Saturday, August 15, 2020

'A tryst with destiny' - Independence Day

Today marks independence day for both India & Pakistan (since it officially occurred at midnight, India chose August 15th & Pakistan chose August 14th). The 'tryst with destiny' - Nehru's words to describe independence in his first speech to a free India - commemorates a great many things both good & bad. The good obviously was freedom from the British, who for the most part loved India but were nonetheless rulers of a foreign land. The bad (at least as far as I am concerned) is the Partition that took place on the eve of independence. There are a great many articles that focus on whether Partition was the correct decision to make and whether it created/solved the problems that plague both countries to this day. I highly recommend every person of South Asian heritage or anyone with an interest in Indian history hunt down the book 'Freedom at Midnight'. Written by two French authors, it provides a fascinating (and at times heartbreaking) account of the events that led up to the Partition of India and often reads as a piece of fiction rather than a retelling of history.

However since this blog is dedicated to music I will limit the focus to 'what if' in that regard. During the time of partition, Bollywood was just beginning to come into it's own. Muslims made up many of the artists (both in front of and behind the camera) and were forced to make a very difficult decision that fateful day in 1947. Can anyone imagine Indian cinema without Mohammed Rafi, Dilip Kumar, Nargis, or Madhubala? Arguably the greatest classic made for the Indian screen, 'Mughal-E-Azam', had Muslim actors in the lead roles, a Muslim music director (Naushad) & a Muslim producer/director (K.Asif)- in 2006 it had the distinction of being the 1st Indian film to be screened in Pakistan in 44 years. How would Bollywood be different if the Muslim artists hadn't stayed on? What would the landscape of Indian cinema look like today without Shah Rukh, Aamir & (even) Salman Khan? It may seem insignificant but I wonder how many talented artists never got a chance to work in the Indian film industry because of politics - and how much richer the tapestry of Bollywood could have been had they been allowed to do so.

The music today comes from 2 legends of Indian cinema - Noorjehan & Lata Mangeshkar. Noorjehan starred & sang in only 8 Indian movies before migrating to Pakistan but her songs are still remembered fondly to this day. Her most famous song 'Jawan Hai Mohabbat' is an ode to youth. While her voice is atypical of the modern artists that we are used to hearing - just give yourself a chance to be captivated by her incredible depth & range as a singer. Lata Mangeshkar (who respectfully referred to Noorjehan as simply 'Didi' or sister) was just breaking into Indian cinema during the time of partition. Some say that if Noorjehan had stayed in India (she was already a superstar), Lata may not have had the incredible success that she did. My favorite song by her is also one of her earliest, 'Mere Aankhon Mein'. Lata combined both sadness & desire in a way that few could. Both singers with completely different styles - and both unforgettable. Madame Noor returned to India for the first time since Partition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Indian talkie (see photo below) and was received by Lataji & Dilip Kumar. She was nervous about the event but Indian audiences had never forgotten her evergreen songs and showered her with the love that can only be compared to a daughter coming back home after being gone for a very long time.
Below you will find the trailer for the National Award winning movie "Garam Hawa" that was briefly banned when it was first released in 1974 for it's honest and stark portrayal of the Partition. Below that are the 2 songs mentioned above.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Farewell to Shashi Kapoor - overlooked but never overshadowed

One of my all time favorite actors and Bollywood legends, Shashi Kapoor (ne Balbir Raj Kapoor) has passed away at age 79. 2017 also marks the 69th anniversary of his debut on the silver screen in his brother Raj Kapoor's movie 'Aag'. And finally, this year would have been the 57th wedding anniversary to his beloved wife Jennifer (who passed away from cancer in 1984) with whom he had three children. Shashiji, long considered one of Bollywood's favorite sons but also one of it's most underrated. His flame never shone quite as bright as his elder brother Raj or as his contemporary (and close friend) Amitabh Bachchan - but he holds a special place in my heart and countless other fans of Hindi films. Indeed, click on most any Bollylink on the side of this post and you will find a plethora of Shashi fans. Like me they just adore him and wax poetic about his acting, sense of style and just how damn 'Shashilicious' he is (my personal favorite).

I was too young to have watched the films of his early career in the 60's & 70's the first time around since I emigrated to the US when I was 2. However, after seeing him in 'Chor Sipahee' during my first trip back to India in 1977 I was instantly hooked, his 'Shashilicious' had infected me and there would be no coming back. I remember having lengthy discourses (as lengthy as Indian kids who grew up in the suburbs of Dallas could have) with buddies of mine about who was the most Zabardast Hero - Amitabh or Shashi? Even when renting VHS tapes at the Indian grocery store ($11 for a 3 day rental!) I insisted that my parents only get movies starring either of them and when they started doing their 'buddy movies' together - well that was one heck of an era for this Bollywood fan. To this day they both remain my two favorite actors/stars/heroes and asking me to pick between them is simply impossible. Amitabh was larger than life - an impossibly tall superman of an actor, with movie star good looks, sporting perfectly coiffed hair whose baritone voice shook the goondas to their core. Click on the below link for a lovely retrospective of Shashiji's career from those in the industry who knew him best...

But Shashi? He was of average height at best, had curly hair that had a mind of it's own, spoke with a distinctive voice indeed but nothing earth-shaking and while he was unmistakably handsome - his smile betrayed some crooked choppers that made him look, well accessible. Because you see, yours truly was of average height, had curly hair that would expand exponentially in the Texas humidity, had teeth so crooked I needed braces for years and had a voice that would never be picked to narrate any documentaries. I loved Shashi because he wore all his imperfections on his sleeve and never tried to be more than what he was - he showed me that to be truly successful one just had to have 'it' and boy, did he ever. Amitabh represented the superhero whom I could admire from afar and could never be - while Shashi was the everyman whose films I watched and realized that he was actually someone who I could be or at least try to. And that is what makes Shashi so special indeed, for he had charisma & charm - an unlimited supply of it at that.

