Thursday, January 19, 2006

classic bollywood groove

Another fragment post...

Upon Girish's request in the previous post, here are the films that I started off with during my (re)initiation with classic Indian cinema that I would recommend to anyone (all of these are in the Hindi language, but not all fit the 'Bollywood' description of having song-and-dance numbers). Several are available on DVD, I believe.
  • Guru Dutt (Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool) essential Bollywood
  • Abrar Alvi/Guru Dutt (Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam) widely thought to be directed by (an uncredited) Guru Dutt
  • Govind Nihalani (Aakrosh, Party) I have a lot more to see by Benegal's frequent cinematographer, and these two films did well to whet my appetite (and just so you know in case you ever come across it, his five-hour long Tamas is one of the Holy Grails of Indian cinema)
  • Satyajit Ray (Shatranj Ke Khilari) one of Ray's two Hindi-language films
  • Shyam Benegal (Bhumika, Ankur, Nishaant, Kalyug, Junoon, Manthan)
  • Sampooran Singh Gulzar (Ijaazat, Lekin)
  • Hrishikesh Mukherji (Abhimaan)
  • Basu Bhattacharya (Avishkaar, Anubhav) first two films of a trilogy on marital relationships. Avishkaar (/Aavishkar) is pretty much a forgotten masterpiece, and one that I was surprised to come across - on DVD!
  • Bimal Roy (Madhumati, and to a lesser extent Devdas) the Ritwik Ghatak-penned Madhumati just leaves the mouth agape with its mastery of atmosphere and folkloric storytelling within storytelling. Structurally, it is a distant cousin of Vertigo (both came out in 1958) but Madhumati is more explicit in its depiction of reincarnation.
  • Raj Kapoor (Awaara) I've only touched the surface - so many more of his films to see.
  • Sai Paranjape (Sparsh, Disha)
  • Kumar Shahani (Kasba, Tarang) Shahani is another undiscovered master (he was a student of Ghatak and assisted Bresson on Une femme douce, actually appearing on-screen for a second among the audience during the performance of 'Hamlet' in that film). Kasba is an Indian film like no other: its mise-en-scene is defined by classical Indian painting and its performances by theatre. (There is an excellent essay on the film in Senses of Cinema which is worth reading)
  • Rajaram V. Shantaram (Do Ankhen Barah Haath) I haven't seen any of his colour films, but they're reputed to be insane!
  • Vidhu Vinod Chopra (Parinda) a somewhat trend-setting gangster flick that is still of some interest today after countless imitations
  • Kamal Amrohi (Pakeezah) high melodrama, and a film I'd recommend for the music alone
  • Kundan Shah (Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro) not much of 'formal' interest here, but this is one of the craziest things I've ever seen - starts off as a Blowup-type mystery (with explicit references to Antonioni), and ends up with a corpse being roller-skated off by two men across New Delhi (chased by the baddies, of course), eventually ending on stage in the middle of a 'Mahabharatha' performance. Whaa?!
  • Asit Sen (Khamoshi)
  • Mrinal Sen (Khandhar) the only film I've seen by Mrinal Sen and it blew me away. If anyone can recommend me any of his Bengali films, I'll try to track them down...
  • the slapstick comedies of late, great Bengali actor Utpal Dutt (who has also appeared in films by Satyajit Ray, Ghatak, and Mrinal Sen), especially Gol Maal and Angoor.
That should hopefully do it for anyone seeking some classical Bollywood recommendations. My own to-see list is unending, but any further recommendations are most welcome.


Blogger girish said...

Awesome list, Mubarak. Thank you.
What a blast of nostalgia. I've seen a good chunk of these, but not in a looong time. I'm primed for revisit.
Time for a drive to my local Indian store for samosas, paan and filmi delights.

2:46 AM  
Blogger Dipanjan said...

Fantastic list, Mubarak. I need to catch up on some of these, particularly the older ones. I would like to add a few of my personal favorites. Most of these are not classic mainstream Bollywood films, but all of them are Hindi films close to my heart.

Buddhadev Dasgupta's Aandhi Gali and Bagh Bahadur. Aandhi Gail is relatively unknown. It brings to surface a political angst which is almost always more subterranean in Buddhadev's other films. Bagh Bahadur is pure magic. It must be seen on a big screen though.

Mani Kaul's Duvidha. Very recently Amol Palekar directed a diluted and hugely disappointing version (Paheli) based on the same Rajasthani folktale. Duvidha is the real deal. Very experimental in form and extremely subversive in the treatment of the classic folktale.

M.S.Sathyu's Garam Hawa - Leaving Tamas (and Ritwik Ghatak) aside, this is the best film on Indian partition. It also includes one of the best performances by an Indian actor. Speaking of Balraj Sahni, Bimol Roy's Do Bigha Zamin must be included in any list of classic Indian films. My knowledge of Indian regional films other than Bengali is very limited, but this is probably the first Indian "realistic" film.

I love Benegal's early films you mentioned. One underrated Benegal film I like a lot is Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda. It is far from perfect, but I love how the ever-unreliable narrator colors his memories and how the line between his memories and fantasies slowly but surely gets blurred. This idea has been famously used by Tagore in his short story Monihara, on which one of the three short films in Ray's Tin Kanya (another underrated gem)is based.

Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay is a delight, but it probably does not need my recommendation. Even Roger Ebert loves it. :)

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is perfect. Along that line, I love Saeed Mirza's early films with very long names.

Coming back to structurally and thematically more mainstream Bollywood staple, a few films I have enjoyed over time for various reasons - anything by Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt, Bandini, Mahal, Rajnigandha, Satyakam, Mirch Masala, Masoom(an early film by Shekhar Kapur of Elizabeth and Bandit Queen fame), Katha(another Sai film), Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Lamhe, 3 Deewarein, My brother Nikhil and Dil Chahta Hai.

I am glad you found and enjoyed Khandhar. It is probably Mrinal Sen at his very best. Among Mrinal Sen's Bengali films, my favorites are Akaler Sandhane, Ek Din Pratidin, Kharij and Baishey Shravan.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Dipanjan, amazing list of titles - thank you! With a few exceptions that I've already seen, you've just about listed my entire to-see/to-find list. :)

I didn't know Buddhadeb Dasgupta made any Hindi films. I have to see them now. I guess I should also check out Tale of a Naughty Girl, which is the only one of his films I have access to on DVD.

I've seen Do Bigha Zameen years ago, and yes, it is a ground-breaking film (uh, no pun intended). Thanks also for including Salaam Bombay, and the 'mainstreams' like Masoom, Katha, JJWS, the Aamir Khan films, all of which I'd neglected to mention. While I'm here, I should also add Andaz Apna Apna, as a most enjoyable slapstick comedy, but those not familiar with Bollywood cliches might find it difficult to get into since it's a parody of the mainstream Bollywood formula.

I have been putting off seeing the Bengali films of Mrinal Sen (and Ritwik Ghatak - Meghe Dhaka Tara is the only one I've seen so far) for way too long. Your recommendations will be very helpful.

Girish, I haven't had paan for ages! I'm so having some the next time I drive out to my own local Indian store.

11:26 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

I'm way behind everyone on my viewing, but I at least thought I had a handle on what I needed to eventually see ...

Thanks for ruining my subcontinental self-esteem guys!

4:35 PM  

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