Further thoughts on Dahej and the mean mother-in-law… This movie is another fine V. Shantaram film. It might have some situations and characters which we would consider cliche at this point (though maybe not so cliche in 1950?), but like some other V. Shantaram films that I have seen, it is also very sweet, romantic, heart-wrenchingly tragic at one point, and very socially conscious. Also like some other Shantaram films, it has a very strong heroine – in this case a young woman named Chanda (Jayashree) – who boldly fights against limits, conventions, and the obstacles put in her path.
Interestingly, the main thing that Chanda fights for constantly is her right to be a good, loving wife. The only other film I can think of in which a woman has to fight so hard for her right to love her own husband is Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. But in this case, it’s not a decadent culture of philandering men and evil landlords that she’s fighting against; it’s the ethics of the dowry system and the way that it instigates her evil mother-in-law. And it’s also the cultural convenitons that in many ways make her powerless against that evil mother-in-law – though it doesn’t help that her husband, Suraj (Karan Diwan), is also an incredibly wimpy guy who has to constantly think of his father’s death bed request that he always please and obey Mom. (So, when Suraj’s evil mom kicks Chanda out of the house and makes plans for Suraj to divorce and remarry, he’s incredibly conflicted about whether he should refuse this plan – though he supposedly loves his wife so much…)
The problem at the beginning of the film which leads to all these other problems is that Chanda’s father, Thakur (Prithviraj Kapoor), though descended from a proud family of “warriors,” is so poor these days that he could not come up with a dowry that was sufficient to satisfy his daughter-in-law’s family. Suraj’s father (Ulhas), being an affluent lawyer, is demanding enough in this area, but of course, the woman whom this problem particularly displeases is the evil mother-in-law. Then, when Suraj’s father dies (of unspecified attack, though it seems like a stroke from all appearances), Suraj’s mother blames the daughter-in-law for “jinxing” the family. Actually, she hates her daughter-in-law because of jealousy (like just about every bad mother-in-law that I’ve seen in old Hindi films), but she uses the “jinx” idea as an excuse to be especially horribly nasty.
And this could be the nastiest woman character I’ve ever seen. She makes Nadira at her meanest look sweet and lovable by comparison. But I’m thinking, maybe this actress was even better than Nadira.
As people who recognized the woman in the picture above know already, I am talking here about Lalita Pawar. I have actually seen her play all kinds of mother types in different places on a broad spectrum, from nice (Shree 420) to somewhat mean in the beginning but ultimately well intentioned (Parchhaiyan) to….this…
And I think that in the future, if I see that Lalita is in a movie, I’m going to find out in advance whether she plays a meanie, so that I can brace myself.
I know it’s a bit risky to reveal one’s first actor or actress crush from childhood, and I probably shouldn’t be doing this. But I’ve already admitted this in comments on some other blogs, so probably, a few people know already… My first actress crush from childhood was Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie. This TV series debuted when I was still only three years old, and I’m not sure if the crush could have extended that far back (hmm, what would Freud say?), but I know that I did have dreams of Jeannie when I was still definitely in the single digits.
Now, as actresses go, it might be a real matter of opinion whether Barbara Eden ever ranked among the great beauties, but it’s hard to resist being attracted by the fantasy of Jeannie the genie. There are many possible psychlogical reasons for that, which I won’t get into (because I don’t like getting into such messy matters as gender relationships and the nature of male fantasies). However, if anybody thinks that this story is all as easy as a guy finding a woman in a lamp or bottle who will be completely at his service to be lorded over, then you haven’t realized the real point of I Dream of Jeannie and similar stories – that it is actually the woman who, though ostensibly and superficially in the service of the man according to custom, is the one who really runs the show in the long run. And that, too me, is a realistic assessment of many relationships through the ages.
But there are also other, simpler reasons to like a female genie… A lot of the genie’s appeal might just come from her fashion sense (who doesn’t like a harem costume?). And in some cases, it could be because she dances so well…which is not the case with Barbara Eden, but it is the case with the genie played by Samia Gamal in the Egyptian movie Afrita Hanem, or The Genie Lady.
Watching this Egyptian movie, I couldn’t help noticing how much it resembles I Dream of Jeannie – though, of course, it is the other way around, since this movie was made in 1949 and it would be a big conicidence if the people who created I Dream of Jeannie didn’t already know about this!
