What is a country to do if its economy suddenly takes a nosedive? What if the country’s sole source of income is a product that’s suddenly no more in demand? Are economic reforms in order? Or a smart political move?
No; I’m not talking a 1950s tale of courage and enterprise in the face of economic disaster (not in the way one would’ve expected, at any rate). Not when you know that the star of this film—in a triple role, too, one of which is a woman—is the inimitable Peter Sellers. And not when you know that it revolves around a fictitious country, supposedly the smallest in the world, which decides that what its economy needs for a turnaround is to declare war on the United States of America.
Yash Chopra’s debut as a director, Dhool ka Phool is unusual in a lot of ways.
Leela Chitnis, for instance, is not a coughing-her-guts out (or basket-making) pathetic old mum.
The hero and heroine travel by train—and that too in trains that go over bridges—without the train falling into the river or crashing and the protagonist losing their memory in the process. Or being given up for dead.
And two people in love in the first half-hour of the film end up moving on in life and not loving each other till the end of time.
On the flip side, it does have a long-lost mother feeling an inexplicable affection towards a strange boy, who for no reason that he can fathom, instinctively calls her “Ma!” It does have a thunderstorm at the end of a love song, with the expected consequences [read: raging hormones, libido and “Humein aisi galti nahin karni chaahiye thhi”]. And it does have Manmohan Krishna being the goodie-two-shoes who stands up for what is right and righteous.
Or, if you want the complete, expanded name, Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Moonlight and Rain), named for the collection of supernatural stories by 18th century Japanese writer, Ueda Akinari. Two of the stories from this book—Asaji ga Yado (House amid the Thickets) and Jasei no In (Lust of the White Serpent) were adapted, and directed by Kenji Mizoguchi in what was to become one of the most highly acclaimed Japanese films of all time: Ugetsu went on to win the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival; has been listed as one of the best films made in Sound and Sight magazine’s top ten critics poll; and has appeared in countless other ‘best movies’ lists.
Without wasting more time on listing its achievements, though, something about what the story is all about.
We begin with a brief introduction to the time and place. This is 18th century Japan; a civil war is raging; and in a small rural community, the villagers are trying hard to keep body and soul together despite the violence that surrounds them. When we get into the story proper, it’s to find a potter, Genjûrô (Mayasuki Mori), loading a consignment of his pottery onto a cart to take to market.
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).
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.
The other day, scrolling through previous posts, I realised I hadn’t reviewed any Hollywood films for a while (to be honest, I’ve not even watched many Hollywood films over the past couple of months). I also realised that it’s been ages since I watched any films starring Tyrone Power, one of my favourite Hollywood actors. Time to amend that, I decided. So I got out a Power film I hadn’t watched before. An Irving Berlin production, replete with good songs and plenty of Ty candy.
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.
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.
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.
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].