Today's selection is 'Sarke Sarke', a song that I consider to be the forgotten song of Silsila. In my opinion it is one of the best Kishore/Lata duets ever done and is picturised quite beautifully with Shashi & Jaya Bachchan. It is sometimes overlooked (go figure) because of the other two Kishore/Lata songs that were picturised with Amitabh & Rekha. Those songs are great indeed but the producers felt Shashi's so good that they decided to open the movie with it. The video for the song is below...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Holi Hai

Holi was celebrated here over the weekend with friends, colored powders, good food and of course - Bollywood tunes. I hope to celebrate it one day in India - my relatives tell me that it's much like what we see in the movies (without songs & music starting on cue of course) Holi is a very popular holiday to picturize in Hindi cinema and it's easy to see why as it is visually tailor made for the big screen.

The origins of Holi are in religion (as are most Indian festivals). Hiranyakashipu (a demon king) was granted immortality due to his penance to Lord Vishnu (the preserver). The terms of this penance were that the king not be killed "during day or night, inside nor outside, not on earth or on sky, neither by a man nor an animal, neither by astra nor by shastra". Consequently, he grew arrogant (as you would expect a demon king to become who was immortal) and demanded that people stop worshiping to the gods and instead start praying to him.

However his own son, Prahlad, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and refused to bow down to the demon king. The king ordered young Prahlad to sit on a funeral pyre on the lap of his aunt, Holika. She in turn was safe from the fire by virtue of her holy shawl. Prahlad readily accepted his father's orders and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as the shawl flew from Holika (who was burnt to death) to Prahlad who was saved unhurt. Thus bonfires are lit to symbolize the burning of Holika and the beginning of Holi. And the tradition of the colors appear to be the final symbolization of good over evil, i.e. darkness over the light.

My favorite one comes from Krishna's celebration of Holi. According to legend, Krishna complained to his mother about how much darker he was than the much fairer Radha. Krishna's mother decided to apply colour to Radha's face as a way to appease him while still keeping Radha fair. Holi officially ushers in spring, the celebrated season of love in Bollywood & Hollywood as well.

Today's selection comes from the movie 'Aapas Ki Baat' which was released in 1981. Most of you (including your own dear Doc) haven't heard the song till today due to that OTHER holi song that was also released that year - Rang Barse from 'Silsila'. However this tune is not just a throwaway and actually has a great melody, fun lyrics, huge cast of villagers dancing in almost perfect unison and of course the most essential element for any holi song - Bhaang! The song is Rango Mein Rang sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata. It stars the very underrated Raj Babbar and some assorted fat men serving as the ambassadors of coloring the town red.
In the end though, maybe Holi is kind of a metaphor for life - you see, without song, color and dance - life just isn't complete.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Raksha Bandhan

Today's full moon (shravan) signifies Raksha Bandhan, an annual occurrence in the Hindu calendar (usually falling in the month of August). It is marked by a ceremony in which one's sister ties a rakhi — which may be a colorful thread or a simple bracelet — around the wrist of her brother. The word "raksha" signifies protection and "bandhan" is an association signifying an enduring bond; and so, when a rakhi around the wrist of one's brother it signifies his sister's love for him. He, likewise, recognizes the special bond between them - and by extending his wrist forward, he symbolically extends the hand of his protection over her as well.

Raksha Bandhan not only strengthens the bond of love between brothers and sisters, but goes beyond the confines of the family. When a rakhi is tied on the wrists of close friends and neighbors, it underscores the need for a harmonious social life where individuals co-exist peacefully as brothers and sisters. All members of the community commit to protect each other and society as a whole - an ancient theory popularized by the Nobel laureate, Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore.

This ritual itself is a Hindu one - however throughout the ages it has come to transcend religion like few things can. It is said that Alexander's life was spared in battle only because his wife had tied a rakhi on the hand of the great Hindu King Puru. That kind of bond continues with Desis around the world to this day, in fact my own rakhis are sent by my 'sisters' (Muslims, Hindus & Christians) - all of them very close to my heart. Only one of them is actually related to me but who says you need matching DNA to be considered family?

The musical selection for today is from the 1970 movie 'Sachaa Jhutha' that still gets played at Indian weddings to this day, Meri Pyari Behaniya Banegi Dulhaniya. The movie was released at the peak of Rajesh Khanna's stardom and I heard him discuss the significance of the song in an interview he gave a few years back. He was already established as THE romantic hero of Bollywood when this movie came out and he said he knew that it was a game changer when, instead of getting pictures of his fans, he began to get rakhis en masse mailed to him instead. Girls all over India now saw him as not only the husband of their dreams but the brother of their dreams as well. Only in Bollywood...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Diwali Mubarak

Diwali is popularly known as the 'festival of lights' although it's true meaning is closer to 'the awareness of the inner light'. Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure and infinite - one's soul or atma. Diwali is the celebration of this inner light. Deeps (candles) symbolizing this represent the victory of light over darkness, truth over falsehood and knowledge over ignorance. It is this light that is said to remove all obstacles and dispel ignorance. It awakens the individual to one's true nature, not in the physical sense but the spiritual one. With this knowledge comes the awareness of the oneness of all things which leads to ananda or inner peace.

