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 think this film was subtitled by someone with narcolepsy who kept suddenly falling asleep and upon awakening would simply continue working without going back to see what he had missed. Only about a third to half of the dialogue is subtitled, so I am not sure if my finding the plot difficult to follow was my fault, the narcoleptic subtitler’s fault, or the filmmaker’s fault. In any case, despite this handicap I found this highly entertaining. First of all, the Shankar Jaikishan songs are beautiful (although much of the background music is from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf—which is not a bad thing); secondly, it’s one of Nutan’s first films and she is lovely; and her hero is Nasir Khan (Dilip Kumar’s brother) in the first leading role I have seen him in. It also succeeds pretty well as an atmospheric mystery-suspense-thriller (it was given an “A” certificate by the censors).
(Image above is the back cover.)
Here are four more goodies from the “Best of” Stardust issue. The first is an expose (in her own words) of Nutan’s war with her mother Shobhana Samarth over money, and her wrath with Sanjeev Kumar when she discovers that he is behind the persistent rumors of her affair with him (she gives him a tight slap! Go girl!). Then we have an interesting short article speculating on the “Mangeshkar Monopoly” and whether Lata and Asha are sabotaging the careers of other singers. In the third, Rajesh Khanna and Anju Mahendru air their relationship dirty laundry (bit-ter!); and finally, Shashi Kapoor’s secretary accuses him of all sorts of shenanigans and loyal wife Jennifer leaps to his defense.
With all due respect to the film’s title, it is the mother and father of all Hindi family melodramas. A tangled epic of misplaced loyalties and self-sacrifice, it still has something which lifts it above regulation fare, at least for me. There is a slightly more complex plot—actually there is just a lot of plot; the film goes on forever (as does my post: you’ve been warned!). Also it doesn’t descend into the truly histrionic until about an hour or so in; up until then it’s an interesting story. It’s also blessed with some very good performances—Padmini as a proud street dancer and Ashok Kumar as a wealthy patriarch torn between his conscience and his pride are the standouts. The songs by Shankar Jaikishan are nice, and a Helen dance plus Pran’s usual slimy villainy don’t hurt either.
From the DVD cover: “the saga of an Indian woman…who helps her parents before marriage, and gives her all to her husband after marriage.” I should have run screaming, right? Especially since said Indian woman is also blind (and played by Nutan)? But Mumtaz, Laxmi Chhaya and the young Sanjeev Kumar are also in the cast so I decided to take a chance. Alas! it is every bit as bad as the DVD cover promised. I had to turn the whole thing into a drinking game: Greedy manipulative father figure lies to his “sons”? Drink! Blind woman weeps helplessly at her fate? Drink! Son sacrifices his own happiness (and that of his beloved) for no good reason? Drink! Blind woman gets sight back and devotes self to fake husband who spurns her? Drink!
Drink! Drink!! Driiink!!!!
My friend Asli Jat has done it again! He has sent me this episode of a 1987 series aired on Channel 4 in the UK called Movie Mahal (produced and directed by Nasreen Munni Kabir) and what a treat it is! It’s all about the “Miracle Man” Manmohan Desai—one of my favorite filmmakers, as anybody who’s spent any time here probably knows. He is interviewed, as is Amitabh Bachchan, and the interviews are interspersed with song clips from many of his films. I thought I’d put together a post with audio clips and screen shots since people enjoyed that format for the Bombay Superstar documentary so much. Manmohan Desai is a great deal of fun to listen to; he’s as intense and enthusiastic about his work as you could ever hope for! He calls himself a “dream merchant”—and breaks into song every now and again as well.
I have loved the music from this film for a long time, especially the great song “C.A.T. Mane Billi.” The composer Ravi is one of my favorites anyway, and this is one of his best soundtracks (I also love “Yeh Raatein Yeh Mausam”). The plot skitters along rapidly with some very bizarre twists and turns, a great deal of comic relief—some of it quite politically incorrect, yay!—and moments of genuine suspense, as well. Kishore Kumar is at his loony best and Nutan’s sweet loveliness is the perfect foil. Throw in some great character actors in early roles (Madan Puri! Iftekhar! Tun Tun!) and what a treat it is.
Take the plot of It Happened One Night, sprinkle in some ingredients from An Affair To Remember, then stir in a third plot which is completely nuts, and voila! it’s Basant. Two of my favorite Hollywood films and some masala craziness for the price of one Hindi film! Sure, there are huge plot holes and it’s nonsensical at times, but what do I care—especially when the hero and heroine are my beloved Shammi Kapoor and beautiful Nutan. They are great together: his nonchalant silliness complements her feisty character perfectly.
Plus, there’s Pran! and lovely music from OP Nayyar.