Have you heard of Footpath (1953), perhaps the most Left- leaning film in which Dilip Kumar gave one of his most nuanced performances? Of director actor Chandra Shekhar’s Cha Cha Cha (1964), a fascinating musical where the ‘Harihan’hero becomes a fabulous pop dancer? Of Gaddar) 1973), perhaps the finest example of film noir in popular Hindi cinema? Of the Amol Palekar- directed Thoda Sa Rooomani Ho Jayen (1990, a rare true- glue musical with Nana Patekar at his best? Of Sehar (2005), one of the most underfeted gangster movies by Bollywood? Of Antardwand (2010), a movie on shotgun weddings that gobsmacks you with its authentic portrayal of mofussil Bihar? National Award- winning film writer Avijit Ghosh takes a second look at 40 such compelling Hindi movies that have been largely forgotten. Speaking with the directors, producers, cinematographers, music directors and actors behind theses, he explores how and why they have fallen through the cracks of our memory.
Insightful, racy and loaded with interesting anecdotes- did you know Simi Garewal was dating cricketer Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi during the making of Teen Devian? And that Amitabh Bachchan’s Majboor has shots directly inserted from (not inspired by) Charles Bronson’s film, Cold Sweat? This book is as much for Hindi movie fans as it is for serious students of cinema.
Avijit Ghosh was born in Agartala, capital of the tiny north-eastern state ofTripura and grew up loitering in the small towns of Bihar and Jharkhand: Dumka, Giridih, Arrah and Ranchi. Spending many of his college hours in cinema halls, he graduated in history from St Xavier's College, Ranchi and filched countless cups of canteen tea from friends on his way to earning MA and M Phil degrees in modern history from Jawaharlal Nehru University.
A journalist and a husband for the past twenty years, he has worked with the Press Trust of India, The Pioneer (the best days of his life, some months he even worked for half pay), The Telegraph and is now employed as a senior editor with The Times of India. He has also been a visiting fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study ofIndia at the University of Pennsylvania.
Addicted to cinema and sports, he writes regularly on these subjects. He is the author of the novel, Bandicoots in the Moonlight (Penguin), which suffered the fate of an honourable art movie: a minor critical success and a major commercial failure. His second book, Cinema Bhojpuri (also Penguin), earned him the Special Mention for Best Writing on Cinema in the 58th National Film Awards.
Avijit lives in Delhi with his mother, wife and two kids, Abhishek and Diya. He eagerly awaits your feedback on any of the three books he has written at [email protected] rediffmail.com.
Have you heard of Man Ka Meet? The 1968 movie, produced by actor Sunil Dutt to launch his younger brother Som Dutt – which vanished without a trace? So did Dutt junior. But in my ordinary life, Man Ka Meet holds an extraordinary place. It is the first movie I saw; not the entire thing, just thirty minutes of it.
We lived in a small town in erstwhile south Bihar called Giridih. My father used to be an officer with the state intelligence department, a plainclothes cop. One evening, when he had taken me out for a Coca- Cola, he got chatting with the manager of a movie theatre whose name I can no longer recall. I was getting bored. So he asked the manager to get me a seat inside the theatre. Even today I can picture myself in the dark auditorium with the magical world of moving pictures coming alive before my eyes for the first time. It was a gamechanging moment. I remember Som Dutt jumping up and down a train chased but a bunch of boisterous girls in tight slacks who sang, Ek anari junglee janwar budtameez deewnna. I was thoroughly enjoying myself when I was asked to step out because my father’s meeting was over. But the die had been cast. I was hooked on movies forever.
Now, films consume me. Almost every second day I watch at least one, mostly on television or dvd. Movies allow me to think and ruminate. What would have happened to Amitabh Bachchan if Dev Anand had said yes to Zanjeer? Qhat kind of films would Awtar Krishna Kaul (director of the seminal 27 Down) have made had he not drowned trying to save a friend? What sort of impact would K. Asif’s Sasta Kboon Mebnga Paani, the magnum opus he abandoned midway, have had on the Hindi film industry? The couple of reels one gets to see of Shabab Ahmed’s Film Hi Film are simply mind blowing.
