It’s Labor Day here in the US and Canada, and let me tell you something: I have really labored for you guys. I recently got my hands on a very fragile and worn copy of Baburao and Sushila Rani Patel’s 1952 book called “Stars of the Indian Screen.” It features 36 actors and actresses, with a short biography of each accompanied by a gorgeous colored plate like the ones above. And though the book is credited as written by Sushila Rani Patel and edited by Baburao, the bios have Baburao’s trademark snark all over them, by which I mean they are awesome.
When I was a kid I dreaded the words “Let’s have a picnic!”. Picnics were nothing but an ordeal to get through: weather (the Beiges never let a little cold rain stop us), poison ivy, bugs, indifferent food. My father did not know or care to know how to barbecue so it was always sandwiches, which I could have just as easily eaten indoors where ants weren’t crawling on them.
Little did I dream in those days that halfway across the world beautiful people were picnicking in STYLE—even at night!
I really wanted to like this movie—Faryal as a heroine! The Shash as her hero! Lalita Pawar! Pran!—but I was forced to ponder these things instead:
- Why is Faryal the heroine so much less likable than Faryal the vamp?
- Is it possible for Prithviraj Kapoor’s sons to pull off being “poor”? (no)
- How many wimpy roles did Shashi play in the Sixties anyway?
- Is it better to ignore psychological issues than to completely eff them up?
- Is there anything funnier than absolutely literal subtitles?
- Is Lalita Pawar Awesome No Matter What? (yes)
- Is Pran the Most Suave Villain Ever? (yes again)
- Have I really seen two movies in a row where Lots of Mehmood wasn’t Too Much?
*Sigh* So much goodness squandered on a story full of trite saccharine platitudes (if you are rich, be kind to the poor; they are people too!) which descends finally into that melodrama I so dread, where the females in the story are either blamed or worshipped and lose any bit of individuality and humanity they might have had.
For me, An Evening In Paris = Pran’s bright orange Joker hair + lovely songs. It’s not one of my favorite Shammi films, although there is lots of pretty—especially Sharmila. In fact, everyone should have two hours of footage like this of themselves looking impossibly glamorous, heart-meltingly beautiful, and haughtily chic. If I were Sharmila I would probably watch this every day. Shammi is quintessential Shammi: he looks a little the worse for wear around the edges, but retains his considerable charm and his willingness to make a complete idiot of himself (one of my favorite things about him).
I think my main quibble is with the plot, which is all over the place (literally!), too long, and brain-dead in places. There’s also a complete lack of real character development. It’s as if Shakti Samanta just needed a backdrop for the music and stars and didn’t care about the rest; unfortunately it gets tedious, stylish though it is—the fashions and hair and sets, oh my! Plus it’s lovely to see the locations (Paris, Switzerland, Beirut, the Niagara Falls) as they were during that era, even if we are required to believe sometimes that Paris is filled with signs in German and that the French countryside looks just like India.
There is no power on earth that could stop me from watching a movie which begins like this. Raakhee as a vengeful dacoit?! Removing her bangles?! It just has to be awesome. I have a severe weakness for daku-dramas as it is, but toss in a girl gone bad (especially if it is Raakhee!) and I am even happier. Plus there are subtitles, although they are unreadable about fifty percent of the time. Female kickassery, a strong moral center and plenty of plot twists enable me to say that this film basically delivers on its promise.
Rajesh Khanna makes a fabulous
Tarzan Dara Singh hero in this tale of palace treachery which extols the moral superiority of animals over man, a message I wholeheartedly endorse. Zeenat Aman plays a wild jungle girl (yes, it is as hilarious as it sounds), the rightful heiress to her murdered father’s throne, who has been raised from infancy by a very maternal gorilla—by which I mean a guy in an ape suit.
Plus, Pran as Dr. Doolittle! Oh, how I love B-movies. I was fortunate to get this one from my dear friend and Rajesh devotee Suhan, who also watched it with me and filled me in on all the unsubtitled goings-on—and there is a lot going on.
The best thing about this movie is that stars Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari don’t stab their own eyes out or cry through the whole thing (in fact they don’t cry at all!). It is a real treat to see them laughing and carefree even in a very silly story. Unfortunately much more screen time and emphasis is given to what amounts to the Comic Main Plot, in which a new-to-the-area police inspector (Raj Mehra) tries vainly to get the incredibly dumb head constable Motilal (Om Prakash) to help him solve the many serious (robbery and murder) crimes which have taken place in his locality. These crimes are blamed on two supposed dacoits, Chander and Azaad, whose identities remain mysterious to the police; they are not even sure that Chander and Azaad aren’t the same man.
Motilal’s main schtick is that he has two wives and nine children and is lazy, incompetent and stupid. His relationship with his new Inspector seems to take up about two-thirds of the movie, leaving no room for development of the romance between hero and heroine or a plot that makes any sense. I like Om Prakash and Raj Mehra and all, but it seems like a huge waste of two of the biggest stars of the time!
True confession: I really can’t sit still through an entire Hindi movie without getting up to fidget. I wake up Gemma and irritate pet her, check my email, pour another glass of wine. The films are just so long and my attention span so short. But during this one I didn’t want to MOVE—I was positively riveted to my chair. There is no romance, no hero-heroine (and only three songs, each one a gem): it is an ensemble film, and what an ensemble it is! The finest character-actor-villains of the time play cohorts in crime who are joined by thief Vinod Khanna when one of them betrays the others. It is stylish and suspenseful entertainment at its best.
Mumtaz simply cannot be contained in a list of ten songs only: she had the good fortune to work in an era—and in films—with such great music, that I just find it impossible. Not only that, but because she was often the heroine (first mostly in so-called B-movies of the sixties, then as an A-list star in the seventies) she usually had three or four songs per film, unlike women who were confined mostly to dances or small supporting roles.
Since Mujhe Jeene Do’s seed was sown during the making of Usne Kaha Tha, it is only right that the latter forms a part of these memoirs. The making of Usne Kaha Tha was quite eventful for my father. Without going into too much detail I will just briefly touch upon the so called ‘events’. During the wedding scene (dad and Nanda’s wedding), he suffered an electric shock; then during the war scene his leg landed in a trench. There was a plank of wood placed on the trench which broke as he ran over it, and the last straw on the camel’s back was when he almost got trampled by an army tank. If Sunil Dutt hadn’t pushed him out of the way just in the nick of time he would have been—well I do not need add anything, it is pretty obvious what would have happened.