As with I Dream of Jeannie, as you can see, the hero, Asfour, is a relatively straight-laced-looking guy, although he is a bit different by vocation – a singer and an aspiring theater director, whch has a lot to do with why there are so many song-and-dance sequences here (just like with many Indian movies). In fact, the actor who plays Asfour, Farid Al Atrache, was himself a great singing star, so we get to hear some fine singing in addition to enjoying Samia’s dancing…
(By the way, don’t trouble yourself asking how this woman could be up on stage dancing at the same time that she is sitting in the crowd, playing tricks on people. Hey, it’s magic – she is a genie…)
But differences notwithstanding, there are similar dynamics here… As with I Dream of Jeannie, the hero often gets angry at the genie (or the existence of the genie and the way that interferes with his normal life), and he repeatedly tries to brush her off only to find himself increasingly beholden to her (and not the other way around). There is also the issue of a fiance, although the other woman does not become a fiance in Afrita Hanem until later, after the Genie Lady has helped to grant Asfour some fame and money – which is what this fiance and her father have been after all along…
…Which leads to maybe the biggest difference between the two genie stories and a reason – outside of the dancing – why I like Afrita Hanem more (though who knows how I would have felt when I was three or five or seven years old, but never mind)… Afrita Hanem has a social message about the shallow values of the day, and this is really why our hero should reject his previous social aspirations and embrace the genie – as recognition of some ancient wisdom. This is told to us very directly by another interesting character in the film, the guy who brought Asfour to the genie in the first place, who merely identifies himself at one point as “fate”… But I didn’t know fate was this opinionated (and thank goodness he is, I would say!):
Greed, selfishness, materialism… One might say the problem does not apply only to this movie’s country of origin!
…Just as I’ve often said when uncovering the moral in many a good Indian movie, too.
Speaking of which, I wondered whether there might have been a parallel to these movies in Bollywood. There’s none that I know of, but certainly, classic Bollywood has its female genies too, and some of them were also excellent dancers!
That scene from Yahudi shows that Helen and Cuckoo both could be excellent genie ladies, but Helen actually landed genie roles in other films too. There is an interesting post over at Memsaab’s which begins a three-part review of another movie, Sinbad Alibaba Aur Aladin… In an exchange between us in the comments section, Memsaab mentioned to me that Helen simply looked like a born genie and asked if I could picture her with Larry Hagman. The answer to that is, definitely! And I can easily picture her with Farid Al Atrache too.
I just watched an Egyptian movie in full with subtitles and everything, and this movie, Struggle on the Nile, was enjoyable, even though I was not quite as happy about the ending as I think the filmmakers meant us to be. I’m starting to do a fuller writeup of the movie, but I’m not going to pomise that I’ll finish it right away – or ever. (At this point, I think I’ve learned my lesson in that regard.) But for now, I wanted to post a nice clip of the great starring actress/dancer… That’s Hind Rostom, who plays the villainess, Nargis, and she is an excellent actress as well as being a very nice dancer. Her character is fantastic too – in fact, too good compared to all the male characters around her, so that she simply overshadows them. She is far more interesting than the young hero Muhasab (Omar Sharif), who is really an incredible dimwit. And while Omar plays the dimwit pretty well, I think Hind plays her character even better. As a result of this dynamic, it is very difficult to root for the success of the hero and his shipmates if this is going to mean the villainess’s demise. But, of course, she is a bad woman, and there is a good and virtuous woman waiting for Muhasab back home… (Fortunately, there are a few really nasty and ugly male villains in this movie also, and they’re the ones who have put Nargis up to her evil deeds. So, at least we can root for the hero and his shipmates without reservation when they’re fighting those nasty guys.)
The clip below contains excerpts from the two belly dances that she does (and I can’t imagine why they chose to include only two!) as well as a few other scenes. The music is something more modern than this film’s soundtrack (obviously), but it fits all right. Unfortunately, embedding was disabled, but it’s well worth the extra click…
[Note five years later: Oh, of course, the clip has disappeared. If you are reading this note, please come back soon, and you will find it replaced by at least one very nice Hind Rostom belly dance.]
P.S. [1/10] After viewing a whole lot of Egyptian film clips (yes, taking in a lot of entertainment on my trip!), I was thinking about all the similarities between the song-and-dance sequences in each film industry. And naturally, I was thinking about that great Egyptian bellydance vs. what seems to be the Indian bellydance. I knew that the Indians weren’t doing the real bellydance as we know it, so I wondered, were they just imitating the Middle Eastern dancers in so many films, or is there a whole traidtion of Indian sort-of bellydancing? Then I realized – or recalled – that the answer is a little of both.
I remembered that someone whom I was in touch with sometime back, in the first couple of months of this blog (when it was still a “global music” blog), did a video that explained the difference between Middle Eastern bellydancing and Indian “bellydancing.” That, as I confirmed, was Sabreena aka Genieshanu, and she not only explains but also demonstrates, over on YouTube. That clip should clarify a few things for people who were wondering…, as well as being very nice to watch.
I’ve been off on a little excursion for the past few days (traveling the way I usually do)…
(I actually posted this last one on this blog a while back – but a repeat was long overdue!)