9 February 2016

Two For The Road (1967)

Directed by: Stanley Donen
Music: Henry Mancini
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Albert Finney, 
Claude Dauphin, Eleanor Bron, 
Gabrielle Middleton, William Daniels, 
Jacqueline Bisset, Nadia Gray,  
Georges Descrières
Most movies give you a very unrealistic view of love. It's supposed to conquer all. And presented with two good-looking leads, silhouetted against the sunset, hand in hand, it allows us to dream of an idyll (and ideal) that we must aspire to. Frankly, I think that trope is the reason for many a relationship failing. We seem to think that this is how it must be - love. So beautiful, so perfect, so...

But it isn't really, is it? Relationships are messy, complicated things. What happens after you fall in love? After you've lived together, and perhaps married each other, had a kid or two? What happens when those little things you once loved about each other are precisely those that set your teeth on edge? When the initial passion abates and a certain taken-for-grantedness, even tedium, sets in? Well, who would want to see a mirror image of ourselves on screen? What is the fun in seeing our own imperfections magnified tenfold? But that is exactly the trip that Stanley Donen takes us on, in this tale of marriage and morals. 

4 February 2016

Bacheha-ye Aseman (1997)

Directed by: Majid Majidi
Music: Keivan Jahanshahi
Starring: Mohammed Amir Naji, 
Amir Farrokh Hashemian, 
Bahare Sediqqi, Fereshte Sarabandi
From one of Iran’s well-known directors comes a whimsical fable rooted in the reality of having only one pair of shoes amongst two siblings. Bacheha-ye Aseman (Children of Heaven) is a children’s movie with a difference – the children here are really children, not adults in miniature. It is about the love between a brother and sister, which makes the former want to make up for losing his sister’s shoes; it’s about the latter not wanting to get her brother in trouble for doing so. The plans these two children make to prevent their parents from finding out that the precious shoes have been lost is complicated enough for a master strategist; when they then have to replace those shoes without those very same parents knowing, it’s a different kettle of fish. 

31 January 2016

Faraar (1955)

Directed by: Phani Majumdar,
Music: Anil Biswas
Lyrics: Prem Dhawan, Ali Sardar Jafri
Starring: Dev Anand, Geeta Bali, Poonam,
 Shrawan Kumar, Manmohan Krishna, 
Krishnakant, Balbir, Anand Pal
I'd heard of this film for a long time now, but never got around to watching it. For some obscure reason, the film was referred to as Dev Anand in Goa, and that put me off. Apparently, it was released as Faraar, but by the time the censor certificate came up for reissue, three other films with the same name had hit the marquee, so they re-registered it as Dev Anand in Goa. (Curiously, the film's credits say 'Dev Anand in Goa' with 'Faraar' in brackets, suggesting that that was the original title.) But when looking up songs for my post on songs defining oneself, I came across a peppy Geeta Dutt number picturised on a vivacious Geeta Bali, I decided I had to watch the film soon. It was only when the opening credits rolled that I realised that it was co-written (with Krishen Chander) and directed by Phani Majumdar - it couldn't be bad, then. 

26 January 2016

Anand Math (1952)

Directed by: Hemen Gupta
Music: Hemant Kumar Mukherjee
Lyrics: Shailendra, Hasrat Jaipuri, Jaideva
Starring: Prithviraj Kapoor, Geeta Bali, 
Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Ajit, Ranjana
Vande Mataram’ has always had the uncanny effect of making me feel very ‘Indian’, very conscious of my country and its heritage. As a child, Anand Math came alive to me through Amar Chitra Katha. It fuelled my imagination, and my interest in History. When I grew older, I found its English translation in my college library. I must confess that when I saw the title, The Abbey of Bliss, by ‘Nares Chandra Sen-Gupta – Vakil, High Court, Calcutta’ I didn’t instantly connect it to the Bankim Chandra Chatterjee novel. (This translation is now available in public domain. Orient Paperbacks brought out another translation by Basanta Koomar Roy; not having read that, I have no idea how good or bad it is.) It made me wish I could have read it in the original (I feel that way about a great many books that I read in translations.), but I wasn’t as uncritical this time. (More about that later.)

I first watched Anand Math on television; the reception was grainy due to the rains, and we were in the midst of our scheduled power cuts, which meant 'Goodbye film!' halfway through the feature. It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to watch it again, but I just never got around to doing so until recently. And perhaps, this is as good a time as any – what better way to commemorate our Republic Day than to review a film that was based on what is considered by some to be the first banded revolt for freedom.*

21 January 2016

My Favourites: 'What am I?' Songs

I had originally meant this to be the second of twin posts. You see, I spend quite a lot time thinking up different themes for my posts. But sometimes, I come up with what I think is a great idea, only to find that a) it's been done already, or b) I make a list, but I don't work on it quickly enough and someone else pips me to the post. That's what happened to this brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) of making a 'Who am I?' list. That theme 'I Am...' was done very well here. Nothing if not enterprising, I figured, why not post the 'second' part of my twin posts, anyway? After all, it was a variation on the original theme -  how people define themselves. (Plus, I'd already got my songs in place, and was too lazy to research another theme.) So, no, not 'Who?' but 'What?'  The part that comes after 'I'm Anu.' Something on the lines of  'I'm an editor', or 'I'm mad'. (Both of which, I must confess, are true statements.)

In the world of Hindi films, however, it is not that simple. You can't sing a song about being an editor. 'Main sampadak hoon' doesn't sound very lyrical, does it? But our Hindi film lyricists know how to make the banal sound poetic - 'I'm a wayward cloud', makes a man who is basically a vagabond, sound very interesting; 'I'm a flower' - not just any flower, but a budding one from the vales of Kashmir, is definitely refreshing, and if you're of a decidedly poetic bent of mind, 'I'm young, naïve, delicate, innocent...' ...the adjectives don't seem to end. There seem to be a plethora of such songs where people describe themselves in imaginative ways (in one, she describes herself as an 'atom bomb'); so here, is part two of my original idea.

