April 18, 2012: The Wah!-Wah!-WayBack Machine

Since the local Hindi cinemas have been stuck in Houseful mode since Kahaani left town (and I have to draw the line, somewhere!) Julie and I have been digging back, on dvd,  with our own “WayBack Machine” to see what we could have been watching in our elementary school days, if we had known what we were missing…and had been in Bombay.  Wah!  Wah!  Wonderful!

 

Jenny K:  I finished watching Namak Haraam (1973), the second film that Jayesh loaned me, and he didn’t steer me wrong!  You and I are both an easy sell on Amitabh Bachchan films, and this has the bonus of being a classic Indian Bromance (aren’t they all!) opposite Rajesh Khanna.  I  hadn’t seen Rajesh in anything except cameo appearances in more recent films (Aa Ab Laut Chalen, the huge group number in OSO).  Add to this a very, very young Rekha (practically didn’t recognize her without her now patented glamour look!) and well, what’s not to like?

The basic plot is predictable, but the performances make it well worth watching.   Somu (Rajesh) is the poorer half of two best buddies in Delhi.  The rich half is Vicky (Amitabh).  Both have lost parents at a very young age, and the boys “adopted” the other’s to fill in the gaps.  Vicky calls Somu’s mother and sister “Maa” and “Behen,” while Somu sees Vicky’s father as the hard-boiled business mogul he never had.  They’d both gone to law school and were clerking at the same firm, until one got fired, so the other quit in solidarity.  Vicky, despite his wealth, is a bit of a lost soul, and keeps turning to the bottle, drinking and going to see the nautch girls (in upscale joints, of course) and dragging Somu along with him to try to keep him on the ragged edge of the straight and narrow.

The trouble ramps up when Vicky’s father has a heart attack and asks Vicky to take his place as the head of the family millworks.  He agrees reluctantly (too much like actual work) and leaves for home.  Somu can’t handle being away from his Bro for more than a week or two and comes to join him.   Vicky doesn’t know how to handle the union boss, Bipinlal (the omnipresent AK Hangal) and insults him, not realizing the union will go on strike.  To end it, his father forces Vicky to apologize to Bipinlal, in public, advising him to revenge himself in secret, after the mill is operational.  Somu offers to go undercover and undermine Bipinlal’s position from the inside…getting Vicky’s revenge by humiliating the older man.

It goes fairly well, until soft-hearted Somu finds “seeing how the other half lives” can be a profoundly affecting experience.  Vicky had no idea what life-changing results would come of his seemingly harmless plans.  Will they even still be friends at the end???  On Youtube for free…

Julie M:  I’ve really gotten a taste for these heartfelt, 1970s “best buds” movies.  It’s a part of Indian culture that I find very sweet, and something that’s just not explored enough here.  Maybe because in the US there’s no way to talk about this kind of bond without bringing either sex or disgusting bodily functions into it.

 

Jenny K:  Don’t speak of such things!  Shudder

The performances were good, as one would expect from a gifted “actor’s director” like Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Abhimaan), and our heroes made the twists rather touching, if not exactly surprising.  Rajesh comes off a bit better, because he isn’t presented as a confused juvenile in an extremely long three piece suit.  You never doubt Vicky’s feelings, but often doubt he’ll ever grow up. Somu definitely does. Spoilers in this video, but you see what I mean…

My favorite actor in a lesser role is Raza Murad as Alam the poet.  Six foot three, with the rakish grin of a young Clark Gable when we meet him careening down a dark street, spouting his ghazals.  Somu is attracted to him immediately, and so was I.  The scene where he’s defending his neighbor’s wife and his final scene are both very touching, and I mean to keep a look out for him in some of his other films (over 270!).  What a great voice and why haven’t I seen him before? 

Julie M:  Wow.  Great performance in that clip.  I’m glad you are getting into the glory that is Rajesh Khanna.  We already spoke about how much I loved Anurodh, and tonight’s feature was Ajnabee (Stranger, 1974), a typical romance/thriller of the era starring lots of garish costumes and Rajesh Khanna’s perennially bad hair. No bromances, though—just good-old-fashioned thwarted lovers.

