In lieu of complaining, I think I will take some time to reflect on the ups and downs of this heady month. Feel free to process with me (or pass judgment on my greediness, I really won't blame you if you do).
Shree 420 (1955)
Ok, so this film has to be mentioned, if not completely written up in recap fashion, because . . . well, it goes without saying that this one is a must-see for a reason. It's one of the Giants of Hindi Cinema. So much so, that I avoided it. Maaf Kiijie!
I swear I really did expect it to be an intelligent film. I expected something socially relevant. I expected something silly. What I didn't expect was something consistently entertaining and heartrending. Maybe I had read too much in the way of annoyance by other American writers about the ineffectual nature of Raj's Charlie Chaplin impression for those familiar with the original character. [Someone feel free to comment on the ethnocentric ridiculousness of this statement and my internalization of it.]
What I found was a story that was justly praised for it's social relevance, but certainly didn't come off as overly sentimental. I found a story with a romance that, although not as fiery or feminist as Awaara, said something else that resonated with my experience. Something about the un-changeability of the idealists among us, and their struggles to support the realists . . . those who, to succeed, choose to wear more than one face. (In fact, rather than upholding honest, untainted idealist paths for all, the film actually seems to underscore the need for cheats who will cheat the system. Especially if the system itself is rigged.)
I can totally understand why Raj's two-sided innocent/cheat act might not always work for the modern (especially non-Indian) viewer. I can totally see why some people might find it over-the-top or obnoxious. But let's just say that almost all of it worked for me. It really did. Not even the lengthy Charlie Chaplin homage/copycat routine (depending on your POV) bothered me. I had already seen Awaara, and I still didn't find Shree 420 to be repetitive (the titular tramp doesn't pretend to be masoom for much more than one song in Awaara, anyway). And Charlie Chaplin's film, "City Lights" is honestly one of my most beloved films of all time, but I still loved Raj's own spin on the tramp.
|Also, Nadira is now one of my favorite cinema vamps evah.|
Mostly, I connected with Raj's character's conflicting desires to both remain in a state of simple idealism, and also to survive in a harsh world. And it made perfect metaphorical sense that he would choose to wear two masks, depending on what the situation calls for. [Don't we all?] For example, though he may choose to remain guileless with his lady-love, the same attitude almost gets him eaten alive by the vamp. And I literally gasped at the moment of pure Raj-brilliance when he switches consciously from the tramp-to the cheat at the first "rich people's party" he attends.
For me, all this was actually a great counterpoint to the arguably more straightforward message of City Lights. It is comforting to see pure idealism survive, if no where else, at least in an iconic character onscreen. During one very rough period in my life, City Lights was exactly what I needed. It's cathartic to watch and feel a character NOT lose his idealism even when he should be beaten down and embittered by the world . . . as happens in City Lights. And yet, it is equally comforting to see a character's ideals develop and converse with the world, and beat the world at its own game . . . as in Shree 420.
And Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua has to be one my favorite song/picturizations I've seen thus far in Bollywood. It's a almost a standalone love story in itself.
In comparison to the other two films in this post, Tarana feels tiny and soundstage-bound. I haven't personally crunched the numbers, but my guess is that Tarana didn't have much of a budget to speak of. But no matter, because any budget would have gotten upstaged by Chemistry, anyway.
This film can basically be summed up in the screencap/bit of dialogue below.
Correct translation or not, "incident" (after incident) is a good way to describe the romance between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala's characters in this film. The plot, the crazed villagers, the crazed forgotten fiancee, the cackling hero's papa (Jeevan) . . . it's all cranked up to 100, and yet, you mostly can't see anything but the two lovers at the center.
The plot is mostly nonsensical. Dilip's character, a wealthy surgeon, is stranded via commercial plane crash (from which he and one other woman seem to be the only survivors) in a rural village. A village that is only reachable by oxen cart in one section of the film, and then seems to be reachable by car later. The village belle (Madhubala) and her father take him in . . . and both are wooed by his cityfied manners and general charm. Though, throughout the film the father can never seem to remember if he loves his daughter and trusts the great doctor, or wants them burned at the stake.
Obviously, Dilip woos Madhubala quite epic-ly (I mean their characters, geez, I didn't say ANYTHING about their long affair beginning at this time) and by the end *spoilers* . . . though love may win, sanity is is proven to have no place in their claustrophobic, hyperventilating world. Also, any belief or pretense to chastity/societal mores pretty much goes out the window by the end as well. The last shot is the least subtle pan-away I've ever seen.
Out of all the films mentioned here, this is easily wins a place among my *ahem* reviews. For, although it is highly entertaining, it's also a fairly offensive piece of propaganda.
My advice is to view it as just that, and just go along for the ride.
Cukoo shines as a supporting character, Nargis is in full-pouty heiress mode, Dilip is sexy, Raj is funny, the songs are excellent in terms of performance and story (if not exactly earworms after the fact).
|*Brain stops working*|
I can just hear the conversation right now . . .
"What, the heroine (Nargis) is rich and wears trousers! What, she likes jazz? SHE HAS JAZZ PARTIES AT HER MANSION?! What, the woman keeps her previous engagement (to Raj) a secret from her middle-class admirer (Dilip) because she promised said first admirer (whom she is now bound to for the next seven lifetimes because she fell in love in 5 minutes) and second admirer gets humiliatingly friendzoned?!!! How dare she."
"Um. Yeah, I guess that happens. Kyun kharab hai?"
"Her fiancee and later husband will be hurt by this. His honor will be defamed. His wife has given some other man the wrong idea! Completely by accident! We must punish her. Her husband will do it. It is his right."
"Um, well, can we at least keep the whole character development thing where Dilip will play that amazing scene opposite Raj on the staircase where he tells the husband how ridiculous and without base his accusations are?"
"Yes, that is truly good cinema. Kya dialogues! Shabash. Just be sure to undermine it after that with a proper 40 lashes for the heiress, life in prison, something fitting."
"Thike, will do."
|"Isn't film-making a funny business? I can't stop laughing [Or are those tears?]"|
But really, you should watch this one if you haven't already.