Murad's Music Hub 2010 June - Murad's Music Hub

Archive for June, 2010

Baazi 1951

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

BAAZI
(“The Wager”)
1951, Hindi, 126 minutes
Directed by Guru Dutt
Produced by Navketan Studios
Story by Guru Dutt and Balraj Sahni; Screenplay and dialogs: Balraj Sahni; Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi; Music: S. D. Burman (a.k.a. Barman); Choreography: Zohra Sehgal; Cinematography: V. Ratra

Despite the poor quality of its marketed DVD version (see final note below), this Bombay noir marks the directing debut of Guru Dutt and is worth seeing as a precursor of his later masterpieces. His fine cinematic eye for (especially dark) atmosphere is evident here despite often cheesy sets, and creates a fitting mood for a clever and suspenseful tale (co-written by Dutt and celebrated actor Balraj Sahni) of innocence and betrayal in the urban jungle. In a Hitchcockian gesture, Guru Dutt himself appears momentarily in the opening shots, as a cigarette-smoking beggar—an effective preamble to a tale of moral turpitude that will often be viewed through a heavy tobacco haze.

Madan (Dev Anand) is an out of work cabbie with a genius for gambling. He is spotted in a seedy dive by Pedro, an operative for the Star Hotel, a fashionable cabaret that conceals a subterranean casino. This den of iniquity is controlled from an inner sanctum by a shadowy underworld don who is seen only in backlit silhouette and referred to simply as “Master” (malik). Madan agrees to work for the don, luring gullible high-rollers into the establishment, because he is desperate to raise money (and too proud to accept charity) to pay for his kid sister’s treatment for tuberculosis. This puts him in contact with Rajni (Kalpana Kartik), the only child of a millionaire philanthropist, who has become a doctor and opened a dispensary in Madan’s slum. Though initially put off by Madan’s streetsmart attitude, Rajni quickly recognizes his good heart (it is implied that his family was once middle class, but has come on bad times) and the two fall in love—a process watched warily both by Rajni’s glowering father (K. N. Singh) and her would-be suitor, Police Inspector Ramesh (K. Dhawan), who also has his eye on the denizens of the Star Hotel.

Another eye fixed on Madan belongs to Nina (Geeta Bali), the Star’s star dancer and the proverbial loose woman with a golden heart, who would like to flee her tawdry world with the handsome young hustler. The plot takes an unexpected turn when Madan accidentally learns the identity of his boss, who then attempts to silence him. Arrested on false charges of murdering Nina, Madan is condemned to be hanged, and the only person who can forestall this fate is his rival for Rajni’s hand, Inspector Ramesh.

Apart from its often arresting photography, the film boasts strong and understated performances from all its principals. Dev Anand as the young hustler who has been wronged by a cruel world (a character he would recreate in other films; cf. TAXI DRIVER), effectively blends sensuality, bruised innocence, and melancholy. Kalpana Kartik and Geeta Bali both give nuanced portrayals of self-possessed and sexually mature heroines, avoiding the popular stereotypes of “good” and “bad” women. The film’s take on capitalism as inherently corrupt is well expressed in the don’s first speech to Madan, “Gambling is like any other business…in fact, one may say that gambling is another name for business”—and is borne out by the twists of the plot, which unfurl like the slowly rising smoke from Madan’s innumerable cigarettes. Burman’s score of eight songs is dominated by female voices: four are performed by cabaret singer Nina and three by Doctor Rajni. Madan has a single solo,Dil yeh kya chiz hai (“What is this thing called a heart?”), a jaunty and whimsical road song performed when he is trying to forget Rajni. Also notable is Tum bhi na bhulo balam (“Don’t forget, O Beloved”), sung by Rajni (who is unable to forget Madan).

Awara

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

AWARA

(“The Vagabond”)
(1951), B&W, Hindi, 170 min.
Directed by Raj Kapoor. Lyrics by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri.
Music by Shankar-Jaikishen.

This much-discussed film was Kapoor’s first to feature his trademark Chaplinesque character “Raj/Raju” (“little Raj,” though the homage to Chaplin is less pronounced than in the sunnier SHRI 420), here a hapless “vagabond” (avaaraa) who, as the film opens, is on trial for the attempted murder of a pillar of society, Judge Raghunath (brilliantly played by Prithviraj Kapoor, R. K.’s real-life father). He is defended by a beautiful young lawyer, Rita (Nargis), an orphan who also happens to be the Judge’s ward. Her interrogation of the latter leads to a long flashback that occupies most of the film. Its opening segment evokes the Ramayana, with Judge Raghunath (an epithet of Rama) abandoning his pregnant wife Leela (Leela Chitnis) because he wrongly believes she has been raped during a brief abduction by the robber Jagga (K. N. Singh), and the Judge’s conviction that the “seed” of a criminal necessarily seals the fate of his offspring (ironically, we learn that Jagga only became an outlaw after being wrongly convicted of rape by the same Judge). Leela raises her son in the Bombay slums, slaving to send him to school so that he may become a lawyer and judge like his father, but with Jagga always hovering in the background, intent on luring him into a life of crime. As a schoolboy, Raj falls in love with the carefree Rita, despite the class gulf between them, but Judge Raghunath (a friend of Rita’s father who takes an instinctive dislike to the “wayward” boy) contrives to separate them. Jagga and the Judge’s struggle for Raj’s soul – a variation on the nature-vs.-nurture debate, with resonances of caste ideology – continues when Raj and Rita reconnect after twelve years.

awara

awara

The film, generally considered one of Kapoor’s finest, is notable for its darkly surreal sets, especially the Judge’s baroque-deco mansion, and for its remarkable dream sequence, which echoes this architecture in an evocation of heaven and hell. Despite its ultimate vindication of patriarchy and capitalism, the film became an enormous hit in the U.S.S.R. and, thanks to Chairman Mao’s reputed fondness for it, in China (to this day, millions of middle-aged Chinese can hum its title song).

Nisar Bazmi

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Nisar Bazmi

The undisputed king of Lollywood music in the 1960s and the ’70s, the musician Nisar Bazmi breathed his last on March 22, 2007, after a career that spanned six decades. Born Syed Nisar Ahmed in Bombay, India, in 1924 to a religious family, he had to change his last name to Bazmi after he got a job in All India Radio as a musician in 1939. He was offered his first film as a musician, Jamna Paar, in 1946 after all the songs he composed for the radio drama, Nadir Shah Durrani, became hits.