Rohit Kumar Saxena (Khanna) is the night stationmaster at a remote rail outpost, when his sleepy duties are interrupted by a young woman Sonia (Yogita Bali) rushing to get to Bombay. She misses the last train and he offers her his apartment, rather than having to sleep on the platform overnight. She agrees, giving him her attache case to hold in his safe: it is filled with jewelry given to her by her estranged mother. In his apartment she remarks on a painting; he tells her it was painted by his wife, from whom he is separated.

This disclosure prompts a lengthy flashback to the meet-cute between Rohit and Rashmi (Zeenat Aman), a young, attractive heiress. They accidentally re-meet at his cousin’s wedding, and he entertains the gathering with a story of how he met a girl that day (shades of Anurodh, 3 years earlier!).

Of course they fall in love. She is being pursued by her deceased sister’s widower Moti (Prem Chopra), who wants to marry her to keep his grip on the family’s fortune. Moti runs Rohit out of town but at the train station Rashmi catches up to him, and they elope to Bombay.  

Wedded bliss ensues, but she soon grows bored at home and starts a modeling career to Rohit’s dismay. A tragic misunderstanding estranges the couple, Rashmi runs back to her father and Moti, and so Rohit takes his stationmaster position.

Back in the present, Sonia has turned up dead in Rohit’s apartment, and he’s charged with killing her to steal the jewelry. The case against him seems solid: will Rohit be convicted and never see Rashmi again? If not Rohit, who really killed Sonia and why? Will Moti succeed in his plan to get Rashmi and her money?

I found Ajnabee quite enjoyable. Khanna and Aman had great chemistry and made a very convincing couple-in-love.  He rocked some awesome leisure suits (complete with pit-stains, chee!) and her wardrobe of flashy chiffon saris sometimes made my eyes burn, but I overlooked all that because of one number called “Satrah Baras Ki Chhokariyan” where she gets high on bhang and imagines herself in a particularly saucy dance performance. The thriller aspects are quite effective even with the horribly tinny soundtrack, and the pacing, quick. I’m growing an appreciation for Rajesh Khanna…Ajnabee is definitely worth a watch if you run across it.

 

Jenny K:  Sounds like fun, even if I’m not overly fond of the Seventies ooh-ooh-ouvre.

 

Julie M:  Oh, but you HAVE to love Zeenat.  I haven’t seen her in much, but this has her all over it.  By the way, this film shouldn’t be confused with the 2001 thriller by the same name, starring Akshay Kumar, Bobby Deol, Kareena and Bipasha. The newer movie has a character named Sonia who is mysteriously found dead and the lead character (Bobby) is accused of her murder, but that’s where the similarity ends. It’s not a remake. But the 2001 one sounds really cool, I love Akshay in thriller-mysteries, and I’ll have to try and find it. Or maybe I’ll just watch this video over and over.

Jenny K:  I saw the 2001 Ajnabee and it’s a remake of Consenting Adults (1992).  Let’s just say that Akshay (even with his oh-so-charming smile), Bobby Deol, and Kareena Kapoor can’t hold up to the original cast: Kevin Spacey, Kevin Kline and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. With their combined acting chops, the earlier cast made even a fairly salacious film idea palatable. Consenting Adults  is on Youtube, in pieces, for comparisons.

 

Julie M:  I never saw Consenting Adults, but Kevin Kline…one of my faves.

Adding one more old movie to the list…I watched Teen Deviyan (Three Beauties, 1965).  It must have been quite the sensation when it came out…but more on that later.

Plot summary: handsome Dev (Dev Anand) is an amateur poet who has just taken a job as a clerk in a music store and rented a room in a big house. As he is moving in he meets Nanda (Nanda), a feisty, attractive secretary who also has a room in the house, and they start a very close friendship.

Next, he has an automotive encounter with another woman, who turns out to be the glamorous and fun-loving actress Kalpana (Kalpana Mohan).  They begin to see each other.

