Some films want to buy classic status with massive budgets and crumple under the pressure of their own spectacle. Pakeezah is lavish in its treatment of a courtesan’s turbulent story, but its splendour fills the eye, stirs the senses. The story begins with the elopement of a tawaif, Nargis (Meena Kumari) with her lover, the Nawab Shahabuddin (Ashok Kumar). Shahabuddin takes Nargis to his household, where she is rejected by his honourable family. Nargis flees to a graveyard, where she spends the next 10 months of her life, giving birth to a daughter in the interim. Nargis dies in the graveyard, and her older sister Nawabjaan (Veena), on receiving this news, reaches there and takes the baby away. 17 years later Sahabuddin has received a letter written by Nargis on her deathbed. He comes to know about his daughter through this letter. Shahabuddin rushes to Nawabjaan’s kotha and asks for his daughter Sahibjaan (Meena Kumari). A furious Nawabjaan tells him to come tomorrow morning. Nawabjaan takes her to some other place. They travel overnight by train and while both of them are asleep in their compartment, a fellow passenger climbs into their compartment by mistake. He is Salim (Raj Kumar). Enchanted by her feet, he leaves a note “Aap ke paon dekhe, bahut haseen hai. Inhe zameen par mat utariyega — maile ho jayenge”.
There is grandeur in Amrohi’s filmmaking – an epic magnitude of treatment. The evocative songs and the background music create the right period mood and Amrohi’s eye for details brings great depth to the lavish sets. The film’s main merit in spite of its flaws, its at times disjointed flow, its stock situations and an over extended plot, lies in its euphoric romanticism. Pakeezah is filled with symbols. There is, for instance, the oft-used symbol of the bird in a cage. Trains themselves form an important motif throughout the film. A train is where Sahibjaan’s and Salim’s paths first cross, and ever after, trains continue to haunt Sahibjaan. Kamal Amrohi uses actions, expressions, little details to convey far more than dialogues do, and often in much less time. The script is memorable in the hands of Meena,Ashok,Raaj Kumar, Veena etc to name a few. Personally i was most impressed by the regal looking Kamal Kapoor. Meena Kumari lives the tragedy of Nargis and Sahib Jaan like her own. Coupled, with a captivating screenplay is a beautiful musical score, enhanced by the protagonist displaying notable command of classical Indian dance (kathak).
I noticed that i had not reviewed a single film of Guru Dutt on my blog. In order to make amends, I decided to review one of his films. Kalu (Guru Dutt), a taxi driver who was sentenced to prison for speeding, is released two months before his term for good conduct . Wandering the streets, Kalu helps a young woman Nikki (Shyama) to fix her car. He gets a job at Nikki’s father’s garage and love blossoms between Nikki and him. When her father finds out, he kicks Kalu out. An encounter with the mysterious Captain results in a brand new job for Kalu. Captain is planning a Bank robbery and thinks Kalu would be useful in driving the car. Kalu joins with captain’s gang which includes a dancer (Shakila) and a guy named Rustom (Johnny Walker). In Aar Paar, Guru Dutt took his talent for song picturisations to several notches above the commonplace. Songs in his films often take place in locations occupied by the characters in his films. A fine example here is the romantic duet Sun Sun Sun Sun Zalima. The song is set in the stark and unromantic atmosphere of a garage with a car providing the centre-piece but the way two lovers circle around each other within this space is a brilliant piece of choreography.
The other song whose picturisation deserve a special mention is- “babuji dheere chalna pyaar mein zara sambhalna” (Shakila’s great entry). Aar Paar was a major turning point in the life of composer OP Nayyar who went on to become an extremely successful music director. Songs like Babuji Dheere Chalna, Yeh lo Main Hari Piya, Mohabbat Karlo, Ja Ja Ja Ja Bewafa, all sung brilliantly by Geeta Dutt, are remembered and hummed to this day. The plot of Aar Paar may now seem formulaic but scores in its treatment. The narrative flow is pacy and engaging, merging the elements of thrills, romance, action and comedy rightly. Aar Paar is a noir film that is infused with humour. Dutt’s friend and collaborator, VK Murthy, was behind the camera as usual, and the Dutt-Murthy combination’s play with light and shade was nothing short of magical. Guru Dutt plays his part of the streetsmart driver with ease. Shyama was ok. Shakila is excellent as femme fatale.
