When I posted my review of Pakeezah last week, I mentioned that I’d be posting something further about Pakeezah. This is it, and the reason why I rewatched Pakeezah in the first place: I wanted to see, once again, the nuances of the film, before I got around to reading Meghnad Desai’s Pakeezah: An Ode to a Bygone World (Harper Collins; 2013; ISBN: 978-93-5029-369-0; 152 pages; Rs 250).
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.
Despite the fact that I love reading as much as I enjoy watching films, I don’t read too much cinema-related writing. Part of the reason is that a lot of what I see in bookstores consists of biographies or autobiographies, and I have a horror of picking up one of those, only to find myself reading the sordid details of people’s personal lives. I’m really not interested in that; what I do like to read is about films themselves, and the professional side of those who make them. (Though I’m happy reading anecdotes like how Madan Mohan persuaded Manna Dey to sing Kaun aaya mere mann ke dwaare, or how Mohammad Rafi got to meet his idol).
So, when I came across Om Books International’s Housefull: The Golden Age of Hindi Cinema (Ed. Ziya Us Salam) and saw that it was a collection of mini essays about the best films of the 1950s and 60s, I decided this might be right up my street.
A few days back, an editor from The Indian Express phoned to ask me if I’d like to review a book for them. Which book? Sidharth Bhatia’s Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story. Too mouthwatering an opportunity to miss, I decided, even though I already had a lot of work to get done. But here it is. You can read the final version (more concise, shorter, perhaps a bit less irreverent) here. And here, right after this sentence, is my first draft: longer, more full of trivia, a little more loony, and (of course!) with some screenshots.