I’m not doing anything for New Year’s this year, but here’s a scene from the perfect New Year’s Eve party going on in my mind.
A few months ago while I was enjoying some old Marlene Dietrich clips, I thought that surely someone must have done a good remake of a Marlene Dietrich movie in Bollywood. After all, Marlene was a legendary cabaret star in both German and American cinema, and who knows cabaret better than the filmmakers in Bollywood? In the remake that I pictured, the Marlene role could be played by, say, Helen or Cuckoo, and the movie would be full of risque cabaret acts with the star doing lots of dances in those famous Marlene Dietrich stockings and other such kinky attire.
But when I finally discovered a remake of a Marlene Dietrich movie, it turned out to be something a bit different. In this remake of The Blue Angel, Marlene’s role is played by a full-figured 40-something Sandhya, and instead of doing cabaret acts, she does folk dances in a traveling Marathi dance troupe.
Admittedly, Pinjra isn’t an exact remake of The Blue Angel, as it strays near the middle into melodramatic twists that are very different from anything that would have come out of old Hollywood. And I wish I could pinpoint all the points of departure, but I admit that it’s been ages since I saw The Blue Angel, plus I’m not really sure I ever even saw the whole film. However, from what I know (and from the plot summaries that I peaked at) both films share this basic core of plot:
An esteemed teacher who is concerned about the moral threat to his students presented by a famously alluring dancer tries to take steps to eliminate this problem, such as going to the dancer’s show himself to make sure that his students aren’t frequenting it. Much to his own surprise, though, he ends up becoming more attracted to this dancer than anyone, and he enters into a romance with her that will lead to his own downfall.
In Pinjra, though, the teacher is a moral leader for an entire village, who must also interact with an official village leader and the official leader’s evil son. The official leader’s evil son becomes increasingly involved in conflict with the teacher (perhaps because the teacher tried to set him straight too many times) and repeatedly vows revenge. Meanwhile this same son is harassing a woman whom the teacher has been trying to protect from him, tries at one point to rape her, and ends up being killed in revenge by the woman’s husband right outside the teacher’s house. Coincidentally, just before this villain is killed, he has been trying to gain entry into the teacher’s house to expose the situation inside, i.e., a hotly brewing love affair between the teacher and the dancer (and a lot of anguishing along with it about the possible consequences of this forbidden romance).
When the teacher opens his door and finds his adversary lying outside, murdered, he and the dancer both realize that the young man’s face has been so smashed up (with a rock), it’s now unrecognizable. The dancer then comes up with the idea that they should mislead the people in the village into thinking that the unrecognizable victim is the teacher himself.
Since he is plauged by anguished thoughts that he needs to escape from the village (to avoid impending moral penalties for his forbidden romance, etc.), the teacher decides to accept this plan. Unfortunately, unlike probably any viewer of this movie, the wise teacher seems unable to guess the biggest risk involved in this trickery, that he might one day be arrested for the murder of himself. (And this might become a bigger risk if he ends up getting “caught” at a time when, for some reason, his own face has been somewhat disfigured, though that of course would be an awfully big and terrible coincidence…)
Now, readers here might correct me if they know differently, but once again, given what I know, The Blue Angel has none of this terrible and weird irony; the teacher just sort of experiences a moral downfall, becomes humiliated, and goes crazy.
The tragedies unfold in Pinjra in ways that are very typical of a Hindi movie (or in this case, a movie that was made in both Hindi and Marathi). Nonetheless, it is still all very involving and well paced, and the songs remain excellent throughout . ( I would like to hear more from this Marathi music director, Ram Kadam!)
I admit that I prefer the lighter, semi-comic half before the increasingly tragic half, and I think that this part of the movie was superbly done. Sandhya plays the seduction just perfectly, and Shreeram Lagoo – the Marathi actor who plays the teacher – does a fine job of portraying someone who is both highly educated and extremely innocent. Also during this part of the movie, it is fun to watch how the dancer, while seducing the teacher, actually falls for him because she is so charmed by his naivete.
During this part, I couldn’t help thinking of the relationship between the characters played by Waheeda Rehman and Raj Kapoor in the 1966 film Teesri Kasam. And since Waheeda’s character in that film is also the star of a traveling folk dance troupe that puts her into morally questionable situations, the parallels with this part of Pinjra get very close. (That’s right, as much as it is a remake of The Blue Angel, it could also be a remake of Teesri Kasam – well, during a small portion, anyway.)
But there is a nice added touch in this relationship in Pinjra, exactly because the naive guy is not some country bumpkin but, supposedly, very wise and educated. Conversely, the dancer surprises the teacher with her own intelligence, especially since his class prejudices cause him to expect less from a woman in her place. This, of course, adds to the love that he feels for her.
