RIP, Zubaida Khanum

Zubaida Khanum died today. I became aware of her not too long ago, and she became one of my favorite Pakistani singers. I posted a tribute to her in February, listing my ten favorite solo songs by Zubaida Khanum and one bonus duet. I still love all of those songs, and quite a few more by Zubaida Khanum, too. RIP, Zubaida.

P.S. [a couple of days later]: I have been informed that one song on the list, from Intezar, had been attributed to Zubaida erroneously. (Actually, I had attributed it to her based on a post on YouTube, and it did sound like her to me.) So, I have replaced that with a pretty newly posted song from Koel. I have also noticed that another clip is no longer accessible to me, for some reason. So, that one will probably be replaced, too.

A Singer on the Radio (Seven Favorites)

I could have said “radio songs,” but what I had in mind was specifically the kind of scene that stars just one singer on the radio. There might be an orchestra behind him or her, and it might even be a duet with someone singing to the radio (as in one case here), but the there is still only one singer whose voice is being broadcast by radio (often making other people fall in love). And there have been some magnificent songs fitting that description! In fact, I like these so much that I’ve posted most of them before, and one, which appeared in my very last post, has been on this blog a few times. But isn’t it great to see them all together? Plus, there are one or two “new” ones…

Happy Birthday, Noor Jehan!


So, I have settled on the idea that this year’s Noor Jehan birthday post should consist mainly of links to earlier Noor Jehan birthday posts. (As I have said before, I just couldn’t top my own previous Noor Jehan birthday posts – if you don’t mind my saying so – so I want people to see them again!)

And supplementing my earlier version of this post (which actually appeared when it was still Madam’s birthday in the part of the world that she came from), I have added the post titles and descriptions, too.

Happy 85th Birthday, Malika-e-Tarannum, Madam Noor Jehan (From 2011, some really nice clips, two of which have now been replaced by newer, better versions.)

Happy Birthday, Madam Noor Jehan (From 2010, a lot of links and other good stuff.)

Happy Birthday, Madam (From 2009, more clips, two of which have now been replaced by newer, better versions.)


Fourth Annual “Remembering Ragini” Event This Weekend In Ernakulam, Kerala


I would like to wish Manu Krishnan the best of luck with the annual “Remembering Ragini” event that he is organizing this weekend in Kerala. This show highlights rare photos of Ragini and the other Travancore Sisters, Padmini and Lalitha, and also features sessions dedicated to awareness about breast cancer. (Ragini died from breast cancer in 1976, at the age of 39.)

Here is a (slightly edited) excerpt from Manu’s detailed description of the event (which he also recently posted to comments on the post that I wrote for the event last year):

Organised by me, Manu J.Krishnan (BA-MSW), to be held on 14th and 15th September, 2013 at Shri. C. Achuthamenon Hall, Ernakulam, Kerala (near Ernakulam Public Library). Thrift of the show will be handed over to Pain and Palliative Care-THANAL, where women fight breast cancer.

There are videos of the Travancore Sisters shared by Mrs. Woodman Family, 250 rare photos from my collection. All the photos are self explanatory, with credit and thanks to those who had shared them. Important feature is that this show covers all the stages of Ragini. Her photos from age of 12 to 39 till her death will be displayed. Special pics include “Remi Raginim,” “Lux Ragini,” Queen Elizabeth and Padmini-Ragini during the queen’s first visit to India in 1959, first color photo of Travancore Sisters, Ragini as Cobra Girl, and a lot more. Pictures of Padmini and Lalitha are also being displayed.

There will be an audio-video show, “Dance Like Ragini,” which Manu says he is dedicating to me! (Thank you, Manu! I am honored!)

Manu has informed us that the event also includes sessions on breast cancer awareness and “support for women with breast cancer and [a] public platform on pain and palliative care with reference to breast cancer.”

This looks like an excellent event, and I wish I could have traveled to it! It must be going on right now, and I hope it is going very well.

