Friday, December 4, 2009

M. S. Subbulakshmi’s Hindi Meera (1947)

This post first appeared in the PassionForCinema blog on December 3, 2009.

M. S. Subbulakshmi as Meera I have some memories associated with my old VHS tape of the 1947 Hindi version of the 1945 Tamil film Meera that is synonymous with M. S. Subbulakshmi (1916-2004). The year was 1991. Rajiv Gandhi had been assassinated on May 21. Sometime in the next couple of days or so, Doordarshan, in a gesture of magnanimity reserved for such somber occasions, paid homage to the departed soul by screening Chandraprabha Cinetone’s Hindi Meera—which, for some reason, unlike its Tamil original, is not easy to come by.

As a schoolgirl, for me—as for many others, undoubtedly, in keeping with Shakespeare’s “whining schoolboy … creeping like snail unwillingly to school”—the death of a famous political leader usually meant a sudden holiday, much welcomed especially if it was the postponement of a dreaded test or assignment. Some things never change. (Of course, Rajiv Gandhi’s death occurred during the summer vacation—I had just finished Std. XI—so it was certainly a lost holiday opportunity for whining school goers.)

The other thing about such deaths was that one could be fairly sure that Doordarshan would be inclined to broadcast vintage devotional or mythological films—essentially, classics that would stir the soul. Likewise, All India Radio would offer quite a musical bonanza, with rare recordings of devotional songs, bhajans, and classical music—which were all certainly not easy to come by on an ordinary day. And, of course, the melodious but sad strains of a shehnai vaadan (usually by Ustad Bismillah Khan) could be heard wafting through the neighborhood TVs and radios that would all be on, in anticipation of any announcements or updates.

For the avid vintage-films/vintage-music collector in me, this was the time for some serious recording work. Armed with enough blank audio and video tapes, and with both the TV and the radio on side-by-side, I would assume the role of watchdog (and a pugnacious one at that, if anyone interrupted), keeping my eyes and ears open for any vintage treasures that were on the way. And that is how I acquired my precious copy of the Hindi Meera, directed by Ellis R. Dungan (1909-2001), the American from Barton, Ohio, and co-written by Kalki Krishnamurthy, the legendary writer and freedom fighter (1899-1954).

Meera, with nearly twenty exceptionally melodious songs, all vying with each for best song, is one of those films that one can never have one’s fill of. The music for the Hindi version was inspired by the famous musician-intellectual of the time Dilip Kumar Roy (1897-1980) and composed by S. V. Venkatraman, G. Ramanathan, and Naresh Bhattacharya. (So far I have not been able to find accurate information about the three music directors, which just shows how wanting the documentation is in this area; I did read in a few places though that S. V. Venkatraman was an underrated composer. That is hard to understand, given the melody of the songs here.)

I really don’t want to sound clichéd, but M. S. Subbulakshmi is, cinematically and musically, quite the personification of Meera. When I think of or read Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Sir Laurence Olivier’s brooding face (from his 1948 film) comes to mind. When I think of Meera or listen to her bhajans, the inner eye, by default, equates Meera with M. S.—although I have seen and listened to other adaptations of the story of this 16th century Rajput princess. M. S.’s interpretation of Meera is one of those rare things that one can rely upon when one is down on one’s luck in the world; it is quite the panacea for life’s wear and tear.

The film starts with Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) introducing “Subbulakshmi of the South to the people of the North”—and to the world. It is a spellbinding introduction of a spellbinding artist, from one of modern India’s great literary voices, effortlessly lyrical and heartfelt. Clip 1:

The film tells the story of Meera’s single-minded devotion to Lord Krishna. A reluctant queen who sings the praises of Krishna, she is loved by the common people who call her Meera Maata, but criticized by the palace bigwigs for her unworldly ways. After many a trial and tribulation, Meera finally attains self-realization at the shrine of her beloved Dwarkanath.

Legend has it that Meera, as a child, fell in love with an idol of Krishna that was brought to her house by a holy man called Rupa Goswami. In the following scene, Radha Sadasivam (M. S.’s step-daughter) plays little Meera, sitting on the lap of her grandfather, played by Durasiwamy (an actor who specialized in fatherly roles in Tamil and Telugu films, hence playfully referred to as Appan Duraiswamy by my father, who points out to me that Appan Duraiswamy would die usually coughing). Little Meera is entranced by Krishna’s idol, which for a moment turns into a charming Kumari Kamala—the quintessential Krishna of celluloid. Rupa Goswami appears to be Serukalathur Sama, a Carnatic vocalist who acted in many Tamil films, such as Sakunthalai (1940) and Gemini’s Nandanar (1942). Baby Radha and Serukalathur Sama are singing for themselves in this song. Clip 2:

One day, little Meera sees a marriage procession from her balcony and, when she wonders about it, is told that she will also marry when she grows up. Then and there, she makes up her mind that she will wed only Giridhar Gopal. Baby Radha sings “Nanda bala mora pyaara,” and over the course of the song, she transforms into M. S. in what is now regarded as a sequence unprecedented in Indian cinema. The technicalities are best explained in film historian Randor Guy’s words, which I quote:

“When the changeover takes place, there is a 45-second, fast-paced musical interlude by the background orchestra as bridge as part of the song. Normally such background musical interludes are recorded along with the song in a recording studio long before the shooting of the film commences. But Dungan did not do so. He shot the scene first and the changeover sequence consisted of a number of shots of the statue of Lord Krishna… lighted candles with flames flickering …flowers on trays… prayer offerings…. Krishna’s flute in the statue…and then a cut to a close-up of MS singing with great feeling and emotion, “Hey! Murali… Mohana…” The shots were static, and also on fast trolley in close-up. (There were no ‘Zoom lenses’ in 1944-1945!) Dungan edited them all by himself into a rapidly cut fast-paced sequence first, and then the sadly underrated but highly talented music composer, S. V. Venkataraman scored the background music, in rhythm with the shots in a recording theatre. The impact was ecstatic and brilliant.”