Then, on the job, he delivers a piano to the wealthy and sophisticated Simi (Simi Garewal), who takes an interest in his career and sponsors him–and they fall in love. As Dev’s fame as a poet grows, he continues to see all of the women and his relationship with each becomes more intense. Although he is happy seeing all of them, and they all know about each other, he feels that it’s not right to string them all along: he must choose.

 

Jenny K:  Does Simi Garewal always play the wealthy and sophisticated girl who the hero doesn’t end up with?  That could have been her character description as Manisha in Namak Haraam, too.  Such a small, thankless part (the girl Amitabh’s father wanted him to marry) that I didn’t even bother to include her.

 

Julie M: Poor Dev.  Equally in love with three beautiful women, and he can’t decide which one to focus on. So what else is there to do but see a hypnotist, who helps Dev look deep in his soul and find the girl his heart desires the most. I’m going to leave that part a mystery, but let’s just say it’s kind of predictable.

The thing about this movie is that nearly all the DVD copies leave out a key scene, the one at the hypnotist’s, where he sees what his life would be with each of his potential mates, that helps him makes his decision. Although the rest of the film is in black and white, this scene is in full color. My DVD did not have the scene: I’d love to find it, because as it played out it was kind of choppy–he is at the hypnotist, looks into a crystal ball and then BAM, he’s rushing out of there to find his true love.  Everyone who’s seen it says that it’s freaky, amazing, and sufficiently weird to have caused a few social issues among the viewing public.

The most groundbreaking thing about this film is that it has NO FAMILY DRAMA AT ALL. No parents–all the characters are independent, modern grownups–and family considerations don’t even play into their decisions. Everyone is quite contemporary and urban, and the women are all forward and very sensual with no moral judgment implied for being so. Again, I can see why it caused such a sensation when it first came out.

I found the songs boring (except for one village scene where Kalpana lets loose and dances her heart out,  and another where she wigs out at a party), but the relationships he has with each woman are fairly interesting.

The film is available free on YouTube but not with English subtitles.  You’d have to pay $1.99 to get those, but it’s worth the expense to see this classic.

Dec. 13, 2011: Sham & Dev: The ‘60s — Mod to Mysticism

Julie M:  In memory of the great Dev Anand, who passed away recently, we should talk about one of his films that we both liked, Guide (1965).

Jenny K:  I’d be happy to—I like it without reservation. I’d also like to talk about the latest in our foray into Shammi Kapoor’s video vault, An Evening in Paris (1967), as he’s so recently left us, and both Dev and Shammi were such a focus in that era of Hindi cinema.

Let’s start with Paris, shall we, so as to go from the ridiculous to the sublime, for a change.

Julie M:  Saw Evening in Paris (Shammi Kapoor, 1967) this afternoon, free on YouTube. A cute rom-com romp in the first half and kind of a thriller in the 2nd half when Shammi has to rescue Sharmila Tagore from the bad guys who have kidnapped her. Lots of fun and 60s music. Also, lots of ridiculous plot lines to mock.

Jenny K:  Ooof…don’t want to read this yet…I have it in the pile on my dvd player. Perhaps I can see it and then comment… eyes closed, eyes closed.  Don’t get too far ahead of me…

Julie M: Brief plot: Deepa (Sharmila) is spoiled, rich, lonely and bored. Her dad wants her to get married, but all the Indian boys are only interested in her money, so she goes to Paris to try and pretend she’s poor and hook someone who’s interested in her as a person. Enter Sam (Shammi), whom she instantly hates, but then he very sweetly and comically pursues her all over the world and hate turns to love. As it happens, Shankar (Pran) is an evil retainer of her father’s who is in money trouble and schemes to marry Deepa for her riches; this turns into a kidnap/ransom plot by the mob to whom he owes the money.

Jenny K: Oh yeah, Pran is a professional villain.  299 films on IMDb, and all of them various layers of slimy, from nasty to pure evil.  His orange wig is very oddly hypnotic, though, “poisonously permanent waved” might be an apt descriptor of Pran in this film.

