Some Mystery Singers and Dancers in Khazanchi (1941)

I am very pleased to see that Khazanchi and its song and dance clips are now complete over at those Tommydan sites, thanks to the addition of English subtitles by Reeba. Now that the film and its songs have full English subtitles, I can appreciate them in a new way – though I have enjoyed this excellent soundtrack for, probably, about five years now, with its beautiful music by Ghulam Haider and irresistible singing by Shamshad Begum in what was her breakthrough film. I will watch the film in its entirety – though possibly in stages – and there is a chance I’ll review it (though no promises here – I’ve made that sort of mistake enough times before!). But right now, I am mainly focusing on those musical scenes.

There are a few such scenes that I am thinking about at the moment, partly because I really enjoyed them, but also because I have been wondering a lot about the identity of some of the participants. There are two dances that feature performers whom I cannot identify (but definitely would like to know more about) and there is one song for which the identity of some of the singers seems to be a subject of hot debate. So, for the first post devoted to Khazanchi (there will probably be more here), let’s delve into these…


The dance above is very charming. Although the dancing is not very frenetic or spectacular, it has grown on me. I particularly like the rhythm of the ghungroos, and at the times when the female dancer does get moving a little, she is quite good. The male performer is also good – very expressive, I think. But who are these performers? We don’t seem to have any information about that, and I’d love to find out.

By the way, the singers are great too here, but we know who they are – Ghulam Haider (who is also the composer) and Shamshad Begum. Shamshad Begum is a lot of fun in this song, and I love the part beginning at 1:06, where she gets into her rap. And that is rapping, by any of today’s standards; there’s no better word to describe it! (There have been a few old Indian film songs discussed on the blogging circuit that included parts that were called “rap” – but this is the most rap-like rap that I have encountered so far – from 1941!)


Speaking of mystery dancers, wow! And wah! This is quite a dance for 1941, and look, what a nice navel she has! (Something we don’t normally get to see in vintage or Golden Age Indian films, as some have already pointed out…) She does not look like a youngster to me (compared, say, to the young women starring in this film), and she is a westerner, so I was wondering if she was perhaps one of the western women who appeared in the very early talkies or even the silent films. I would love to find out.


And here we have the great, classic, bicycle song, which presents a mystery regarding the singers involved. The main singers are well known – once again, Shamshad Begum and Ghulam Haider. But who are the backup/chorus singers, especially in the female group? That is a particularly interesting question because…

About four years ago, I encountered a debate at the blog Indian Baja, which I revisited this week. It starts when the Indian Baja blogger says:

It is even said that the film introduced the then very young Baby Noor Jehan, as a playback singer in the song ‘Sawan Ke Nazare Hain’ as a chorus participant. It was the first film which was without actress Baby Noor Jehan on screen and with her song picturized on [an]other actress.

It was great to find out that in addition to being one of the best songs in Shamshad Begum’s breakthrough movie, this also was the first film song that included Noor Jehan as a playback singer. But then one commenter, Surjit Kholi, said:

As for the participation of Noorjehan in chorus singing is concerned, it is a myth like many other myths created in the past from the mythical times. The song “Sawan Ke Nazare Hain” opens up with Umraosia (or Umrao Zia, if you prefer to call) Begum leading the first stanza of the song. She (Umraosia) is there in all chorus singing, and it is not difficult to detect her voice without any difficulty [sic]…

Now this commenter is apparently a pretty contentious character, who also denies that Baby Noor Jehan sang in “Shala Jawaniyan Mane” – which I have seen attributed to her in numerous places and even in a few compilations. So I wonder if this guy is just an over-questioning kook. I am more inclined to believe his statement that Umrao Zia Begum sang in part of this song, since she sings elsewhere in the film and was Ghulam Haider’s wife. But couldn’t Baby Noor Jehan also have been in this?

I would just love to completely solve these mysteries regarding the identity of certain artists in three fine song clips from Khazanchi. But, of course, I will continue to thoroughly enjoy the songs regardless.

