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…).

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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…

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