This book, though, isn’t about cinematic fantasy; it is rather rooted in reality. It is an attempt to revisit a bunch of special films that either did not get their due or have been largely forgotten. It is an attempt to show, that like fine wine, a movie too is a living thing that constantly evolves over the years.
I record my gratitude to Firoze Rangoonwalla, Shiv Viswanathan, Anil Grover, Suresh Kohil, Sismita Dasgupta, Sidharth Bhatia, D. Shyam Babu, Chandra Bham Prassad, Nirmal Sharma, Vinay Pandey , Narauyani Ganiesh, Rakesh Batabyal, and Subodh Verma, for their help and support in the writing of this book.
This is also a suitable occasion to say ‘thanks’ to some friends and colleagues: Shishir Prashant, Deepika Sahy, Gautam Sidharth, Anuj Kumar, Manoj Mitta, Jagdish Yadav, Chitra padmanabhan, Namrata Joshi, Anuradaha Raman, Samita Bhatia, Pradeep Thakur, Meenakshi sinha, Kim Arora, Vijay Lokpalli, Ronjoy Sen, CP Senurdran, Alok Sinha, Amit Bhattaacharya, Aarti Tikoo Singh, Ananth Srinivas, Dhananajay Mahaprra, Mallini Sen, Tiran Ray, Sushil Aaron, Shankar Raghuraman, Atul Thakur, Debashish Roy , Devlin Roy. I would like to record my appreciation for Prita Maitra at Westland for editing the manuscript and hammering it into shape. She has been a firm friend in the world of publishing.
To my mother Anjali, sister Bani and my jamai babu, I express my sincerest gratitude. And last, but not the least, this book wouldn’t have been complete but for the support and help offered by my wife and first reader-editor Rachna. My gratefulness cannot be expressed in words.
Like most works of art, films are generally judged by two barometers- popular success and critical acclaim. Failing to achieve either usually condemns them to oblivion. But life isn’t black or white. Neither is cinema. The truth remains that good, even great, movies falter at the box office. Sometimes they also fail the critics’ test. Or vice- versa. Now, as we celebrate 100 years of Indian feature films, this book is an endeavour to draw attention to a bunch of movies that deserve a second look. Some were underfeted by critics and failed at the ticket counters when first released. A few were admired by critics, or rewarded at the cash counters by have been forgotten over the years and need to be reintroduced to a new generation of filmgoers.
Consider Footpath (1953), a hard- hitting indictment of soulless capitalism. Director Zia Sarhady’s film fell flat at the box office. Even in the biographies of Dilip Kumar, the movie hardly gets the detailed analysis that it deserves. But it remains one of the finest works of the virtuoso actor.
Few have managed to make an engrossing yet educative film of the reproductive rights of women as master class director Shayam Benegal does in Gari Bhari(2000). Sadly, the film which profiles the lives of five women in a rural Muslim family in Uttar Pradesh barely made it to the theatres. Antardwand (2010) falls in the same category. Based on the phenomenon of shotgun weddings in Bihar, this movie of sunning authenticity sank without a trace.
Producer-director-actor –writer Chandra Shekhar’s Cha Cha Cha (1964) is another fascinating film. A box –office success when first released, the film is largely remembered for the memorable compositions of Iqbal Qureshi still played by Vividh Bharati and nostalgia –friendly FM radio stations. But not many of us have actually seen the film and know what all is about. Cha Cha Cha is a reformist tale where the ‘Harijan’ hero becomes a fabulous Western music dancer. Within the limitations of a mainstream musical, this is an important yet forgotten film in an industry that generally prefers to overlook the subject of cast identity.
But this book, as suggested earlier, isn’t only about ignored causes. The list also includes Sara Akash (1969), Dastak(1970) and 27 Down (1973), all major National Award-winners and minor box- office successes. Yet, somehow, these films have ceased to exist in the popular mindscape. 27 Down wasn’t even available for viewing until NFDC digitally restored the print and issued a dvd in 2012. All these films deal with sensitive subjects: alienation caused by domineering parenting (27 Down), conjugal love in joint families (Sara Akash) and (intimacy in a world ruled by the market (Dastak.)