Sandhya’s Real Sister, Vatsala Deshmukh

Some time back, I saw information on a couple of sites, including Cineplot (via an old, reprinted article), which said that V. Shantaram’s third wife, Sandhya, was the sister of his second wife, Jayashree. It seemed a little strange to me, but considering that the story about V. Shanataram and his three wives always seemed strange anyway, I thought, OK, why not? But from some recent investigation (as well as a comment that appeared below that article at Cineplot), it became apparent to me that this was never true. Unfortunately, I know I have made at least one reference in this blog to that strange situation that never really existed, and at some point I will have to try to root out that reference (wherever it is) and any others that might have occurred. But in the meantime, to set the record straight…

Sandhya’s real older sister was named Vatsala Deshmukh, and I believe she performs the lovely mujra below, which was in the film Toofan Aur Diya.

Vatsala also was in other V. Shantaram-produced films, including at least two that he directed, Navrang, and (as Harvey pointed out to me), Pinjra (which I also reviewed here several years ago). In that film, Vatsala actually played the older sister of Sandhya’s character, too.

Vatsala also had a daughter who became a pretty famous Marathi actress, Ranjana Deshmukh. Unfortunately, after some success in films in the ’60s to the ’80s, Ranjana ran into a lot of bad luck, including getting into a very bad car accident in 1987 and having a lethal heart attack in 2000. But Vatsala and Sandhya are still both alive – at least according to all the information that I have seen (knock on whatever) – and hopefully, they can still get in touch with each other at least once in a while to talk about interesting family memories.

Welcome, spring!

I have just been through an unusually harsh winter where I live, with a polar vortex and then some. Usually, I am OK with winters, but this time around, I am quite happy to see that spring has arrived. It does look as though it’s still going to be pretty cold for a while, but we have reached the vernal equinox! So, here are a few songs for the spring:




Happy Birthday, Cuckoo Moray!

I have never confirmed this beyond a couple of sources (actually, just one source named Tom, who said he had heard it from someone else), but I have generally accepted that February 4 is Cuckoo’s birthday, and this is my third Cuckoo birthday post. (My first one was an equally substantial post in 2011, and the second was a small one, with her song from Mirza Sahiban, posted in 2013.)

This time around, I picked some scenes because they were less familiar to me than a lot of other Cuckoo songs and dances, but a couple of others below are standards that I know and love. (It is, of course, easy to find plenty of both, because there were so many great Cuckoo scenes – during a pretty limited time, unfortunately…)

Here’s to Cuckoo!







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P.S. I have noticed that a couple of clips in the 2011 post are missing, and one of them is the famous dance that I have screen-capped for the present image header. I will replace those missing clips shortly, probably while it is still Cuckoo’s birthday.

Did Eleanor Powell’s dance in Honolulu (1939) influence Sitara Devi’s dance in Roti (1942)?

I’ve been watching a lot of dancing from early Hollywood cinema lately. That is, from about 1929 until 1940, a time when even American movies were good. (Not that I would want to go back to the Great Depression… Though I think we in the U.S. (and much of the world) almost have over the past few years, only there’s no good dancing to be found in our movies these days.) Anyway, having watched so much Indian dancing from a period immediately following that, I can’t help thinking of some interesting parallels… Such as Eleanor Powell’s famous “native drum/hula [etc.]” dance in the 1939 film Honolulu and Sitara Devi’s “jungle” dance in the 1942 film Roti. I am referring, specifically, to the first part of Eleanor Powell’s dance as compared to the first part of Sitara’s. I think the resemblance amounts to more than, simply, dancers and choreographers from two cultures outside of Hawaii trying to copy parts of the native dance there. (Though in Roti, they don’t even acknowledge that this is what they’re doing… It seems that Sitara and her chorus are supposed to be Adivasis living just across a small desert from Bombay. But the references are pretty obvious.)

Of course, it could be that I am “reading” too much into this. But even if people think that I am wrong and do not have enough justification for making this connection, I am happy to have come up with an excuse for posting these two dances together (though I know I’ve posted Sitara’s dance on this blog at least a couple of times before). I think both these dancers are among the best who ever appeared in the cinema anywhere.