(Randor Guy, “Full of technical innovations,” The Hindu, December 17, 2004)

Clip 3:

After her marriage to the Rana of Mewar, Meera moves to the capital Chittor, where she leads the life of a householder in the eyes of the world only, for, at heart, she is wedded to Krishna. After fulfilling her daily responsibilities, she retreats into the world of Krishna. Clip 4:

Here is the only duet in the film, with Meera and the Rana (played by V. Nagaiah, the very versatile Telugu actor-singer-composer, among other things) strolling in the royal gardens, in happy times. It is a moonlit night, replete with fountains, lotus ponds, rose trees, doves, and graceful white swans—quite an enchanting zone. The Rana has just promised her that he will build a grand temple for Krishna, and Meera is overjoyed. Clip 5:

As Meera spends more and more time at the temple, immersed in the glories of Krishna, she invites the ire of the Rana’s family, who instigate the Rana against her. In one scene, Meera, in a state of spiritual ecstasy with cymbals in hand, takes to the streets of Chittor, with the crowd following her, in her famous “Chaakar raakho ji” song. When the news of Meera singing and wandering on the streets reaches him, the Rana is horrified at his minstrel queen. Clip 6:

The Rana expresses his displeasure to Meera, who then promises to make amends by being present at court by his side for a ceremonial occasion. The day happens to be a special day at the temple as well, but still Meera agrees to fulfill her queenly duties at the court. The day arrives—but at the last moment, when, as a heavily bejeweled queen, she is all set to leave for the court, she hears “Kaanha ki bansi” (Krishna’s flute) from the temple and, utterly overwhelmed, runs to the temple and bursts into a song. Meanwhile, at court, the Rana is anxiously awaiting Meera. There is a look of sarcasm on the faces of Meera’s chief detractors—namely the Rana’s sister (K. R. Chellam) and his younger brother Jayaman (T. S. Baliah, a popular villain). When the Rana hears about Meera’s lapse, he is furious and stomps into the temple, as the chorus builds up dizzyingly. Clip 7:

Jayaman, who hates Meera with all his heart, decides to kill her and persuades his trembling sister (who still has a spark of conscience) to give her poison. Meera drinks the prasad (or offering) laced with poison that her sister-in-law brings her. The poison does not affect Meera; instead, the presiding deity at Dwarka turns blue and the doors close, much to the shock of the devotees there.

Meanwhile, hearing about Meera, people from all over flock to see her. And thereby hangs another tale. Supposedly, Akbar, the Mughal emperor at the time, accompanied by Mansingh, traveled all the way from Delhi to Chittor in disguise to see and listen to Meera, with an offering of a pearl necklace for Krishna’s idol. In this scene, Meera enters the temple with her tanpura and sings the captivating “Main Haricharanan ki daasi”—if I have to choose my favorite song in the film, it is this. Clip 8:

A suspicious Jayaman accosts the two visitors from Delhi, who, in their hurry to flee, accidentally leave behind an item that bears the stamp of the Mughal empire. Jayaman promptly reports this to the Rana and interprets this as a sign of the Mughals spying on Mewar. The Rana is enraged and, at the goading of his brother, orders the temple to be torn down. A triumphant Jayaman marches with the soldiers to the temple and tells all the Krishna devotees gathered there, including Meera, to leave. They refuse, convinced that Krishna will come to their rescue.

A mocking Jayaman orders the canon to be fired—at that very moment, in the palace, the Rana’s sister who is convinced of Meera’s devotion, confesses to her brother that she tried to poison Meera, to no avail, and pleads with him to stop Jayaman from destroying the temple. When he hears about the plot to kill Meera, the Rana is shocked. He realizes his mistake and runs to the temple—but it is a little too late. The canon has been fired, and Meera has made up her mind to go her own way in her quest for Krishna.

Meera, with only her tanpura, sets out on the long, arduous journey to Brindavan, the place where Krishna spent his childhood. She faces many hardships on the way, but steadfastly moves towards her goal. Clip 9:

She finally reaches Brindavan, and all her tiredness vanishes. And here is another snippet. According to journalist Gowri Ramarayan, Dungan was “terribly worried” about shooting the “Yaad aavey, Brindavan ki mangala leela” song since the scene required a crowd to follow M. S., and the production had not arranged for that. The film’s producer Sadasivam (M. S.’s husband) confidently assured Dungan that the “crowd will turn up.” And, indeed that is what happened with the crowd “materializ[ing]” out of nowhere. (M S Amma: A Shy Girl from Madurai, Documentary directed by Swati Thiyagarajan, 2007) Clip 10:

When Meera reaches Rupa Goswami’s ashram at Brindavan, his disciples tell her that their teacher does not see women. Meera wonders aloud about this gender discrimination in the realm of Brindavan, in the realm of the all-pervading spirit of Krishna. Goswami hears this and comes out to see Meera, apologizing for his narrow mindedness. He recognizes her as the little girl to whom, long ago, he had given a Krishna idol.

With Goswami and his disciples, Meera leaves for Dwarka, where the doors of the shrine still remain closed. In the last song of the film, “Suno meri manovyatha,” Meera’s plea to Krishna is answered, as the temple doors unlock and Meera attains salvation. The repentant Rana comes to take Meera back with him—but he is late. Clip 11:

The film was shot entirely on location, with the cast and crew traveling to all the places associated with Meera, including Jaipur, Chittor, Udaipur, Brindavan and Dwarka. Randor Guy, in the same article I mentioned before, writes that M. S. became a “national celebrity” after the 1947 release of the Hindi version of the film—apparently, even the Mountbattens saw the film before they left India.

This December 11 will be M. S.’s 5th death anniversary.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

The music of Kamal Dasgupta

This post first appeared in the PassionForCinema blog on October 24, 2009.

Kamal Dasgupta (1912-1974)In the Hindi film Jawab (1942), singer-actress Kanan Devi lulls a restless and, rather childlike, P. C. Barua into sweet sleep. The song is “Ay chand chup na jaana,” and it is great for frayed nerves. Given my own battles with sleep—the activity that consumes nearly a half of our lives—I feel compelled to attest to the wonder of this lullaby by music composer Kamal Prasanna Dasgupta (1912-1974), with lyrics by Pt. Madhur. Here it is: Song 1:

Considering the extraordinary melody of Kamal Dasgupta’s music (he was also a singer), it is surprising that today very few remember this prolific genius who composed nearly 8000 songs that spanned quite a range—from films (Hindi, Bengali, and—most astonishingly—even Tamil, which I have not yet had the luck of encountering) to non-film categories such as Meera bhajans, Nazrul geet, kirtans, and ghazals, to name just a few.

Here is a composer who gave Jagmohan and Juthika Roy some of their best songs ever, a composer who shaped the early careers of Talat Mahmood and Hemant Kumar, much before they got a break in films as playback singers. And yet, woefully, it is not easy to find detailed, authoritative information on—as Sarwat Ali puts it, “the first million copy seller of golden discs in [the] Indian music industry.”

I am guessing that S. M. Shahid’s book (with accompanying CDs) called Kamal Dasgupta: Unforgettable Songs, whose existence I only recently discovered through the Internet, and which I have not seen, should fill the void to some extent. Certainly it is on my buying list now.

And here comes a pleasant discovery I made from the tracks listed in Shahid’s book/CDs—a piece of information that thrilled me indescribably: for many years now, I have been enthralled by singer Jagmohan (or Jaganmoy Mitra, 1918-2003)—another largely forgotten figure—without knowing that many of his gut-wrenchingly beautiful songs were composed by Dasgupta.

Although I knew that Dasgupta had composed Jagmohan’s eponymous “O varsha ke pehle baadal mera sandesa le jaana” for the film Meghdoot (1945), I had no idea that it was the same genius composer behind other Jagmohan numbers (largely non film) such as “Dil dekar dard liya” or “Deewana tumhaara kahta hai afsaana.” (By the way, the lyricist for these songs is yet another forgotten figure—Fayyaz Hashmi, 1920-?)

I wonder why the old HMV audiocassettes of Jagmohan’s songs never ever mentioned the name of the composer. That has been a huge disservice to the legacy of Kamal Dasgupta—and that damage has stayed on: even now, when I look up Jagmohan’s songs, or the more well-known Talat Mahmood’s early songs, on the Internet, usually there is no mention of the music composer. Why does this information have to be so arcane? Why should one have to burrow one’s way through to know the name of the creator of some of the sweetest melodies? It is utterly deplorable.

I will suspend my outrage for a while and return to Jawab (1942), possibly the first Hindi film for which Dasgupta composed music. One of its best-known songs is Kanan Devi’s “Toofan Mail” (in recent times, Lata Mangeshkar sang it for her Shraddhanjali series that celebrated all-time memorable songs), and it certainly ranks as one of the most unforgettable train songs in Indian film music. Lyricist Pt. Madhur sure nailed it when he wrote “Ek hai aata, ek hai jaata, sabhi musaafir, bichhad jaayenge.” Song 2:

From a soothing lullaby to a sprightly train song—and now to a “dulhaniya” song from Jawab: here is Anima Dasgupta (no relation of Kamal Dasgupta) singing “Dulhaniya chhama chham chhama chham chali” for actress Jamuna, who looks on dotingly at the bashful bride-to-be, a charming Kanan Devi in all her bridal finery. Song 3:

In keeping with the grand tradition in Indian films of double versions of the same song—happy versus sad, or fast versus slow, or solo versus duet—here is the second, shorter version of the “Ay chand chup na jaana” lullaby that appears towards the end of the film, when love triumphs. It is sung by, I believe, Kamal Dasgupta himself, along with Kanan Devi. Song 4:

While researching on Dasgupta on the Internet (a very frustrating endeavor), I found a particularly poignant statement by him. An article by Khalid Hasan mentions a line from Dasgupta’s 1971 letter to a friend in Bengali—and I quote the quote: “‘The pictures you see in front, everybody remembers them and praises them. But nobody wants to know the people who work behind the scenes, nor talk about them. That is the nature of the world.’” Guess that sums it up.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Of sudden realizations: Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains (1966)

This post first appeared in the PassionForCinema blog on September 20, 2009.

Václav Neckář as Miloš Hrma in Closely Watched Trains (1966)TIME magazine described Closely Watched Trains (1966) as one of the 100 best films ever. Set in German-occupied Czechoslovakia during the last days of World War II, the film, directed by Jiří Menzel, powerfully documents a young Czech boy’s aching—and poignant—personal crisis—in this case, a not-so-easy discovery of his manhood. (Spoiler warning: This article gives away the story; if you’d rather watch the film first, stop right here.)

Based on a story by the novelist Bohumil Hrabal, the film is a stark portrait of life’s crisscrossing aspects and moods. For Miloš Hrma (played by Václav Neckář), who has just found initiation into the working world in the form of a train dispatcher’s assistant, the initiation into life’s sexual aspect—or love, to put it more poetically—is fraught with all sorts of difficulties, from the physiological to the emotional. As Miloš looks around at the world, it strikes him that most people are spared the embarrassing problem that he faces—the problem being his hopeless ineptitude in matters of love and physical fulfillment. Here is something that is so tragic (at least for the subject) that, at some point, it oversteps its boundary and becomes comic and tragic, or comi-tragic.

The rather sensitive Miloš is consumed by this deeply personal problem, which afflicts him horribly and settles into a vicious circle: he is tormented because he is physically unfulfilled; this lack, in turn, makes him diffident and awkward with people, especially women—which, then, makes the much-sought-after physical fulfillment a spirally elusive goal.

Miloš’ conflict is played out at a nondescript, although strategically positioned, railway station. Trains carrying ammunitions to the Germans pass through this station. Train dispatcher Hubička, Miloš’ boss, is responsible for the smooth and timely passage of these trains. On the subject of women, Hubička is quite the pro, and his time at work is mostly spent in seducing women, notably the acquiescing telegrapher. The confused Miloš, of course, looks on as his boss effortlessly dabbles in women, and he is constantly reminded—stingingly—of his own inadequacy in the matter.

After a particularly unsuccessful attempt at adulthood, Miloš checks himself into a room at an inn, where he slashes his wrists. However, self-extinction does not come that easy; he is rescued, and finds himself in the hospital, very much alive, and privy to the same depressing thoughts. He confides to the doctor: in Miloš’ own words, “Everything is so difficult in life, for me. While for others it’s all child’s play.” The doctor advises the novice in Miloš to find wing under an experienced woman, who can successfully initiate him into one of life’s most primordial acts. (In some ways, I was reminded of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha approaching Kamala for an understanding of certain primeval matters—something that the much-evolved Siddhartha felt was crucial to life’s completeness.)

So in keeping with the best comi-tragic (or is that tragi-comic?) tradition, Miloš, desperate for an older woman, goes asking for one, quite literally, from door to door. His desperation even drives him to ask the stationmaster, more a bird breeder than otherwise, for the latter’s matronly wife.

Viktoria FreieOne day, finally, Miloš’ life changes—and changes forever. Hubička is the agent of that change. Hubička is part of the Czech resistance against the German Occupation. When the rather enterprising Viktoria Freie, a fellow-member of this group, arrives at the station, ridden with bombs to blow up a train, Hubička introduces her to Miloš, certain that she is the solution to Miloš’ problem. And it works.

Miloš is euphoric, and his newly discovered personality now overflows with self-confidence and zeal. In this spirit, he takes upon himself the task of planting the explosives on the railway tracks. (His boss, who is supposed to do this deed, is in trouble for his dalliances with the telegrapher.) Miloš achieves the mission but also dies in the process, incidentally—and ironically—achieving a permanent place in the history of the Czech resistance.

It is almost as though once his physical longing is quenched, life is complete for Miloš, who is transmuted into a hero of sorts. Menzel conveys the underlying parody of the situation, of this incidental heroism, in such an unobtrusive way that it quite slips past the viewer, who suddenly realizes that Miloš’ death quietly subverts the grandeur of martyrdom. On first impression, the personal merges with the political—or does it? Inarguably, this is one of cinema’s most epiphanic moments.

Closely Watched Trains (the title refers to the close eye that the Nazis kept on trains ferrying ammunitions their way) is the story of a complex human situation in a complex political climate, which is told simply and strikingly. It speaks not just of the brutality of war and death, but of the brutality of life itself, of the everyday, of each one’s peculiar trials.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Black Narcissus (1947) and the colors of chaos, with a touch of E. M. Forster

This post first appeared in the PassionForCinema blog on August 13, 2009.

No one really knows what exactly happened to Adela Quested inside the Marabar Caves, in E. M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India (1924)—except that she came out of the caves disheveled and nutty, in an accusatory mood, and enveloped in a horrible confusion that was at the heart of this Forsterian narrative. The enigma of the Marabar Caves—and what it can do to hapless westerners, especially women, who end up making spectacles of themselves—is legendary in the annals of colonial literature.

Something similar is the theme of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s British film Black Narcissus, which released in the U.K. on 26 May 1947, just before the British Raj bid adieu to India. (Interestingly, in the U.S., the film released on 13 August 1947, just two days before India’s independence.) Based on a 1939 novel by Rumer Godden, the accused here is a place called Mopu (not far from Darjeeling), 8000 feet up in the Himalayas, where a palace-turned-convent rests rather precariously—both literally and figuratively.

The palace at Mopu The palace, once a harem of the local Hindu king, is now home to St. Faith, a group of five nuns from Calcutta. At the request of General Toda Rai of Mopu, Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr in a subdued role) leads four nuns from the Convent of the Order of the Servants of Mary in their mission, which is to open a dispensary and school for the locals.

Once in Mopu, the nuns discover that the place is not just dangerously windy—it also has a dangerously volatile effect on their emotions. There is something about the air of Mopu that tests the equanimity (both physical and mental) of the nuns, and casts doubts on their lives of abnegation: it stirs in them long-forgotten thoughts and feelings; it rekindles certain emotions and memories that they have learned to do away with; in short, it disturbs the status quo.

The colors of life that they have trained themselves, as nuns, to keep at bay, burst upon their lives—and, indeed, upon the screen in spellbinding bluish-rosy-golden hues of Technicolor—as enticing to the nuns as it is to the viewers.

(A digression here. On the subject of Technicolor, my first impressions are certainly my last impressions: When I first watched Aan (1952), India’s first Technicolor film, I almost wondered if, perhaps, Mehboob Khan had ordered the film reel to be dipped in a bucket of dye. As the screen dripped with color, I felt that Dilip Kumar, Nadira, and Nimmi had come straight out of a book of fairy tales. Later, when I saw Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), it only reinforced that association of Technicolor with fairy tales. And now, after many years, when I watch the Black Narcissus, the surfeit of colors evokes that same deliciously unreal world. Perhaps it is a case of childhood associations dying hard.)

Back to the story: For the nuns, who find themselves flitting in and out of their many reveries, the varied colors of Mopu bring to the fore the now-obscured aspects of life—whether it is the raw enjoyment of nature, the physicality of desire, or the wild human imagination. And all hell breaks loose. In keeping with the empire mindset, the Orient, it seems, has the power to disturb.

Sister Ruth and the colors of chaos While Sister Clodagh is reminded of her first love in Ireland, Sister Philippa (who is in charge of growing vegetables) stares vacantly at the vast expanses before her and takes to growing flowers instead of the more useful vegetables. The worst case, though, is Sister Ruth who lapses into plain hysteria. Sister Clodagh often catches Sister Ruth casting surreptitious glances at the ruggedly handsome Mr. Dean (David Farrar), an Englishman who is the agent of General Toda Rai.

Sister Clodagh, Sister Ruth, and the rugged Mr. Dean In fact, Sister Ruth, with a rush in her blood, is, in some ways, like Forster’s Adela. The Mopu landscape opens up a deep recess within her, and she goes hurtling down; if Adela was madly attracted to Aziz in the Marabar Caves, and invited doomsday for herself, Sister Ruth wallows in her imagined love for the rather attractively irreverent Dean (who queries Sister Clodagh, “Isn’t it your business to save souls?”), although here the repercussion is her violent death.

Like the Marabar Caves, the palace at Mopu is a maze with its many rooms. It is easy to lose one’s way and lose one’s mind as well. Cinematically speaking, the serenity of the surrounding snowcapped Himalayan peaks provides a perfect foil for the tumult of the mind and the nuns’ inner struggles. This juxtaposition of the inner and the outer worlds in the Black Narcissus is all the more significant because the outer world—the palace of Mopu and the Himalayan peaks—was not really the outer world; it was a creation of the set designer. If cinema is the art of make-believe, it is verily so here.

The shadow of the crucifix Powell and Pressburger use chiaroscuro—or the interplay of light and shade—to bring out, very effectively, the nuns’ conflicted states of mind. Sister Clodagh’s bright and cheerful past in sunny Ireland, for instance, transposes onto the dark silhouette of her present nun’s attire. In another unforgettable shot, the crucifix casts its shadow on her, pulled as she is in opposite directions. The camera angles and the lighting are very reminiscent of film noir—the addition here being color, which is co-opted to convey the underlying chaos of the narrative.

The chaos of Mopu is aptly represented by the wind, which “blows seven days a week;” indeed, the wind is such an integral part of the film that it comes across as a character in itself—it becomes a personification of the Orient that defies control. And it, eerily, blends in with the film’s background musical score. It howls and causes terrible echoes—just like the (in)famous echoes in the Marabar Caves that led to Adela’s discomposure.

The exotic KanchiThe bejeweled prince
The Black Narcissus has all the staples of the colonial story: there is Kanchi, the exotic-looking local girl; there is high-strung Angu Ayah, the antiquarian caretaker of the palace; then there is the bejeweled and perfumed young prince (the nephew of General Toda Rai), who persuades the nuns to accept him into the children’s classroom because he “want[s] to study a lot of learning”—incidentally the film is named after a perfume (from the army/navy stores in London) that the prince wears. He asks, “Oh, Sister, don’t you think it’s rather common to smell of ourselves?”

General-turned-sannyasi Finally, there is the holy man—the former General Sir Krishna Rai—now a silent, detached observer of life, always unfazed. The General-turned-sannyasi has a profoundly unsettling effect on Sister Clodagh, who, distracted as she is by the Orient, cannot help but feel spiritually inferior, which only exasperates her more. I am reminded of Professor Godbole in Forster’s book.

Filled with subterranean passions that bubble over, the Black Narcissus ends with the fiendish Sister Ruth falling to her death and the mission of St. Faith silently retreating out of Mopu. The viewer is left with images of the falling rain and the snow-clad peaks. According to film critic Dave Kehr, given the release date of the film, the Black Narcissus could, perhaps, be seen as the British empire’s swan song (although the book was published in 1939).

Disclaimer: Images from the Internet have been used for academic/discussion purposes only. 

Friday, July 31, 2009

Remembering Mohammed Rafi

This post first appeared in the PassionForCinema blog on July 29, 2009.

Come July 31, and it is Mohammed Rafi’s death anniversary. So much is written about Rafi (1924-1980) that I don’t quite know where to begin and what new to say really. I am stumped. It should just suffice if I say that Rafi was one of the most versatile singers in the history of Hindi film music. His pan-Indian (and beyond) appeal seems to get only stronger with time. From the doleful Jugnu (1947) to the patriotic Shaheed (1948) to the classical Baiju Bawra (1952) to the effervescent Mr. and Mrs. 55 (1955) to the regal Raj Hath (1956) to the poetic Pyaasa (1957) to the meltingly romantic Barsaat Ki Raat (1960)—phew! the list is endless—Rafi sang it all. And more.

Equally at home on different turfs, Rafi could convincingly slip under the skin of characters that were poles apart: he sang for the brooding Dilip Kumar in Deedar (1951) with the same ease with which he lent his voice to a frolicking Johnny Walker in C.I.D. (1956). And, truly, it is difficult for the listener to decide where Rafi excels more.

In his earlier years, before he had fully come into his own, Rafi sang for Ghulam Mohammed (Naushad’s protégé) a lovely duet with Lata in Pardes (1950), called “Akhiyaan milaake zara baat karo jee,” a song to which I am very partial for two reasons: Madhubala’s striking beauty, and Rafi’s deep, powerful rendering that is reminiscent of Pankaj Mullick, not to mention a very young Lata’s exquisitely honeyed voice.

In the lines of the second stanza, “Dil ke khazaaney koyi aaya hai lutaney aji din hain suhaney chaley aao naa,” Rafi’s inflection has a strong, decisive tinge of Mullick’s style of singing; it is one of those nuances that just cannot be overlooked. I have not heard such likeness to the Bangla maestro in any of Rafi’s other songs. (Of course, there are many Rafi songs—his earlier ones, especially—that I have not heard; so there might easily be other instances as well.)

Moreover, for various reasons, some songs are not as well known as they deserve to be (one does not find these in the typical compilations), and this particular Rafi-Lata duet is a prime example. (By the same logic—or lack of—Ghulam Mohammed was one of those vastly—and most unfairly—underrated composers.) Here is the song, on Rahman and Madhubala: Song 1:

As the decade of the 1950s unfolded, Rafi’s own distinct style—with its almost nonchalant attitude to the vagaries of life—firmly stuck roots. This is the quintessential Rafi, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the “Le chala jidhar ye dil nikal padey” number from Miss Bombay (1957), picturized on Ajit (much before he turned villain for the screen).

Bombay—that teeming metropolis, teeming then in the 1950s just as it is teeming today—the land of opportunities—was masterfully captured by lyricist Prem Dhawan to composer Hansraj Behl’s tune that is born for the harmonica. (Its more famous precursor that spoke of urban vicissitudes, also tailor-made for the harmonica, is, of course, “Ay dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan” from C.I.D. in 1956.) Here is Rafi in Miss Bombay: Song 2:

I am going to end this piece with “Dil ki tamanna thi masti mein,” a hit song from Gyaara hazaar ladkiyaan (1962), a film that is, nevertheless, not easy to come by. Rafi and Asha Bhonsle sing for Bharat Bhushan and Mala Sinha, under the music direction of N. Dutta (another underrated composer). On a personal note, this is one of my mother’s favorite songs—it takes her back to her college days, when she and her friends would attend matinee shows, spellbound by their favorite heroes. And, of course, they would also get the latest fashion tips from the reigning screen queens of the day, whose sari styles or hair buns they would imitate. That nostalgia has badly rubbed off on me, too; it just underscores the cross-generational appeal that Rafi’s songs have. So here is going back to another era: Song 3:

Friday, July 17, 2009

The enduring power of certain old Hindi film songs

This post first appeared in the PassionForCinema blog on July 15, 2009.

Raichand Boral

Of all the Raichand Boral (1903-1981) songs I have listened to—not that many, given how rare these songs are—my favorite has to be Binota Roy’s rendering of “Manwa kaahey phir tadpaayey” from Calcutta-based New Theatres’ Wapas (1943). The world of old Hindi films is full of so many beautiful songs that make it very difficult, if not plain impossible, to pick out favorites. Moreover, selecting favorites is purely an exercise in subjectivity and, indeed, self-expression; what appeals to me may not appeal to another.

To put it in a different way, I have noticed that certain songs have this unfailing power to make me feel completely in tune with myself, irrespective of when and where I listen to them, irrespective of my circumstances in life, irrespective of everything—and “Manwa kaahey phir tadpaayey,” with its charming Bangla intonation, simply has to be one of those songs. Here it is: Song 1:

I place these melodies in a category that I call “instant elevation.” My “instant elevation” songs are what I turn to when I feel weary of life, when I feel uninspired and lost, when I desperately need perspective, and even when I am a bit too smug for my own good. And I have never been let down. For this, I am extremely grateful—it is the one comforting thing in a world of here-today-gone-tomorrow. I hope I never lose this capacity to draw joy from this little well of mine.

The first time I heard this R. C. Boral composition, I was in standard X, feverishly mugging the “21 sets” preparation material (is it still around?) for the Maharashtra State Board exams. After every hour of mugging, I would reward myself with one “instant elevation” song, and then, inspired, return to mugging. Nearly two decades down the line, this literal interspersing of “instant elevation” songs with life’s many duties continues.

I also remember my habit (I still do it, much to the exasperation of my poor husband) of recording a single song repeatedly onto a whole side of an audiotape, sometimes even both sides, and listening to it non-stop. My one-song tapes would draw an irritated remark from my grandmother, “Why is the same song playing over and over again?”

Other culprits in the one-song tapes were, to name a few: Lata’s famous “Tum na jaaney kis jahaan mein kho gayey” from Sazaa (1951), composed by S. D. Burman; two Khemchand Prakash ditties from Ziddi (1948)—Lata’s lively “Chanda rey jaa rey jaa rey” and the delightful Lata-Kishore duet, “Yeh kaun aayaa”—the latter sounding very Pankaj Mullickesque; and M. S. Subbulakshmi’s “Main Haricharanan ki daasi” from her Hindi version of Meera (1947), composed by S.V. Venkatraman. (Incidentally, Binota Roy’s “Manwa kaahey phir tadpaayey” reminds me, in some subtle way, of M.S.’s songs in Meera—it could be the style of singing, the orchestration, the heartwrenching melody; I am unable to pinpoint it. It is just one of those things that strike me afresh every time I listen to it.)

I also have another name for my “instant elevation” songs: instant levelers. They elevate, and, by the same token, they level: during moments of hubris, when I revel in self-importance, nothing is more humbling than the majesty of my favorite music.

The years come and go, people come and go; even memories fade. As they say, nothing’s forever. But I find I am able to hold on to the beauty of a R. C. Boral song. On that note, I will leave you with (the quite literally not-to-be-forgotten) “Bhool na jaana aaj ki baaten” melody from Wapas, sung by actor-singer Ashit Baran, and Binota Roy. Here goes: Song 2:

A page from Indian film history: The Court Dancer (1941)

This post first appeared in the PassionForCinema blog on June 21, 2009.

1941: World War II was raging on in Europe and, back home in India, Tagore passed away. The year also saw the first trilingual production of an Indian film—Wadia Movietone’s The Court Dancer or Raj Nartaki, directed by Modhu Bose (1900-1969), which was released in English, Hindi, and Bengali. According to the film credits, The Court Dancer was “the first Indian film with dialogue in English to be entirely produced in India with an all-Indian personnel.”

Once, in the late 1980s, Doordarshan broadcast the English version of The Court Dancer in the late-night slot. (Unfortunately, old classics are typically relegated to the hours of slumber.) After finishing my school homework well in advance, I was up that night with my video recorder to capture this momentous piece of Indian film history. I was very curious to hear the cast speak English, especially given that the film was set in early 19th century Manipur.

After many years, I recently revisited my videotape of the film, this time to digitize it, to make it last forever. And here, I will have to necessarily digress a bit. In the last few months, I have had to wade through unknown waters. (I am still wading.)

As someone with zero technical knowledge, I have been faced with many questions: sitting here in America, where the NTSC format prevails, how do I digitize my Indian VHS tapes (PAL format) so that they will work universally? What multi-system VCR must I invest in? What kind of a converter box will I need? How do I go about all this without getting ripped off? After being assailed by umpteen other such doubts, and after long months of research, I finally figured out what exactly I need and, hey, the process of digitization has finally begun.

Now I have moved on to the next stage: I am immersed in researching the world of media storage! So what is the best way to store these newly digitized films? Should I copy them onto DVDs with their painfully small storage space, in which case, am I to split each film into two or three DVDs, and add to the clutter of my tiny apartment? Or should I copy them onto Western Digital-manufactured passport drives that come in terabytes, where a one-terabyte passport drive can, amazingly, store up to 666 hours of material? Just the other day, I learned about the My Book external hard drive that can even be plugged into the television.

More than anything else, I am terrified of losing these priceless films, so what about backups? I am still deciphering all this and more. End of digression.

So, getting back to The Court Dancer (which is still sitting on my computer hard drive while I decide where to store it permanently), the film tells the tale of doomed love between a courtesan and a prince—as such alliances are usually doomed to be. (For starters, think of the unsanctioned love of Anarkali and Prince Salim.) Based on a Bengali play by dramatist Manmath Ray (1899-1988), the film starred the legendary Prithviraj Kapoor (1906-1972), one of the doyens of Indian cinema, as Prince Chandrakirti (Jyoti Prakash replaced Kapoor in the Bengali version); and the accomplished Sadhona Bose (1914-1973), an exponent of both Kathak and Manipuri dance forms, in the role of the court dancer Indrani. (Interestingly, Sadhona Bose, the wife of director Modhu Bose, was the granddaughter of Keshab Chandra Sen, the Brahmo social reformer, 1838-1884. Sadly, in her later years, she was reduced to begging in the streets of Calcutta.)

Here is a brief write-up of the film, with excerpts.

In keeping with the Vaishnava tradition of 19th century Manipur, the film opens with a musical celebration of Lord Krishna’s love for Radha, in the court dancer Indrani’s garden. It is the night of the full moon and, to the accompaniment of Timir Baran’s music that sounds appropriately regal, the viewer is introduced to His Highness Prince Chandrakirti as he grandly enters the garden of his beloved. As his eyes eagerly look for Indrani, the camera follows suit and pans to a striking Sadhona Bose. Indrani and Chandrakirti are swathed in their love for each other. Thus begins a story of human love that is intertwined with divine love, in the background of the Raas Leela. Watch the beginning of the film, with an introduction from Doordarshan:

Soon the strains of “Jai madhava mukunda murari” herald the arrival of the High Priest Kashishwar Goswami and his followers in the grove. Indrani, with sincere devotion, performs the Raas Leela with her group (choreographed by Bose herself), which touches the heart of Kashishwar who tells her, “I have never seen such devotion before, my child”. He is about to offer her “the most valuable treasure of the Vaishnava,” which is the “sacred dust from Lord Chaitanya’s feet,” when Chandrakirti’s father, King Jaisingh, arrives at that critical moment and shouts to Kashishwar that Indrani is a court dancer. Kashishwar recoils in horror. Chandrakirti looks on helplessly as Indrani is reminded of her stigma, her fate—something that will happen over and over again as the story unfolds. Indrani is a courtesan with the proverbial heart of gold—or should we say purity, of selfless love, for her prince as well as for Lord Krishna. But this is not recognized by society: how can a nautch girl have any stake in spiritual matters, let alone dream of marrying a prince? Watch the Raas Leela, and Kashishwar recoiling from the court dancer:

Later, Indrani is turned away from the royal temple, where she goes to offer worship. And then a melody wafts through the air as these words fill the screen: “The tortured soul of Indrani found solace in a broken temple whose keeper was a singing hermit.” Comforted by the kind hermit, she offers her prayers in this dilapidated, desolate temple on top of a hill and regains her peace.

King Jaisingh is, meanwhile, busy forming a marriage alliance for his son with the princess of neighboring Tripura. Since Manipur and Tripura are not on good terms, binding the two kingdoms in wedlock seems strategic: as Tripura’s envoy informs King Jaisingh, if this alliance is not finalized soon, Tripura will invade Manipur. “To keep the envoy in good humor,” the king orders Indrani to perform in the court, and this is followed by the envoy’s announcement of the to-be royal wedding. A shining crescent moon, glittering stars, and a flower garland are all momentarily transposed onto Indrani’s fingers during the dance sequence: the imagery has stuck in my mind. Watch the dance sequence and Indrani’s reaction:

As a dejected Indrani returns to the temple on the hill, Chandrakirti rushes there to vow before the idol that he loves only her and will not marry anyone else. Later, at Indrani’s house, a furious King Jaisingh arrives and orders his son to leave the place at once. Watch the father-son encounter:

Not caring for the disastrous consequences of breaking a marriage alliance with Tripura, Chandrakirti tells Indrani that he will come at dawn and take her to the faraway Shyamsunder temple where they will get married. Indrani is ecstatic. The disturbed king, sensing trouble from his son, confides in Kashishwar, who, in the interests of Manipur, decides to talk Indrani out of marrying the prince. He finds Indrani in the broken temple; she has gone there, one last time, in the middle of the night, to thank the lord.

Kashishwar successfully dissuades Indrani from her goal of marrying the prince by painting a picture of doomsday to her: the people will never accept her as the queen, the army will rise in revolt, Tripura will invade, Manipur will be destroyed, and Chandrakirti will certainly perish. He reminds her of her duty to her country, to her religion, and most importantly, to her prince: if she really loves him, she will give him up for his own sake, for his own life. A broken Indrani collapses to the ground. Kashishwar walks away relieved, although sad for Indrani.

When the prince comes to take away Indrani at dawn, she feigns rudeness. When Chandrakirti tells her that he has given up his right to the throne so that they can live together happily, Indrani spurns his love—a love “without the pomp and grandeur of palaces.” A disbelieving prince concedes, “Oh, a court dancer after all” and stomps out. Indrani is shattered. Watch the Indrani-Chandrakirti encounter:

The royal wedding is announced for the next day, an auspicious occasion when Kashishwar will distribute the “sacred dust of Lord Chaitanya’s feet” to all devotees. Indrani is ordered to dance on the festive occasion, which she does, but faints towards the end. Considering this an ill omen, the king contemplates postponing the marriage. Meanwhile, the people of Manipur are clamoring for the sacred dust from Kashishwar, who is suddenly not to be found, much to the consternation of the king and the people.

Touched by Indrani’s selflessness and duty towards her country, Kashishwar has gone to Indrani’s house to give her the sacred dust, which he had once denied her. Meanwhile, the captain of the guards arrives at Indrani’s house to escort Kashishwar back to the palace to distribute the sacred dust. Kashishwar sternly replies that the people must come to Indrani, who will dispense the sacred dust with her own hands. As the horrified captain leaves, Kashishwar gently tells the surprised Indrani that he knows of nobody more deserving of the sacred dust than Indrani herself and begs her to accept it.

Meanwhile, the captain spreads rumors among the people that Indrani is a witch, for she has even trapped a holy man. As an angry mob marches to Indrani’s house to kill her, a faithful maid runs to the prince to ask him to go save Indrani and tells him of her sacrifice; Kashishwar also confesses to the prince his role in Indrani’s pretence. As the prince rushes to save Indrani from the mob, she spots her finger ring containing poison and quietly swallows the powder. She dies in his arms. Watch the last scenes:

A conclusory note: The Court Dancer is a simple love story, told simply and effectively. Some may consider the acting to be exaggerated, but that is in keeping with the theatrical style of acting common in those days. After all, many of the early legends of Indian cinema started out in theatre—Prithviraj Kapoor notably. Timir Baran’s music brilliantly recreates royal Manipur and conveys the soulful devotion of the Vaishnava poets. At 80 minutes in duration, The Court Dancer is a short film by Indian film standards.

David Lean’s Hobson’s Choice (1954)

This post first appeared in the PassionForCinema blog on June 10, 2009.

Laughton as Hobson
There lived in England, between 1545 and 1631, a man named Hobson who owned a horse-rental business. He was quirky in that in he would rent out horses only according to his choice. It was, quite literally, Hobson’s choice for his customer who could either ride away in the horse that was offered or not ride at all. By the end of the film, David Lean’s Hobson’s Choice (1954) turns out to be exactly that—an instance of Hobson’s choice—for the portly Henry Hobson (played by Charles Laughton, 1899-1962), who has no say anymore, neither at home nor in his business. The film comes a full circle with the authoritarian, although bumbling, Hobson of the early frames firmly cut down to size.

Hobson, a bootmaker in 1880s Salford, Northern England, has three chief pursuits: bullying his three daughters, bullying his shop employees, and drinking at his favorite Moonrakers inn. The daughters are unmarried and stuck at home because their father is not willing to give them settlements—the settlement being a woman’s passport to a good marriage in Victorian society. The employees in his boot shop are also stuck in their dead-end jobs, given the class system of the times. Hobson unfairly calls his daughters the “rebellious females” of his household, just as he is quick to a peeve when a rich customer praises the bootmaking genius of his star employee, the meek Willie Mossop. Hobson is used to his own supremacy, and his girth dominates the frames, literally.

