Archive for July, 2012

July 30, 2012

Daaera (1953)

This is one of the strangest films I’ve seen in a very long time. It clocked in at a little over 2 hours, so I am not sure if there were pivotal scenes missing or what, but I spent the entire time feeling like I was playing catch-up and losing rather badly. Certainly Kamal Amrohi had a lot he wanted to convey, but he seemed to also want to keep us guessing at whatever it was. It did strike me that it is a movie about assumptions: assumptions that the characters and the audience make are turned over and inside out one by one. That could have been interesting; but the story is excruciatingly slow and largely unrewarding, like watching paint dry in the burning sun on a hot sticky day (but slower and more agonizing) and then realizing the color has turned red instead of the blue you wanted.

One of my major issues with it is that none of the characters are terribly well-developed, so that instead of being involved with their stories I feel much more like a neutral spectator, held at arm’s length from any real emotion. That could have been intentional, but it doesn’t work for me. My favorite thing about the film is probably the music, composed by the hitherto unknown to me Jamal Sen. It is pretty mournful (the whole thing is really), but very very beautiful indeed from the opening title music to the end.

July 27, 2012

Edu Productions updates

We have added two wonderful movies to our film selection on the Edu Productions page starring two of Hindi cinema’s most beautiful luminaries: Prabhat’s Amar Jyoti (1936) starring Durga Khote as a pirate queen, and Kamal Amrohi’s hard to find Daaera (1953) starring Meena Kumari.

Check them out, along with the other movies there if you haven’t yet. Subtitled by Raja and Ava, video cleaned up by Tom; you can either watch them on YouTube or download the DVD files (as always, follow Tom’s excellent included instructions). Enjoy!

July 20, 2012

Fiffty Fiffty (sic) (1981)

This is maybe not the post I should choose to write in memory of Rajesh Khanna, but it happened to already be under construction and he was so charming in the film…so why not? One shouldn’t defy kismat.

I loved this lunatic movie. It cannot by any stretch be called either well-written or even wildly original, but it is solidly entertaining if you like this sort of thing (illogical melodrama) which I do. Infants are switched at birth for nefarious purposes and spirited away for good ones; one of the villains is a bitter hunchback; we have con artists conning each other, a mute illiterate downtrodden mother trying to communicate a terrible secret (and failing) for years and years and years, divine intervention at moments of sheer despair, and the Rainbow Splendor of Disco—a mishmash that makes this one hard to forget. Laxmikant Pyarelal’s music is good fun, and I love the cast, too: even the completely age-inappropriate Rajesh Khanna-Tina Munim pairing works, maybe because Tina’s character is so worldly-wise that she doesn’t seem young. Plus Rajesh seems to be enjoying himself thoroughly, as he should, and is very handsome indeed.

July 18, 2012

The complicated superstar

I woke up to more sad news this morning: another Memsaab favorite, Rajesh Khanna, has passed away. It is not a surprise, really; anyone seeing his frail frame over the last months knew that he was very ill. But in typical Rajesh fashion, he kept the facts to himself and his loved ones and let the speculation run rampant. As a latecomer to the phenomenon that was Rajesh Khanna, with possibly a slightly more objective view of things (only possibly and slightly), I have always been struck by the frenzy—both negative and positive—around him. Even his appearance recently in an ad for Havells fans brought controversy, with many feeling that he had been mocked without being aware of it. I said it then, and I’ll say it now: I think people, even many of his fans, constantly underrated Kaka’s intelligence, sensitivity and sense of humor. I think he knew very well that the ad was playing on his lost superstardom, and I think he thought it was funny.

July 17, 2012

Khoon Aur Paani (1981)

A daku-drama in the iconic mold of Manmohan Desai—what could possibly go wrong? Not much, I am pleased to report, at least as far as the film itself goes. The people in it suffer plenty, though, especially Feroz Khan’s angsty dacoit tortured by amnesia and an inexplicable phobia of water-pumps. Writer/director Chand hits every masala note he can think of even if not much is done with some of them  (religious imagery, for instance, seems thrown in there for no good reason). A young family broken up, lockets and tattoos, socially respectable but morally bankrupt villains, blood transfusions replete with filmi irony (get it? irony? sorry), plus all the standard dacoit movie delights (beautiful horses, black pagris, tilaks, golden earrings), and a great cast make this one a complete paisa vasool winner.

July 12, 2012

The gentle giant

My heart hurts again today on hearing that another cinema great—in body and in spirit—has left us.

As I said over at Todd’s blog (he has written at least as much if not more about Dara than I have): it makes me hope there is a heaven, and that I’ve been a good enough person on earth to get up there and have a drink and a big Punjabi feast with him and Shammi. Edwina taught him how to do The Twist for Cha Cha Cha and said that he was a lot of fun to work with, which is not at all difficult to believe.

Rest in peace, Dara Sahab, and thank you for all the great fun you’ve left with us. This world is much emptier without you.

July 7, 2012

Shaheed (1948)

Most of you know by now that I am not terribly enamored of “earnest” movies that bludgeon the audience (i.e. me) repeatedly with trite patriotic messages. I feared this film would be like that but happily I was wrong. It is very enjoyable: part history lesson, part celebration of newly independent India, part debate whether violence is ever justified or not—still a relevant topic. Mostly, though, it’s a film about relationships, the most powerful one at hand being that between a young freedom fighter (Dilip Kumar) and his father (Chandramohan) with British loyalties. The title Shaheed (Martyr) can be applied to just about every character in the film, but the performances are, if sometimes a bit melodramatic, always heartfelt. I did get an excellent Chandramohan Nahiiin! Face but that can only be called a bonus. With eyes like that, how can he help it? The characters are well-drawn and complex, and there are touches of humor throughout to lighten what could otherwise be (okay, IS) a pretty depressing plot. And the chemistry between Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal is very sweet, too.

July 3, 2012

Prince (1969)

Reader Chris brought the sad lack of reviews on the internet of this film to my attention recently, and I am surprised. This is a really fun film, and though Shammi is admittedly towards the end of his career as a hero, he is still the Shammi who made hearts go pitter-patter. The songs are classic Shanker-Jaikishan-Rafi-Shammi, with the dance-off between Helen and Vijayanthimala probably its most well-known feature. But there’s so much more to it than that! Shammi is less exuberant than the Yahoo Shammi of early in the decade, which gives his performance a more subdued realism. He plays Prince Shamsher Singh, the jaded, bored, arrogant son of the Maharajah of Ramnagar (Ulhas); the film is about how wealth and privilege do not guarantee happiness, not by a long shot. This theme—and the setting, at the twilight of the Princely States—may be be trite, but they are no less valid; and the screenplay and story are penned by none other than Abrar Alvi. And the supporting cast…let’s just say it is a gift that keeps on giving.

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