Overall, he composed songs for more than 40 films in India (Jaib Katra, Dagha Baaz Dost, Extra Girl, Khaufnaak Aankhein), 28 of which were released during his stay in the country while 12 others after his migration to Pakistan in 1962. The great Indian musicians, Laxmikant Pyarelal, were his assistants in India while the late playback singing legend Mohammad Rafi was said to have sung for Bazmi sahib for a fee of one rupee order to give him a break.

He migrated to Pakistan in 1962 and started his Lollywood career with Nazeer Sufi’s Head Constable(1964) while Fazal Karim Fazli’s Aisa Bhi Hota Hai (1965) was his first step towards stardom. After composing for moderately successful ventures such as Aadil (1966) and Waqt Ki Pukaar (1967), he got a chance to show his skills in Raza Mir’s Laakhon Main Eik, which was produced by Ejaz and had memorable songs from the then Mrs Ejaz, Madam Noor Jehan. The film had memorable tunes likeChalo aacha Hua, Badi mushkil se hua and Saathi kahaan ho. It was followed by Saiqa (1968), a Shamim Ara production, which got Bazmi sahib his first Nigar Award while Ali Zeb Productions’ Aag further polished his credentials as Pakistan’s best composer with Beetay dinoon ki yaadon ko, Yun zindagi ki rah mein, Mousam haseen hai, Liye aankhon mein ghuroor and Kuch kuch mujh se.

Nisar Bazmi

Nisar Bazmi

What followed was a blend of savvy, comprehendible and likeable songs in Jaise Jaantay Nahin, Andaleeb, Shama Aur Parwana, Anjuman, Noreen, Tehzeeb, Naagmani, Mohabbat, Meri Zindagi Hai Naghma, Mulaqat, Pyaasa, Aas, Anmol, Pyar Hi Pyar, Namak Haram, Intezaar, Mastaani Mehbooba, Laila Majnoon, Jagir, Shararat, Eisar, Dilruba, Talaash, Aansoo, Sachchayee, Intikhaab, Khaak Aur Khoonand Saima, from 1969 to 1980. His notable works beyond 1980 were A.H. Siddiqui’s Khushnaseeb(1984) for which Alamgir sang three songs for Nadeem after a long gap, Iqbal Kashmiri’s Hum Aik Hain(1986) which got him his fifth and last Nigar Award and Feroze’s Mohabbat Ho To Aisi Ho (1989) which was Mohammad Ali and Zeba’s last film together, the pair with whom Bazmi sahib worked extensively.

Partly due to the trend of going abroad to record Bollywood vocalists for Lollywood, and partly due to the negligence of our producers, Nisar Bazmi was forced into premature retirement. His last film was S. Suleman’s Very Good Duniya, Very Bad Loag in 1998, which saw him make a one-film comeback but after that he had no offer whatsoever. When I asked him about a possible comeback by me in a former interview, Nisar Bazmi said, “I am still the composer I used to be and I don’t think that I should go to producers for work. Agar woh mujhe is qabil samajhte hain to mujhe film dein gay because I have done quality work all my life and it is they who should come to me if they want me to give music for their films.”

He had the distinction of working with the greatest film directors of Pakistan, from star-makers Hasan Tariq (Anjuman, Tehzeeb, Umrao Jan Ada, Pyaasa, Laila Majnoon) to S. Suleman (Bewafa, Aag, Mohabbat, Jaise Jante Nahin, Intezar, Very Good Dunya, Very Bad Loag), the talented Raza Mir (Aasra, Anila, Laakhon Mein Aik, Naagmani) and Laeeq Akhtar (Saiqa, Naureen, Mulaqat, Mastani Mehbooba), the genius of Pervez Malik (Anmol, Pehchan, Talash, Dushman), Ali Sufyan Afaqi (Aas, Namak Haraam, Jagir, Aag Aur Aansoo), Farid Ahmed (Andaleeb), Shaiwan Rizvi (Meri Zindagi Hai Naghma) and Sharif Nayyar (Naz).

Be it Ahmed Rushdi, Noor Jehan, Mehdi Hasan, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Masood Rana, Mala, Nayyara Noor, Runa Laila, Alamgir, Naheed Akhtar, Saleem Shehzad, Tahira Syed, Tasawwur Khanum, Mujeeb Alam, Ikhlaq Ahmed, Ghulam Abbas, Asad Amanat Ali Khan, Anwar Rafi, Shazia Manzoor or Zille Huma, Bazmi sahib made the best singers croon for him. He introduced film star Nadeem as a singer in the unreleased Sehra much before he became an actor, and also gave Lollywood a nightingale in the form of Mehnaz, a singer with a difference such as Alamgir and many others.

Nisar Bazmi had the distinction of using both Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and his son Asad and Madam Noor Jehan and her daughter Zille Huma as playback singers, thus proving the longevity of his career. He eased out of the film industry in the ’80s and completely left it in the ’90s, but not after bagging the Nigar award for the best composer five times for Saiqa (1968), Anjuman (1970), Meri Zindagi Hai Naghma (1972), Khaak Aur Khoon (1979) and Hum Aik Hain (1986). He composed songs for nearly 100 films (70-plus in Pakistan) in his entire career which began with Jamna Paar in 1946 and ended with Very Good Duniya, Very Bad Loag in 1998.

He never regretted his decision to migrate to Pakistan and believed that he had received more from this country than he had given to it. His patriotic songs — Yeh Watan Tumhara Hai (Mehdi Hasan),Khayal Rakhna (Alamgir, Benjamin Sisters), Hum Zinda Qaum Hain (Tehseen Javed, Amjad Hussain, Fatima Jafri, Benjamin Sisters) and Aae Rooh-i-Quaid (Sajjad Ali, Benjamin Sisters), are still famous. His death, a month after that of his contemporary M. Ashraf, has left a vacuum that will always remain so –

Source: Omair Alavi – Dawn Newspaper

Sajjad Hussain

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Sajjad Hussain

Known as much for his musical brilliance as his forthrightness, Sajjad Hussain’s compositions rank amongst the most complex scores of Hindi film music. Born in Sitamau, Madhya Pradesh, Sajjad learnt to play the sitar from his father. This was to be his only formal training in music. He moved to Bombay in the early 1940s, and found work as assistant to composer Hanuman Prasad. Together they composed music for the film Gaali. Sajjad’s first hit, Dost, was released the same year. The film featured Badnaam mohabbat kaun kare, a stirring number rendered by singer-actress Noorjehan.

