The scene above is from the film Aasha, which I might write up more fully sometime in the future. (Or I might not. I have learned not to make promises about such matters, given how much my blogging here is directed less by planning than by whim.) Anyway, of course, that is Vyjayanthimala, standing on the ceiling. This scene takes place in a play within the movie. (One might ask, how can someone stand on the ceiling in a live performance? Or, for that matter, how can women suddenly appear on the tops of giant candles, as in a previous play within the film? But these questions belong to a sort of realism that simply doesn’t apply in many old Indian movies – one of the things I love about classic Bollywood.)
The reason this play is being put on is to reveal the truth about a murder, which has been covered up with a big lie. In this scene, Vyjayanthimala plays the truth (or the goddess of truth). She is standing on the ceiling, upside down, because the world around her has been taken over by a lie. And you know what happens to truth when the world is ruled by lies…
The details in the play will reveal the truth about how the murder was committed. The writer of the play, Kishore (Kumar, of course), figured out how the murder was committed and has followed through on his plan to reenact the scene of the murder with the murderer in the audience. (And the murderer, by the way, is a really nasty character – played, of course, by Pran.)
I looked up this play a while back and read at one site that it was inspired by Hamlet. Well, yes, it apparently was. And in addition to that literary reference, it is just chock full of poetry, social commentary (of a socialist-leaning variety), and somewhat experimental innovation, including a lot of little metafictional references and twists that just aren’t supposed to happen in a regular murder mystery/suspense film. (One of my favorite moments: The character Nirmala, played by Vyjayanthimala, is at an audition where she is asked to play a scene done by Vyjayanthimala, and she says that’s difficult, but she will try. Then she plays a snippet from Nagin.)
And all along the way, there’s lots of comedy and great song-and-dance scenes…
Including “Eena Meena Deeka,” a song done twice, first by Vyjayanthimala (with singing by Asha Bhosle) and later by Kishore Kumar, which became a rock’n’roll hit in India in the late ’50s.
Although it’s got some familiar themes and plot elements, this movie is full of surprises that go way beyond mere twists in plot; there are a whole bunch of different things going on here.
…Another good example of why I just love these Indian films from the “classic” era – especially the 1950s.
P.S. Movie details: Directed by M.V. Raman; starring Kishore Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Pran, Om Prakash, Minoo Mumtaz, and Sunder, with a special appearance by Asha Parekh wearing a mustache;
music by C. Ramchandra; singers Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar.
P.P.S. You can tell that the upside-down image in the screen cap is a real scene from the movie, not a rotated picture, because the “Moser Baer” company logo appears in the upper-left corner, rightside-up. That’s annoying, as is the low quality of this video. But these are videos deliberately made to be purchased cheap.
They sell tons of these Moser Baer videos in $5 or $4.99 bins in a couple of all-night (or at least very late-night) stores on 73rd Street in Jackson Heights. The place where I bought this one also sold all kinds of knick-knacks and perfume. Obviously not high-end stuff…
(There’s a longer explanation of the Moser Baer selling strategy over Wikipedia, I wrote more about it here, but I’ve edited that out, because it was taking up way too much space.)