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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6 Comments

  1. This just in: Guide will be restored and re-released in widescreen format, with a freshened soundtrack. http://www.digitalspy.com/bollywood/news/a356443/guide-to-be-re-released-in-honor-of-the-late-dev-anand.html

  2. I am with you, Jenny! I loved that snake dance. I actually think my favorite part of the film was the dancing. I really like the story in the film (I need to get a library card today and check out the book) but I felt the second half where their relationship tanks was not very well presented. We don’t really see why it goes downhill (yes, I know the reason after reading more about the book) but Raju goes from being a really super guy to a dick without enough clarity as to his personality issues. Likewise, with Rosie. It isn’t really clear why she shuns so badly this guy who saved her life. The only hint I got was when they had that conversation about working so hard and she said she would be willing to do less, that she wasn’t all that into money, and Raju rather brushes her off. I would have liked to see more leading up to that scene and more after it, more depth than just Raju drinking and gambling and Rosie being a bitch.

    So, I like it, but I was a bit disappointed after the interval (at least where I presume the interval would have been).

  3. Pssss…Julie…..I actually love the Devdas remake…so shoot me! ::laughs:::

    • There were some awesome things about the remake…the songs and dance numbers were top rate, and it was in color, which it should have been from the start. But I still don’t like the story, which didn’t really improve from the original version, and it’s difficult to watch SRK become a whiny drunk jerk and not redeem himself at the end.


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