15 September 2014

Yaadon ki Baraat

Last month, fellow-blogger Ira (Bollyviewer of Masala Punch) and I posted our reviews of 'kind of' 'sort of' 'Arabian Nights' films on the same day. It was one of those merry coincidences that have followed me around in Blogland - I have written about it extensively before. When Madhu (Dustedoff) read our reviews, she said she wished she had known that the two of us were going to review the same genre of films, so she could have joined in. Well, that we reviewed the same type of film at the same time was coincidental, but Ira had the bright idea that we should celebrate our masala twin-ness (or should that be a masala trio?) with a linked or common-themed post. (Long before Madhu and I realised we thought and wrote uncannily like each other, Ira and I had realised we were masala twins. In fact, we were this close to standing on opposite sides of the Niagara Falls and shouting 'Behanaa...'  to each other.) Ira then had the even-more-brilliant-idea that the theme should, appropriately enough, be 'lost-and-found' siblings. Of course Madhu and I jumped at the idea. It was perfect!

11 September 2014

The Great Gambler

1979
Directed by: Shakti Samanta
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics:
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman, Neetu Singh,  
Utpal Dutt, Madan Puri, Prem Chopra, 
Roopesh Kumar, Sujit Kumar
While watching Alibaba aur 40 Chor, I realised that it'd been a long time since I had immersed myself in pure masala films. It is all very well to watch and review 'good' films, but there is a certain joy in watching the masala films that Hindi cinema did so well during a certain period. So, flipping through my films, I also decided that I had ignored Amitabh Bachchan for too long. At his peak, it seemed there was nothing he could do wrong. Funnily enough, the film I chose, The Great Gambler, is a lesser-known AB film and, while it did comfortable business in Bombay, did not achieve the super success that his other films did. But the suspense thriller, with its fast-paced plot, tight screenplay, excellent production values (for the time), high-octane action, and deft direction by Shakti Samanta (he of the Shammi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna fame), led to this film attaining cult status in following years. 

6 September 2014

Festival Songs

Work has been rather hectic these past months, but it was with chagrin that I realised that I had completely missed celebrating both Ashtami Rohini (Janmashtami) and Ganesh Chaturthi  this year. That got me feeling very nostalgic about my childhood when my friends and I celebrated everything that we could celebrate, whether those festivals were ours to celebrate or not. I grew up in Bangalore. Well, in Madras as well, but we had moved to Bangalore when I was 7, and so, for the longest of time, Bangalore was 'home'. (Until I moved to Bombay after my marriage, and that became 'home' forever more.)

I always associate Indian festivals with their legends and myths and the food rather than their rituals. So if I ate Sakkarai pongal and vadai with gusto for the festival of Pongal (Harvest Festival, Thai maadham - Mid-January to Mid-February) as a small child in Madras, Bangalore introduced me to Yugadi (Kannada New Year, Chaitra - Mid-March to Mid-April), and Obbattu. It was also Bangalore that introduced me to Lohri (Harvest/Winter Solstice, Paush - Mid-January to Mid-February), Teej (and kheer in the month of Sawan - Mid-July to Mid-August) apart from Diwali (and Kala Jamun), courtesy my Punjabi friends, Asha and Ashwin. 

I became acquainted with the softest, squeakiest Rosogollas and the creamiest Sondesh in Bangalore as well, thanks to Nikhil, whose Bengali roots meant we celebrated Durga Puja (in the month of Ashvin (Mid-September to Mid-October) with great fervour. Basically, I don't think there was a single festival that we left 'un'-celebrated! Christmas and Easter meant Lucy (well, her 'real' name was Chloe, so I don't know why we called her Lucy, but we did) and hot cross buns with oodles of currants, and the sort of dark, fruity, melt-in-the-mouth Christmas cake that (I insist) only the Indian Christians can bake. Eid meant crowding into Nusrat's house for seiviyaan and sheermal. (I didn't eat meat even then, so the wonderful kebabs were wasted on me, but our other friends pigged out.) For Onam and Vishu (the Malayali New Year), of course, I badgered my mother into making semiya payasam or paal payasam for us.

1 September 2014

Kaliyattam

1997
Directed by: Jayaraj
Music: Kaithapram
Lyrics: Kaithapram
Starring: Suresh Gopi, Manju Warrier, Lal, 
Biju Menon, Narendra Prasad, Bindu Panicker
Shakespeare has been adapted - multiple times - for the theatre and the big screen. In Hindi, long before Gulzar adapted the bard's The Comedy of Errors, it had been adapted as Do Dooni Chaar. Then, Gulzar's protege, Vishal Bhardwaj, took on the bard's tragedies, adapting Macbeth (Maqbool) and Othello (Omkara) and is now in the process of completing a trilogy of Shakepearean tragedies with his adaptation of Hamlet (Haider). But nearly a decade before Bhardwaj shot, and released, Omkara, Malayalam film-maker Jayaraj loosely adapted the bard's tale about a man's jealousy destroying his own life. Instead of the hinterlands of north India, Jayaraj would set his tale of love and hate against the backdrop of the folk art, and artistes. 

28 August 2014

My Favourites: Letters in Verse

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.
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