The inclusion of CID 909 (1967) might surprise some of you. After all, it is a C-grade spy film. I have included it because, in my humble view, it is a perfect C-grade film: low budget yet inventive and entertaining. Even the inclusion of Mera apne (9171) and (1973) might surprise the serious cinephile. Both are successful movies; and at least, Mere Apne receive critical acclaim too. But I feel we need to take a relook at Mare Apne for a different reason. When first released, the movie created a splash for the way it dealt with student unrest. Now, the movie looks like an exploration of old age. Gullzar’s first movie as a director has evolved beyond recognition with time.
The late 1980s and early 1990s are generally regarded as a bad time for parallel cinema. But rummaging through films of this period one chanced upon mini gems such as Nabendu Ghosh’s Trishagni (1988) and Sai Paranjpe’s Disha(1990).
Arriving at the list of 40 wasn’t easy. Wading through the names of all films since 1952, including consulting encylopaedias, a bunch of important books on Hindi cinema as well as my own memory shelf, I created a list of 100 films. I saw most of these films; some of them three or four times on dvd. After a lot of hard work and heartburn, the list was brought down to 50. Due to exigencies, the list was further pruned to 40films. That was the hardest par. I had already done an email interview with director Ishaan Trivedi(7 ½ Phere) but the film had to be left out. My apologies, Ishaan.
One film that might have yet made the cut but doesn’t figure is director shivendra Sinha’s Pir Bhi (1971). The film got the National Award for Best Film. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a print although I am sure it exists. My efforts to contact those involved with the film failed. Sinha had passed away a few years back. Lead actress Urmila Bhatt was murdered some years ago. I was hoping to meet the main actor Pratap Sharma. Unfortunately, he breathed I last in 2011. Email exchanges and phone conversations with hiws daughter Tara 9heroine of Khosla Ka Ghosla) failed to be fruitful.
I had heard a lot about Kamal Amrohi’s Daera (19530 and Ved Rahi;s Darar(9172). Unfortunately, I couldn’t see these films. In fact, Ved Rahi told me on the phone that the prints of Darar and Prem Parbat (which had Jaidev’s immortal composition, Yeh dil aur unki nigahon ke saayen, 1973), have gone to waste. In other words, these films are lost to history.
While working on the vook I also stumbled upon some interesting sidelights. Do you know that the song Sham-e- gham ki kasam(Foot path) was put together from slices of different recordings by composer Khayam, when such practices were frowned upon in the early 1950s? That Simi Garewal was dating cricketer Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi during the making of Teen Devian? That Mahesh Bhatt was dead drunk when he first saw Janam’s heroine Shernaz Patel in a video? That Majboor has shots inserted from (not inspired by) Charles Bronson’s film, Gold Sweat?
To get an accurate picture on the making of these films, I have spoken to as many directors as possible. I have also had detailed conversations with producers, cinematographers, music directors and actors involved in them. In some cases, such as Ek Baar Pir, Janam, Hulla and The Stoneman Murder, the making of the film is as interesting as the film itself. In cases where the makers of the film are no longer with us, such as Mr Sampath, Foot Path (sic) and Dastak, I spoke with those near and dear to them. In all , I have interviewed over 80 film personalities for the project.
Interestingly, quite a few of these films were financed by the state-owned Film Finance Corporation(now National Film Development Corporation), which only underlines how the much- maligned state played a vital role in supporting and promoting good cinema, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Even Doordarshan has produced some fine movies during this period. One of them, Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jayen, is included in the book. Sadly, it is equally true that most of these films suffered from poor marketing for which its producers must take a major portion of the blame. Indeed, many producers and directors felt that with better marketing these films would have enjoyed a healthier life at the box office.
The big guns of popular Bollywood today- Aamir , Salman, Shah Rukh, Hrithik, Akshay- are not represented in this book. That’s purely co-incidental. It is equally serendipitous that composer Vanraj Bhatia (five films) is perhaps the most represented individual in the book.
I am aware of the limitations of this endeavour. It is possible to argue that some films do not deserve to be in this list and that far more interesting films have been left out. Cinema appreciation is highly subjective and any criticism is understandable. My primary objective is to bring some deserving films back to popular notice. In these times of too much information, it is easy to forget without even trying to know. This book is about giving them a second chance.
North Indian Music (285)
Original Texts (60)
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