But on the negative side, Pinjra is far less quiet/subtle in its exposition, and it even sometimes lapses into cheezy melodramatic effects, such as blurred freeze frames at momentous moments in the teacher’s moral downfall – like when he starts succumbing to the temptation of tobacco…
For me, the film started to lose its appeal a little as the characters’ fates started spiiraling donward, but V. Shantaram’s direction remains pretty high-quality in most ways, and there wasn’t a moment when I felt myself getting bored or impatient. Moreover, Sandhya and Shreeram Lagoo continue to give truly excellent performances throughout. I was especially impressed by Sandhya’s acting in this movie, and I am sure now that in many corners (though not all) she has simply been very underrated.
Overall, it was a nice surprise to me that such a well done film with the V. Shantaram/Sandhya combination had come out in the early ’70s. As I recall reading, some thirteen years earlier, the critics were slamming Shantaram, and one even declared that he was “senile.” But despite those premature assessments, in this ’72 movie, Shantaram obviously still “had it,” while Sandhya was probably better than ever in some ways.
I must admit, though, that I don’t know how Pinjra would hold up in a comparison with its classic inspiration The Blue Angel (which I really have to see again, and in full, sometime). Despite the similarities in plot, they seem to be so different stylistically, I wonder if such a comparison is even truly possible.
P.S. Although Pinjra came out in both Hindi and Marathi, it seems the only clips available for posting are in Marathi. But that’s OK, because it’s interesting – you won’t see Marathi songs very often here or in any Bollywood blog. Also, I wanted to mention that while it might be a little annoying to keep seeing references to the “dancer” and “teacher” rather than to actual names, that is often how they are referred to in the film. (And even in cast lists at IMDb, etc., they are referred to as “dancer” and “teacher” rather than by name.)
Picture lifted from the Mumbai Mirror, which informs us:
“Legendary actress Sandhya, who acted in classics like Navrang, Do Aankhen Bara Hath and Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, was honoured at the annual V Shantaram awards. The felicitation commemorated the 50th anniversary of V Shantaram’s 1959 classic Navrang…”
My little boy, what do you hold in your fist?
In my fist is my destiny!
I have my destiny under my own control
What do your innocent eyes see?
Our eyes see hope of joyful times
We dream beautiful dreams of times to come
My little boy, what do you hold in your fist?
Will you accept a diamond given to you in alms?
What will you do with the tears life gives you?
We won’t accept even a diamond given to us in alms
Our tears we shall cherish
It’s fun to lead a life overcoming hardships
My little boy, what do you hold in your fist?
Do not hide it from me, children, please do tell me
What kind of world are we going to have in the future?
In the future, everbody will be king
Neither will the masses go hungry,
Nor will grief prevail
The times will change, that’s what the stars foretell
My little boy, what do you hold in your fist?
In my fist is my destiny
I have my destiny under my own control
There is just one way to acknowledge the great Mohammed Rafi’s birthday without straying yet from Noor Jehan… I saw Jugnu in a blurry, unsubtitled version a while back. I can’t say I really watched it, because I fastforwarded or slept through much of it since I couldn’t understand a word of the dialogue (or, rather, I understood just a few words – the ones that were in English) and the setting did not seem all that interesting to me. But this is a film to watch for classic and legendary moments from various acting and singing stars…
One such moment being a rare appearance of Rafi himself on screen, at a young age…
Then there is the famous duet between Noor Jehan and Mohammed Rafi (which, as some readers here might remember, I have posted about before)… This was a legendary breakthrough for both Rafi and Dilip Kumar, and it was all because of the gorgeous Noor Jehan…
Also featured in this movie, by the way, was a 14-year-old Shashikala (with Roshanara Begum doing playback here)…
And also worth noting, there was a sort of comeback by a former silent movie star, the famous Jewish Bollywood actress Ruby Mayer aka Ruby M[e]yer[s] aka Sulochana [Sr.]. This is an actress with an interesting legacy, and I’m looking forward to more films that feature her. (She was in Shair, which I saw recently. It’s been impossible to find specific cast lists for that movie, but I believe she was the evil stepmother.) Her character in Jugnu was scandalous because of the situation, as IMDb puts it, of “an aging fellow professor falling for Sulochana’s vintage charms.” (Sometimes it’s hard not to feel nostalgic for the time when cinema – in India and elsewhere – faced lots of challenging taboos…)
The music, by the way, was by Feroze Nizami, who also directed the great music for Noor Jehan starrers Chan Way and Dupatta.
So, as I was saying, people who have YouTube sites and people connected to Hamara Forums have put together a couple of comprehensive and very well organized Noor Jehan sites, and I am sure that I’m going to be spending a whole lot of time at these places.
The Madam Noor Jehan Website is so chock full of great stuff (more of which is being added as I write this), that I couldn’t possibly find the time to describe it all now. So for the moment, I’ll just say that everyone who likes Noor Jehan really should pay a vist there. Then there is the YouTube channel, which is fantastic. (I have seen about 95 percent of the videos presently posted on this site, but as I’ve already mentioned, it is just wonderful to have all these clips so perfectly organized and therefore locatable.)