Today's posting is a joint one with our dear friend Shefaly who blogs about Indian cuisine, not so Indian cuisine and all yummy stuff in between over at Shef's Kitchen.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Unearthed Treasure - 'Jaag Utha Insaan' (1984)

It's been awhile since I posted something and rather than doing my usual movie review, I figured I would share some found treasure. You know the feeling you get when you find money in your pockets that you completely forgot about and it's like finding something brand new? That happened to me but instead of money it happened by way of song and in a way that's much more valuable. As most of you know, I am one of the biggest Kishore Kumar fans you could ever care to meet and in fact - I stopped watching Bollywood movies altogether after his passing in 1987. I own pretty much everything he ever did in my music collection and his voice brings joy to me in ways that only one's favorite singer/band could. So when I stumbled upon a duet of his on YouTube (thank you technology!) that was sung with Asha Bhonsle, you can imagine my excitement. I felt like Indiana Jones finding lost Mayan treasure and that's honestly not a hyperbole. For not only was it a song that I hadn't heard before - it was a stunningly beautiful one. And to top it off, the song starred two of my favorite actors - Sridevi & Mithun Chakraborty! And yes the actual picturization of the song just brought it to another level of awesomeness.

What did I love so much about this song?

~ No goofy outfits - Mithun wears a traditional Indian kurta with a dupatta and sandals to match that would look good even today. Sridevi wears only one sari throughout the entire song (much to the chagrin of 'multiple outfit changing' song lovers everywhere).

~ No 'fake' instruments - songs from the 80's in Bollywood were infested with terrible synthesizers and drum kits to an excess. Music composer Rajesh Roshan (uncle of Hrithik) used traditional Indian instruments throughout this song which makes it evergreen in every sense of the word.

~ No armies of background dancers - yes they are a standard of big production songs from the early days of Bollywood to present but sometimes less is more. And when you have two stars like this to carry your song then you really don't need all that filler. Which leads into...

~ Lots of Sridevi & Mithun doing what they do best - from the moment where Mithun puts Sridevi's 'ghagra' on her feet you realize that you are in for something special. Add in the fact that both of them are accomplished dancers themselves makes you believe what's happening on the screen is truly real. And when Mithun starts playing the flute for Sridevi's dancing and then washes her feet with water from the sea? Done.

~ The fact that the song itself is amazing both musically and lyrically is obviously what made me want to devote a whole post to it today. Old is definitely Gold as far as Indian songs go in my world even though I have gotten several requests to review some new movies/post some new songs. But if you hear a song for the first time isn't it new to you? Unearthed treasure is still treasure in my world.

And the reason I won't see the movie? With a song this wonderful I know that seeing the movie will only serve to diminish how much I love it. Just because the director nailed it on one song doesn't necessarily mean he did so for another 3 hours as well. And since the song is a dream sequence why muck it up with reality? Granted, it was produced and stars another one of my old school faves Rakesh Roshan (better known as Hrithik's dad) but in this case ignorance is truly bliss.

After I wrote this up, I noticed that someone had put together a 2 minute summary of the movie. It pretty much solidifies my decision to not watch the movie :/

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi is probably the most Hollywood of all the films I have reviewed for this website but in certain ways it's about as Bollywood as a movie can get. With a story set in India, gorgeous sets, hypnotic music and a fantastical almost other worldly story - it's a movie that has to be seen in order to truly 'get' it. It's based on a best selling novel of the same name and has often been referred to as unfilmable by a number of directors that have tried to do so - M. Night Shyamalan (could have been a career saver) and Alfonso Cuaron among others. Enter Ang Lee who broke two classic rules of film making (never work with animals or children) as well as a few new ones (never film a movie set mostly at sea, with CGI or in 3D unless you have done at least one before). But then maybe that's why the movie works so well - because the director had to basically improvise every day on the set and make up the rules as he went along he ended up making something altogether original. And the 3D filming that used was never done so in a GOTCHA kind of way but rather to immerse the viewer fully into the movie. The scenes set in India are beautiful enough but the nature scenes set on the ocean are downright hypnotizing.

The movie begins in the lovely seaside village of Pondicherry in South India. My grandfather actually spent some time there and remembered it fondly, making it a place I have always wanted to visit. Interestingly, M. Knight Shyamalan was born there so he could have actually spent some time in his birthplace had the ending of the film supposedly not clashed with his trademark twisty-endings. One of the oldest cities in India (Romans used to do trade with India there in 100 BC) it also has alot of French influence having been a territory from 1674 until Independence. The city is akin to a character in the movie and immediately does the job of transporting one to a faraway land. The story is at once very simple (an Indian boy survives a shipwreck on a lifeboat with four animals) and very complicated (you gotta see the movie to understand) but unlike most book adaptations - most fans of the book were actually very happy with how the movie turned out. Life of Pi has been nominated for 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects. It's one of those rare movies that tells a story that is more than just what is shown on the screen yet fully encompasses you into the experience.

The lead character 'Pi' is played by relative newcomer Suraj Sharma in his youth and by Irfan Khan who narrates the film for the audience as an adult. The wonderful Indian actress Tabu plays Pi's mother and continues to elevate any movie that she happens to be cast in. If you see this film in 3D it's a real treat but I can't imagine it would disappoint even if viewed at home. The song for today is by Kishore Kumar (who just keeps making his presence known in movies almost two decades after his passing) and Lata Mangeshkar from the soon to be reviewed 1975 film Aandhi. The song itself is a timeless classic and is well known to generations of Bollywood fans. It is played over the scene in which a young Pi sees the object of his affection in a market and even though it's played for only a moment - the song snippet they chose for the movie is just spot on. Tum Aa Gaye Ho indeed...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

On the 25th anniversary of Kishore Kumar's passing

Today marks the 25th anniversary of when the world lost Kishore Kumar, whose songs would leave his fans forever in their eternal trance. His voice is my earliest memory of Bollywood and is the standard to which I hold all singers in Indian movies to this day. Today's blogpost is a composite of several write ups I did a few years ago. Kishoreda is most remembered as a singer but was also a versatile actor, producer, director & music composer. Today's song is the live version Aah Chal Ke Tujhe from the movie 'Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein' (1964) in which he did all the aforementioned tasks. Kishore once said he wrote the lyrics of the song for his son to describe what he imagined heaven to be like. Somewhere he is looking down on us today and probably a bit surprised that he is still so fondly remembered by his fans, both old and new.