Julie, I think I’m losing my touch…I tried again to finish Paris last night and fell asleep again. I think it’s the plot. Why does Shammi seek Deepa out? Just because his friend wanted her? Doesn’t seem enough impetus. Chase-chase-chase, nahi-nahi-nahi, sing-sing-sing, maybe-maybe-maybe, chase-chase-chase again…blah-blah-blah. I’m rapidly losing interest in Paris, even with the kidnapping.

Julie M:  I think he went to meet her first to see if he could help his friend, and then his eyes went BOINGGGG and he fell in love with her himself, and basically stole her away.

The mob boss has a moll, a cabaret singer named Suzy who is Deepa’s double (yes, the obligatory dual role for Sharmila), so Shankar plots a switch to hide the fact that Deepa is kidnapped. It goes on from there.

May I entice you with this campy number?

Jenny K:  Why, may I ask, does Suzy make her entrance on a Webber kettle grill rack?  Is being presented as a tasty morsel or is she just being roasted??? Or are we?

Julie M:  There’s also lots of beautiful Paris, Switzerland, Niagara Falls and Beirut (Beirut? yes, the Paris of the Middle East in 1967) scenery.

Jenny K:  I am finding all this “oh, by the way, meet me tomorrow evening on another continent” stuff rather, shall we say, implausable, and highly “yeah, right!” if you know what I mean.  Too distracting outside a fantasy item number, IMO (example, “Suraj Hua Madham” from K3G, not exactly necessary, highly unlikely, but deliciously “right” because it was a fantasy scene).

Julie M:  Here’s another number, where Sharmila looks like Kareena Kapoor? (hey, maybe that’s why Saif likes Bebo!)

Did you get to the part yet where the fact that he stole her from his friend bites him in the butt?

Jenny K: I did finally finish Paris this morning, (Paris in the Morning…sounds like a song title) but I must have missed the part where he got bit in the butt?? Lot of odd stuff going on in the film but I didn’t pick up on that.

Julie M:  She finds out that he stole her from his friend, and she pouted at him for a while (this was just after she admitted that she loved him), but it disappeared quickly in the kidnapping plot.

Jenny K:  Ah, yes, but all complications to romance cannot last longer than the next love song…or subsequent kidnapping by thugs from your backstory.  It’s in the masala handbook.

And though I have just finished complaining about the needless side trips from France, I did like all the nice camera work on actual location on Luna Island? at the top of the Falls, even if the handy security railing made it a bit less imminently dangerous.

So, I guess, my final verdict is okay but not as charming as some of Shammi’s other vehicles, say, Professor which we reviewed earlier, or Kashmir Ki Kali, also with Sharmila…they were both better in that one.

 

Julie M:  I agree.  The cute first half is just not cute enough, and the action-y second half not exciting enough.  Maybe if her clothes were better it would have distracted me.

 

[A week or so later]

Jenny K:  And now, for the more serious part of our double feature…Guide with Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman.

Julie M:  I never read the novel that it’s taken from, The Guide by R. K. Narayan (but it’s on my list now!) as it struck me as something I might not like, but Dev Sahib’s version got me interested.  It’s a long, complex story about sacrifice and fulfilling one’s destiny. A number of commentators rank it as Dev Anand’s lifetime masterpiece–he produced and starred in it, and it was an early example of an Indo-American co-production, shot in both English and Hindi, with the Hindi version directed by his younger brother Vijay (who also directed another favorite of ours, Teesri Manzil).

Jenny K:  I haven’t watched very many of Dev Anand’s films, but this one struck me as very atmospheric, almost something out of time, especially as Dev’s character progresses toward the climax.

Julie M: Dev plays Raju, a tour guide in the historic city of Udaipur, who initially protects a histrionic client (Waheeda Rehman) from her distant and borderline abusive husband, then falls in love with her himself, encourages her to divorce her husband (!) and helps her achieve her goal of international dance stardom despite the rather unsavory reputation of her art. They move in together (!!) but just when he ought to be happiest his life starts to fall apart as he self-sabotages spectacularly (!!!). Ultimately he finds redemption in a peculiarly Indian way, and proves himself to be a “guide” in several senses of the word.

