28 August 2014

My Favourites: Letters in Song

Photo credit: Antonio Littorio (The Power of Words)
Letter-writing is an old-fashioned and outdated form of communication today. But there was a time when you wrote a letter and waited anxiously for the reply.  When the postman's arrival was a cause for joy (or grief). When you lovingly cleaned your fountain pen and filled it with ink. When you chewed on the end of your pen wondering how best to express an emotion in just the right phrase. When many papers were crumpled and thrown away because you couldn't get the right word to describe what you felt. When loveletters were tied up with red ribbons and stored in sandalwood boxes, to be opened and read again and again. 

When I was a young girl, I wrote letters. Long, newsy letters to my grandparents, assorted aunts and uncles and cousins and other relatives. And to friends. Pages and pages of news in the most miniscule handwriting that could actually be read without a magnifying lens. (I had to fit it all into one inland letter, or in just-enough pages inside an envelope so I wouldn't have to pay extra postage.) One of my friends, straight out of college, landed rather cushily, or so he thought, into a job as an assistant manager on a tea estate. He hadn't bargained for the loneliness. Years later, when he ran into my father again, he told dad that in those years, it was only my letters that stopped him from quitting his job or committing suicide. Dad grinned. He should know. For years, he had complained that a huge part of his salary went to keeping me in stationery and stamps. (My father actually bought me a letterpad of onion-skin paper so I could use that for even domestic letters.)

23 August 2014

Alibaba aur 40 Chor

1980
Directed by: Umesh Mehra, Latif Faiziyev
Music: RD Burman
Starring: Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman, 
Prem Chopra, Madan Puri, Sofiko Chiaureli, Rolan Bykov
Now, I love the Arabian Nights tales. I have often wondered what Princess Scheherazade thought of when she had to make up stories for 1001 nights. I mean, was King Shahryar really worth it? (Frankly, if you ask me, nope!) But the stories she is said to have narrated are definitely worth reading. Full of virtuous damsels and handsome heroes, evil villains, genies and djinns and houris - (hey, many a wondrous hour has passed reading these tales). With all this and more, it is no wonder that Hindi films fell on the tales with great eagerness. Of course, they gave it the Hindi film treatment. Because what is a Hindi film if we cannot add in a few songs? And change the script to include whatever they felt was missing? (Of course there was! Princess Scheherazade didn't know half the things that are important to audiences here. )

And so, one day, when I couldn't sleep, and was flipping through YouTube for some films that were legal to watch, I came across Alibaba aur 40 Chor (which story is actually not a part of the original tales). For some inexplicable reason, I missed this film when it was released. I cannot think why. That was the time that I watched every film I could, being rather indiscriminate in my tastes. The only reason I can think of is that, being 1980, an Amitabh Bachchan film must have released on the same Friday. Never mind. Three decades later, here I am, watching - and enjoying - a film that is totally paisa vasool. I had so much fun watching it that, even though I do not usually review films from the 80s (the thought makes me shudder), I had to make an exception. Perhaps the fact that my nine-year-old watched it with me, and had some pithy remarks to make also added to the tone of general hilarity.

18 August 2014

Yin shi nan nu

Eat Drink Man Woman
1994
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring: Sihung Lung, Yu-Wen Wang, Chien-lien Wu, Kuei-Mei Yang, 
Sylvia Chang, Winston Chao, Chao-jung Chen, 
Lester Chit-Man Chan, Yu Chen, Ah-Leh Gua, Jui Wang

I watched this film a while ago, and while I had seen its remake, Tortilla Soup, and liked it, I found (surprise, surprise!) that the original was darker, and much more nuanced.  

Master Chu (Sihung Lung) may have retired from his profession as Master Chef at one of Taipei's fine restaurants, but he hasn't given up his passion for cooking. He lives with his three daughters, whom he has single-handedly brought up since his wife died more than sixteen years ago. When the movie begins, we see him at home, working quickly and efficiently to cook the Sunday dinner for his family. 

13 August 2014

Dial M for Murder

1954
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, 
Robert Cummings, John Williams
Anthony Dawson
It's been more than two years since I've been meaning to review one of my favourite Alfred Hitchcock movies. It is not his best, of course, and the Master himself did not think much of it, but repeated viewings of this noir film are no less enjoyable for knowing 'whodunnit' beforehand. 

Dial M for Murder, like Rope, was a movie in reverse.  We see the murder being planned, the trap being baited, the chosen murderer embarking on an audacious plan. Yet we sit, hands clenched, biting our lips - will he succeed? If not, then what? The similarities to Rope do not end there. Like in the earlier film, here too, there are three main characters upon whom the play centres. Two secondary characters, one of whom is much more perspicacious than he seems. The murder weapon is emphasised - a rope in one, a pair of scissors in another.  

6 August 2014

The Legends: Mohammed Rafi - Part 2

24.12.1924 - 31.07.1980
There is something about Mohammed Rafi that appeals to me, even when I was only in my teens when he died. Perhaps it is because the more I read about Mohammed Rafi, the more it seemed that here was a man who, his great talent notwithstanding, was humble, generous, and down-to-earth. He didn't play games, was too nice to be manipulative, and had only two constants in life - namaaz and riyaaz (according to music director, Naushad). It is nice to know that there are certain idols who do not have feet of clay. 

