Bunny Reuben’s biography of Pran, as many Pran fans would know, is called …and Pran: A Biography, a nod to the hundreds of credit sequences in which Pran—invariably one of the most prominent artistes in whichever film he was in—was listed at the end of the credits. A nod, not just to the fact that his character was more often than not at odds with the hero and heroine and their parents/friends/well-wishers listed first in the credits, but also that Pran deserved to be credited separately. A sort of ‘leaving the best for the last’? I like to think so.
In this film, even though he plays the title role, it’s no different. And Pran asHalaku.
You could say Pran played, in a way, an important role in shaping my early film-watching days. My parents tell me that when Majboor (1974) was released, I—then a toddler—completely fell in love with one of its songs. My rendition of Michael daaru peekar danga karta hai (“Michael creates a ruckus after a few drinks”) was a little flawed. I cheerfully (and innocently) sang Michael daadu peekar ganda karta hai (“Grandpa Michael creates a mess after a few drinks”). But I thought the song was fabulous. I thought Michael was a good ‘un. And I thought—as I still do—that Pran (February 12, 1920 – July 12, 2013) was in a class by himself.
Pran, of course, was the quintessential villain. But in a cinema that had as many ‘invariably villains’ as ‘invariably heroes’, Pran stood out. Amongst the Madan Puris, the KN Singhs, the Jeevans, the Prem Chopras (and, to a lesser extent, or later, people like Prem Nath, Ajit, and Rehman), Pran was one of those who just had to appear onscreen for that moment of epiphany: Ah, here’s the villain.
My family first acquired a TV in 1982. For the next few years, Doordarshan remained our main source of entertainment. And the films Doordarshan telecast at 5.45 PM every Sunday (and a couple of times during the week, mostly at odd times) were the highlights of the week. We saw loads of films during those years. Everything that was shown—from the simply horrendous Fauji to Fedora, which I didn’t understand—was grist to the family mill.
Looking back, I now realise just how tolerant I was back then of cinema that now induces irritation at best, ‘kill-this-film maker’ fury at worst. Watching Adalat now, after having first seen this when I was a pre-teen, I can see that what I thought of as a tragic but entertaining film is really not that great. In, fact, almost tedious.
After all the unhappiness over the past week or so – first Ravi’s death, and then Joy Mukherji’s – you’d think the last film I’d want to see would be one that starred the ultimate tragedy couple: Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari.
But, thanks to Anu, who assured me that Azaad was loads of fun, I decided I should try watching this one. And yes, Anu: I loved it. Loved Meena Kumari’s pretty peppiness. Loved Dilip Kumar at his swashbuckling, handsome, thoroughly attractive self. Loved the smoke rings (almost perfect circles) that Pran blew. Loved Sai and Subbulaxmi’s awesome dancing. Loved C Ramachandra’s fantastic music.
This particular Shammi Kapoor film has a very special place in my heart – because Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra was one of the first Hindi film songs I ever learnt to sing. I must’ve been about eight years old. I’d never seen the film; television was yet to make its way into our lives (it was just round the corner, though I didn’t get to see the song till much later). But I used to hear it now and then on radio, and sometimes on an LP my parents owned. I always did wonder who the heroine was, the woman who was praised for the fact that her ‘zulfon ka rang’ was sunehra, and who had jheel si neeli aankhein. Could she have been an Indian actress, I wondered? She sounded firang.
Nasir Hussain may have made his Tumsa Nahin Dekha story into four separate – and equally successful – films, but did that induce others to be original? On the contrary. Narinder Bedi, at least, probably seemed to think that what worked for Nasir Hussain might well work for him. Therefore, Mere Sanam, which has a storyline similar in many ways to Tumsa Nahin Dekha. (Both films also have fantastic music by OP Nayyar, by the way).
If Rajkumar is the trademark ‘Shammi Kapoor at his peak’ film, then Tumsa Nahin Dekha is an equally – if not more – important film, because this is the one that made Shammi Kapoor into the icon he was by the mid-60s. Till Nasir Hussain got Shammi Kapoor to shave off his moustache and act as the devil-may-care hero of this film, Shammi was (as my father puts it), “Just another actor with a thin moustache and the usual roles. Nothing exceptional.” Tumsa Nahin Dekha gave him the opportunity to transform from the half-hearted, unexceptional sort-of-hero into a Shammi Kapoor who became almost an institution in himself.
Yesterday morning, when I woke up and logged on to the Internet, the first news headline I saw was that Shammi Kapoor had passed away. I have never been so affected by the passing away of one of the many stars of the past who have died in the recent past… but the news of Shammi Kapoor’s death brought tears to my eyes. I have a lump in my throat even as I type this.
I had not really intended to write this review now. I am in the midst of a blog project in which each post links to the previous and the next posts in some way or the other. But I could not ignore the passing of my favourite actor. I would never forgive myself for that. So, while this post does have a connection to the last (Humayun was a ‘raja-rani’ – ‘king-and-queen’ – film; so is Rajkumar), it is, first and foremost, a tribute to the brightest, most joyous and most entertaining star of the 60s. A sun that will never set.
For anybody who’s been following my idea of ‘linked posts’ – each post connected to the one before, and to the one after – this probably comes as no surprise. And Then There Were None was based on Agatha Christie’s highly popular novel and play; Gumnaam is, in turn, an adaptation of And Then There Were None. Not a completely faithful adaptation, but a vastly entertaining one, as you’ll see if you scroll through the comments on my And Then There Were None post: most of my readers, even if they’ve not seen the Hollywood film, have had something to say about Gumnaam.
I’ve been very busy the last couple of days, and the busy-ness doesn’t look like it’ll come to an end soon. My husband, therefore (and what a model of husbandly devotion!) offered to write the review of Abe-Hayat for me. This, mind you, without having seen the film, just on the basis of a very sketchy gist I’d narrated of the first half while we were on our evening walk. Tarun said he’d do a 3-sentence review:
Once there was an evil jaadugar named Saamri. There was a prince, and a princess. The prince killed Saamri, and then he and the princess lived happily ever after.