Topkapi (1964)

RIP, Maximilian Schell.

Of the cinema personalities who have passed on recently and to whom I’ve posted tributes on this blog, nearly all have been people I’ve watched in at least a few films each. People (like Eleanor Parker, who for years I knew only as the Baroness from The Sound of Music) whom I may not initially have been utterly enamoured of, but whom I’ve grown to like and admire after having watched them in numerous roles. Joan Fontaine, Peter O’Toole, Suchitra Sen

The Austrian-born Maximilian Schell (December 8, 1930-February 1, 2014) is the exception, because this is one actor whom I’ve seen—before I watched Topkapi—in only one role: as the earnest young lawyer in Judgment at Nuremberg. Just one performance (an Oscar-winning one), mind you, and that was enough to make me a Max Schell fan. Enough of a fan to mourn his passing.

Maximilian Schell, 1930-2014 Continue reading

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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The Egyptian (1954)

…and it’s a historical, again!

Frequent visitors to this blog would probably by now have realised that I have a weakness for history and historical films.  Give me a sword and sandals epic, a Mughal extravaganza, or just about any film set in the ancient, medieval, or even early modern world, and I’m happy. Even happier when it’s a somewhat unusual setting. And more when the film maker has spent two years researching the film.

The Egyptian is set in the Egypt of 3,300 years ago. The main story plays out as a flashback, the memories of old Sinuhe (Edmund Purdom), who looks back on his life.

Edmund Purdom with Michael Wilding in The Egyptian Continue reading

Deep Jwele Jaai (1959)

It’s sad that, over the past year or so, barely a month has passed without my having to post a tribute to yet another film personality who’s passed on. Last month, with Eleanor Parker, Joan Fontaine and Peter O’Toole passing away within days of each other, I thought it couldn’t get worse. And I hoped that 2014 would be better.

But, alas. We say goodbye to yet another luminary of the film world. This time, the beautiful and very talented (not to mention wildly popular) Suchitra Sen (April 6, 1931-January 17, 2014), who made a mark in Hindi cinema even in the few films she acted in (Bombai ka Babu, Devdas, Mamta and Aandhi being the best-known), but ruled Bengali cinema.

Suchitra Sen Continue reading

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

Oliver! (1968)

People who’ve been frequenting this blog for the past couple of years probably know by now that there’s one annual tradition I follow on Dusted Off: every year, on my birthday—which is today, January 8—I post a review of a film featuring someone born on the same date as me. I’ve reviewed films featuring well-known stars born on January 8: Nanda, Elvis Presley, Fearless Nadia—and some lesser-known but also good ones, like José Ferrer and Kerwin Matthews.

This year, I’m wishing a happy birthday to Ron Moody (born January 8, 1924), the British actor whose first film appearance was back in 1958, and who’s acted all the way up to (according to IMDB) 2010. To celebrate Mr Moody’s 90th birthday, I’ll be reviewing the film that won him a Golden Globe, as well as an Oscar nomination—Oliver!, the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, aka The Parish Boy’s Progress.

Ron Moody as Fagin in Oliver! 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

Ten of my favourite filmi wedding songs

It’s wedding season in Delhi (has been, in fact, for the past couple of months). Almost every night, there’s a large shamiana at our local municipal park. There are traffic jams because of huge baaraats, all the women laden with jewellery and tinsel. We see white mares (or, in some cases, a pair of mares pulling a flower-bedecked ‘chariot’) trotting along on roads. We hear a lot of music—or what passes for music.

In fact, every time I hear the sort of music that’s played at many Delhi weddings, I’m tempted to go up to whoever’s acting the DJ, and ask them to play some good shaadi songs.
Since I can’t actually do that, I decided to create my own list: ten Hindi film songs that are directly related to weddings. (Which is why Ab ke baras bhej bhaiyya ko baabul or Laali-laali doliya mein laali re dulhaniya don’t qualify; the words relate to a wedding, but the context is completely different).

Ten wedding songs, therefore, from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. Enjoy!

Waheeda Rehman as a bride in Chaudhvin ka Chaand Continue reading

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Merry Christmas!
Aka Indiscretion, which doesn’t sound quite so Christmassy (in fact, it sounds rather more like a Hitchcock film) but describes this one better. Because this film, while it is about an eventful Christmas in Connecticut, is more about an indiscreet little bunch of lies, and the amount of hot water they land their perpetrators in.

Christmas in Connecticut (aka Indiscretion), 1945 Continue reading

Random thoughts on lives, deaths, and tributes

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).

Joan Fontaine in Rebecca
Peter O'Toole in The Night of the Generals

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