Anand gets to do everything in this film. He’s a handsome romancer, a dutiful son, a savvy business manager, and a spiritual leader (albeit reluctantly). The camera loves his good looks, and I fell in love with his easy patter and jokey demeanor (he never crosses the line into sliminess). I’m sure there’s a lot more to the philosophical angle of things that one who was raised in Hindu tradition would understand, but most of that whooshed right over my head.  And Waheeda Rehman, a frequent co-star, was simply brilliant in what I consider a fairly negative role.

Jenny K: I found this film after having seen Waheeda in a couple of Guru Dutt films, Pyaasa and Kagaaz Ke Phool, specifically.  She was so luminous in them, that I had to find out if it was just working with Guru Dutt or if  it was a quality she had in all of her movies.  Needless to say, I found she had it in almost every film, and still has it, today, evident in Delhi 6 and Rang de BasantiKagaaz Ke Phool is an interesting one to compare Guide to, as it’s also set in a showbiz arena with managers and stars, etc, though that one is more about actors and directors than this foray into the dance world.  Guide is almost a better showcase for her, as she’s the fulcrum the whole film winds around.

Julie M: Oh, yeah, that WAS her in Delhi-6 as the grandmother.  I loved that character. Interestingly, the soundtrack for Guide ranks #11 on this list of the 100 Best Movie Soundtracks  (although I don’t know how reliable it is…Dil Se… only ranked #46, and it is my absolute favorite; your favorite, Lagaan, was #34)  I wasn’t really enamored with the music.  Unfortunately the videos of the Guide songs available online are such bad quality I’m not sure it’s worth posting them…but “Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tammana Hai” was my favorite.

Jenny K:  Nah…that list doesn’t have any of my favorite three albums on it, Taal and Meenaxi by Rahman and Omkara by Vishal Bhardwaj.  It is rather skewed toward “classic” Bollywood.  To each era, their own, I guess.

My favorite number in Guide was always the snake dance…I had seen the parodies like the one the sister does in Bride and Prejudice, but hadn’t seen the real thing, as it were, until this one. She just totally wowed me. 

Julie M:  I liked the snake dance too…her face while she was doing it was amazing to watch.  I should have said that Raju was a CHATTY tour guide. I mean, he never stopped talking!!

I was curious to see if the English version was as good so I went hunting.  Difficult to listen to, but here’s a clip of the beginning where he’s doing his guide patter.    It’s not a shot-for-shot duplicate, which is odd.  Pearl S. Buck wrote the dialogues.  I wish the sound was better so I could compare better.

Jenny K: It’s odd…sounds a bit like his patter is written in verse…but not.  Made me think of Shakespeare for some reason.  Waheeda’s so lovely, even when she’s severe like in this scene.  Always reminded me a bit of Jean Simmons.  Here’s a clip of Jean around the same time in Spartacus, to show what I mean. That whole era of film in the ‘60s could be so iconic.

When the film started, I didn’t want to like Raju, with all the advice and help he was giving Rosie to dissolve all her traditonal ties to her old life and husband.  Becoming Nalini was important to her self image, but was it important to her true self?  Maybe that’s why Raju finally chucked it all in for a new path, maybe he saw that he had been leading them both away from deeper truths.  Devsaab managed in this film to show all the layers of bravado, doubt and self sacrifice that made it a really nuanced performance.  Perhaps the best I’ve ever seen him do. Wish this had subtitles, but it was not to be.  Don’t watch if you don’t want spoilers.

Julie M:  I found this clip of an interview with Dev Sahib where he talks about his long history in film:  No wonder they call him “evergreen.”  I also couldn’t resist watching this clip of Aamir Khan’s remarks   about him  (it’s about half in Hindi, half in English).

I hope nobody succumbs to the temptation to remake this classic film, as they did with Devdas. It’s perfect just as it is.  And Dev Anand…what a star.

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