I was walking past the movie sale bin outside a place called Raja Sweets on 73rd Street and 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, when I spotted two copies of Navrang in the front, just calling out to me. Having seen a couple of the scenes from this movie (which were fantastic, in every sense of the word), how could I resist? And I was very glad that I didn’t. The shop itself, as its name implies, is just full of sweets, spread out everywhere. But probably none of those sweets are as sweet as this movie.
Certainly one of the most visually inventive films I’ve ever seen (made in 1959, directed by V. Shantaram), it also has one of the most unusual plots: The main character, Divakar, is a poet who adores his wife Jamuna (or at least greatly desires her), but she won’t pay any attention to him and always seems to be annoyed at him. So, to inspire his imagination and therefore his poetry, he conjures a phantom/fantasy version of his wife, Mohini, who then inspires him to have the most incredible daydreams. (By the way, the contrast between that fantasy wife and the real one is sometimes hilarious.) This results in some scenes at a very far-out level of fantasy (downright psychedelic in places), as well as some beautiful dancing by Sandhya. (Sandhya is an actress-dancer whom I’d like to learn more about. Unfortunately, searches are complicated – there is a more recent Bollywood/Kollywood Sandhya who’s getting much more attention now.) And there is great music - composed by C. Ramchandra, with some of the finest singing by Manna Dey and, especially, Asha Bhosle. (Just checking a few comments here and there, I see that a few people are positively stunned by Asha’s singing in this movie. And I can see (or hear) why. I”ve been enjoying that soundtrack for a while myself, since I got it at Parties, Sarees and Melodies.)
Navrang also contains a secondary plot: This is the late 18th Century, and the British are coming. There isn’t any real action here, though, which is just as well, because it probably wouldn’t have fit. The most interesting thing about the depiction of this conquest is the portrayal of the sellouts – the low place to which some men sank to retain their high status.
Yet the conquest and resistance (or lack thereof, mostly) seem almost like an afterthought. The tale of unrequited married love – and the way this must be overcome - is much more important here. And obviously, the most important subject in Navrang is Divakar’s imagination.
P.S. The song above is “Je Re Hat Nakhat.” This scene happens after Divakar’s friends ask him to write a song for a holiday celebration in the royal court. (And what holiday that might be? Hmm…) Divakar has not written the song yet, so one of his friends sort of prays for help from the elephant-headed god, Ganesh. But once again, Divakar gets his inspiration from Mohini…
P.P.S. The store where I bought the video actually seems to have a few different names posted. The front of the blue awning above the store says “Raja Music House,” but the side of the awning says “Raja Sweets & Fast Food.” Then the sign right next to the front door says “Raja Sweets.” “Raja Sweets” seems most appropriate when you walk into the place. (There are some music CDs there, but not many, and I didn’t really look at him. It’s funny… About year ago and earlier, the first thing I looked at in these Indian CD/DVD places was the music. Now I’m hardly looking at the music because I’m so captivated by the films.)