Just in time to rescue me from my self-inflicted melodrama trauma come some old Filmindia magazines! If you are unfamiliar with Filmindia, it was one of the first film magazines published in India (if not the first—inaugurated in the 1930s), written and edited by a hilariously acerbic gentleman by the name of Baburao Patel. His caustic wit and sharp tongue are legendary and he spared nobody—politicans and film people alike were all fair game for his particular brand of satirical sarcasm.
In his fantastic book “Stars From Another Sky” Saadat Hasan Manto has written a whole chapter on Baburao Patel. In it he says: “Babu Rao wrote with eloquence and power. He had a sharp and inimitable sense of humour, often barbed. There was a tough-guy assertiveness about his writing. He could also be venomous in a way which no other writer of English in India has ever been able to match.” He also describes meeting the infamous editor for the first time: “I had imagined that the author of such elegant and finely-honed humour would be slim and good-looking, but when I saw a peasant sitting in a revolving chair behind a huge table, I was disappointed.” Manto paints a picture of a self-made man who couldn’t stand the arrogant elite, but had a soft heart and was always willing to help out an underdog.
Baburao’s reviews bore titles like: “Adl-e-Jehangir—Crude and Stupid Picture. A Sindhi Murders Moghul History” and “Jalwa—Another Killing Trash From Shorey. A Visual Torture For Two Hours.”
Here is an excerpt from his November 1955 review of Shree 420 (a film that I liked only slightly more than he did, by the way). It is titled “Shree 420—An Anti-Social Picture. A Pathetic Burlesque Of A Noisy Producer”
Boring And Unconvincing
This is the story of a character who is supposed to be a graduate from the Allahabad University and a gold medallist in honesty and who had arrived in Bombay to “become something” with hard and honest work. Well, we never saw him doing any hard, honest and earnest work. We saw him taking the corrupt road in life at the least provocation and then calling society dishonest while at the same time practising unrestrained dishonesty himself. This character therefore totally fails to win sympathy and the picture fails to signify anything in spite of all its sound and fury and slapstick.
As entertainment the picture has an unbearable length of over 16000 feet and becomes a memorable piece of boredom. However, the production values are excellent. Achrekar’s sets are impressive and his efforts to simulate realism must be rated efficient. Photography is good throughout. Sound is well recorded. A couple of lyrics are interesting while the music ranges from popularly pleasant to dull and familiar. The dialogue carries the mark of K.A. Abbas in its raving, ranting and sermonizing character. Apart from technical gloss, the direction is poor and unimpressive.
From the players, Raj Kapoor as Raj Kumar Saxena thrusts himself on the screen most of the time obviously presuming too much attraction in his antics and outpourings. With the exception of some scattered pieces his clowning falls flat and where he tries to ape Charlie Chaplin he invites little respect as an artiste. In serious moments he fails to convince. On the whole his work is pretty mediocre. Nargis plays a spineless role as Vidya, but she gives a convincing and dignified performance. Nadira as the seductive Maya looks more ludicrous with that cigarette holder than convincing. Nemo as Seth Sonachand Dharmanand looks a dead man except when his massive chin starts quivering on some provocation. From the rest only Lalita Pawar deserves notice as a fruit vendor and she gives an excellent performance.
In fine, “Shree 420″ is 16000 and odd feet of flat farce and silly drivel. It is boring in entertainment, confused and stupid in theme.
Apparently, the Kapoors were not his favorites. He had a reputation for being extremely biased on a personal level, and for bashing up people he didn’t care for. According to Manto, when Filmindia was initially launched it was almost exclusively about film, although by the 1950s he wrote generally about politics and other subjects in addition (sex being a favorite as well).
In one of my issues he writes a very funny article about Prohibition where he recommends that India become “An Egg-And-Beer Nation.” To wit:
Considering that 99.2% of Germans drink only beer round the clock (German Lager Beer contains only 3% alcohol) and on that they fought two world wars within 25 years and are still growling; considering that Germans are still on top of the world in scientific progress; considering that the average span of life in Germany is 65 years, we feel that in beer we have the final solution of our Prohibition problem which is fast making our country a continent of criminals. In a country with an average adult weight of 80 lbs and the span of life dangerously shuttling between 26 and 32 years, beer seems to be the only nectar that will save our race from being extinct.
He adds: “It will easily add warmth, sincerity and character to our Congressmen’s speeches” and then writes a paragraph extolling the nutritional excellence of the egg.
There are a lot of stills from films in production throughout, which have been captioned by Baburao himself and are v. amusing.
I will share more of these gems (and there are some fabulous hand-colored pictures of various stars as well) on an ongoing basis. And for more bits of Baburao Patel wisdom, don’t miss these posts here and here over at Upperstall.
And the cover shown above has inspired me to order a DVD of the film Insaniyat, too. It’s a swashbuckler starring Dilip Kumar and a chimp from Hollywood named Zippy! How can that possibly go wrong?
Images scanned from the September and November 1955 issues of Filmindia magazine.