Friday, August 15, 2014
Back to the 50's . . .
In conversations with the blogger behind Raj-aur-Nargis and other Tumblr bloggers, I've revisited some films I watched earlier this year and last, and found even greater appreciation for Raj Kapoor's flawed genius. Whether it's the strength of his performance in Andaz, the dual faces of Raj in Shree 420, or the creation of anti-hero actually worth rooting for in Awaara--I am *starting* to better understand what Raj and Co. did that no one else could. There's no greater example of this for me than the myriad of contrasting ideals on display in Ramaiyya Vastavaiyya. I loved the song before (because of extreme levels of Nadira), but now I think it might be my favorite sequence in all of Shree 420 because of dichotomies and liminality! and heart! And of course, Chori Chori has been much adored already, and will remain one of those comfort films I go to when the world seems in a harsh and ill-humor. All cards on the table, I still have yet to see other early Raj hits like Barsaat and Aag, but now I feel ready to appreciate them.
I had considered embarking on an ongoing project of tracking down films with Sahir Ludhianvi lyrics. But, as Akshay Manwani points out in his biography of the poet, Sahir was notoriously egoistic and usually demanded that his contribution take precedence over that of the music director's. Thus, through the 50's and 60's he bounced from artistic team to production house, from director to director, making as many enemies as friends. It wasn't till the late 60's and 70's that he found a home of sorts with the Chopras. The political symbolism and preference for bewafai laments may emerge as a constant within his work, but overall, "Sahir films" are wildly disparate and localized events, not an easily traced artistic path. I thought I might seek out whatever Waheeda Rehman happened to be in around the late 50's ... but that would require a lot of Dev Anand, which I wasn't ready for yet.
And then, amidst my loud complaints and lukewarm interest, Guru Dutt re-materialized.
genius of a cinematographer, and yes, Guru was part of a greater movement of film craft that included Raj Khosla, Dev Anand, and Navketan Films. But it is Dutt's vision, his characterizations, his championing of the introverted intellectual, that speak to me most.
Sure, most everyone says he was a troubled and sensitive soul, but some people also remember him as a confident director who really cared about two-way collaboration. In this two part interview, Waheeda Rehman compared his and Raj Khosla's (whom she seems to have had a tumultuous partnership with) directing style. She admits in her courteous, but honest way, that Guru actually listened to her and took time out to explain what he wanted from her (and how she might be able to give it), rather than treating her like a problem to be solved.
a post about roles for women in Hindi cinema. Kaagaz Ke Phool came much later in filmi-watching, at a time when I felt slightly more qualified to take it on. It helped that it was a fairly simple story compared to Pyaasa. Both of these films got under my skin, scratched at my assumptions about the world, and filled my thoughts for a long while after. But I was starting to develop a new assumption: that I knew who Guru Dutt was as an artist, and how often I could handle his films (roughly one every six months).
Besides the fact that it's funny as heck and reminiscent of domestically-oriented, high society screwballs like The Philadelphia Story ... Mr. and Mrs. '55 is full of interesting ideas, conflicts between middle class ethics and upper class snootiness, and achingly beautiful moments. So, basically, the same world as Pyaasa, but on antidepressants. Its farcical take on a romance just trying to get past everyone else's stupid battle-of-the-sexes mentality (*ahem* subtext) ... well, it had just the right combination of regressive and progressive ideals to keep me on the edge of my seat. Also, it was far less offensive and sexist than I'd been led to think it was. Really, I think the underlying points are clear by the end of the film, and they're NOT summed up as "female independence is bad."
Baaz needs no such caveats. It is a work of pure joy. Plus, it's got just the right amount of social critique to be meaningful, but not so much that it lags in energy or makes you want to swear-off polite society. It's inspiring and swashbuckling and sexy. It's everything I wanted in the Old-Hollywood pirate films I used to catch on TV, but never got. It does not make you work for your entertainment in the slightest, as it is technically quite impressive in both shot composure and editing. Also, Geeta Bali!!!!!! So in love with her, her role as the pirate capitana (still can't believe that was a thing that happened), and the surprising amount of egalitarianism in the relationship between her and Guru Dutt's characters.
I guess we'll find out.