Sajjad was considered to be a perfectionist who looked into every detail himself. He is said to have never relied on assistants, not even to instruct the orchestra. It was this quest for perfection which demanded 17 retakes for recording the classic Yeh hawa, yeh raat, yeh chandni (Sangdil).

sajjad hussain

sajjad hussain

A master of rhythm, Sajjad’s intricate and difficult tunes were often a challenge to singers. Amongst the memorable melodies he created are: Ae dilruba nazarein mila and Yeh kaisi ajab dastaan ho gayi hai(both from Rustom Sohrab), Dil mein sama gaye saajan (Sangdil), and Khayalon mein tum ho nazaaron mein tum ho (Saiyan).

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Khemchand Prakash

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Khemchand Prakash

Remembered most for the unforgettable scores of Tansen, Mahal, and Ziddi, Khemchand Prakash was born in Jaipur. His father, Pandit Govardhan Prasad, served as court singer at the Jaipur palace.

Khemchand Prakash inherited his father’s singing skills and was appointed the court singer of Bikaner at the age of 19. A proficient singer, he also worked as a radio artiste in Calcutta. However, his contribution to the film industry was not as a singer but as a music composer. He joined Bombay’s Ranjit Studio in 1940 and found early success with films such as Diwali, Holi, and Pagal. But it was Jayant Desai’s Tansen that established Prakash as a master tunesmith. Sung by the unmatchable K.L. Saigal and Khursheed Begum, the film’s music remains a classic in Hindi cinema.

khemchand parkash

khemchand parkash

While Tansen demanded a strictly classical score, Prakash adapted traditional music to come up with lilting numbers for Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal. This romantic thriller featured the haunting Ayega ayega, ayega aanewala sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Prakash is also credited with having discovered Kishore Kumar. He gave the singer his first break with the song Marne ki duaen kyun maangoon in the film Ziddi.

Khemchand Prakash continued to compose music till his death in 1950. His last few films were completed by such music directors as Manna Dey and Basant Prakash.

Anmol Ghadi: A Classic Indian Hindi Movie

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Anmol Ghadi: A Classic Indian Hindi Movie

ANMOL GHADI
(“the priceless watch”)
Hindi, 1946
Directed by Mehboob Khan
Story: Anwar Batalvi; Screenplay and dialogues: Agha Jani Kashmiri; Lyrics: Tanveer Naqvi; Music: Naushad; Dances: Krishna Kumar

Albeit sometimes awkwardly plotted and woodenly acted, this languorous and mannered meditation on intractable class difference and frustrated love is memorable for the always-interesting camerawork of Faredoon A. Irani and a full bouquet of twelve songs by the great Naushad.  A further point of interest is that this is one of relatively few pre-Independence films currently available on DVD; moreover its principals, including the popular star Nurjehan, who would emigrate to Lahore soon after Partition, do their own singing—for this was an era in which playback dubbing by non-actors, though already utilized, was not yet dominant.  Students of Mehboob’s oeuvre will recognize motifs that anticipate the more complex and unsettling ANDAZ (1949), and there are also echoes of the unavoidable (in this period) Devdas story (memorably filmed by P. C. Barua in 1935), especially in the ineffectual and melancholic hero who is loved—to no avail—by two beautiful women: a chaste and unattainable childhood sweetheart and a coquettish but rejected adult admirer.

Anmol Ghadi

Anmol Ghadi

The film opens with a jaunty roadsong (Udhan khatolepe, “I go by flying carpet…and you cannot catch me”) celebrating the love but dramatizing the social distance between two children: the rich girl Lata and poor boy Chander, in the idyllic rural setting of Jehanabad (“flourishing world”).  While Lata wears a stylish frock and rides in a horse carriage with two liveried attendants, thekurta-and-dhoti clad Chander trots behind like a faithful puppy, albeit rolling a toy wheel in sport.  At the portico of Lata’s mansion, her doting district-officer father bribes her with his pocket watch before chasing off Chander, who is hiding in the bushes.  In the next scene, Chander’s widowed mother (Leela Mishra), who ekes out a living grinding wheat, explains to the pouting boy that true friendship is not possible between rich and poor. But when Lata’s father is transferred to Bombay and packs up his household, the girl presents Chander with her father’s watch as a memento of their love, and asks him to come to Bombay one day to find her.  Astute viewers who guess that (a) he will eventually do so, (b) the outcome will not be happy, and (c) the watch—emblematic of both modernity and fate—will loom large in the mise-en-scene, have correctly divined the gist of what ensues, minus a few (sometimes confusing) plot details.

But they will want to stay on for the songs, beginning withTera khilona toota (“Your toy is broken”), sung by a whimsical toy vendor to a crowd of village children as a commentary on Chander’s abandonment by the Bombay-bound Lata (he falls while chasing her carriage, breaking the wooden bird that he planned to give her as a keepsake in return for the watch).  Its part-nonsensical lyrics combine fatalistic sant-style motifs about the illusory world with droll evocations of Indian modernity, anticipating the mood of much of the film.

Your toy is broken, child, your toy is broken.
Fate has looted you, looted you! Your toy is broken.
The Player sits in heaven and plays.
Just see how the wooden puppets of this world dance!
We are but toys, whether our lives are sweet, bitter, or savory.
Children, take these dolls and play—
Human beings sold for pennies!
Here, take a silly god,
Take a hungry Indian,
Take a ‘made in Japan’!
Here are Lallu and Gyan, Kallu and Pran,
Why do you weep, little Chander?…
Don’t be wearied by weeping,
You are children of India.
Take this bow and arrow,
My dear young stalwarts,
Save the honor of your homes,
Smoke beedies and eat paan!
My toys sell for pennies,
Take them, children, and play….
Your toy is broken, child, your toy is broken.

Predictably, Chander’s melancholia proves permanent, and despite the tireless labor of his mother to educate him for a successful career, he grows (via a time-lapse marked by her turning millstone overlaid with a succession of schoolbooks) into a dreamy musician and sitar-repairer (Surendra Nath) who shows little inclination for work, preferring to sit under a tree sighing over poems and the fateful pocketwatch (occasioning the song Woh yaad aa rahi hai, “That memory returns…of a vanished world; this pitiable tale and tearful song, to whom shall I tell them?”) while his now-wizened mother continues her interminable grinding—a fate that he likewise laments but does nothing to allay.  To the rescue comes, inexplicably, one Prakash (Zahur Raja), a rich friend from Bombay, who magnanimously moves Chander and his mother to the big city and sets the former up in a musical instrument shop.  Chander repays his benefactor by being moody, unreliable, and occasionally insulting, but the indefatigable Prakash, who has money to burn, is motivated by the purest dosti.  Moveover, he and Chander share a passion for the poetry of an author known as “Renu” (“grain of sand”), actually the secret nom de plume of a soulful young society woman who is, in fact, the grown-up Lata (Nurjehan), and who dedicates her best-selling oeuvre to her evergreen memories of the lost paradise of her childhood in Jehanabad.