Kishore Kumar Tribute Pt. 1 (The 50's)

I still remember the first time I heard Kishore Kumar's voice. The year was 1975, I was seven years old and the soundtrack for 'Amar Akbar Anthony' had just come out. My family had recently moved to the US from India and one of my parent's friends brought over the LP of the movie. The songs were played so many times that they became firmly entrenched into my childhood memories and in turn Kishore Kumar became permanently ingrained into my psyche. I own virtually every song that he has ever sung and he is the one artist whom I never tire of listening to. I can name virtually every actor that he has sung for and watched certain actor's movies just because I knew Kishore was going to be doing the songs. I would sit through the opening credits of a movie and if I didn't see his name under 'playback singers' I would go back to what I was doing. I was a fan(atic) in every sense of the word. And when he passed away 25 years ago I stopped watching Bollywood movies altogether and missed out on the introductory movies of SRK, Aamir Khan, etc. I eventually came back around for the film 'Aashiqui' (because the songs were all sung by Kumar Sanu aka 'the voice of Kishore Kumar) but to this day I will happily listen to Kishoreda over any other Bollywood singer.

Kishore came to Bombay at the age of eighteen to strike it big as a singer. His older brother (Ashok Kumar) was the biggest actor of the day and since Kishore had no formal training no one would hire him as a singer. He turned to acting in desperation to keep from going home a failure but adamantly refused to give up his dream. His hero was the legendary singer K.L. Saigal and Kishore imitated his style in his first few (mostly forgettable) songs. S.D. Burman sat him down soon after and gave him some advice at the behest of Kishore's older brother. Burman (who would eventually become his mentor) told him that while his voice did have potential - if he wanted to be truly remembered he had to sing and find a style that was his and not merely a copy of someone else's. His career blossomed once he took that advice to heart and he began to churn out hit after hit - both as an actor and a singer. One of his earliest successes was in the movie 'Paying Guest' with the song Mana Janab Se Pukar in 1957 starring Dev Anand (Kishore sang for movies starring only himself & Devsaab back then).

Another one of his earliest & biggest hits was the title song from 'Jhumroo' titled Main Hoon Jhumroo which is memorable for Kishore's trademark yodeling. It was during this decade that he married Madhubala (his second of four wives) and made a few movies with her as well, the best being 'Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi' which is special enough to get it's own write up one of these days.

Next up - Kishore's success as a singer flames out as his acting roles dry up in the 1960's. His triumphant return to the top of the charts in 1969 helped to propel a little known actor into superstardom with just one movie...

Kishore Kumar Tribute Pt. 2 (The 60's)

The 1960's were not kind to Kishore Kumar. Most of the movies he starred in flopped at the box office, his marriage to his first wife ended in divorce and his songs were just not getting the airplay they had been when he first broke into the business. While he had the odd hit in 'Padosan' & 'Jewel Thief', for the most part it seemed that Bollywood had grown tired of Kishore and his career seemed over. He remarried in 1960 to the luminous Madhubala but the marriage was doomed from the start. Madhubala secretly pined for Dilip Kumar, who did indeed love her back - but Dilip's father forbade the two from getting married as he did not want his son marrying an actress (which he did anyway with Saira Banu). Madhubala passed away in 1969 while in Kishore's arms - she had loved him during their time together but was never in love with him. Yet that year would prove a watershed year in Kishore's life both personally and professionally...

S.D. Burman had already started recording the songs for 'Aradhana' and used Rafi's voice for the first two but became very ill shortly thereafter and had to be hospitalized. The responsibility for finishing the soundtrack fell on his son, Rahul Dev Burman and although R.D. was relatively new to Bollywood, he had always been enamored with Kishore's voice. The younger Burman broke tradition and recorded the remainder of the songs with Kishore, convinced that Kishoreda would be able to hit the nuances of the songs better than Rafi could. 'Aradhana' became a blockbuster hit and that one movie changed the entire landscape of Bollywood for years to come. Rajesh Khanna became the biggest movie star of the day and no one, not Raj Kapoor before him or Amitabh Bachchan after, could match the way he owned the silver screen for the next five years. Kishore fared even better, after the success of 'Aradhana' he became the most sought after singer in Bollywood until he passed away and had few if any peers to his craft.

The above video is of the song Kora Kagaz from the movie 'Aradhana'. A spellbinding duet by Kishore & Lata, it was also the song to which Nilong & I were introduced as husband and wife at our wedding reception. The song is iconic and like most things involving Kishore, it still sounds as fresh and alive as it did when it was first released over 40 years ago...

Kishore Kumar Tribute Pt. 3 (The early 70's)

(From right - Kishore, Dev Anand, Yash Chopra & R.D. Burman)

Kishore Kumar was simply unstoppable after the blockbuster success of 'Aradhana' - every music producer wanted him for their songs and each leading man of the day wanted to be associated with his voice. I don't remember being particularly enamored with Rajesh Khanna but do remember watching all of his movies just to hear songs from Kishore. Indeed, the Rajesh/Kishore pairing became legendary in Bollywood and soon more leading men became associated with his voice - Shashi Kapoor, Jeetendra, Dharmendra (just to name a few) and audiences simply could not get enough.