Perhaps it is the fact that I have never seen a photograph of him where he is not smiling. A fact verified by Sanjay Kohli (Madan Mohan's son) in an interview where he stated that while he was heading a recording company and they wanted to release a selection of Mohammed Rafi's sad songs, they couldn't find a single photograph of the singer where he looked solemn. 

31 July 2014

The Legends: Mohammed Rafi

24.12.1924 - 31.07.1980
I have always maintained that I do not have a 'favourite' singer - male or female. I love songs, and which song I want to listen to, or which singer I like, depends on the moment and the mood I am in. In my post on Kishore Kumar, I responded to a comment about 'favourite singer' by saying "...when I hear Beqarar karke humein, Hemant Kumar is my favourite singer; when I hear Jinhe naaz Hind par, I love Mohammed Rafi; when I listen to Chalo ek baar phir se, I'm sure Mahendra Kapoor is my favourite singer. Yet there are so many many songs of Kishore's that I listen to, over and over and over again." That is equally true for female singers. But if I were forced to name a favourite singer, it would be, without any hesitation, Mohammed Rafi.

26 July 2014

Monkey Business

1952
Directed by: Howard Hawkes
Starring: Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe, 
Charles Coburn, Hugh Marlowe
Readers who have been following this blog for a while know that I'm nutty about Cary Grant. (Well, if they didn't, they do now.) So when Netflix obligingly dropped Monkey Business on my lap, I was thrilled, to say the least. This was one Cary Grant film that I hadn't watched before. And it also starred Marilyn Monroe. Hurray! (I wasn't too enamoured of Ginger Rogers before, so, meh!) And my husband was satisfied too. (Remind me to tell you of how Marilyn Monroe caused my husband to burn his arm while ironing.) 

22 July 2014

The Masters: Sajjad Hussain

15.06.1917 - 21.07.1995
I had heard Sajjad Hussain's compositions in my childhood without knowing anything about the man behind the lovely songs of Sangdil and Hulchul. My father's favourite composers were Shankar-Jaikishen, SD Burman and Madan Mohan. So these were the names I knew. As I grew older, other composers impinged on my consciousness - Salil Choudhary, Khayyam, OP Nayyar, Anil Biswas, Jaidev, RD Burman... though I cannot say that even then I was very conscious of who composed a song. Sajjad, of course, remained relatively unknown to me. And mostly, songs were remembered by which film they were in, and who sang them. Music directors and lyricists remained in the shadowy darkness of my brain, not having much of an impact on how I listened to Hindi film music.

20 June 2014

Twin Songs

Some time back, fellow-blogger AK of Songs of Yore emailed a comment that one of his readers, Harishchandra M. Salian, had made on his blog. Mr Salian had mentioned his fascination with what he called 'twin songs' - songs which follow one after the other in a film. AK suggested that perhaps I could do a post on the theme. *

My initial introduction to these type of songs was of course the dream sequence in Awara (more about that later). My father called it a 'double header' - the industry term for two separate songs that are picturised back-to-back, but which do not fit on one side of a 78 rpm record, so Song 1 would be on Side A while Song 1A would be on Side B. My next tryst with the same scenario was Megha re from Dil Deke Dekho. Then I watched Bobby and was caught by a similar sequence of songs. As I continued to watch Hindi films, I found that songs coming one immediately after the other was not as uncommon an occurrence as I'd initially thought. But that was as far as it remained - a thought filed away in some dark corner of my brain for no real purpose that I could fathom at the time.

15 June 2014

My Father's Daughter

To me, 'Mother's Day' and 'Father's Day have always been made-up holidays. (I feel the same way about Valentine's Day, by the way.) It's difficult not to mentally roll my eyes when I see the hoopla surrounding them these days, and here in the US, there are enough people who call them 'Hallmark Holidays', as in, 'a genius of a marketing idea by a company that makes greeting cards'. I'm sure it is. But I seem to have become more tolerant of these specific days as years go by. If people feel the need to have specially marked days to celebrate their parents, who am I to quibble? It is not for me, and neither my husband or I feel that way about it, but let people who enjoy it, celebrate it - to each his own, and all that.  

So when R, my colleague from office, asked me to also write a personal piece for Father's Day for the office intranet magazine, I was flabbergasted. Me? Write about my father? Really? And she thought that was a good idea? After having heard me on the subject? But she was insistent I do it. And dashed persistent as well. So I sat down and muttering under my breath, decided to write one of my patently tongue-in-cheek articles spoofing Elizabeth Barrett Browning's How do I love thee? (Sonnet 43: Sonnets from the Portuguese) And I did. Only, when I finished writing, I realised it wasn't that much of a spoof after all. Quirky, maybe. Definitely different from the outpourings of love I read from my other colleagues, some of which really touched me by their emotional content. But somewhere in between spoofing the whole idea, and actually writing it down, my article had morphed into something that had a heart.  
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