Lata’s best friend is the vivacious Basanti (Suraiya), another rich girl who develops an unrequited crush on the young manager of a sitar store (Chander, of course), even as its absent owner, Prakash, becomes engaged to the morose but dutiful daughter of a powerful government officer—in short, Lata.  These four ill-starred friends and lovers proceed to wander in and out of each other’s orbits, generating heartache and misunderstanding, but more importantly songs likeAawaz de kahaan hai, (“Tell me where you are,” sung by Lata as she pines for Chander in her moodily lit art-deco boudoir), Mai dil mein (“I embraced pain in my heart, when our eyes met,” in which Basanti—charmingly mirrored in the polished lid of the grand piano she plays—reveals her new infatuation to Lata, who of course does not realize that its object is her own lost childhood love), and Ab kaun hai mera (“Now who is left for me?,” sung by Chander after the death of his long-suffering mother and the revelation that Prakash is to marry Lata).

Even with fairly stereotypical lyrics, these (and other) songs are so musically effective and inventively picturized that it is difficult to choose a favorite—though another contender must certainly be Man letha hai angdai (“My heart twists and turns…youthful ardor suffuses my life”), Basanti’s sensual ode to Chander’s purloined pocketwatch, which she fondles and swings while writhing on an ornate bed beneath a portrait of herself.

Recapitulating Barua’s Devdas (and a long line of literary precursors, whose archetype is perhaps the mad Sufi lover Majnun) and anticipating Guru Dutt’s Vijay in PYAASA, Chander ends up distraught and disheveled, and (after putting in a morose appearance at his best friend’s marriage to his own beloved), abandons the world to wander off into the wilderness.  He is pursued by the equally-reduced Basanti, whose love he cannot return, and who now appearssadhvi-like in a white sari.  The final word on this lose-lose situation (for the newlyweds back in Bombay are presumably equally miserable) is conveyed by a reprise of the toyseller’s jocular song about a heartless heavenly Player and his two-bit human puppets.  This is a grim conclusion indeed, but, thank Heaven, we can just walk away from it—humming the delightful tunes of Naushad.

Andaz: A Classic Indian Hindi Movie

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Andaz: A Classic Indian Hindi Movie

ANDAZ
(“Style,” Hindi, 1949, 148 minutes)
Directed by Mehboob Khan
Story: Shums Lucknavi; Screenplay and dialogs: S. Ali Raza; Music: Naushad; Songs: Majrooh Sultanpuri; Photography: Faredoon A. Irani

Like many films of the immediate post-Independence era, this tragedy of manners focuses, in a darker than usual register, on both the allure and danger of modern western lifestyles and modes of social behavior. Though their allure would appear to be felt by all, their danger is unequally shared between the sexes: since nationalist ideology posits woman as the embodiment of tradition as well as the guardian, through her chastity, of male honor, she incurs the greatest risk in any flirtation with the modern—a flirtation which (given the dictum that her sole God must be her husband) is tantamount to adultery. The suspicion of this sin, nurtured by innocent misunderstandings and repeated failures of communication in a world governed by verbal codes that discourage straightforward speech, lies at the core of the strange and destructive “love triangle” in this film.

Andaz

Andaz

As the spoilt only child of a doting millionaire, Neena (Nargis) divides her time between palatial homes in Shimla and Bombay. We first see her in her hill station lodge, being dressed in riding clothes by attentive servants, surrounded by amenities (including a salon-style hair dryer) connoting the last word in westernized luxury. Yet the supplier of all this, Neena’s devoted “Daddy” (Sapru) displays, in their first exchange, a hint of reticence about their lifestyle (complaining of sore limbs from excessive horseback riding in his “old age”) that is suggestive of deeper unease to come. Moreover, in implying that his nineteen-year-old daughter is approaching marriageable age (when she complains that she does not like to ride alone, he quips “That can soon be remedied…” causing her to blush), he also alludes to his traditional responsibility to insure her chastity and supervise her transfer to the oversight of another man. Soon after this, the headstrong Neena loses control of her horse and is rescued by a dashing stranger, Dilip (Dilip Kumar); her horse’s fall to its death from a high cliff prefigures the plight into which the principals will soon plunge, driven by Neena’s heedless disregard of social propriety. For when Dilip introduces himself to Neena’s dad (who has come to the hospital to fetch her after her mishap), we sense a definite chill: the old man appears dismayed by Dilip and Neena’s flirtatious exchange and her invitation to Dilip to come visit them at home. Later, when Dilip sings of his budding love for Neena (Hum aaj kahin dil kho baithe, “Today I lost my heart somewhere”), and she apparently reciprocates with a lovesong of her own (Dar na mohabbat kar le, “Don’t be afraid to fall in love”), her father begins showing his disapproval, cautioning her that there are standards to which “the world” adheres that are not taught in college (an indication of Neena’s own level of education). Neena pouts and accuses him of holding views “from 150 years back”; in the matter at hand (the question of whether to invite Dilip to her birthday party) she again manages to get her way. Viewers may wonder why her father seems so disapproving of an apparently genteel boy of comparable social status. This mystery lingers until after the old man’s unexpected demise from heart failure. The stricken Neena is helped through this loss by Dilip, whom she rewards by making the manager and co-owner (with her) of her father’s corporate empire: a partnership that appears to Dilip (and to viewers) to promise a yet more consummate merger to come. But his hopes are dashed one day when Neena takes him to the airport to meet Rajan (Raj Kapoor), who has been away in London for several years, yet who is, it turns out, her fiancé and one true love. It gradually becomes clear that Neena’s allusions, in previous coy exchanges with Dilip, to being in love in fact referred to Rajan and not to Dilip.

However, such careless words, and the exchanges of looks that accompanied them, have had an unintended effect: Dilip is now hopelessly in love with Neena. The breezy, self-confident Rajan (an early incarnation of the narcissistic husband of Kapoor’s later SANGAM, which will repeat several motifs from this film, including a little wooing scene he performs here using a snakecharmer’s reed-pipe) is at first unaware of these complications, as is Neena herself, who considers Dilip merely a close “friend” (dost). But Dilip is sufficiently tortured by unrequited love to nurture the crazed hope that Neena may yet transfer her affections to him. When Neena and Rajan are finally married, Dilip can restrain himself no longer and, soon after the ceremony, confesses his love to Neena. The horror that this admission inspires in Neena appears to have multiple causes: fear that her husband may learn of Dilip’s love and suspect that she returns it; guilt over the realization that she has inadvertently encouraged Dilip; and dread of her own suppressed attraction (conveyed through her glances and body language) to the intense and sensual Dilip. She attempts to tell her new husband about Dilip’s confession, but Rajan misunderstands her and cockily changes the topic (as always, he thinks she is talking about him!), and the frustrated Neena resorts to various forms of denial: repeatedly professing her love for her “only God,” Rajan, fleeing with him to Shimla and refusing to return to Bombay, and stubbornly urging Dilip to marry her own girlfriend Sheela (Cuckoo), who is herself in love with him. Though uninterested in Sheela and desperate to leave, Dilip remains in Bombay running Neena’s business out of concern that an abrupt departure on his part, so soon after her marriage, might tarnish her reputation. He remains, too, in Neena’s consciousness, haunting her dreams and slowly chilling her relationship with her husband. When a daughter is born to the couple, Neena becomes troubled by Rajan’s adoration of her, fearing that he too, like her own father, will “spoil” the child’s character with excessive indulgence and freedom. Dilip waits until the baby’s first birthday for his own exit, concealing a note to Neena (explaining that he now understands that, as an “Indian woman,” she can have only one man in her heart, and that is Rajan) inside a toy he presents as a gift. A power failure during the party affords an opportunity to Neena to give a verbal message to Dilip, likewise begging him to leave, but in the dark she accidentally addresses her own husband with what Rajan now mistakes for a profession of love for Dilip. It’s all downhill from here, as Rajan’s insane jealousy provokes him, through several bouts of grandiose self-pity and biting sarcasm, to frustrate every effort by both his wife and Dilip to clear the record. Eventually, he attempts to kill Dilip with a blow to the head; the resulting concussion causes Dilip to go temporarily insane and to threaten Neena, both violently and sexually. Assailed, in effect, by two madmen, Neena commits a desperate act, resulting in her arrest and dramatic public trial.

Within this grim story, diversion of a sort is provided early on by one Professor Devadas Dharamdas Trivedi (a.k.a. “D.D.T.”), a bogus academic with a childhood link to Rajan, who insinuates himself into the household as a freeloader. Trivedi is a classic vidushaka (the comic sidekick of the hero of classical and folk theater): a dim but pretentious Brahman with outspoken opinions and uncontrollable appetites. Here he functions especially effectively as an exaggerated mirror image of the principal characters: like them, he is a creature caught between worlds, wearing a western style suit and solar topee, yet spouting Sanskritized Hindi and denouncing the decadent “foreign” lifestyle of his hosts, even as he greedily partakes of it.

Although voyeuristic delight in the westernized lives of the rich was (and remains) standard in Bombay films, Mehboob seems to dwell with particular intensity on surface signifiers of stylish modernity: Neena’s bob of permed hair, which she languorously fondles while talking to Dilip, her English-style boudoir and lap dog, and the Shimla round of horseback riding, tennis, and big-band soirees. The culturally corrosive effect of such amenities, earlier (hypocritically) decried by the buffoon Trivedi, is (even more ironically and hypocritically) declared by Rajan in his self-pitying speeches during Neena’s trial. Indeed, although Neena is ultimately driven to commit an act of violence, her real “crime” (apart from being involved in a series of misunderstandings, coincidences, and mistimed communications) appears to be her taste for “style”. The film implies that there is a slippery slide from such taste to a disastrous non-adherence to norms of feminine modesty and non-assertiveness (displayed in Neena’s repeated expressions that she doesn’t care what “worldly people” think about her behavior), and her error in boldly supposing that it is truly possible for a young woman to have a young man as a close “friend” (dost) without him and others getting the wrong idea.

Though the film appears to endorse Neena’s father’s often-recalled warnings about girls keeping within decorous limits, Rajan’s insufferable self-centeredness suggests just how much “good” Indian women may have to put up with (his assault on Dilip follows the latter’s—patently correct—assertion that Rajan has never really understood his own wife). And though the film is at pains to maintain the purity of Neena’s friendship with Dilip (which will eventually be distorted, by Rajan and society at large, into the manipulations of a lustful temptress), it also hints at the possibility of underlying erotic attraction, playing on the often sensually charged word dost. Rajan finally learns—when it is too late—the truth about Neena’s relationship with Dilip, and so presumably has to face his own measure of guilt. Indeed, there is guilt aplenty in this haunting, complex film, which ultimately implicates itself, and all its viewers, in Neena’s “crime”: succumbing to the irresistible attractions of alien “style” (and its attendant promise of new kinds of freedom, especially in male-female relationships), while maintaining the pretext of unwavering loyalty to an assumed “Indian tradition.”

ANDAZ boasts a very strong score with ten songs, mainly sung by Dilip and Neena. In addition to the two mentioned earlier, memorable tunes include Dilip’s romantic Tu kahe agar (“If you but say…”), his melancholy ode to Neena and Rajan’s wedding, Toote na dil toote na (“Don’t break, O my heart”), and Neena’s mournful chronicling of Rajan’s gradual rejection of her in Uthaye ja unke sitam (“Take away his oppression”) and Tor diya dil mera (“He has broken my heart”).