Songs from Amar Bhupali (1951)

I have posted some songs from the Marathi classic Amar Bhupali before, but thanks to the incredibly comprehensive (and relatively new) Trini Rama channel, I have a much bigger assortment to choose from now. This channel is quite remarkable, by the way. I wonder who started it (whether it is a person or a company)… There are something like 2,500 videos up now, all posted within the past three months, and they cover a very big period of classic Indian cinema, going back as early as 1932. It’s too bad that nothing has subtitles, but it is still a treat!

I am hoping that some day I will be able to find this movie in full (with subtitles, of course). But for now, I am just enjoying the songs a whole lot. I thought of giving a summary of the film based on things that I read (including the full descriptions on YouTube below the film clips), but I found a very good one of just the right length from Wiki (which I also am adding to my blogroll and plan to get back to quite a lot).

Shantaram’s hit musical biopic of Honaji Bala (played by Marathi stage star Nagarkar), a legendary Marathi poet from the Gawali caste in the last years of the Pune Peshwai. Known mainly for having popularised the musical dance form of the lavani in Maharashtra and esp. for his classic composition Ghanashyam sundara shirdhara, addressing a new dawn in the morning raga Bhoop. The piece later acquired revolutionary associations alluded to in the film’s anti-British discourse. Set in the Pune-based Maratha empire just before it succumbed to the British, the story shows the poet’s involvement with lavani music, which the film associates with prostitutes, winning recognition when the peshwa’s wife at the Pune court gives him an award for his Bhoop composition. His love life with Tamasha dancer (Sandhya in her debut) is intercut with the Maratha wars against the British, his music spurring on the soldiers. Shantaram contrasts Honaji’s erotic and militant poetry with the prevailing ‘decadent’ brahminical effusions. Replete with Shantaram-type calendar art compositions (when pigeons descend around Sandhya’s body in the forest) the film ends like a mythological, showing the infant Krishna and Yashoda, when his Ghanashyam composition is immortalised. Additional songs were written by the radical poet and performer Amar Sheikh, associated with the militant powada form and with the IPTA’s left wing in Maharashtra.

By the way, outside of Trini Rama, I actually did find a post with an English translation of “Ghanashyam Sundara Shirdhara,” which I am posting last. Unfortunately, though, in that video, the words on the screen block out much of the visuals, which are often beautiful. Naturally, while watching the other clips, I loved seeing Sandhya in her 1951 debut (doing mujra dances – the only time I have ever seen her playing that role). Though she may not have been conventionally beautiful (as a few people have remarked to me, in rather strong terms), and though she may not have had a life full of skillful training in classical dance (just a crash course with Gopi Krishna, which did not happen until 1955), I think she is very distinctive – certainly one of a kind – and always a joy to watch. Plus, while we watch her dances, we get to hear great music provided by Vasant Desai and Lata Mangeshkar (among others). But those are only a couple of the reasons that this film looks very appealing to me.

Kismet (1943)


During the past several months, I’ve had a block about watching films all the way through – or that’s how it seemed anyway. I suppose life and my mood got in the way of my making the extra effort that was needed to sit down with a whole film, and for this time, at least, it always seemed easier and more pleasurable to watch a bunch of music sequence clips instead. (In that way, I had actually gone full circle, because that is what I was doing for the most part shortly after I started this blog, five to six years ago). But last night, the trend finally changed with a movie that compelled me to sit with it to the end and almost made me want to watch it again. I had seen this one a couple of years before without subtitles and enjoyed it even back then, but since I didn’t know what most of the words meant, my attention wasn’t as well focused as it could have been. But now that I have finally watched Kismet with subtitles, I can see why so many people think it’s delightful.

Now, while I may have finally broken through my block about seeing full films, writing full reviews is another matter. At present, I don’t think I could write a full review, or at least not a properly organized one with a plot summary. Fortunately, though, there is no shortage of substantial reviews of this film in our little corner of the Blogosphere, and if you want to see a few, I recommend going to Dustedoff, Memsaabstory, and Filmi Geek.

What I can do, in pure imitation of aforementioned Dustedoff, is mention the things that I liked and (only slightly) disliked.