Ten Favorite Naushad Soundtracks from the 1940s

Happy birthday to Naushad Ali, the best musical director in the history of Hindi cinema. There are others whose music has come close for me, depending on what I am watching/listening to at the time (right now, my second favorite is Anil Biswas), but Naushad has consistently remained the greatest for my ears – and probably many others’ too.

In order to work with a selection that wasn’t overwhelming, I decided to stick to movies from the 1940s (one song from each film). But since I haven’t seen much of his films from the first couple of years of that decade, I am really picking only from 1943 through 1949. But what an incredible seven years!

10. Shahjehan (1946)

9. Andaz (1949)

8. Dulari (1949)

7. Mela (1948)

6. Dard (1947)

5. Anokhi Ada (1948)

4. Sanjog (1943)

3. Dillagi (1949)

2. Ratan (1944)

1. Anmol Ghadi (1946)

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P.S. I just could not come up with individual song descriptions today that would do the music justice. I am happy to say, though, that I’ve already written about a few of these films extensively, and I plan to write about more soon. (Anokhi Ada is in the queue.)

Nalini Jaywant Songs in Nastik (1954), with English Subtitles

Nalini1

I have posted clips from Nastik (1954) before, but I think this is the first time I have seen subtitled copies. They’ve been up for over two years, but maybe I didn’t spot them before because I didn’t notice the particular channel they are on, which is devoted to Lata (who certainly deserves credit too, of course). And they are also of better quality than the ones I posted before… So, here they are – in honor of Nalini on her third death anniversary.





Sister (1941)

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The biggest reason to watch Mehboob Khan’s Sister is for the chance to see the early appearances of a couple of the greatest and most beautiful actresses of Hindi cinema’s Golden Age. In the past, I was delighted to see a few minutes of Baby Meena (i.e., Kumari) at age 11 in Lal Haveli (1944), and I also knew of one song that she did in Sister, which I posted a while back.

But I didn’t realize that we get to see Baby Meena in Sister for more than half an hour, during a significant part of the film, playing the younger-child version of the heorine, Bina. And I didn’t realize that she was such a good actress even back in the early ’40s. She is actually very convincing as child actresses go, and she is also incredibly cute.

We also get to see an incredibly cute girl playing Bina at age 15 (and maybe a couple of years older toward the end of the film). And that girl is Nalini Jaywant, in her first starring role (or possibly her first film appearance altogether). Nalini is quite adorable in this film, and she is very good, too. Her role required a good deal of subtlety at times, as her character needed to navigate the emotional minefield of living with a brother who was very unhealthily obsessed with her (the disturbing center of the film that we’ll get to in a moment). On the other hand, this character could also experience a lot of joy and be very playful, and Nalini was excellent at portraying the whole range of emotions.

At the same time, 15-year-old Nalini does seem appropriately childish. So in this film, she is not quite yet the great beauty that she would turn out to be in the films of the ’50s. But there is another actress in this movie whom we get to see toward the peak of her beauty (since she was probably 19 at this time – a ripe old age for a ’40s Hindi film heroine), and her name is Husn Bano. It is a shame that we don’t really get to see her until the latter part of the film (she is kind of a secondary character, though she eventually assumes greater importance). But even though she appears for such a short amount of time (from well more than halfway through), she, alone, could make the entire film feel worthwhile.


In addition to getting the chance to see all these wonderful actresses at historic moments, there is another, almost equally compelling reason to see Sister, and if you have been reading this whole post and playing all the clips above, you know already that it is the gorgeous music. It’s difficult to describe what makes Anil Biswas’ music from the 1940s so great (or at least it is difficult for me), but this music is positively magical. And one of the best songs, by the way, is acted and sung by someone who makes only a brief appearance; i.e., Miss Iqbal. If anyone knows more about this Miss Iqbal, please send a message or comment! And, by the way, does she always wear such fabulous face jewelry?