After the death of Mukesh in 1976 it was Kishore who received the lion's share of the work along with the other legend from early Bollywood, Mohammed Rafi. But as high as Kishore's star rose in the early part of the 70's - it would be nothing compared to the success that he found when he became the voice associated with the the angry young man with the baritone voice from Allahbad later on that decade...

The video below is from 'Chor Machaye Shor' which starred Shashi Kapoor. The song showcases the maturity of Kishore Kumar as an artist and was one of the signature songs of the movie as well.

Kishore Kumar Tribute Pt. 4 (The late 70's)

Amitabh Bachchan & Kishore Kumar - one cannot really imagine the voice of Amitabh as anyone else. They went together as well (or better) than Dev Anand/Kishore or Rajesh Khanna/Kishore as THE voice that pops into your mind when you think about a particular actor. So well suited was Kishore's voice for Amitji that I remembering having spirited discussions (spirited for a 13 year old at least) with friends who insisted that it was Amitabh singing the songs, years before he began to do so. And perhaps I would not have been as big of an Amitabh fan if some other singer had done his playback singing. I can count on one hand the movies in which Kishore did not provide playback for an Amitabh movie during the 70's & 80's. It was an amazing run where one's popularity just fueled the other's and resulted in both of them reaching unprecedented success in Bollywood. Kishore deliberately sang one octave deeper when he sang for AB & slightly changed his pitch when he sang for other actors - just another piece of the genius that is my favorite singer of all time.

The video below is from one the earliest movies that Kishore was used as playback for Amitabh in the film 'Bombay to Goa' - the exuberant energy of this song is incredibly infectious and most likely will lead to random dancing with a big smile on your face - Dekha Na Hai Re.

Kishore Kumar Tribute - Final Chapter (80's)

I had a big send off planned for this final post - a trip back through memory lane when Kishore owned Bollywood and his songs alone could guarantee the opening of a movie regardless of the actor in the starring role (including playback on both Anil Kapoor's & Sanjay Dutt's first films). Every music composer wanted to work with him and he did some of his best work near the end of his career. I listen to his songs much the same way a classical music fan listens to the symphony - never tiring of every intonation his voice makes nor of hearing songs I have heard 100 times before. His voice affects me like no other and would be my first choice if I had to pick a 'desert island soundtrack' meaning a collection of records that would accompany me should I be marooned like Tom Hanks in 'Cast Away'.

He was larger than life and his career spanned almost four decades in Bollywood as a singer, actor, director, producer & music composer. But his first love was singing and he will always be remembered for that. I have fond memories of a concert I attended that he gave at Sanmukhanand Hall in Bombay in 1983. Our seats were on the 7th row (two rows behind Ashok Kumar) in the sold out arena. Kishore came out and entertained the crowd single-handedly for over 4 hours and left the audience breathless. So here we are, over two decades after his passing and despite my self-imposed exile from Hindi Cinema in the three years following his death - I still love Bollywood. And judging from what I see - Bollywood's love for Kishore continues to this day. His songs have been in several major movies in the modern era - 'Om Shanti Om' & 'The Darjeeling Limited' (just to mention a few) and if you Google his name you will get 159,000 hits - exactly 55,000 more than the the #1 singer in Bollywood today, Sonu Nigam.

I racked my brain trying to come up with that one song that would be the defining moment in Kishore's career in the 80's and just couldn't do it. His popularity during that time was unprecedented as he was the last remaining member of the 'Big Three' (along with Mukesh & Rafi). So the song for today is the one I mentioned in the post above - a live recording of the haunting Aa Chalke Tujhe from the movie 'Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein' - a movie in which Kishore acted, sang, directed, produced & composed the music for as well.

And the video for today is by the only Hollywood actor that Kishore provided playback duties for (click here to view)... somehow I think Kishore would have approved & just proves to me that I am not the only one who misses him. The original video/song that Homer et al were singing is from the movie 'Johnny Mera Naam' and can be found below.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering Rajesh Khanna

He was one of those 'once in a lifetime' superstars for a generation and a movie star in every sense of the word. His unbroken string of 19 hits from 1969's 'Aradhana' to 1972's 'Shehzada' is an unduplicated feat that stands to this day and cemented his status as one of Bollywood's elite. My parents were still in India during his heyday and long have told me that Rajesh (at his peak) was a bigger star than Amitabh - something that this Amitabh Bachchan loving child of the 80's simply could not comprehend. It's only recently that I have come to appreciate the legacy he left behind. Science defines a supernova as a star that is extremely luminous and causes a burst of radiance that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over weeks or months. It's a very accurate description of Kaka's ('uncle' as he was affectionately known) career in the Indian film industry. His fans were overwhelmingly female and they swooned over him like no other hero before or since - often 'marrying' his picture before their own weddings. His flaring nostrils and subtle head movements in romantic tear jerkers was something the audience had never seen before but his limited acting ability and narrow range was something that they tired of just as quickly. But for those 3 years he owned the industry like no one before him as he was as handsome/romantic as Dev Anand, roguish as Raj Kapoor and tragic as Dilip Kumar. Interestingly enough, Amitabh Bachchan's first film debuted in 1969 but he didn't have a breakthrough hit until 1973's 'Zanjeer' - coincidence? Maybe so but considering his biggest role before that was a supporting actor in 'Anand' - maybe not.

