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.
Among the lesser-known films for which my Uncle Vernie played was Shrimatiji, made by (and featuring) some of his closest friends. IS Johar, who was one of Vernie Tau’s chums, wrote, directed, and acted in it. The three music composers for the film (Jimmy, Basant Prakash, and S Mohinder) too were friends of Vernie Tau’s, Jimmy an especially close pal.
My father had recently expressed a desire to watch this film, mainly to hear his elder brother’s music. When I discovered it starred Shyama (whose gorgeous smile and dancing eyes make her one of my favourites), I decided I needed to watch it too. And, since the only other film in which I’ve seen Nasir Khan was Ganga-Jamuna, I wanted to see if he was any different in a much earlier film.
The other day, I was thinking aloud, wondering what to do for my next blog post, and my husband said, “Review a comedy.”
So here it is. A review of a film that’s intentionally funny, and which, furthermore, stars one of my favourite Hollywood actors: the incomparable Cary Grant, a leading man who had a fantastic flair for comedy. In this one, he teams up with the equally superb Katharine Hepburn in a crazy story involving a millionaire aunt, a big game hunter, a tame leopard, and a Brontosaurus bone, among other odds and ends.
My original plan had been to watch and review Neecha Nagar, and follow it up by watching and reviewing Kurosawa’s Donzoko (also based on The Lower Depths). By the time I’d read Gorky’s play and seen Neecha Nagar, that plan had changed a bit—because I was feeling sorely in need of a funny film. La Grande Guerra was what I chose, because it had come highly recommended by friends whose judgment I trust.
Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das Indische Grabmal were, as Anu called them, ‘raja-rani’ (‘king-and-queen’) films, no matter how warped they may have been as examples of that genre. In line with my last post, therefore, here’s another film: also raja-rani, also set in the India of maharajas, evil plotters wanting to make a grab at a throne that’s not legitimately theirs, and a pretty lady at the heart of it all. Kohinoor, however, is a blessedly long way from Fritz Lang’s Indian epic. This film’s a rollicking farce mostly all through, with plenty of good songs, a great cast, and some superb comedy sequences.
One final tribute on which to end the year: a goodbye to another of the many luminaries who made our films of yesteryears what they were. This time, I’m remembering Blake Edwards, the writer, director and producer who made such varied films as Operation Petticoat, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Great Race, Victor Victoria and the Peter Sellers Pink Panther series—and who was also famous for being the husband of Julie Andrews. Edwards died on December 14, 2010, aged 88, and leaves behind a formidable array of work—plus much admiration. Polls during his time behind the camera showed that Edwards was that rare personage in Hollywood, a director who was a marketable commodity!
Unlike Madhumati and Aar Paar, where he was just a supporting actor (though, in my opinion, his contribution to both films far surpassed the actual screen time of the characters he played), in Chhoomantar Johhny Walker is not just the funny man, but also the hero. He gets to sing and dance (the latter even in drag!). He gets to woo a pretty heroine, be brother to another lovely lady, and he gets to kick some serious ass.
I don’t know how it happened that I missed the news of the death of Tony Curtis on September 29, 2010. My niece—who knows I’m mad about old cinema—was reading Time Magazine the other day and asked me, “Which movies did Tony Curtis act in?” Though I eventually named Some Like it Hot, Who Was That Lady?, also a comedy and total farce like Some Like it Hot, was one of the first films that came to mind.
When I asked my niece why she was asking about Tony Curtis’s films, she gave me the news that he’d died.
So, for the oh-so-attractive Mr Curtis, who swashbuckled his way through The Black Shield of Falworth and The Prince Who Was A Thief; who made us laugh with Operation Petticoat and Some Like it Hot, and who made a resounding statement—and antagonised a lot of people—by insisting that Sidney Poitier be billed alongside Curtis and not after him in The Defiant Ones… a tribute.
I have been singularly lucky lately: instead of watching (as I usually end up doing) one not-so-great film after another, I’ve actually watched two absolutely delightful films within a couple of days of each other. The first was The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming. The second, Dholak, was recommended by bollyviewer. It’s not listed on imdb, but it deserves all the publicity it can get, so I’m going to be doing my bit to say what a fabulous film this is.
Starring the ‘Lara Lappa Girl’ (as she was nicknamed after the success of Ek Thi Ladki) Meena Shorey opposite a very young and handsome Ajit, Dholak was the second of the films Meena Shorey made with her producer-director husband, the ‘King of Comedy’, Roop K Shorey. They had already made Ek Thi Ladki, which had proved a big hit. This one, released two years later, and with story and dialogues written by I S Johar (who had debuted in Ek Thi Ladki) is, in my opinion, even better than the earlier film.
When I was raving about Alan Arkin’s bloodcurdling performance as a ruthless killer in Wait Until Dark, memsaab—classic Bollywood aficionado, the inspiration for this blog, and font of knowledge of all things cinema—recommended this film as another Arkin showcase. And, my goodness, what a film. What a fabulously rollicking, hilarious, heart-warming film. I can’t believe I’ve spent so many years on this planet unaware of The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming.