Friday, July 17, 2009

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.

5 comments:

  1. Hi there! Just found your blog from a link over at Dances on the Footpath and am so glad I did!

    I can totally identify with your sentiments about old movies. Why IS it so hard to find them? Thankfully for me, I'm keen on movies beginning from the 50s, which makes it easier to find them. When people make out 80s films to be "old", I dont really know what to tell them about 50s/60s stuff!

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  2. I know that feeling!! Thanks for sharing...

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  3. Hi! Bollyviewer, thanks for the reference, and Nievedita, I am glad that you found my blog as well as my YouTube site. (As you know by now, I like both your sites a lot too - or would that be all three of your sites? :)

    Anyway, I seem to be drifting further back in time in my tastes. Like a lot of people, I fell for the films of the '50s, and I still have many favorites from that time. But I am becoming more and more fond of the films from the 1940s. Unfortunately, since I am looking specifically for DVDs with English subtitles, it is not always easy for me to find those '40s films. But some good ones still turn up sometimes, and I also can often enjoy the splendid music from the era by watching clips on YouTube. ;)

    - Richard of Dances on the Footpath (don't know why the comments function will only call me "roughinhere" :)

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  4. Hi Nivedita, found your blog via YT. I have been listening to old songs (only 30s to 60s) and have quite a collection of audio cassettes which I treasure like gold and listen to when depressed. Never came across an old-movies buff more passionate than you. Sadly, we Indians are not good at archiving so thousands of movies have been lost. People like you keep the good work going..Nilesh Modi

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  5. Thank you Nilesh. Yes, it is really a pity that many of the movies from the 30s and 40s are not available, though thanks to the Internet, quite a few have resurfaced.

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