Today is the 100th birth anniversary of one of my favourite Hindi film actors, the extremely talented, very versatile Balraj Sahni. Born on May 1, 1913 (an interesting coincidence, considering he went on to become the first president of the leftist All India Youth Federation), Balraj Sahni became a prominent writer—first in English, later in Punjabi—and, of course, a brilliant, much-respected actor, with a dignity and screen presence that made him stand apart in films as different as Do Bigha Zameen, Waqt, Kabuliwaala, Haqeeqat, Anuradha, and Sone ki Chidiya.
What better way to launch a new year than with a post on one of my favourite actresses? That too on her birthday?
Yes, today, January 1, is the 78th birthday of the beautiful Shakila. Star of my all-time favourite ‘Bollywood noir’ suspense film, CID. Star of one of my favourite Shammi Kapoor films, China Town. Star of one of my favourite Muslim socials, Nakli Nawab. Luminously lovely. Friendly (as Edwina Lyons can probably testify). And a good actress.
We’ve mourned the passing of a favourite star, but now—in the yin and yang way of zindagi and maut that Anand would possibly have appreciated—it’s time to celebrate a birthday. Today, July 21st, is the 77th birthday of a very lovely lady who began a career in cinema, appeared in some landmark films, and then bagged her biggest offscreen role: as the wife of possibly India’s best-loved comedian ever. This is Noor, the beautiful Mrs Johnny Walker.
Why not begin, I thought, where I left off in my last post? The last song I listed in my post on my ten favourite Waheeda Rehman songs was Jaane kya tune kahi, from Pyaasa. Interestingly, this was also the first song in the film. It’s a film I’ve seen a few times – always with increasing appreciation, as I begin to see more nuances, more things to admire about it. But do I really have anything new to say about Pyaasa that hasn’t been said before?
Did the producer and director Devendra Goel specialise in film names that incorporated numbers? Have a look at this (admittedly select) filmography: Ek Saal, Ek Phool Do Maali, Ek Mahal ho Sapnon ka, Do Musafir, Dus Lakh… Was he, perhaps, doing a countdown to what he hoped would be some blockbuster magnum opus that would put Mughal-e-Azam or Mother India firmly and permanently in the shade?
I don’t know, but this I can say: of all the Devendra Goel films I’ve seen (six), this is by far the best. It’s coherent, interesting, romantic – and it stars a wonderful lead couple: Ashok Kumar and Madhubala.
The buy-a-film-because-of-a-song bug bites again. I’ve had this happen to me umpteen times, and the symptoms are invariably the same: I remember hearing a lovely song (generally back in the long-ago days of my childhood), and I think, if the music is so fabulous, what must the film be like? (Yes, a nincompoop’s logic, but what the hell). Sometimes, I discover on imdb that the film has a cast I like. Very occasionally, I even find that it has a director I have great faith in.
When a film, besides starring the beautiful Mala Sinha, also includes three more of my favourite actors—Ashok Kumar, Helen and Johnny Walker—and features a deliciously romantic song, I can’t not buy.
To bring Johnny Walker Week to a close, a post from his daughter Tasneem Khan, about a friendship whose depth few people were aware of. Over to Tasneem:
My major complaint against Hindi cinema has been that we’ve never given comedy the sort of status it’s received in the West. True, there has been the occasional classic comedy – Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Dekh Kabira Roya, Dholak and Padosan, for example – but as a genre it seems to have been largely neglected. Which, in turn, has meant that comic actors have also often not been given due respect for their talents. Making people laugh is I think more difficult than making them cry: and Johnny Walker is one of the very few who’ve excelled at the art. Here, therefore, are some of his roles that I find the most memorable. All, of course, from films that I’ve seen.
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.