Raman Raghav was a psychopathic serial killer who operated in the city of Mumbai in the mid 1960s. His real name was Sindhi Dalwai. All the murders took place at night and were committed using a hard object. He also raped his sister before killing her. This film is not about him. The electrifying atmosphere at the night club that follows instantly takes the audiences in the trance for a gut wrenching, dark, intense thriller about a killer and a policeman that brings in different shades of evil and inhumanity. Nawaz, who plays the notorious serial-killer Raman, is inspired by the real-life serial-killer, Raman Raghav. The screenplay follows his exploits as he steers the bylanes, slums, and rundown apartments of Mumbai, piling on the bodies and indulging his dark fantasies. Vicky Kaushal (Raghav) plays the DCP of the Mumbai Police Force . Kaushal is as emotionally bare as Nawaz, with the only difference being that they emotional voids are targeted at the opposite spectrums of the law. He’s an addict to the core, and has no apologies about being one just like Nawaz has none about his murderous wrongdoings.
Raman calls himself Sindhi Dalwai and finds a partner in Raghav. Through eight chapters- Locked Man, The Sister, The Policeman, The Hunter, The Hunted, The Son, The Fallen and Soulmates – Kashyap builds his characters to a tall dark shadow that scares us out of our wits. Nowhere does the camera focus on a smashed, bloodied head yet the way with which Nawaz carries out each murder is gory and makes you want shut your eyes. The camera work is also crisp as it travels to murky bylanes of Mumbai with as much ease as it captures the city’s impressive skyline at night. Siddiqiui is appropriately creepy as Raman, a long scar running down his forehead, an unmistakable glitter in his eyes. While not as spine-chilling as his more counterpart, Kaushal holds up his end impressively. Both Ramanna and Raghav are also creatures bred and brought up in patriarchy, are victims of it ( Raghav’s submissive equation with his dad for instance) yet preserving its deep misogyny. Some sequences stand out. Ramanna holding his sister’s family hostage brings out his sick mind in an anxious way possible. Raman Raghav 2.0 is a taut thriller, full of energy and overflowing with tension.
Gumrah is a 1963 Hindi film produced and directed by B.R.Chopra. Meena (Mala Sinha) and Kamla (Nirupa Roy) are two daughters of a wealthy Nainital resident. Meena is in love with artist-singer Rajendra (Sunil Dutt). Things take a turn when Kamla and her two kids come to visit them from Bombay. Meena’s father (Nana Palsikar) suggests Meena marry her sister’s husband Barrister Ashok (Ashok Kumar) since a new woman might not take to the kids. Meena ultimately agrees to marry Ashok and then moves down with him to Bombay. All this happens without her even informing Rajendra. After some time, she meets Rajendra again, and this brings to a renewed relationship. Gumrah was one of the earliest hindi films which tackle the issue of extra-marital affair. B.R. Chopra’s Gumrah must have been perceived then as a bold and forward film of the times. But then again,some aspects of this film can be regarded as sexist. The film makes the point of the woman being the moral centre point of the family. It treats extra-marital affair as crime especially when it is done by women. Beside that ,the film is well-made. The music was composed by Ravi while the lyrics were by Sahir Ludhianvi. All the songs are hauntingly beautiful, ‘chalo ek baar phir se’, the beautiful arrangements and melodies in ‘aap aaye’ the haunting ‘aa bhi ja’ wonderful kiddies song ‘Ek thi Ladki and my favourite one ‘tujhko mera pyar pukare’ where we’re treated to lovely shots of Nainital. Gumrah is overall Mala Sinha’s show, and she is plain excellent in a demanding part which requires her to work a lot with her inner self. Ashok Kumar is competent in the role of the happy-go-lucky husband who is far more sophisticated than it seems to be. Sunil Dutt was strictly average as tormented lover. Gumrah is overall an enjoyable film. It could have been a great film if it was devoid of apparent sexism.
