o p nayyar songs list, madhubalasongs, humraaz, and so on. Fairly predictable search terms to arrive at Dusted Off.
Occasionally, however, there are absolute gems, stuff that makes me laugh. For instance, on November 10, 2013, according to my stats page, someone arrived at Dusted Off using the search term song tum mere paas aa naa shaky video.
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.
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.
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.
This was not the post I had intended for this week. As a matter of fact, I had not given any thought to what I’d write about, but I had imagined it would be something light-hearted (perhaps a song list I’ve been working on for a while). Something, definitely, cheerful—to help me get over the sadness of one of my favourite actresses having passed away. Something too, to build up the spirit of good cheer for Christmas.
Instead, I began the week by learning that another favourite actress of mine, Joan Fontaine, award-winning lead of Hitchcock’s Suspicion (and the female star of his superb Rebecca), had passed away, at the age of 96, on the 15th of December. Just a day after the death of another legendary star, Peter O’Toole, the Lawrence of Arabia (which I heard about only on the 16th, as it happened).
On my laptop, I have a bunch of wallpapers of some of my favourite actors and actresses. Every now and then, depending upon whose films I’ve been watching—and therefore, who’s my current favourite—the wallpaper changes (right now, in anticipation of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, it’s Richard Armitage). For a short time, the wallpaper had been one of Eleanor Parker.
It wasn’t as if I’d woken up suddenly one day with an epiphany and decided I had to create a blog. It just so happened that everything began to come together for me in 2008. I’d just quit the corporate world after 14 years of hard slogging—years which had left me with almost no time to call my own. I read books in fits and starts. I wrote in fits and starts. I didn’t have time to watch TV, and only very few films, and those too mostly in bits and pieces: half an hour here, half an hour there.
But, in March 2008, having given up my job so I could focus on my writing (I’d just signed a contract for The Englishman’s Cameo, and was busy writing its sequel), I began to spend a little more time doing the things that really appealed to me. Like watching cinema. And seeing what others had to say about the films I enjoyed watching. Continue reading →
I am listening to Poochho na kaise maine rain bitaayi as I write this. I am hearing Manna Dey’s voice, bringing so much emotion, so much frustrated longing into “Ut jale deepak, it mann mera; phir bhi na jaaye mere mann ka andhera”. And I am remembering all the other songs of Manna Dey that I’ve loved over the years. Songs that I grew up with (and, more often than not back then, didn’t know who sang them). Songs that I loved from the very first moment I heard them. Songs that have grown on me. Songs that make Manna Dey immortal, even though he’s no more.
A couple of weeks back, I reviewed Genghis Khan (1965). Before that I’d reviewed Halaku (1956). In the nearly five years this blog’s been in existence, I’ve watched and reviewed dozens of historical films in various languages—from La Grande Guerra to Zulu, from Taj Mahal and Jahanara to Shahjehan and Humayun. I’ve reviewed films set in the ancient world, in the Middle Ages, in the 19th century.
As you can see, I’m a history buff. And, by extension (since I am also a movie buff), a keen watcher of historical films.
You could say Pran played, in a way, an important role in shaping my early film-watching days. My parents tell me that when Majboor (1974) was released, I—then a toddler—completely fell in love with one of its songs. My rendition of Michael daaru peekar danga karta hai (“Michael creates a ruckus after a few drinks”) was a little flawed. I cheerfully (and innocently) sang Michael daadu peekar ganda karta hai (“Grandpa Michael creates a mess after a few drinks”). But I thought the song was fabulous. I thought Michael was a good ‘un. And I thought—as I still do—that Pran (February 12, 1920 – July 12, 2013) was in a class by himself.
Pran, of course, was the quintessential villain. But in a cinema that had as many ‘invariably villains’ as ‘invariably heroes’, Pran stood out. Amongst the Madan Puris, the KN Singhs, the Jeevans, the Prem Chopras (and, to a lesser extent, or later, people like Prem Nath, Ajit, and Rehman), Pran was one of those who just had to appear onscreen for that moment of epiphany: Ah, here’s the villain.
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.