(That’s Baby Meena (Kumari) singing with Beena Kumari.)
She died on Dec. 24, but I didn’t know until I read the sad news yesterday in a review of Munimji at Dusted Off.
She was an excellent actress and great beauty, and though she wasn’t a dancer (I don’t think…), she did a fine mujra.
I had the pleasure of seeing her in Sangram (1950), Nastik (1954), and Kala Pani (1958). And by the way, Kala Pani - the whole movie – is available on YouTube with English subtitles.
That’s right, Rare Dance Songs of Kamala, Sai-Subbalakshmi, Padmini, and More! How could I not love it? I will resist the temptation to post any of those clips here, because you must go to Minai’s to watch them. However, here’s a screen cap:
Just wondering… This is a very nice song from one of my favorite soundtracks, Dastan.
Happy birthday, Mohammed Rafi!
(I have just thrown some favorites together; some appeared here sometime before (though I think in some cases, I have just posted newer, better copies than before). Originally, I had a larger batch with quite a few of the ’50s Pakistani film songs, but I wanted to do a smaller post with songs that nicely fit together, which also were among my favorites. I realize now that all but one fit within a three-year period. Oh, but what a period that was! And I’ve covered a much wider range elsewhere, of course…)
P.S. The picture on the second audio clip, which I put together myself, might look familiar to some people because you probably saw it on another blog.
P.P.S. Close to a day after I posted the clips above, I was looking at more Noor Jehan clips, and I stumbled upon a British television interview with her that I posted from close to two years ago. Watching it again, I enjoyed it at least as much as the first time, if not more. This is the interview that made me a big fan of Noor Jehan the person as well as the singer and actress. Of course, it could have been different actually knowing her personally; who knows if I would have liked her? (And not everybody has had the kindest things to say about her personality.) But I very much liked what she had to say, and I was impressed by the person presented here. Other interviews have not had that effect on me. For instance, a couple of interviews with Vyjayanthimala (combined with some knowledge of her political adventures) actually helped to make me less of a fan, and I had to say to myself, I’m not going to let this get in the way of my appreciation of her dancing and her film presence. (Though it might have – she is not quite as high on my list as she used to be.) But this Noor Jehan interview definitely increased my then-already-high opinion of her. Plus, it includes some great old film songs with very good subtitles added.
As I mentioned before, I’ve decided to do a post of a bunch of my favorite Ragini film dances, as my tribute to this great actress-dancer on her 34th death anniversary. I’ve also tried to add a little extra information regarding why I like so many of her dances so much. I’ve posted some of these dances before, some multiple times, but I thought it would be a nice idea to put them all together. So, here’s to Ragini!
10. OK, I don’t know if I’ll ever see Cobra Girl; it’s not at the top of my list for some reason. And while Asha Bhosle does some very amusing vocals, I find S.N. Tripathi’s music, at least in this film, to be kind of boring compared to, say, O.P. Nayyar’s or C. Ramchandra’s (see later in the list!). But Ragini has a number of fine dances here…
I like the one below in part because it’s not often that we got to see this South Indian dancer get “Arabian,” but still, much of it is very distinctly Ragini, with the great expressions, the graceful, fluid movements, and lots of energy…
9. Adhi Raat Ke Baad is like a B-movie answer to both Howrah Bridge and Singapore, and this dance reminds us a bit of dances by Helen and Padmini in those movies respectively. The movie takes place mainly in Rangoon, and Ragini does a fun East Asian impersonation here, pretty funny for the most part, but still showing her skills. I particularly like some of her arm movements, and there’s one place where she does a very good floor slide. And there’s fun music by Chitragupta, with amusing vocals by Asha Bhosle. (Asha seems to be Ragini’s usual voice in Hindi movies, and she’s pretty good at it.)
8. Ragini does quite a few fine dances in Yeh Dil Kisko Doon (1963). I’ve posted a different one before, and I thought of posting a clip that shows her doing a couple of great dances in front of a chorus on stage. But this dance outside on the fairgrounds is actually my favorite. It could be because of the music in this dance, with composer Iqbal Qureshi at his liveliest and the inspiring duet between Asha Bhosle and (especially) Mohammed Rafi. But Ragini also seems to have an extra amount of exuberance here, and she has surprisingly good screen chemistry with Shashi Kapoor, considering that they apparently didn’t like each other. I also love the danceoff at the end. The flamenco lady(?) is very funny, and Ragini was always great with danceoffs.