Kasba is a 1991 Indian drama film written and directed by Kumar Shahani. It is based on the short story “In the Ravine” by the famous Russian Writer Anton Chekov. Maniram (Manohar Singh) an entrepreneur, makes huge profits by cheating people. His business is run by his daughter-in-law Tejo (Mita vasisht), who is married to Maniram’s mentally challenged younger son (Raghuvir Yadav). When Maniram’s elder son Dhani (Shatrughan Sinha) comes back into town to get married, things start changing. He runs away from his wife next day and later ends up being arrested in Delhi. The police starts cracking down on Maniram’s corrupt business while Tejo takes control of the power. Kasba was shot in the Kangra Valley- a tourist spot that is framed by the snow capped Himalayan mountains. One of the most impressive aesthetic elements of Kasba is the positioning of the camera, moving only to parallel the psychological and emotional mood of the characters. Shahani’s observation of life in the Kangra Valley is measured in the vivid use of natural sounds to which the ambitious and ruthless Tejo becomes impenetrable. The naturalism of the soundtrack that is used in opposition to the destruction of the family and Tejo’s desire to inherit the family wealth including the land leads to the excluding of Tara (sister in law) and the death of her child. Thematically, Shahani’s interest is with the passing of a feudal system in which patriarchy is represented as inadequate to deal with and respond to modernity. Shahani carefully distances the spectator from raw human emotions s by introducing allusions to miniature art found in the Kangra Valley. The film shows Shahani’s complete mastery of the narrative mode and goes into the depths of human nature and its worst impulses – ambition and greed.
Damul is a 1985 Hindi film directed by Prakash Jha, based on the story Kaalsootra by Shaiwal, a native of Gaya district of Bihar. The story is about a bonded labourer Sanjeevan (Annu Kapoor) who is forced to steal for his landlord Madho (Manohar Singh), to whom he is bonded until death. In a parallel development the landlord’s younger brother kills his labourers who try to flee from his construction site due to low wages. Finally, the landlord’s mistress Mahatmain (Deepti Naval) decides to come out and make a statement before the authorities. Madho keeps the debt-ridden and illiterate lower castes in eternal bondage, using their labour to win elections. There is rivalry between Madho Pande and Bachcha Singh (Pyare Mohan Sahay), a Rajput, who is waiting for an opportunity to settle scores with the former.
Damul makes links between caste, politics, the rural economy and migration. Rajen Kothari’s textured cinematography and mobile camera create just the right setting for a timeless tale of modern-day slavery. Through the unfolding of Damul, the viewer is almost continuously exposed to a series of audiovisual shocks. There is murder in cold blood, there are mass killings of defenseless people, sexual blackmail of a helpless young widow of high caste. The camera captures the subtle nuances of the facial expressions in close-up. The light in the Harijan basti is muted and natural- a glow here, a soft light there, the fiery flames heightening the credibility of the event or scene. The editing is slick without any jerks and jars that the violence could have justified. Manohar Singh is outstanding as Madho Pande. Annu Kapoor as Sanjeevan is very impressive while Sreela Majumder as his wife attracts notice. Deepti Naval’s brief stint as Mahatmain is adequately enacted. Damul remains Prakash Jha’s best film till date.
Ek Ghar (The House) is a 1991 hindi psychological drama directed by Girish Kasaravalli. Rajanna (Naseeruddin Shah) and Geeta (Deepti Naval) arrive in the city in the fond hope of building a little home. He works as a supervisor in a MNC which manufactures bulldozers. Rajanna finally manages to find a house. However, when a workshop opens up next door, they are troubled by the noise and find ways to attain peace. He has been helped in securing the house with the influence of his aunt (Rohini Hattagandi). She is old,attractive and has been deserted by her husband long ago. Rajanna uses her but wants his wife to stay away from her as she may be a bad influence. The contradictions are clear both within Rajanna and in the city. Nothing is what it appears to be. In 1991, India was on the point of an economic and consequently a social revolution which must have made most men and women anxious. The film is carefully constructed and crafted. It follows a dual colour pattern of mostly blue intersected with yellow. When he and his wife decide to take a walk, it is at night and trees appear more like concrete pillars, lit by street light. The background score by L. Vaidyanathan mixed with the noise of the city creates a perfect mood of peace lost forever.Naseeruddin Shah is convincing as the confused, disoriented immigrant while Deepti Naval and Rohini Hattagandi stole the show by their power-packed performances.