Anari: A Classic Indian Hindi Movie

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Anari: A Classic Indian Hindi Movie

ANARI
(“the simpleton”)
1959, Hindi, approx. 157 minutes

Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Produced by L. B. Lachman
Story, Screenplay, and Dialogues: Inder Raj Anand; Lyrics: Hasrat, Shailendra; Music: Shankar-Jaikishan; Cinematography: Jaywant R. Pathare; Art Direction: M. R. Achrekar; Settings: K. Damodar

In a directorial career spanning some forty years, Hrishikesh Mukherjee made an equal number of what are often called “middle class” films. The label refers to their assumed target viewers who, like most of the principal characters in their narratives, were urban, educated people of secure but not lavish means, employed in white collar or professional jobs. But the designation might equally refer to their stylistic location somewhere between big budget, operatic masala melodramas, and the more austere and personal (and usually commercially unviable) visions of so-called “artfilm” or “alternative cinema” directors. Though usually made on modest budgets, Mukherjee’s films adhere to many of the conventions of the mainstream commercial cinema—storylines that rely heavily on both comedy and pathos, music and dance scored by eminent Bombay composers, and big name (or “A-list”) stars—who regularly chose to work for Mukherjee both because of his benign personality and reputation for integrity, and because his scripts gave them the opportunity to appear in more challenging or non-standard roles (e.g., Amitabh Bachchan as a struggling musician in ALAAP, Rajesh Khanna as a dying cancer patient in ANAND, Dharmendra as himself in GUDDI). In contrast to the wide-canvas, “epic” look of more lavishly-budgeted films, Mukherjee’s have a characteristically closer-focus and unpretentious style that often displays crisp and inventive camerawork, as well as a resourceful use of modest sets and locations. Many of these films enjoyed appropriately modest commercial success when they were released, and they have held their own over the years and indeed, have grown more beloved to viewers with the passage of time. Today, Mukherjee (a Bengali who trained under the famed Bimal Roy, and who turned eighty in 2002) is regarded as one of the grand old men of the Hindi film industry.

ANARI was Mukherjee’s second effort as a director (after 1957’s MUSAFIR), and his first notable commercial success. Featuring Raj Kapoor and Nutan—both then at the height of their careers—and a very catchy Shankar-Jaikishan score, it is essentially another “Raju” film (showcasing Kapoor’s trademark character of lovable and idealistic, though naïve, middle class everyman, trying to navigate a callous and materialistic world), though both the character—here named “Rajkumar”—and the storyline are trimmed-down in suitably Mukherjee-esque style. Kapoor is more pensive and less frenetic than in the “Raju” films he directed himself (such as AWARA, SHRI 420, or JIS DESH MEN GANGA BEHTI HAI), and the narrative places him neither in a palatial mansion nor among rustics and slum-dwellers, but in the lower-middle-class digs of a Bombay Christian matron with the common Goan name of D’Sa (pronounced “Disa”—and possibly a Portuguese version of the Gujarati “Desai,” suggestive of the Hindu roots of some Goan Catholics). She is the proverbial sharp-tongued landlady with a heart of gold, though here too Mukherjee tweaks the stereotype and summons a superb performance from veteran character actress Lalita Pawar.

Mrs. D’sa daily berates her boarder—an unemployed artist who regularly loses jobs because of his innocence and scrupulous honesty—and threatens him (in endearingly substandard “Bombay Hindi”) with eviction, all the while dotingly preparing his meals, secretly slipping coins into his empty pockets, and praying to Lord Jesus for his success—for in fact she has inwardly adopted him as a surrogate for her deceased son, David. Pawar’s performance manages to lift this poignant scenario above cliché, and the characters’ reflections on the inter-communal mother-son relationship adds a nice note of social commentary—the irrelevance of ethnic and religious divisions in matters of the heart—that is (again in characteristically Mukherjee-esque fashion) sincere yet understated.

The film is more outspoken about class barriers, for poor-boy Raj soon encounters and falls in love with the proverbial Rich Girl, Arti (the radiant Nutan), an orphan who lives in an ostentatious mansion with her pharmaceutical magnate uncle Ramnath (Motilal) and a companion Asha (Shubha Khote) who doubles as girlfriend and maidservant. Attracted to Raj, Arti trades names and personas with Asha, pretending to be a poor working girl in the employ of an imperious heiress. This permits Raj to express his feelings for her, but their budding romance is threatened when Raj accidentally meets Arti’s uncle, impresses him with his honesty, and lands a job in his firm.

Further complications arise from a subplot concerning a flu epidemic: Ramnath and his corporate cronies—including an unscrupulous Hindu Vaishnava of ostentatious piety—discover that one batch of their patent flu medicine actually contains poison, but in their greed to reap handsome profits they suppress this information. Raj’s world begins to fall apart when he discovers “Asha’s” true identity as the rich Arti, and Arti’s uncle—who rose from poverty himself and now fears and despises the poor—threatens her with dire consequences unless she breaks with Raj. To make matters worse, Mrs. D’sa goes searching for her distraught “son” in a downpour and then comes down with the flu; the doctor, of course, prescribes the tainted medicine. When the poor get sicker, the rich get meaner, and Motiilal’s subtle performance in the film’s final reels effectively suggests the thin line that separates corporate-executive respectability from rapacious criminality. Though things get pretty grave, the director salvages a happy ending—yet, again, not the ecstatic apotheosis one would expect from a more mainstream melodrama; but an understated resolution that is somewhat incomplete, bittersweet, and oddly satisfying.

ANARI’s six musical numbers—several of which became notable hits—are uniformly strong and work effectively to move the plot forward. Ban ke pancchi (“forest bird”) introduces Arti’s carefree character as she and a group of girlfriends cycle through the scenic Western Ghats (cf. the similar “establishing song” of the heroine in PADOSAN, which appears to quote this scene). Rajkumar’s own establishing song, Kisi ki muskurahaton pe (“someone’s smiles”), which celebrates his altruism and empathy, is a catchy Shankar Jaikishan classic with a jaunty Rive-Gauche accordion accompaniment. Raj and Arti’s blossoming romance unfolds through two lovesongs set in gardens, Woh chand khila woh tare hanse (“that waxing moon, those smiling stars”) and Dil ki nazar se (“with the eyes of the heart”). 1956 is a cabaret number featuring the inevitable Helen and a riot of low-budget sartorial and choreographic hybridity (Cossack and Flamenco meets fifties moderne!). Raj’s discovery, at Arti’s lavish birthday party, of her true identity, occasions the song Sab kuch seekha humne (“I’ve learned everything [except how to be deceptive]”), in which idealistic lyrics disguise a message of bitterness and betrayal. Arti’s pain at having to break with Raj occasions the anguished Tera jaana (“your leaving”).

