I finally watched Basant (1942) all the way through last week (after watching songs and snippets for the past couple of years), and I enjoyed it. I thought of doing a regular film write-up, but I haven’t been in the mood to go into the details and plot descriptions that a real, full write-up might require. Suffice to say, it was a charming and uplifting film. It did not seem like the most original film ever made, but as I’ve said about some other films from the 1940s that I saw after watching so many from the ’50s and beyond, if I found some of the film to be cliched, I appreciated the fact that at least the cliches were a bit newer in this movie than in most. (And by the way, I noticed a strong similarity in plot between Basant and the Golden Age film Kathputli (1957).) Basant also has truly delightful music, composed by Anil Biswas and his brother-in-law Pannalal Ghosh, with much of it sung by Anil’s sister (and Pannalal’s wife), Parul Ghosh. (Some of these films were quite the family affair, especially in the music department.) And it has an all-around great cast. It is always a pleasure to watch an acting performance by Ulhas, even when he plays a real jerk (as he did both here and in Lal Haveli (1944)). Also apart from the three Mumtazes (whom I will get to in a minute), it was a pleasure, finally, to see a substantial film role played by Pramila, the Vintage-era Jewish beauty queen. She did quite well playing the role of jealous villainess, and she also did some nice dancing. But within this cast, I still think I had the greatest fun watching the three Mumtazes.
Since I already mentioned Pramila, let’s start the main part of this post with the dance that she did with Mumtaz Ali. Until a short while ago, I could not even find film scenes of Mumtaz Ali in his heyday, but, thankfully, I have not had that problem during the last couple of years. He was very charming back in the early 1940s, and his two dances in this film are very nice in addition to being historically significant. And, as I was saying, Pramila is very good here, too.
The second time Mumtaz Ali dances, it is with another Mumtaz, Mumtaz Shanti. I have seen some people complain that they are not crazy about Mumtaz Shanti or her acting style, but I have to strongly disagree. I loved her performance in Kismet (which was made one year later), and I love her here, too. She is very sweet in both films, and she seems to be well suited for the role of the good heroine. She is also quite cute. She is definitely one of my favorite actresses from films of the ’40s.
Among the Mumtaz Shanti songs in this film, my favorite is “Mere Chhote Se Man Mein…” Part of the reason for this might be that I had been listening to the song for years before I ever saw it in Basant. A few years ago, I downloaded a number of MP3s of songs sung by Parul Ghosh, and this happened to be the one that I picked to listen to most often. The tune is very catchy, and that might be why it is featured in the film three times. But the best time it is featured is when Parul Ghosh sings it for Mumtaz Shanti. (By the way, the clip below seems to have a different title from the other two versions, coming more from the second phrase in the song. I don’t know if that listing difference exists in any other copies of the film, but it is definitely the same song.)
I am almost equally fond of another song in the film, “Tumko Mubarak Ho,” which we get to hear twice. Mumtaz Shanti is quite wonderful performing this one. She is the perfect actress to perform a song of poor people telling off the rich, explaining why the poor are more virtuous than the rich. (And that is a type of song that is also close to my heart.) Just look at Mumtaz’s expressions! She is adorable.
The next time we see this song performed in the film, it is sung – both on screen and off – by this strange-looking, chubby child. This is the third Mumtaz in the film, Baby Mumtaz. Some years later, she would become Madhubala, the great beauty queen. Who would ever have thought…?
And at the end of the film, Baby Mumtaz also gives a song-and-dance performance of “Mere Chote Se Man Mein” with her filmi parents, Mumtaz Shanti and Ulhas, looking on. This final performance in Basant gives us the best reason to value this movie for its historical significance alone.
Unfortunately, the sound in the copy of the film that I am linking to is not always very good, but in other ways this copy is exceptional. One reason, of course, is that it was put up on YouTube by that most frequent source of film clips for this blog, Tom Daniel, so the visual quality of this film and its songs is better than in any other copies that were posted. Another reason is that it was custom-subtitled in English by Reeba (aka in comments as Pacifist). She apparently did a fine job, because I very much enjoyed some of the dialogue and, especially, the lyrics (which were written by P.L. Santoshi). Since my own Hindi skills are still quite rudimentary (and slipping at this point), there is no way I could have come close to understanding and enjoying this movie as much without these subtitles. And unless, say, Shemaroo Vintage distributed a new copy in the U.S., it might be the only English-subtitled copy of the film available. So, especially if you, too, are Hindi-challenged, I highly recommend looking at this version of Basant.