To be honest, I never really was a Rajesh Kumar fan or at least I thought I wasn't. I first started watching Bollywood films in the 1980's and a steady diet of Amitabh Bachchan & Shashi Kapoor movies were pretty much all this NRIT (non resident Indian teen) needed. Sure, there were other heroes - namely Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Vinod Khanna etc - but Rajesh Khanna's filmography never registered much in my list of must see movies. They were always a fringe movie watching experience for me as in that they were VHS rentals by my parents from our local Indian grocery store that served as quaint background chatter in my world. But something interesting happened, I realized that the actor that I knew as "that guy from Haathi Mere Saathi" was the same one that kept popping up on the 'Best of Kishore Kumar' VHS compilations from those same grocery stores. Kishore Kumar was my favorite singer but what I didn't know at the time was that his career had all but stalled in the late 1960's. That is until the 27 year old Khanna broke through with 'Aradhana' and in doing so resuscitated Kishore's career with it. Kishore flew to the top of every actor's playback wishlist after that movie and he was unmatched in his popularity until his death in 1987. Would Rajesh Khanna been as big a star if not for the overwhelming popularity of his movie's soundtracks? The world will never know but he had this to say in an interview from 2009 "I will just sum this up in one sentence. I told Shakti Samanta (the director of 'Aradhana') that Kishore Kumar was my soul and I was his body." The world of Bollywood is indeed a wonderful one and it's ability to make new fans out of the stars of yesteryear through it's evergreen songs is one of the myriad of reasons why.

You don't have to be a great actor to be a star and no one embodied that more than Rajesh Khanna. He wasn't a bad actor mind you, just not a great one but then again he didn't have to be. Even his most hardcore fans would admit that his acting chops left something to be desired but the bottom line was that he was very good at what he did. His style was unmistakable, fun to watch and continues to remain so to this day. And then there are those wonderful Kishore Kumar voiced songs which will continue to speak to new fans of Bollywood for years to come. S.D. Burman had composed all of the songs for 'Aradhana' to be sung by Mohammed Rafi but after recording only two of them, Burmansaab fell ill. The work of completing the soundtrack fell to his son (and relative newcomer) Rahul Dev Burman. R.D.'s vision of the remaining songs were to have them sung by Kishore and it seems like they were tailor made for his voice. Roop Tera Mastana is the song selection from that movie for today. Kishoreda won a Filmfare Award for best song of the year and it's video is memorable for more than just the remarkable show of unspoken lust between the actors for that day and age. As a fan of cinema it has always impressed due to the fact that the whole song is done with one continuous shot - without any lip synching, costume changes or fancy sets. No wonder Rajesh Khanna's trip to superstardom was launched by this movie.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Your weekly dose of 80's Bollywood Cheese

This song is so bloody awesome that it just barely qualifies for 80's cheese but then again the word cheese is used to convey oodles of love and not an ounce of disrespect. This week we present Jab Chaye Mera Jaadoo sung by the inimitable Asha Bhonsle. The funky/addictive music was composed by no less of an authority than Rajesh Roshan (Hrithik's uncle) and although I don't know who the two lovely young ladies are in the song itself - their enthusiasm makes the experience complete and for that we thank you.

~ The song starts off in yet another one of those 'I want to party there with every friend I have in the world' clubs deep in the seedy underworld of Bombay.

~ The slow motion jumping? Great touch Mr Dev Anand (who starred, directed and produced this craziness)

~ :30 second mark, item girl #2 makes her entrance and what a grand entrance it is! Most movies (both now and back then) were content with one item girl but this is one of those rare occasions when two is SO much better than just one.

~ I am not a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination but the magical color combinations worn by our two item girls (hot pink & bright red) could easily be reproduced today and look amazing. I am talking to you Ayesha & Nafisa!

~ 1:15 mark - love love love the mullet here! In fact, I love all the background dancing in this song, guys and girls alike.

~ 2:00 mark - nice shot of our item girls through the legs of other dancing girls while our hero, Wing Commander Bhagat (alias Jim Darcy) played by Dev Anand walks in.

~ 3:00 mark - great special effect when our esteemed Wing Commander lights a cigarette that magically makes every strobe light in the place come on at once.

But like most songs that get mentioned in this segment this one holds up exceptionally well even today. The lyrics are actually quite poetic and the music composition is just fantastic even if you don't have a clue as to what they are singing about. And of course the top reason to re-introduce these songs 30 years on is that you could play this at any party and you will be guaranteed a stampede to the dance floor.

'Lootmaar' was expected to capitalize on the mega success of 1978's 'Des Pardes' which was also a Dev Anand production but despite a cast comprising of a virtual Who's Who of Bollywood stars & villains - Dev Anand, Tina Munim, Mehmood, Nirupa Roy, Amjad Khan, Prem Chopra, Kader Khan, Ranjeet, Shakti Kapoor, Simple Kapadia, Shreeram Lagoo and Rakhee - it underwhelmed at the box office. Fortunately for us, the movie left behind this amazing song to be enjoyed for many years to come.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Mahaan (1983)