16 January 2016

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

Directed by: Harold Young
Music: Arthur Benjamin
Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon, Nigel Bruce, 
Raymond Massey, Anthony Bushell, 
Walter Rilla, Ernest Milton
From one period film to another. It's been a long time since I'd read The Scarlet Pimpernel. I'd first read the book when I unearthed it from my grandfather's dusty collection one childhood summer. It was the sort of tale that would enchant a child - the excitement, the danger, the history -  especially one with a romantic bent of mind, like me. And it was romantic - a brave Englishman who courted danger to rescue French aristocrats in danger from the revolution (and I didn't like Robespierre one bit either), a hero who led a double life, a villain worthy of being fooled, fabulous dialogues... However, I'd never watched a cinematic representation of the novel. Recently, however, I came across two versions - one from the 30s and the other, a 1982 adaptation, which however, wandered away from the story quite a bit. (I'm somewhat of a purist, and prefer cinema adapted from literature to not take too many liberties with the story, especially when it tampers with history.) The acting was stellar in both versions, but I decided to review the version that was more faithful to its source material. 

11 January 2016

My Favourites: 'What's Life?' Songs

'Life's as tedious as a twice-told tale' quoth Shakespeare in King John. 'Life's but a walking shadow', he claimed in Macbeth. Such vexation that he can't even agree with himself, offering multiple definitions for life. But why not? What is life if not contrary, contradictory, vexatious...? 

What is life? It is the sort of philosophical question that leaves people scratching their heads - you can either be extremely philosophical or extremely flippant, depending on your mood of the moment. But Hindi movies excel at posing such existential dilemmas, and offering solutions - take it or leave it. So, one day, when I was searching for songs to file under my 'Word Play' theme, a theme I had neglected completely, I thought - deeply - about the meaning of 'Life ™.' What is the meaning of life? Considering my penchant for Hindi films and songs, I decided to turn to them to resolve my ignorance. And never mind that they cannot make up their mind as to the answer, and offer extremely contradictory opinions as to the meaning of life - after all, 'Life™' means different things to different people. So here they are, some of the 'answers' I found to that deepest of existential angst. 

7 January 2016

Jodhaa Akbar (2008)

Directed by: Ashutosh Gowarikar
Music: AR Rehman
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar, Kashif
Starring: Aiswarya Rai, Hrithik Roshan, Sonu Sood, 
Nikitin Dheer, Raza Murad, Ila Arun, 
Kulbhushan Kharbanda, 
Suhasini Mulay, Poonam Sinha
I love period films. Which is why, when my friends wanted to watch Bajirao Mastani the week before last, I went along. It is after the film that R, one of my friends, insisted that Bajirao Mastani was but a poor imitation of Jodhaa Akbar. I remember having liked Jodhaa Akbar very much when I first watched it, historical inaccuracies notwithstanding, but for some reason, could recall only specific scenes, not the film as a whole. The next day, R sent me a message asking if I had the DVD of Jodhaa Akbar. Her daughter, interested in viewing the film, but needing sub-titles, decided to stream it from a site which infected her computer. I couldn't remember whether I did or not, so I went searching, and it was a surprise to find the DVD, unopened, still wrapped in cellophane. Obviously, I hadn't watched the film again, even though I had picked up the DVD some years ago. So, in preparation for R's daughter picking up the DVD before she went back to college, I removed the cellophane wrapping and got it 'ready'. And there it sat, tempting me amidst my work to watch it again. So I did the best thing I could - I gave in. Why not? After all, I had several hours to kill each week, while waiting around for my son at his various activities. 

31 December 2015

My Favourites: Songs of Hope and Encouragement

It's been a rockier than ever ride this year – filled with disasters, both natural and man-made, lots of sorrow and not much hope that things will get any better. In fact, they look like they might get worse. We, here in the US, are in the midst of the presidential primaries, and that hoary proverb about the gods first making mad those whom they wish to destroy seem to very apt. And just last week, an unexpected death shook fans of old Hindi films. Sadhana, that gorgeous actress of the silver screen, passed away on Christmas Day, leaving thousands of her grieving fans behind. Why do the deaths of our idols leave us bereft? It’s not as if we knew them personally, nor are we their friends. Yet, we feel an inexplicable connection to the roles they play on screen, and invest them perhaps with all the virtues of those characters. We see in them our own siblings, or our parents, or our own true loves. They are ours, they belong to us, their audience, their fans. They are family. 

When they die, they leave behind only a kaleidoscope of images, frozen forever in our memories – images of them as we knew them when, young and beautiful and ageless… and we grieve for what they were, and what they meant to us, and their loss hits us hard – perhaps because their deaths make us aware of our own mortality.

Life goes on, however, and despite it all, or perhaps because of it, people, ordinary people, put up their chins and get back to the process of living. And even if the humour is grim, they even manage to laugh. As the saying goes, the show must go on. Indeed, it will. Whether we go on or not. Because, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: 
‘This new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”

26 December 2015

Abhi Na Jao Chhodkar...

...sang another legend, Dev Anand, to his beautiful heroine in Hum Dono. Ke dil abhi bhara nahin...
02.09.1941 - 25.12.2015
This was not the post I'd planned for today. But Sadhana's death was the headline that greeted me today morning. It is inevitable; death comes to everyone, after all, but it is still shocking and sad when it comes to those whom we have known and loved, even if we did not 'know' them at all.  But my heart sank another link in the chain that binds us to memories past has broken. 

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