7. Wow, speaking of danceoffs… I’ve talked before about that interview in which Helen mentioned two favorite dancers from the Golden Age, Vyjayanthimala and Ragini. Maybe Helen has a special fondness for the dancers with whom she got to have the best fictional competitions. But unlike in so many danceoffs with Vyjayanthimala, Helen actually wins this one. Although I know that I personally would have picked Ragini (but I do like Helen, really I do)… And by the way, there’s no Asha singing in this one; it’s Usha and Lata Mangeshkar. I actually find their vocals in this song to be pretty addictive too, in a mellow way. I admit that I know very little about the music director, G.S. Kohli, but his music is nice here.
6. I saw my first favorite Ragini-and-Padmini dances in the Tamil film Uthama Puthiran. I think I saw my first favorite Hindi ones in Amar Deep, which was a remake of a Tamil film. I saw these a while before I saw the movie, and I was simply blown away by the combination of this duo’s dancing and the rocking music of C. Ramchandra. And Johnny Walker makes a very good MC/drummer in this scene too.
5. IMO, Ragini’s best film, beyond a doubt, was Kalpana (1960). Padmini played a more central role in this, especially near the end, but it’s arguable that this was at least as much Ragini’s film, especially in the dances. “Hamko Samaj na Lyjiye…” may be the least dazzling of her three great dances in this film, but I love how she shows off her expert moves in the informal setting of a train car, dressed very plainly, all (so it seems) for the purpose of intimidating her hapless fellow passenger, played very amusingly by Ashok Kumar.
(And by the way, I have another favorite Ragini train scene, in another film, in which she doesn’t even dance. Though I’m still not sure I even recognize her as Ragini in that one – I was informed that it was her by someone else. As a little bonus in this post, take a look at Ragini on the banjo(?!) – it’s quite hilarious.)
4. Ragini’s character in Mujrim had a few chances to show her talents dancing solo in front of many people, including a fugitive on the run played by Shammi Kapoor. Among all those solo dances, I guess I’d have to give the edge to the one that follows, which is also just so O.P. Nayyar! In fact, it reminds me a lot of a couple O.P. Nayyar songs that Padmini danced to two years later in Kalpana. By the way, notice how Ragini goes through a few fun costume changes. But of course, she does scene after scene with her usual grace and vitality.
3. Although Ragini did all those fine solo dances in Mujrim, none of them are quite as good as the one that she did with Padmini. And both sisters deserve equal credit for that… There are some real classic Travancore Sisters moves in this, especially in the way each one frames the other’s head with her arm, hands, or elbow, and the way they seem to form one continuous moving shape at times. (This may be a “Punjabi” dance (in classic O.P. Nayyar style), but I’ve seen them do this in quite a few Tamil bharatanatyam dances too.) Their expressions are classic also, and it’s fun watching Ragini play the “female” role to Padmini in drag, since it had been the other way around often in the past.
2. The classical Ragini-Padmini dance in Kalpana could very well be my favorite by the two in any language. I’ve written enough about this before – it is really fantastic! I just wrote above about the classic O.P. Nayyar style, but sometimes it was even more satisfying when Nayyar did something atypical for him, e.g., a genuinely classical number. The singing by Rafi and Manna Dey helps to make this song great, but the most outstanding thing about the whole scene is the fierce bharatanatyam competition. And while it was built into the plot for Padmini to win, can we really say that she did for certain?
1. Padmini has some wonderful solo dances in Kalpana too, but I think Ragini ends up with the best solo dance of all – if we can actually call it a solo dance…. I’ve raved about this one before; it’s one of my favorite dances in any film. Now, here’s a version that’s new and improved compared to the one I posted previously. And by the way, note the similarities to the Padmini-Ragini dance in Mujrim above, only this time, Ragini dances even better with…Ragini! This scene also contains some of the most gorgeous costumes I’ve ever seen, and it is so dreamy and so marvelously psychedelic in the end, it’s good as a reminder that the hippies of the west hardly invented anything new seven or eight years later. (O.P. Nayyar’s music also reminds me a bit of some stuff that The Beatles did seven or eight years later.) Naturally, there are some fantastic dance moves in this scene, too, and Ragini seems to have some wonderful flirtatious chemistry with herself, which must take some unique kind of talent.
Much of Ragini’s acting and dancing, as we can see, leaned toward the comic side, in contrast to Padmini, who did quite a few weep fests. So it’s sadly ironic that Ragini died such a tragic death (from cancer), not even getting to reach the age of 40. (Though as we’ve discussed here before, she’s not the only Bollywood actress in that club…) But I am glad that so many years after her death, I’ve been able to find quite a few great Ragini dance scenes, even though I would be happy to find a whole lot more, knowing that there could be many more out there…
Though I still think that ranking of such things should be taken with the proverbial salt, I do have some fun thinking about how and when my favorites become my favorites, surpassing everything else, and how my feelings and preferences change over time. So, I’ve been looking at my “Filmi Favorites” list and contemplating how things have changed since I last revised the list, how they’ve changed since I first drafted it a year and a half ago, and possibly how they’ve changed since my obsession with classic Indian films shifted into full gear twice as long ago.
