Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Kabhie Kabhie (1976) - Part I

Few movies have such universal appeal across generations as the 1976 classic, 'Kabhie Kabhie'. The songs for the movie log in at #13 according to the BBC's 'Top 40 Bollywood Soundtracks of all time'. Parents & their kids alike know the songs and the songs resonate with even those Desis that have not been bitten by the Bollywood bug. In short, a movie like 'Kabhie Kabhie' comes along only so often in Hindi cinema and it's not only due to all six of it's stars turning in career-defining roles. It's also due to the fact that there are few movies that boast of such a rich haul of timeless lyrics, lilting music, poetic dialogue and a theme that explores the many aspects of romance - both young and young at heart.

To date, Yash Chopra maintains that 'Kabhie Kabhie' was an art film in commercial garb. It combined many big stars of the day with roles that audiences were not used to seeing them in and of course - it had those timeless songs. Yash Chopra's financer and friend Gulshan Rai even told told him after watching the film that he felt he had wasted his money and that the film had little chance of success. But Yash did not waver in his support & 'Kabhie Kabhie' went on to become the biggest hit of the year.

'Kabhie Kabhie' ranks among my 10 "desert island soundtracks" meaning there are entirely too many great songs to just select 1 or 2 favorites. Thus there will be two songs for today and two more next week (all presented in chronological order of how they appear in the movie). The 1st song is Main Pal Do Pal by Mukesh and is preceded by the now famous introduction to the movie by Amitabh Bachchan (see the song here). The 2nd song is arguably the most famous love song in all of Indian cinema, the title song of Kabhie Kabhie itself - just perfect in it's lyrics, music and vocals. The video shows however that the lyrics belie what is really happening on screen.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Devika Rani - Bollywood's First Lady

This year marks the 70th anniversary of one of the landmarks of Indian cimema, 'Achut Kanya' (The Untouchable Girl). The star of the movie was Devika Rani, co-founder of Bombay Talkies and an icon of Indian cinema herself. She was the grand niece of the legendary poet & Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore who was knighted but resigned his commission out of protest to British rule in India. Devika herself was no stranger to awards being the first ever recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award - annually given for lifetime achievement to Indian cinema and the Padma Shri Award for her contribution to the arts.

Devika Rani went to England in the 1920's to study architecture and also ended up studying drama & music at the Royal Academy of Drama. It was there that she met her husband (Himanshu Rai) who was an Indian actor and film producer. Together they collaborated on one of the first Indian talkies 'Karma' in 1933. While on their honeymoon in Germany they became well acquainted with many German filmmakers and technicians who came to Bombay to usher in Bollywood as we know it. One of those, director Franz Osten, was responsible for her most memorable role in 'Achut Kanya'. Starring opposite her was Ashok Kumar (older brother of Kishore) who incidentally was cast after the original hero eloped with Devika. However, she did return to finish the film.

The earliest (and still one of the few) films to deal with the Dalits/Untouchables, it was the fledgling Bombay Talkies first bonafide hit. This film about a Brahmin boy and an Untouchable girl who fall in love generated quite a bit of controversy during the same time that Mahatma Gandhi was crusading for the rights of the Dalits in Indian society. Gandhi gave many lectures regarding this issue and fasted for the Dalit's rights to enter temples, an act that resulted in many death threats against him. Gandhi declared that there is no such thing as an untouchable in the holy writings as the very idea conflicted with humanity and therefore could not be the divine truth. Despite many attempts to reform this issue it still persists in modern India to this day. See one innovative idea to help with improving the Dalit's lives here

The songs for today are not from the movie itself but rather are inspired by it. The first one is Phoolon Ke Rang sung by Kishore Kumar from the movie 'Prem Pujari'. Devika often teased her friend and co-star Ashok about how much a better singer his younger brother Kishore was and often listened to his songs on her movie sets. The second song is from another recipient of the Padma Shri Award, Diwaliben Bhil. She originally hails from Junagadh, Gujarat and is a member of the Koli tribe. Diwaliben also happens to be a member of the lower castes but this did not stop her from achieving international fame & success. The song is a traditional Krishna Bhajan but it is made very special by her rendition of it.