1983 was arguably the peak of Amitabh Bachchan's (super)stardom and I can just hear the powers that be in Bollywood thinking out loud as to what he needed to do to get even BIGGER than what he had been for the past decade. Cast him with the top leading lady (or two) in Bollywood? Been there done that. Have him serve as playback singer for himself? Done as well but maybe a new spin on that might be good. A double role? Amitabh was a master at that, having done it eight times already - most notably in Don. Well how about all three of those previous things but go to the proverbial next level on all of them? Cast him with three of the top leading ladies of Bollywood including one from it's Evergreen days with Waheeda Rehman, Zeenat Aman and my personal fave Parveen Babi. Let him sing a song but do a slow version of one that was sung earlier in the movie by Kishore Kumar. And finally - double roles be damned - let's have him in an unprecedented (and yet to be duplicated in Bollywood) triple role therefore ensuring that he be in every scene of the movie.
The plot of course is nonsensical and having so many tasty ingredients in it makes it almost too rich for someone not a true Bollywood or Amitabh Bachchan fan (plot summary here). The real reason to see this movie of course is to see the Big B playing three very different characters and doing a surprisingly good job at all of them. The 'aspiring actor' Amitabh character is the most fun to watch and has some great comedic scenes although they are absurd even by Bollywood standards. Most importantly however,in our opinion this movie marked the end of Amitabh's golden era. The notable exception being 'Sharaabi' the following year for which he received a nomination for a Filmfare Best Actor award. The injury on the set of 'Coolie', questionable movie choices and the great equalizer of age started his inevitable decline but his was a flame that refused to be extinguished. After realizing that he could no longer do the leading man roles that his audiences expected from him, he has made a graceful transition into more mature roles. 'Main Azaad Hoon' and 'Khuda Gawah' were the standout beginnings in that era with 'Mohabattein' putting the finishing touches on it. But for those fans of Amitabh of yesteryear and Bollywood masala at it's zaniest I would heartily recommend 'Mahaan' as one of that era's swansong films. The bonus video for today is Yeh Din To Aata Hai sung by the music composer and his real life wife - R.D. Burman and Asha Bhonsle. The serious Amitabh (a police inspector) and Parveen Babi do the song justice as you can see in the video above. Today's song is a gorgeous love song sung by the first Amitabh character we see in the movie,i.e. the father of the twin Amitabh progeny. Jidhar Dekhoon is sung by Kishore Kumar and the video below shows Amitabh with Waheeda Rehman (actually six years his senior) but who looks just as ravishing as the other two heroines in the movie. Pick your favorite (if you can) - there are lots of songs (and Amitabhs) to choose from in this Bollywood classic...

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Your weekly dose of 80's Bollywood Cheese

Two months have come and gone in 2012 and the dearth of 80's cheese on this site is just appalling. Therefore we knew that the first post on this topic had to be something... epic. And what could be more epic than the Big B in his prime in not just a single, not just a double but in an over the top (yet to be duplicated in Bollywood) TRIPLE ROLE. The movie review is coming soon but for now we will concentrate on the delicousness of one of R.D. Burman's craziest songs that sounds like he was channeling his inner Bappi Lahiri.

~ The song starts out with some crazy xylophone music along with the sound of a gun firing (often). Add in the fact that this is done in front of large crowd AND on the grounds of a temple(!) and you know this is going to be something special. Bathroom break be damned.
~ Notice the awesomeness of Amitabh's white pants AND his black leather jacket completely covered in holes. Bullet holes I would like to think.
~ The yellow fiesta dress is proof positive that Zeenat Aman looks good in anything.
~ AB doesn't really have great dance moves throughout the song but the slow motion special effects more than make up for that fact.
~ Great touch... Amitabh's gun goes off by itself right when he is about to kiss Zeenat. Hehe.
~ At the 2:00 mark we have some comic relief when AB sits down to flirt with two girls who are watching the filming. Kind of tough to swallow considering who his gf is on screen :/
~ Surprisingly there are no costume changes whatsoever during the song but at the 3:23 mark AB rocks some totally cool Terminator shades.
~ During the dance sequence that follows I find that I am watching AB with much more attention than Zeenat. The man has mad skills, what can I say?
~ And near the end of course comes the same thought that I always have when watching some of these videos... I have got to figure out where they shot this and go there to re-enact it the next time I go to India.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Farewell to Dev Anand

And then there was one... Dev Anand passed away earlier this week at the age of 88. That left left Dilip Kumar as the only surviving member of the original "Big Three" leading heroes of Bollywood (the third member, Raj Kapoor, passed away in 1988). Dev got his big break after being spotted hanging around the Bombay Talkies studio by Ashok Kumar who recommended him for the 1948 film 'Ziddi'. Dilip Kumar may have been considered the better thespian and Raj Kapoor may have been the greater showman but Dev Anand was a genius in his own right. Just one year after his debut film, he launched Navketan Films as his own production house and got none other than the legendary Guru Dutt to direct it's first offering - 'Baazi' in 1949. That movie literally made him an overnight star and he never looked back continuing to act, direct and produce prolifically for the next six decades.

His critics often dismissed him as playing the same character in every role but his fans didn't care and rewarded him with hit after hit for his penchant to create memorable and endearing characters (sound familiar SRK?). He unabashedly copied Gregory Peck in regards to his acting and wardrobe but later became known for a style all his own. His attention to detail when picking hats and scarves as well as slightly tilting his head while delivering dialogue were just a few of the reasons audiences returned time and time again to see his films. But it was his movie 'Guide' that cemented his fame worldwide. He was responsible for the discovery of both Zeenat Aman and Tina Munim who both remember him fondly and even Hollywood luminary Shekhar Kapur wrote about Dev Anand's unshakeable optimism in regards to his art as well as his life.