A while back, I did some post over changes in my favorite female actress list (which is now obsolete), but I didn’t return to the subject of changes in favorites for a while. Yet now, I’m thinking that maybe it’s not a bad idea to do this sort of thing occasionally. For the reasons I mentioned, it is an involving sort of thing to do for a blog post, especially when I haven’t been inspired to do much else for a week or so. But since it would take too much time and space to go over a significant number of the changes in one post, I’m going to do this a little at a time. Right now, I’ll just go over two prominent changes in “ranking,” that shouldn’t surprise people who’ve been visiting here…
1. Female Singers – Number 2 with a bullet!
It took me a while to catch on with the Suraiya craze. I first saw her in Anmol Ghadi and hardly noticed her because she was so hidden in Noor Jehan’s shadow (at least for me, at the time). I think, also, that this is not one of her best films, as a singer or as an actress. And the next full film that I saw her in was kind of an obscure one, Shair. Once again, I liked her in that one – enough to put her somewhere in the lower ranks of my favorites list – but I was not under her spell just yet. But things changed gradually, and then this past month, I watched four Suraiya movies: Dillagi, Dastan, Diwana, and Mirza Ghalib. At the end of that little festival, a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t stop watching and listening to several Suraiya songs. I then found a new Suraiya channel on YouTube, and I was completely hooked. So, I took some videos from that channel, combined them with a whole bunch of other Suraiya songs I’d collected, and made my Suraiya playlist. Now, I keep going back to that playlist more often than any of the others that I have.
I understand that her voice doesn’t come close to Lata Mangeshkar’s in terms of ability (or Noor Jehan’s, for that matter), but there’s a different quality to her singing that makes it very refreshing compared to many. As someone on YouTube pointed out, she had a somewhat deeper voice, and fuller compared to Lata’s (though most people had a fuller voice than Lata’s), and especially combined with the sight of Suraiya singing for herself, there’s a different quality in her voice that Lata doesn’t have for me (though Noor Jehan does)… Excuse me while I blush, but I guess I could say, there’s something very sensuous about this singer. And the music behind her was also often superb, coming from my favorites in my favorite decade for Hindi film music, the 1940s: Ghulam Haider, Ghulam Mohammed, Khemchand Prakash, and, of course, Naushad… They created such great tunes that were perfect for Suriaya… Anyway, Lata’s voice became so ubiquitous, and that sort of makes the voice of Suraiya a bit more special to me when I’m seeking out singers from old Bollywood films. So, Lata, move over, Suraiya is number 2 now, just in terms of my own enthusiasm… Though I don’t think she will ever overtake Madam Noor Jehan (but, hey, you never know…).
P.S. Suraiya has also climbed up much higher on my favorite actresses list – though I understand that she had somewhat limited acting skills compared to the likes of, say, Meena Kumari and Nargis. But what a delightful screen presence! I can see now why the crowds went crazy back in the day…
2. Dancers – Now number 3, but really almost on the same level as her older sister and Kamala…
As mentioned by Manu, one of the frequent commenters here, next week there is going to be a Travancore Sisters photo exhibit in Kerala, at least partly to commemorate the 34th death anniversary of Ragini. Since I’m not going to be there, I’ve been contemplating paying my own tribute to Ragini via a favorite Ragini dances post. So, I’ve been going over a lot of Ragini dances, and I have to say, she was probably just as good as Padmini when it came to dancing ability and the joy that her dances could bring. Of course, I had realized this a little while back, when I watched Kalpana, which contains that competition that Padmini had to win, but which also showed Ragini to be a formidable match. (Plus, of course, there was an incredible dance Ragini did with herself… I also think Ragini was at least as impressive as Padmini when it came to acting in this particular film. Overall, it was really just as much Ragini’s movie as Padmini’s, while Ashok Kumar, by comparison, ended up looking like an afterthought…even though he co-produced movie.) Then this past day, I was looking again at the dances that Ragini did in two other movies, Mujrim and Yeh Dil Kisko Doon, and I was very impressed all over again. (And by the way, Padmini danced with Ragini in only one out of many dances in the former and did not show up at all in the latter, where Ragini also had to compensate for a hyper-jumping Shashi Kapoor. So, there was no question that Ragini could do great “on her own,” i.e., without Big Sister hanging around…) Ragini also had a very charming look about her, not obviously beautiful like Padmni, but a unique and charismatic kind of appearance that grows on you after repeated viewings. Plus, her facial expressions were often remarkable (something that is very important in Indian dance, as we know).
So, here’s to the great Ragini! And look out for some great dance clips coming soon…