It's time once again for my roundup of movies, television shows, books, and music first encountered (although not necessarily first released) over the past year. In our classic Bollywood viewing 2013 was the year of Rajesh Khanna.
|Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz in Aap Ki Kasam (Your Promise, 1974)|
Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz: Prem Kahani
Somehow after Bollywood viewing that's spanned 10 years and nearly 300 films we had never managed to see any of Mumtaz's movies before. I regret that we didn't discover her sooner—she and Rajesh are wonderful together. Their chemistry is utterly delightful to watch, as in Laxmikant-Pyarelal's title song for Prem Kahani (Love Story, 1975):
But the course of true love doesn't run smooth. In the days of the Quit India movement, wounded freedom fighter Rajesh (Rajesh) seeks refuge from a police manhunt with his childhood friend Dheeraj (Shashi Kapoor). Two inconvenient problems which Rajesh has overlooked: Dheeraj is himself a police inspector, and he's celebrating his wedding night with his new bride Kamini (Mumtaz)—the woman Rajesh loves, but rejected so that his martyrdom wouldn't burden her with widowhood. The stage is set for conflicting loyalties, parallels to Puccini's Turandot, and barely suppressed emotions surging unbidden to the surface.
I wrote in my original post on Prem Kahani that "Kamini is an incredibly compelling character: smart, courageous and complicated. And Mumtaz is wonderful in the role. In a film packed with male stars, she more than holds her own, and makes Kamini the focus of our sympathies." Mumtaz is not only adorably vivacious and playful, she can convey profound depths of feeling, as in "Phool aahista phenko" (Gently pluck the rose):
As Memsaab wrote in her wonderful review of Prem Kahani: "This is Hindi cinema at its finest, honestly. So much communicated so beautifully in one simple song! How to explain it when someone says 'Oh, Bollywood—those are musicals, right?' Sigh."
Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore: Amar Prem
Mumtaz is not the only heroine who makes a superb jodi with Rajesh. Last year we also saw two of the movies in which he was paired with Sharmila Tagore, Aradhana (Adoration, 1969) and Amar Prem (Immortal Love, 1972). Both have great soundtracks; Aradhana's songs were composed by S.D. Burman and Amar Prem's by his son R.D. Burman. "Chingari koi bhadke" (A raging fire) is a beautifully melancholy example of R.D.'s art:
Anand (Rajesh) is trapped in an unhappy marriage, and seeks solace in the arms of the courtesan Pushpa (Sharmila). As in Prem Kahani, their love story does not have a conventionally happy ending, but that's one of the things that makes the film so emotionally affecting. As I wrote in my original post on Amar Prem, it "remains radical more than 40 years on for suggesting that true families are those formed by love."
|Waheeda Rehman in Teesri Kasam|
Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman: Teesri Kasam
We also explored some other classic movies this year. Teesri Kasam (The Third Vow, 1966) is a gorgeously photographed, wistful film featuring Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman, and excellent songs composed by Shankar-Jaikishen (lyrics by Shailendra).
Hiraman (Raj), a bullock-cart driver, is hired to transport the nautanki dancer Hirabai (Waheeda) to her next performances at a village fair. Over the hours they spend together on the lengthy journey they form a deep attachment. Hiraman awakens emotions in Hirabai that for many years have remained buried, as we're shown in the lovely, sad "Sajanwa Bairi Ho Gaye Hamar" (My beloved has become my enemy):
Hirabai recognizes, though, that no matter how much she cares for Hiraman (and he for her), they inhabit different worlds. As I wrote in my original post on Teesri Kasam, "Sometimes, no matter how much we might wish otherwise, love can't conquer all....Teesri Kasam is a minor-key masterpiece that rewards multiple viewings."
Next time: Favorites of 2013: Contemporary Bollywood