Hobson’s eldest daughter, Maggie, however, has a mind of her own and is determined to liberate herself. Maggie is entrepreneurial, ambitious, and has a deadly practicality about her. To her father’s horror, she fixes a marriage-business deal for herself with the socially inferior Willie Mossop. She believes in the combination of her brains and Willie’s hands, and persuades the wide-eyed Willie too. This marriage of business and romance is an astounding success and, as the narrative unfolds, a disbelieving Hobson finds himself eating his own words. The tables turned, a bankrupt Hobson finds himself faced with a bad case of Hobson’s (read Mossop’s) choice.

Lean tells this tale of reversal in fortunes, based on Harold Brighouse’s play of 1916, in his characteristically British, understated, and imaginative way. Lean’s world here is very Victorian—late Victorian, to be specific—with the “ayes,” the cobblestone streets where marketplaces stir to life every morning, the in-fashion bustles (or “humps” as Hobson calls them mockingly) of women’s dresses, the class system—and yet, like Dickens, the other great chronicler of Victorian England, Lean tells a story that is timeless and universal in appeal.

The singular thing about this film is the ease with which it straddles different realms, and welds worlds, much like a Dickens novel. The comic and the sublime come together—as in the scene where an inebriated Hobson catches sight of a beautiful full moon in the street puddles and then proceeds to trample over all the puddles, one by one. The comic is treated poetically, and the poetic is treated comically. Each signifies the other, and, temporarily, I am reminded of another portly gentleman—Mr. Pickwick in Dickens, although, of course, Pickwick is a kind and noble soul, quite unlike the boor that is Lean’s Hobson.

Here is a humorous film (not typical for Lean) whose underlying themes are essentially heavy duty. It is the story of one woman’s determined fight against the gender and class stratification of her times. Maggie is delightfully pragmatic, and not even the sphere of romance is exempt from her pragmatism: in an early scene, an optimistic Maggie assures an awkward Willie, who is too much in awe of his employer’s daughter to see her in a romantic light, that if he cannot bring himself to love her immediately, “then we’ll get along without it”. Lean’s portrait of the romance between Maggie and Willie is at once comic and poignant, and the viewer looks on amused as Lean masterfully captures the changing subtleties of their relationship. By the end of the story, Willie fondly tells his wife, “you are growing on me”. The pragmatic gives way, quite effortlessly, to the poetic, and Lean’s genius for recording the endless variety of life is, it seems, quite inimitable.

On an aside: Around 1954, the year this film was made, which of Laughton’s contemporaries in Hindi cinema, I wonder, would have fitted the bill for the role of Hobson. Purely wishful thinking on my part, but if I could go back in time, I would cast Gope, that much-forgotten rotund comedian, the “piya” of the famous “Mere piya gaye Rangoon” song from Patanga (1949).

Image credit:

Rantings of an old-movies buff

My very first post, which first appeared in the PassionForCinema blog on June 3, 2009.

I sit in my California apartment, happily surrounded by my old, tottering VHS tapes of Hindi films from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Like King Midas with his gold, I proudly survey my precious collection, which is my only tangible link to a world that is far away in both space and in time. Having just embarked on the process of digitizing my film collection, I realize, though, that I will have to fortify myself. Case in point: When my tape of Calcutta New Theatres’ film Wapas (1943) jumps, my heart jumps too—heavily. The pain of seeing that vintage, irreplaceable treasure in that tattered condition is no less than the pain of seeing a dearest person wasting away. In my desperation, I find myself thinking, perhaps irrationally, that I would even trade in all my jewelry just to restore Wapas to its glory. I am just inconsolable. I even go on a hunger strike, convincing myself that if I rebel hard enough, Wapas will somehow regain its celluloid life and come back (“wapas”) to me.

When I explain this to people, many are puzzled. The typical response goes like this: “Old movies are easily available these days. Just check out this Indian DVD store…. They stock everything. It is not worth wasting your money on all this equipment converting VHS to DVDs when you can just buy them.”

To which, I enquire eagerly but doubtfully, fervently hoping for an affirmation, hoping against hope, “Oh really, do they have Buzdil (1951), or how about Khazanchi (1941)?” The response comes, somewhat indignantly even, blatantly bypassing my query—“Of course, they have old movies. There is Aradhana (1969), Seeta aur Geeta (1972), those Rajesh Khanna-Mumtaz starrers and those 70s movies.” These are, quite often, the same people who conflate the Burmans—S.D. and R.D. Indeed, much before Kishore Kumar teamed up with R.D., he sang for S.D. the “Dekho dekhojee” duet with Lata in Naujawan (1951), picturized on a dapper Premnath and a chirpy Nalini Jaywant.

As the years go by, of course, it is understandable that movies from the 1970s should rise in seniority—that is the law of chronology—just as the passage of time has earned me the suffix of Nivedita aunty. (I myself am a product of the mid-70s.) But with “old” becoming increasingly equated with the 60s and 70s, what epithet must one, then, use for movies of the Silent Era, the 30s, 40s, and 50s? For a die-hard vintage-movie buff who unequivocally (and rigidly) considers “old” to be pre-1960, it is disquieting that an Aradhana is more easily available than a Buzdil.

I remember once catching the tail end of the utterly haunting “Ada se jhoomtey huey,” a Shamshad Begum-Rafi duet from Sindbad the Sailor (1952), on a program called Raymond (later Centura) Sargam Smriti that used to air once a week on Bombay radio in the early 1990s. I still recollect being utterly mesmerized by this Chitragupt composition and kicking myself for not having been ready with my cassette recorder. For awhile, I even went into the Sindbad phase, constantly humming the tune to myself, in a bid to keep it alive within. Much later, I found the audio of that song, but I am still dying to lay hands on the film itself, which was directed by Nanabhai Bhatt and starred Naseem Bano and Ranjan. But at least I have managed to get a glimpse of Naseem and Ranjan, thanks to a kindred spirit who has uploaded the “Ada se jhoomtey huey” song onto Youtube that is fast becoming a haven for people like me in search of old treasures.

But the question remains: why are our old films doomed to anonymity, to sheer atrophy in cinematic memory? Why should getting hold of a P.C. Barua film of 1936 (I refer to New Theatres’ Manzil that was co-written by the legendary Saratchandra Chatterjee, with music by two stalwarts, R.C. Boral and Pankaj Mullick) be so difficult, if not downright impossible? Surely the old classics deserve to be better remembered, better documented, and better exhibited.