Finally, someone has done what really needed to be done: written a book about my talented and gorgeous Indian mother Edwina and her background dancer friends, who appeared in pretty much every film from the 50s throughout the 1960s. She worked with all the greats from that era. Here’s a message from the author, Professor Surjit Singh, an avid film historian whose website I discovered early on as a treasure trove of information.
Dear Edu fans:
As you know today (July 22) is her birthday. You will be pleased to know that on this occasion a biography of Edu has been published. The book is ‘Edwina: An Unsung Bollywood Dancer of the Golden Era’ by Professor Surjit Singh.
I have read the book, and he begins with some really interesting information about the history of music and dance in Hindi cinema, and about the Anglo-Indians who worked in the industry from early on. He has included a lot of stories in Edu’s own words, and she as many of you know is very funny indeed. It’s a treat.
This movie is what would happen if Hrishikesh Mukherjee somewhat absent-mindedly directed the first half and then handed the reins over to Brij so that he could take the film off the rails in his usual bombastic style. It started off in rare style: I was willing to live with the fact that our pre-Partition setting of 1944 looked exactly like 1978 (Gaudy Clothing, Bad Hair); I even found Raj Kapoor’s presence delightful! In fact the performances in this were quite wonderful, all of them. It’s great fun to see Nadira, Tom Alter, Protima Devi and the only thing that kept it from completely self-destructing finally was the acting.
When the Curse of the Second Half hit, it hit hard. From a tentatively sweet Capra-esque story about regret and living life to its fullest, it ballooned with over-ambitious ideas until we were left watching a hapless director and his writers grabbing at straws to wind things up. Overdone tropes and ham-fisted preaching did not accomplish the job satisfactorily, I am sad to report.
I spent the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with my brother and his family, watching relatively recent Hollywood fare peopled with quirky, hilarious and (mostly) heartwarming characters (A Christmas Story, I Love You, Man and Duplicity). Steeped as I am at this point in watching decades-old cinema, with only occasional and generally disastrously noisy forays into today’s offerings, it was nice to see contemporary movies with *heart* and actual stories instead of an onrush of special effects. And so it is too with Chintuji, set in the utopian village of Hadbahedi—fictional birthplace of the very not-fictional Rishi Kapoor.
Rishi himself offers a little disclaimer at the beginning: “This film is part reality, part illusion and part fact, part fiction.” How I would love to discuss this statement with him, because he plays himself as a not very nice guy—and he is great at it! In fact, my main quibble with this movie is that it wanders off in too many directions instead of staying focused on The Man. But despite some flaws, it is a sweet and funny film about a Little Village That Could, with the unwilling help of its most famous export.
A new “old” Shammi film release with subtitles always gives rise to many huzzahs in this household. And when it’s a good film—well, my glee is almost uncontainable. There is nothing unique in the theme of this one (it’s a standard 1950s plea for a socialist Indian society: sharing and equality good, capitalism and greed bad), but the story is given an interesting treatment in its three separate stories which overlap, fittingly enough, at a crossroad. Each story is like the leg of a relay race, with the protagonist of one passing the baton to the next in a brief meeting at that crossing, until finally at the end all three converge. And what a cast: Raj Kapoor, Meena Kumari, Ajit, Nimmi, Kumkum and *ahem* Shammi!
My main problem with the movie is the choppy, facile ending. I am not sure if the original screenplay was written badly or if it is the result of poor editing, or deteriorating film stock, or what (possibly a combination of all of those things); but it’s jarring and more than a bit disappointing in the payoff. Of course, the payoff wouldn’t matter had the stories and characters leading up to it not been so engaging, and there’s the rub. It’s a good ride, until we get thrown off at the end!
This story would not even take up one handwritten purse-sized address book page, it is so lacking in substance. How then does it drag on for two hours! It was interesting for about the first half hour only because it stars a very young Raj Kapoor (he’s 23) and an even younger Madhubala (she’s 14!). Seeing these two legends so early in their careers (plus the fact that Raj sings his songs himself, and looks a lot like the very young Shammi) made the time pass. After that, I kind of wanted to shoot myself. It’s essentially about two young and naive lovers who are surrounded by people who want to break them up, but aren’t clever enough to do so. Luckily for them, the lovers aren’t very bright either; there is a lot of ludicrously silly plotting which results in even sillier lover’s spats, leaving me at least with the wish that they would all just shut up and end the film, already.
My latest Manmohan Desai kick (triggered by the insanity of Mard) continues with this film, and it’s oodles of fun too although not nearly as unpredictable. I didn’t even mind the innocent rustic Raj Kapoor-type character, mostly because it was enacted by his son Randhir, who is much more believable in the role (not sure if that’s really a compliment or not, but I mean it as one). Rekha and her sarees and hairdos were spectacular, and Shatrughan Sinha had plenty of style—and youth—on his side as well. Ranjeet and Padma Khanna (and Faryal) also made brief but gorgeous appearances, and the plot contained plenty of separated family members and coincidences.
So: lots of eye candy and a fast-paced action-packed story equals solid Desai-style entertainment, which is only enhanced by RD Burman’s lovely songs! Plus, removable snake tattooes!
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.
When KN Singh’s nephew Ajay (left above) introduced himself in a comment, I was thrilled. KN Singh has long been one of my favorite character actors. So I asked Ajay (whose father is KN’s younger brother) if he’d be willing to write a guest post and share some of his memories of that elegant, dapper, charismatic man. He has graciously sent me the following, hope you enjoy reading it as I did!