Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Unsung Indian Film Favorites of 2014



Films I saw this year that didn't get enough love either here or on halfwaythruthedark. Rules:
  1. 10 films total*
  2. 100ish words or less per film
  3. Films listed in order of year of release

Apur Sansar (1959)


This film makes my stomach ache. Seriously, I think it gave me an ulcer. Soumitra and Sharmila are two disadvantaged young people who *should* have a whole life ahead of them. They're hungry in so many ways, and are undeserving of all the trouble that comes. This unfeeling Calcutta puts the "scary" Kolkata of Kahaani (2012) to shame. Nothing is as scary as starvation and absurdity.


Chaowa Paowa (1959)


This version of It Happened One Night is almost as good as Chori Chori (1956) in terms of entertainment value. Lesser in terms of standout songs. For anyone allergic to melodrama but curious about Uttam/Suchitra, this is YOUR film. Easy to find on YT, go crazy.

Devi (1960)


Ok, I said nothing was as scary as being hungry and young and crushed in the cogs of the city. But religion as viewed by Devi might beat that score. I swear, when I'm old and gray, I'll still hear Chhabi Biswas beseeching his daughter-in-law as "Maaaaa" (mother goddess) over and over again. 



Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960)


Pleasantly melodramatic hospital romance. Shadows and light, white smocks and dark seashores, jazz and folk melodies serve to set the mood. Coffee instead of tea marks the hours, and Raaj Kumar is about as nuanced as he gets, even if he can't quite match Meena Kumari's dramatic pacing. Nadira shows up as a bad bahu and poses for a number of glamour shots. Raaj Kumar is unintentionally hilarious in only one dance, and the title song is one of my favorite picturizations of the year.


Bhai Ho To Aisa (1972)


One of Desai's forgotten works, this one has a lot of snakes, architecture, and comedic comedy (one has to clarify) for your buck. Jeetendra and Shatrughan Sinha are good and evil heirs respectively, vying for the family honor and zillion lakhs. Hema shows up for mischief, whips and nagin songs. Some not-horrible fencing scenes play out in impressive locations, and declawed dacoits wreak minor havoc. For my money, infinitely more enjoyable than Dharam-Veer.


Garam Hawa (1973)


Quiet, sad, and probably still important. I'm not the person to school anyone on Partition, but this is the most personal portrait of the wider upheaval I've seen so far. This raw treatise on the meaning of place and home came for me at a time when I was helping sell the family homestead, a process that was painful enough without property seizure, bloodshed, and riots. Still, it felt relevant to my little problems, too. I don't know how to speak of it yet, but I'm starting to know how to think of it.

Jaag Utha Insaan (1984)


This Hindi remake of K. Viswanath's Saptapadi is as visually stunning as you might expect, with dance sequences to rival anything else in the Sridevi archive. Sridevi and Mithun  star in a forbidden love story between a Brahmin girl betrothed to a pandit's son, and a dalit shepherd boy. At a serious level, it's a beautiful and heartbreaking look at the price of upholding the caste system, and on a more frivolous note, a window into Sridevi and Mithun's first *ahem* onscreen partnership. 

Mr. India (1987)


Maybe my favorite film of the year, it's definitely the most re-watched. My family fell in love with it, too, and we force it on others whenever possible. Humor, pathos, sequences that actually go somewhere, gadgets, cute orphans, and the best villain EVAH... It's Hook and The Goonies and a screwball comedy married to a Bond film, if those things were also musicals. Clearly, this movie is the complete package.


Waqt Ki Awaz (1988)


If you need a pick-me up after Jaag Utha Insaan, this is your answer. One of my occasional un-subtitled romps, I can tell you it was candy-store bright, loud, and fast. Sridevi and Mithun make a energetic pair, the songs are catchy and don't stray too far off into the grunge-disco deep-end, and you even get some Lorry-Luv gags out of the deal. 


OMG: Oh My God (2009)


In my mind, this is a Mithun film. This is demonstrably not true. But I prefer, like the protagonist of OMG, to stand my ground. I would argue that this story doesn't work without an intimidating clerical figure who *should* be able to work any room and get what he wants, and yet finds himself stymied for the first time. With Mithun as the symbol to rage at, a comedy at organized religion's expense almost becomes social critique.


*I watched over a hundred Indian films this year, so I think ten is an appropriate number. 

2 comments:

  1. Hmm lets see how many movies have I seen from this list - bhai ho to aisa (ages ago on its re-run in India) - I think this is also a south remake. A friend in India has recently helped me buy a whole stack of K Vishwanath movies including Saptapadi - haven't seen it yet. Prefer seeing the original rather than Jaag Utha Insaan. Oh My God was indeed a very good and timely movie based on The Man who Sued God. Mithun nailed the character. Paresh Rawal was also very good. I have been waiting to see Garam Hawa as Balraj Sahani is my favourite hindi film actor but haven't got access to it yet.

    As I am averse to a weepy Meena Kumari I may give dil apna preet paraya a miss - LoL

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    1. Dil apna preet parai is the least weepy Meena Kumari film I've seen. She's very stable, and there's less self-sacrificial nonsense than usual. Interesting if Bhai Ho To Aisa was a south remake ... I don't generally expect that of Desai, but I guess no one said it couldn't happen.

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