And the best thing about this film is Ashok Kumar. He was given a good role to play, too, but Ashok invests this character, the thief who calls himself Shekhar, with a huge amount of charm and humanity. In slightly later years, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor would play characters with similar fates and proclivities and they would do a fine job with it. But here, Ashok Kumar plays the most likable career thief I have ever seen in the cinema. I don’t know if I’ve ever said this about an adult male actor before, but in this film, he is adorable… As is the romance between his character and Rani, who is played Mumtaz Shanti. I think “adorable” is a pretty good word for it, because it’s not portrayed in a heavy, universe-consuming way like many other romances in Hindi cinema. Some of those are very absorbing, too, but since I’d seen so many of those other (mostly later) ones first, the romance depicted here struck me as being refreshingly sweet and joyful (at least before it ran into serious obstacles).


And I like Mumtaz Shanti. I’ve seen a couple of bloggers go on about how she was too theatrical, but that didn’t bother me so much during most of the movie, and it was actually a perfect quality for her to have during the film’s climactic theater piece (albeit with someone else’s voice, but her visual performance was marvelous). Plus, she’s also adorable.

As with many old Hindi films, I loved the way Kismet blended pure, delightful entertainment with commentary on social issues, particularly with regard to poverty and the class system. Or, to get Marxist about it, the class struggle. Because that is something that is very clear, discussed in an overt way amidst the romance and the songs and dances. The socialist edge gets awfully smoothed over at the end, but it’s definitely visible throughout the film.


At the same time, the social messages never get in the way of the film’s narrative (which is very well paced), and the socially conscious lyrics by Pravi Kadeep are blended very well with music that is positively inspiring, thanks to the music director, Anil Biswas, and the playback singer Amirbai Karnataki.

Another thing that is very noteworthy about this film is the dance performance by Baby Kamala. It is terrific – probably her first great performance (and speaking of adorable!)… The only problem is that it did not go on for long enough.


Kismet was also possibly the first film to feature a few plot themes that would become Hindi film cliches. The most prominent among these is the long-lost-and-found child theme (as opposed to the long-lost-and-found sweetheart theme). Another theme is the one about trying to get one’s loved one an expensive operation that is badly needed to fix a disability. Another is the theme of the two troubled romances that get resolved in a connected way so that they result in a double wedding. Related to that, we have the badly wanted weddings prevented by at least one mean father, class prejudice, and lack of a dowry. And, of course, there is the theme of the thief who is really just a nice guy with a bad childhood, whose niceness comes out in a big way when he falls in love with a woman who inspires him to stop being a thief. (OK, maybe I’ve just combined two or three themes – but it is hard to separate them.)

I found Kismet‘s use of all these themes to be both good and bad. It seemed bad in a way because, since I had already seen so many films that came out later, I found so much of the plot to be predictable far in advance. (That’s why I didn’t hesitate to write a few descriptions related to the plot that might normally be considered spoilers – because if you’ve seen a few Hindi films before, then you’d have to be lacking half a brain not to guess what’s going to happen here.) But it all starts to look very good when you realize that so many films probably imitated Kismet in some way and not the other way around. And Kismet covered all of this territory very nicely, too.


Unfortunately, all of these twists of plot get wrapped up a little too neatly and comfortably at the end. It’s kind of fun to watch the film end the way it does; it certainly is not an unpleasant or dreary experience. And once again, you can’t blame Kismet (1943!) if you think that the ending looks a bit formulaic. But it does still seem like a speeded-up wrap-up, which is something else I’ve seen in a few films that came later. Nonetheless, this is a finely made film with some very good acting, great music, good social messages, and adorable characters. And that is why it broke through my movie-watching block so easily.

Ten Favorite Songs and/or Dances from The Year 1947

The year of independence and partition was also obviously a great year for music and dance in Indian films. So here we go with ten of my favorite music/dance sequences from one of my favorite years for such things, as my way of saying happy anniversary of your independence (but too bad you had to break up, too).

(By the way, with this last one, to get the dance that qualifies, you’ll have to go to 5:35. I tried, but I don’t think there is any way to start a YouTube video at a specific point in a WordPress blog. But I certainly could not leave this song off the list!)


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