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Of course, since this is supposed to be a film review, maybe it would be appropriate to discuss the story/plot. But that part is a bit uncomfortable. As mentioned above, the main character in this film, Amar (effectively played by Sheikh Mukhtar), is unhealthily obsessed with his sister. From the moment that he rescues her from the ruins of an earthquake, he cannot stand to spend time without her. (By the way, that rescue is dramatic, as it was a big earthquake that seemed to have killed everyone else for miles, yet Bina was protected by the edge of her crib, which stopped something very big from falling on her. That serves to explain why Amar is so grateful for the miracle of being able to keep his sister. But it sure doesn’t explain everything!) In fact, his obsession with Bina is so great that it prevents him from getting into any romantic relationships. He actually takes drastic measures to escape two women who are in love with him, all to protect his close relationship with Bina.

Though if Amar chooses to deprive himself in this way, that at least is entirely his choice to make. The problem becomes much more serious when he seeks to deprive Bina in the same way. Thus, when Bina’s romantic interest Rajendra (Harish) enters the picture, the picture becomes even more disturbing.

Nalini-harish

For this viewer, at least, it starts to become a bit difficult to stand. Fortunately, though, Mehboob Khan’s expert direction (with relatively good pacing, etc.) prevents the rough parts from dragging on for too long. Additionally, since this is an early ’40s Mehboob Khan film, there is a good amount of content devoted to the issue of rich vs. poor, the class struggle, etc. Thus, there is interesting social commentary contained within the discussions and arguments between Amar, who is a poor worker (though he has not always been), and Rajendra, whose family owns the factories, and this makes Amar a slightly more sympathetic a character than he might have been otherwise (though that isn’t saying much). Adding to the social(ist) intrigue, Rajendra actually is a very progressive man who would like to see a more egalitarian society, and his father turns out to be fairly liberal in this direction also, though he sometimes puts on a good show of being the opposite. Some of this material is actually pretty intellectual, but it also makes for an entertaining distraction that prevents the core of the film from becoming too negative/depressing.

And (not to spoil anything, but…) everything turns out to be kind of sweet by the end of Sister. So, strangely enough, it turns out to be a pretty uplifting film. It’s not quite as uplifting by the end as the last couple of early ’40s Mehboob Khan films that I saw (and reviewed here), nor is it quite as inspiring. But by the time the final credits rolled, I was feeling very glad that I had seen it.


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P.S. According to a little review at Cineplot, there is an interesting social purpose for the incest theme in Sister, because “The incest motif was widely used to represent the complexities of an ‘Aryan’ agrarian-feudal patriarchy.” Unfortunately, from my perspective, I think I would require a little more information before I could begin to understand what that means.

P.P.S. As is obvious in the screen caps above, the copy of the film that I watched was from Shemaroo, within their Vintage series. Shemaroo deserves credit for issuing these vintage films, which would not have been available in the U.S. with English subtitles a few years ago. The visual quality is also relatively decent (much better than in the song videos that I’ve linked to), and the subtitles aren’t bad. Though this is not to say that it can’t be improved upon… And according to a message that actually appears at the beginning of the DVD, the copyright laws on the film have expired and it is in the public domain, so there should not be any legal risk involved in working with this one, either.

Najma (1943)

Najma is a pure delight, from the beginning to the end. And unlike with the last 1943 classic that I reviewed (Kismet), I didn’t have to keep telling myself that this film could be excused for plot twists that were cliches because it must have been the first one, etc., etc. It is actually based on a very common theme, the love affair that is ruined by an arranged marriage, but if you don’t mind my adding a SPOILER in the next two sentences… Imagine a film in which that happens where the lovers don’t end up killing themselves, but where they learn to live with it and move on with their new lives (albeit after some pretty big difficulties at first)… I’m not usually one who demands happy endings, since I like deep tragedy. But sometimes I get tired of the tragic ending when I’ve already seen it done to death (so to speak), and Najma ends up steering far away from that conclusion (albeit with a bit of a crash toward the end – but I won’t give that part away now).

I also found the characters in Najma and the actors who played them to be very refreshing. Ashok Kumar, as Yusuf, does another fine job here. He’s not as adorable all the way through as he is in Kismet (though he can be sometimes); in fact, sometimes he’ll piss you off. But, as I have said before, he is a very human kind of actor, once again playing a very human character, and he’s very good. Yakub is a lot of fun here, too. He is one of my favorite character actors in Hindi movies, and he does well here playing Yusuf’s really nice but irritating friend. (He is irritating because, for one thing, he is a bit too much of a practical joker – which is a perfect role for Yakub).