Now, I get the impression that the Noor Jehan admiration society on YouTube is a tight community made up of people who live in Pakistan or are from Pakistan, some of whom also have a lot of national pride wrapped in the fondness for Noor, some of whom are also proud Muslims. I guess it’s a nice feeling to have pride in a nation or religion, and I sometimes envy people who do, since I never enjoyed those kinds of pride myself. But, as some people point out when those sad dumb arguments erupt on YouTube between Indian and Pakistani nationalists, the appeal of a singer like Noor Jehan or Lata Mangehskar is universal and certainly isn’t tied up with supporting one nation or thinking of one’s nation/identity group as being superior to another’s. (Besides, I think Noor probably had a more enlightened and internationalist outlook than many people, given especially her strong support of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. In fact, I find it a bit confusing when I see some people praising her as a symbol of patriotism, when I suspect they are also championing politics that she wouldn’t have supported. But I need to get back to those questions another time.) Meanwhile, I have no idea what some of these people would think of the fact that Noor Jehan became an obsession for someone like me, a lifelong resident of New York City, United States (just like my parents), who is also ostensibly a Jew (at least going by my last name and ancestral heritage). But it is irrelevant whether some people might be surprised by my presence in the Noor Jehan club, because I’m definitely a member, in a big way.
I guess it’s become obvious that in blogging and Bollywood-related matters, Noor Jehan has been my obsession of the year. I started to write about her here in the summer of 2008, but I think I’ve been concentrating much more on Noor and her films and music since the beginning of 2009. I guess that my intense concentration on this subject and my enthusiasms might even, at this point, have surpassed my obsession with Padmini, which probably peaked last year. But I don’t think I need to declare that Noor is now my #1 and Padmini my second, especially considering that they both occupied very different territory, literally and artistically. In fact, it’s hard to imagine what the singer from the North and the dancer from the South might have had in common, aside from being arguably the greatest at their respective first arts and being important figures in the cinema of the Subcontinent. One could say, speaking of figures, that they were both very voluptuous – another reason for some of us to admire them, even if they were not so well appreciated for that quality by others, especially in the press. But at any rate, this is all to say that I think there is still plenty of room (so to speak) for both those great talents to continue being the objects of my endless attention, whether or not the readers of this blog can stand it anymore.
Of course, I should be careful making (bad) jokey side comments about any of Noor Jehan’s qualities, since some people out there would consider that blasphemy. Really, judging by some of the words I’m seeing, people seem to regard her as a saint! But that’s all right with me… I am greatly enjoying the huge outpouring of love and admiration that I am witnessing on Noor’s ninth death anniversary, and I am very happy to be a part of that. I know that other occasions are coming up this week that many people make a big deal about, but I have to admit that Noor Jehan Day is by far the biggest one for me. (Although I do hope to do a little something for Mohammed Rafi’s birthday…)
I must confess, though, that I actually own only two DVDs of Noor Jehan movies, and one of them isn’t even one I purchased, since Anmol Ghadi was sent to me last year in a generous package from Doc Bollywood. (So, the only Noor Jehan movie that I purchased on DVD is Dupatta, which I’m pretty sure is some weird bootleg anyway.) If only the Pakistani DVD companies made more English-subtitled versions of Noor Jehan’s films, I would be buying up lots of these movies at the Pakistani store in Jackson Heights, just a few blocks away from where I live. But given my dire economic circumstances, I am not paying money for un-subtitled movies that I can find fairly easily online for free. (And by the way, I have watched a few of them, not understanding a word of the dialogue and hardly caring, as long as I can see Noor Jehan and hear her sing.) I do have plenty of Noor Jehan discs (even if I didn’t purchase most of these either), but that’s because I can greatly enjoy listening to her even without an image in front of me. I guess that’s a big advantage when your favorite film star is a singer…
Still, it is nice to have the whole joyful experience of seeing those Noor Jehan songs on-screen. There are also lots of great scenes for which Noor was a playback singer (which she was for longer, actually, than she was a singing star), but to me those are never as good as watching Noor herself. Admittedly, she was not always the greatest actress, but I think she was often good. And I do have great fun watching her dance, even though she wasn’t exactly Padmini. But beyond all that, she had this powerful, almost indescribable screen presence, and she was sometimes quite beautiful, other times just very cute and adorable. And then, of course, she always would become irresistible as soon as she started to sing.
So, once again (hoping I’m not repeating myself too often), I am positively delighted to have such easy access now to so many Noor Jehan clips. And now, on top of that, when I go to the Noor Jehan Website, I can find a whole lot to read about her too, which (blog readers be forewarned) I intend to talk more about soon.
Thanks again, Noor Jehan site creators – I cannot thank you enough!
I would have done the same for you, Noor, in an instant.
That’s from the 1957 Punjabi film Nooran. I think I posted it once before, a while back, but I lost track of it. Now there is a new YouTube site connected to the new Noor Jehan site (which I’ll get to in a little while), where each film is listed as a playlist with a listing of every song that is available on YouTube. It’s wonderful to be able to find these songs so easily.
I’ve read that this new Noor Jehan project owes a lot ot a couple of people at Hamara Forums. I joined Hamara Forums a while back, but I find it impossible to navigate. These new sites are an astronomical improvement in that sense…. Another reason to be so happy that people are doing this!