Fortunately, in the world of Indian cinema, not only are we left with the movies to remember Dev Anand but we also have the countless hit songs which were penned by some of the greatest composers of the time. Indeed, even though his popularity waned in the late 70's after he refused to acquiesce to age and give up leading man roles - the songs from his films were never absent from the annual Binaca Geetmala Top 10 Countdown. If you are in the Atlanta area and would like to go to a free event on 12/9/11 celebrating Dev Anand's legacy, details can be found here. And finally our song for today from the 1970 film 'Prem Pujari'... Phoolon Ke Rang Se is sung by Kishore Kumar (who was the preferred singer for Devsaab) and it's score was composed by S.D. Burman. The music and lyrics make it a love song for the ages but in classic Dev Anand style he is singing to no one in particular and to everyone as well - all at the same time. He was one of the first Bollywood stars to film many of his movies in Switzerland and the below video is an early charming blend of his vision of both East & West.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Navratari/Garba-celebrating Mother Nature

My wife getting ready for garba in Baroda (Gujarat) circa 1975

Navratari began this weekend & will be celebrated over the next nine nights (in Sanskrit, nav-nine & ratri-nights). It honors the female spiritual force in nature & the goddesses associated with it. The farming communities of ancient India had much free time after sundown as the days were busy spent tilling the fields. Thus evening was chosen as the ideal time to celebrate the counterpart to the male (purush) forces that Hindus believe created the universe.

My sister-in-law doing the same

The nine nights are dedicated to the goddesses Parvati, Lakshmi and Sarasvati. On the first 3 days the goddess Parvati is invoked as a powerful spiritual force to help destroy one's impurities, vices and faults. For the next 3 days, Lakshmi is worshipped in her various forms as the goddess of peace, wealth and bliss. However, fulfillment here is more important than wealth itself. As the goddess of wealth she governs not just monetary goods but also spiritual wealth such as friendship & peace within. The final 3 days are for Sarasvati, the goddess of wisdom. She is the goddess of the spiritual knowledge and the knowledge that frees us from this bind of Samsara or the material world. A period of introspection and purification, Navaratri is traditionally an auspicious time for starting new ventures. On the tenth day of Navratri (Dussehra) an effigy of Ravana is burnt in parts of India to celebrate the victory of good (Ram) over evil.

This festival is celebrated differently depending on which part of India one is from. In my native Gujarat it is as garba & raas - folk dances with complex circular formations to represent the design of the lotus and other configurations considered mystical & auspicious. The word garba comes from the Sanskrit word garbha deep. Garbha is translated as a womb & Deep means light. This garbha deep is placed in the center of the dance circle with a flame (symbolizing life) in a pot (symbolizing the womb of mother nature). Although dandiya raas is associated with garba, it's origins are slightly different - it was traditionally performed by men patterned after sword fighting but is now a highlight for all during Navratri.

The two songs for today are traditional Gujarati garba songs whose simple yet elegant arrangements are a contrast to the Bollywood songs we are used to hearing (although the above Bollywood song is played alot during the season towards the end of the night). The first tune is a traditional one Ramo Ramo by Meena Patel, a truly joyous song that helps paint what Navratri in India may feel like if you were actually there. The second song is Pankhida by Praful Dave and is my favorite garba song.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Des Pardes (1978)

Having already served as a producer to many of his movies from the 1950's, Dev Anand added directing to his formidable role of entertainer extraordinaire in the 1970's and 'Des Pardes' was one of the biggest hits of his career. Dev was always fascinated by all things European and sought to include those things in his films whether they consisted of shooting locales or background extras. Sometimes he just up and moved the whole movie to a European country as he did halfway through this one when he had the topsy turvey plot move the adventure to England. This movie comes very close to being in the genre of Bollyweed but takes itself a little too seriously and (with the exception of some great song sequences) is just not crazy enough. The plot is fairly straightforward - at least as far as 70's Bollywood movies go. It involves the elder brother of a poor Indian family striking it rich and getting a job opportunity in England. At first the job seems to be going well but suddenly the brother stops writing his family and his younger brother (Dev Anand) gets the call to go find him. What he finds when he gets there are thousands of other Indians (his brother is MIA) who are living in squalor on fake passports and being held hostage by other Indians who are garnishing their wages and threatening them with deportation should they get out of line. And his brother? Well nothing good can come of such nefarious folk and after some time he realizes that very bad things may have happened to him and to say anything more would violate the spoiler-free rules of Doc Bollywood!

While this movie comes in a tad too long at just under three hours, there are some things that I just love about it. For starters, it serves as the debut film of one of my favorite actresses - Tina Munim. She was not only a natural beauty but effortless as an actress as well. She had the girl next door naivety on the surface about her but was able to stand up to even the fiercest 'goonda' if need be. She ended her movie career after only a few films but went on to even greater things marrying the billionaire Anil Ambani and dedicating her post Bollywood life to humanitarian and social causes.

'Good' Pran. It's no secret that Pran is one the most beloved actors in Bollywood but there is something even more special about him when he appears in films as a good guy. His life plays out much like a Bollywood movie as his career started out his career in the Hindi film industry in 1942 opposite Noorjehan after he had established himself as villain in the burgeoning Punjabi film industry of Lahore. After Partition he moved to Bombay nearly penniless and had to establish himself all over again eventually ending up with both a Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award and the Padma Bhushan Award from the government of India.

And of course the raison d'ĂȘtre of this whole blog - the wonderful soundtrack by Rajesh Roshan (uncle of Hrithik) with songs rendered by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar. Dev Anand was the earliest star to begin to use Kishore as a playback singer and Kishore never forgot the favor and often seemed to reserve his best song renditions for the evergreen actor. Today's selection is Nazrana Bheja Kisine Pyar Ka and in addition to being a great song it also has a nice flashback to perhaps the only Pran wedding scene ever filmed! The previous post on this movie has the crazier song filmed in a rockin' British pub that was to be purchased by Pran (you gotta see the movie to understand), also by Kishore Kumar...