AAN: A Classic Indian Movie

Friday, June 11th, 2010

AAN: A Classic Indian Movie
(“Pride”), Hindi, 1952, 162 minutes
Produced and directed by Mehboob Khan
Story: R. S. Chaudhary; Dialogs: S. Ali Raza; Lyrics: Shakil Badayuni; Music: Naushad; Cinematography: Faredoon S. Irani; Art Director: M. R. Acharekar; Sets: D. R. Jadhav; Costumes: Fazal Din, Chagan Jivvan, Alla Ditta


AAN is said to have been India’s first technicolor feature, and director Khan went wild with the possibilities, crafting a highly surreal swashbuckler about a princely kingdom that lies, visually speaking, somewhere between Rajasthan and mad King Ludwig’s Bavaria. Though there are echoes here and there of the real excesses and hybrid architectural fantasies of India’s pre-independence maharajas, as well as themes glorifying peasant resistance and social egalitarianism, mostly this is an over-the-top operatic fairytale that looks, at times, like Disney animation come to life—though Disney would not have dared the out-front eroticism and fashion and footwear fetishism that permeates Mehboob’s mise-en-scene. There is clear influence of Hollywood fantasy adventures such as THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (both the 1924 silent version with Douglas Fairbanks and the 1940 sound version with Sabu were well received in India), as well as of imperial Roman spectacles. Indeed, there are few stops that Khan does not eventually pull out, throwing in a camel stampede, a Dungeons-and-Dragons prison complete with rampaging lions, a Joan of Arc-like burning at the stake, and a floridly orientalist dream sequence that looks like something ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev might have hallucinated on LSD.

Nevertheless, those familiar with the director’s most famous film, MOTHER INDIA (1957), will also recognize his fondness for sunsets, vast Deccani landscapes (juxtaposed unconcernedly with obvious soundstage simulacra), a Soviet-influenced populism (exemplified by busty women silhouetted against bullock-carts), florid poetic dialog full of Urdu conceits (lover as moth, beloved as flame, etc.), and music, music, music. This is from the famous Badayuni and Naushad team, is all pervasive (twelve songs) and generally excellent.

So is the casting, with Dilip Kumar at the height of his romantic charm as the roguish peasant leader Jai Tilak, and the Bombay Jewish actress Nadira (better known for roles as modernized vixens—e.g., Maya in 1955’s SHRI 420) as a terminally proud princess, who favors a semi-dominatrix wardrobe and keeps one eyebrow severely arched throughout most of the movie. Naturally, the farm boy falls for the ice queen big time and much of the film revolves around his taming of this shrew (hint: when she begins to appear in saris, you know it’s working), against a backdrop of palace intrigue and rustic exuberance.

An opening narration, against a shot of Jai (Kumar) plowing his field, sketches an idealized Nation in which sturdy yeomen till the land in peacetime but trade their agricultural tools for swords when war threatens—here the community is known as the Haras (historically, this suggests semi-martial landowning castes like the Marathas and Gujars, who have sometimes consolidated their own kingdoms and even empires—though Indian history is hardly the point). The benign Maharaja to whom Jai owes allegiance (Murad), has a cruel younger brother, Prince Shamsher Singh (Premnath), as well as a spirited junior sister (Nadira) given to breaking horses and would-be suitors. Shamsher Singh’s ambitions are as flamboyant as his wardrobe, and he conspires to assassinate the raja—who his subjects believe has gone abroad for medical treatment—and to launch an increasingly despotic regime, signaled by his ranging the countryside in a Cadillac convertible and casting lustful eyes on village belles, especially the headstrong Mangala (Nimmi), who loves Jai. This in itself would be enough to set the two men at odds, but for good measure, Jai (who evidently likes challenges) falls in love with Shamsher’s icy sister, after taming her wild stallion in a tournament. Though she truly appears to hate him (generally a sign, in Hindi cinema, that love is just around the corner), he woos her by dropping in and out of her Sleeping Beauty-art deco castle, stealing her scarf, squirting her with Holi colors, and dispensing double entendres rich in imagery of romantic martyrdom.

Will this approach eventually work? Will Shamsher Singh, after kidnapping Mangala and trying to rape her, finally get his comeuppance? Will the kindly old Maharaja turn out to not actually be dead but just disguised behind a really ridiculous false beard, and actually intent on abolishing the monarchy and instituting Democracy? Use your imagination, or rather, let Mehboob Khan beguile you with his own more frenzied one, as well as his everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach to visual spectacle. Dilip Kumar, who had by this time earned a reputation as Bombay’s “king of tragedy” and was allegedly beginning to identify too much with his morose characters, is said to have accepted the role of Jai after a psychiatrist advised him to do “lighter” films. Indeed, the good doctor should have been well pleased by AAN, and you should be too.

Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam: A Classic Indian Hindi Movie

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam

SAHIB BIBI AUR GHULAM
(“Master, Wife, and Servant,” Hindi, 1962, 154 minutes)
Directed by Abrar Alvi
Produced by Guru Dutt

Based on a novel by Bimal Mirta;

Dialogues: Abrar Alvi;

Music: Hemant Kumar;

Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni;

Cinematography: V. K. Murthy

Although credited to longtime Dutt collaborator Abrar Alvi, this haunting masterpiece is unmistakably Guru Dutt: a chiaroscuro meditation on time, memory, and social and personal injustice in the great tradition of PYAASA and KAGHAZ KE PHOOL. Unlike those two films, however, this one’s central figure is a woman, and Dutt’s own character, Bhootnath (“Lord of Phantoms,” an epithet of Shiva that is especially appropriate here), is less a conquering (or conquered) “hero” than a mute and helpless witness to her tragedy. As always in a Dutt film, that individual tragedy has far wider ramifications.

Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam

Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam

Told in flashback as the memory of an engineer who is supervising the demolition of a once-stately Calcutta haveli (mansion) belonging to the old landed aristocracy of Bengal, the plot moves along two counterposed trajectories: one traces the rise of Bhootnath, a naïve but educated villager who comes to Calcutta to seek his fortune and gradually acquires training, self-confidence, and even love, to eventually attain a comfortable middle class status — indeed to become the supervising engineer of the frame narrative. The other storyline follows the decline of the Chaudhury family in whose mansion Bhootnath first found shelter – the mansion he will eventually see destroyed, but which he remembers in all its splendor, bustle, and periodic outbursts of cruelty. Its presiding males, two brothers who occupy themselves with such traditional aristocratic pursuits as pigeon-keeping, elaborate “marriages” of pet cats, and drunken nights in high-class brothels, regularly abuse their tenants, servants, and wives. The intersection of these two narratives is one of the latter, the beautiful Choti Bahu (“the young daughter-in-law” – unforgettably portrayed by Meena Kumari) who is “not like the other wives” in the family and who, during her nightly abandonment by her whoring husband, sings of her longing (Piyaa, chale aao — “Beloved, come back”), and eventually confides in Bhootnath, drawing him into her misery and her still-cherished hopes.

Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam

Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam

Helped by a schoolteacher friend who has been in the city for some time (and who, we later learn in a weakly-developed subplot, has a double life as an anti-British terrorist), Bhootnath finds employment in the “Mohini Sindoor Factory,” which manufactures the auspicious vermillion powder (sindur) that married women apply to the part of their hair to affirm theirsuhaag or protection by a living husband. There he quickly earns the trust of Mr. Suvinay, the factory’s owner, and a member of the Hindu reformist sect Brahmo Samaj (which was influenced by Protestant ideology and which sought to “purify” Hinduism of “superstition,” “idolatry,” and customs such as sati or widow immolation). Suvinay’s drawing room, with its upright piano, lace curtains, and puranic figurines in European porcelain, is a plausible encapsulation of bourgeois Brahmo syncretism, as is the dress of his daughter Jabba (Waheeda Rehman) – a white sari worn over a long-sleeved bodice, to which it is pinned with a cameo-brooch. Yet this prim progressivism is evidently not stifling for women, for Jabba, though clearly an adoring daughter, is also a spirited girl who knows her own mind. She likes Bhootnath from the start, flirts openly with him, and eventually squelches a planned marriage to the son of one of her father’s Brahmo cohorts. The chemistry between Dutt (who actually looks younger here than in the earlier PYAASA) and the vivacious Rehman is palpable – the two were allegedly lovers at the time – but their characters’ union is repeatedly and significantly deferred to allow the film to explore other themes.

Sahib_Bibi_Aur_Ghulam_poster

Sahib_Bibi_Aur_Ghulam_poster

The sunny parlors of middle-class progressivism are contrasted to the dark, confining interior rooms of the haveli, to which Choti Bahu repeatedly summons Bhootnath. What at first appears as an attempted seduction – a love-starved housewife noticing a strapping new boarder in one of the outbuildings and calling him secretly to her boudoir – is revealed as a touching and pathetic attempt to win back her husband’s affection by securing a tin of Mohini Sindoor. When this fails, the lonely wife turns to more desperate measures, and begins a downward spiral into depression and alcoholism that viewers, like Bhootnath himself, can only watch in helpless sorrow. After the sindoor factory closes and Suvinay dies, Bhootnath receives a breakthrough job supervising an engineering project that takes him away from the city for a lengthy period. He returns to find the Chaudhury estate a shambles due to the brothers’ unwise investment in a coal mining scam, but the occupants still lost in their fantasy world of refined and decadent pursuits. In this decaying world, only Choti Bahu still clings to a hope for redemption, and enlists Bhootnath’s help in a last, doomed effort to save her now-paralyzed husband and restore the family fortune.

Colonial-era discourse in India was much preoccupied with what was termed the “woman question” — a critique of the treatment of women in Indian society that was voiced both by British officials and Indian reformers; for the former, it reinforced the argument against Indian readiness for self-rule. The effect of Katherine Mayo’s journalistic exposé Mother India (1927), which luridly articulated this argument and became a bestseller in England and the United States, led to defensive nationalist rejoinders that still echoed in the post-Independence period — indeed, in the epic film MOTHER INDIA (1957), which deliberately hijacked Mayo’s title in the service of its paean to the glories of Hindu motherhood, self-sacrifice, and fiercely-maintained chastity. Dutt’s approach to the subject is, as usual, rather different. His potential model of the New Woman is not a rustic husband-worshiping pativrataa, but the educated and independent-minded Jabba, who emerges from the shadows of sorrow over her father’s death and separation from her beloved (exquisitely picturised in the song Meri baat rahi mere man men — “My unspoken words lie sealed in my heart” — in which the lighting on Jabba repeatedly fades from day to night) to seek and ultimately find a companionate marriage to the man she loves. Yet her radiant fortune is overshadowed by the fate of Choti Bahu, shockingly revealed in the film’s final moments, which confirm that the latter was indeed its central figure.

The schizophrenic division to which upper-class women were so often subjected — into respectable wives whose job was to produce male heirs and uphold family honor, but who received little education, were largely confined to the inner household, and were not regarded as entertaining or glamorous companions, and courtesans who (at their best) were highly sophisticated career-women and artists who moved about freely, but who were denied social respectability and the long-term security of marriage —is bluntly articulated, in two scenes, by Choti Bahu’s husband as he prepares to depart for his favorite brothel. The psychological violence wrought by this division has been explored, from the supposed point of view of thetawayaf or courtesan, in a number of famous films (cf. PAKEEZAH, UMRAO JAAN). In SAHIB BIBI AUR GHULAM, however, the kotha (brothel) scenes are confined to brilliantly choreographed set pieces (such as the memorable song Saqiyaa, aaj mujhe nind nahin aaegi — “Friend, tonight I shall not sleep”), and the inner lives of the public women are never explored. But in Choti Bahu, Dutt and his writers offer us a complex character who is vainly trying, within the cage of decaying patriarchal gentility, to overcome this divide. Not content to (as her husband tells her) “Do as the other daughters-in-law do: acquire jewelry, sleep, play games,” Choti Bahu fiercely pursues her ideal of loving companionship by seeking to be everything to her husband — pious wife, emotional confidante, and playful mistress — repeatedly humiliating herself in the process. Though we want her to find the love and understanding she so desperately seeks, her ultimate failure seems less a critique of her effort than of the corrupt and brutal male world in which she is trapped. At film’s end, Bhootnath’s hard-won bourgeois life remains irrevocably haunted by her beauty, idealism, and anguish.

As a story about the decline of the old landed zamindari families of Bengal, Guru Dutt’s film explores, using the great director’s preferred idiom of popular and surrealist cinema, some of the same themes that had been the subject of Satyajit Ray’s realist artfilm JALSAGHAR (“The Music Room,” 1958). Though Ray’s film is likewise a powerful achievement, Guru Dutt’s uses the brilliant score of Kumar and Badayuni and the matchless b/w cinematography of V. K. Murthy (extraordinarily displayed, for example, in the courtesan dance sequence noted above, in which a brightly-lit soloist pirouettes in front of a shadowed ensemble and against a backdrop of gleaming neoclassical nudes — a dazzling display of revealed and concealed femininity, that alternates with the leering gaze of the patron) to produce, to my mind, an even more complex and disturbing film about social decay and social change.