Meanwhile, Veena is magnificent. It’s hard to believe that she’s only 16 or 17 here. (Although I have found myself saying the same thing about a few young actresses in these old films…) In addition to being beautiful (a fact that was apparently much talked about at the time), she exhibits a great amount of grace and maturity in her role as Najma.

(By the way, this video and the prior one above were taken from the highly comprehensive channel Trini Rama. All subsequent videos are from Tommydan333 and are taken from the version of the movie that Tom posted at Tommydan55.)

The character Najma, herself, displays a lot sophistication in the way she handles the changes in her life. Although she mourns her loss of a love affair, she also finds ways to make life better in her relationship with her new husband, Mukarram (played by M. Kumar). One thing that she manages to do is get Mukarram to change his habits and come home to her instead of staying out with his friends all night. And he is a Nawab, so, especially in the world of Hindi/Urdu films, that is very impressive!

(By the way, aren’t the dancers in this scene sweet? There is nice dancing in this film, though there should have been more by the woman who will be mentioned in a minute.)

Meanwhile, Yusuf continues to make his own new wife miserable. And that is a shame, because Razia is quite a woman, played by none other than the great Sitara Devi.

As always, Sitara is very dynamic here, as well as unique. Unfortunately, she doesn’t dance all that much in this movie, but she sings well, and she’s a good actress, too. She is quite believable in her role as the illiterate cousin from the village, a character who is obviously not intellectual or sophisticated but who is highly talented and awfully clever. And she is great when it comes time for Razia to sweetly annoy Yusuf after he has ignored her and insulted her for a while. (The scenes between the two are probably the funniest in the whole movie.)

Razia seems to be a bit of a victim at first, but she is driven to the point where she does some very not-nice things in her attempt to prevent any further interactions between Yusuf and Najma (that is, after she finds out that Yusuf has been visiting Najma’s house to help cure her of a likely psychosomatic illness). Eventually, Razia visits Najma directly and starts making unkind accusations that are overheard by Mukarram to nearly disastrous results. And then the last part of the film turns out to be a lot of fun. (I have seen some of this stuff before, but not done quite the same way…)

And now that I have given a fairly extensive plot summary of the part near the end, I would like to make a brief comment about the beginning… That is the part where we get to see some of the explicit social/political commentary that we can often find in films that were made by the director/producer who had a hammer-and-sickle emblem. It’s here where we hear people overtly advocating for a society to treat everyone equally, and where we get to hear a nice prayer that is not at all flattering to the upper class.

Najma-1943

But, interestingly, the rest of the film revolves around very affluent Muslim families and dwells on the social mores of that class. (One review that I read cited Najma as the film that created a “blueprint” for the genre known as the “Muslim Social – although there were Muslim Socials that came out earlier, such as Khandan (1942).) It is clear that Yusuf’s family has had a mixed class history (Razia is actually his cousin – and that is the reason that he is forced to marry her). But Yusuf’s father is a very successful doctor and Najma comes from older wealth, and the film takes place almost entirely within the houses of the rich. Reflecting upon this contrast, I, myself, felt that there was a slight disconnection between some of that material in the beginning and the rest of the movie. (Maybe it would have been better if the poor orphans in the beginning had been brought back a little later? Just for a little bit – I am not saying that this should have been turned into an early version of Boot Polish!) On the other hand, though, because he was focusing so much on rich people’s houses, that gave Mehboob an excuse to work with some beautifully designed sets, which complement all the other very nice elements in this highly enjoyable film.
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P.S. I should not post this review without mentioning that the music also provides a lot of pleasure throughout. And I’d like to add an interesting point of trivia, that the composer of that music, Rafiq Ghaznavi, is the man whose voice we hear behind the Mehboob emblem at the beginning of the opening credits. (Thank you for that information, Memsaab!)

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