Friday, 9 February 2018

Movies, music and Meena Kumari.

It's been a bit quiet over here in chocolate towers. Can you imagine that, towers made of chocolate - how fantastic would that be ? Anyway, I digress. I've been taking a break to grieve and process loss and spending time supporting my late friend's widower and her gorgeous son. By the time it gets to the evening - when I usually do my blogging and radio editing stuff - I am so shattered I've been going to bed early. I was over there the other day talking to J about his many visits to India and how much he loves it there. As I drove home I thought about the music and movies I grew up with that were my earliest introduction to my indian heritage. 

Pakeezah: Haunting vinyl memories

From an early age my parents would play indian music on the record player and often it was religious music that I recognised from going to the temple. The other music was from classic movies like Pakeezah which I wasn't allowed to watch because of the morose storyline - it is the tale of a courtesan who falls in love with a man who tries to save her from her miserable life as far as I can tell. Instead my father would tell me all about the beautiful star Meena Kumari who died of cancer during the making of the film so there are scenes where a body double posed as her so the film could be completed. The songs from this film are haunting, but also wonderful and I recall singing this because it was the only one I knew the words to. 

Kabhi Kabhi: The eternal love story.

The film star Shashi Kapoor died a while back. He was from an acting dynasty in India that continues to produce stunning looking actors. In our house he was known for being Felicity Kendall's brother in law and he was in a few Merchant and Ivory films too. When my sister was little she loved dancing on the sofa to Bollywood movies (not that we called them that back then of course) and couldn't say the names of actors so she called them all 'Shee Kapoor.' I first saw him in this classic love story about lovers meeting again years after they broke up when they are with new partners. It now has added poignancy as this song was played at the funeral of one of my Mum's friends.

Sholay: The buddy movie western. 

When I was at primary school we lived next door to an indian family whose older son was called Darminder - apparently because his mother loved the movie star of the same name. We used to walk to school with their children and one morning we knocked on the door to call for them and were told they weren't going in that day. We later found out he had died of a brain haemorrhage completely unexectedly. His movie star namesake was in this buddy movie with Amitabh Bachan - the most famous indian actor of all time pretty much - and it's a classic. It is a western with bollywood dance sequences, a cartoon bad guy and spectacular scenery. If this song doesn't make you smile, well you are made of stone ! 

Namak Halal: Eighties glamour personified. 

In 1981 my parents bought a VCR - good luck explaining what that is to your kids ! - and suddenly we didn't have to drive all the way to Poplar on Sunday afternoon to watch a movie and leave before the end so my parents could open the shop. No longer did my mum have me tugging on her sleeve to ask what was going on. I could read subtitles and follow the action myself. Movies were often 2-3 hours long so we could stop them and go back and watch later if we wanted to. I know other families who barely moved off the sofa when they got them too, but we paced ourselves and would often watch as a family. Namak Halaal was a film that was long awaited in our house as it starred Amitabh and Shashi again and the wonderful Om Prakash. Parveen Babi was the love interest and rocked some pretty stunning dresses in firmly '80s performances like this one.

Kabhi Khushi Khabi Gham: Yes, it's another Amitabh Bachan movie.  

I was walking through Borough Market once and spotted a film crew - someone told me they were filming a Bollywood movie. I never found out which one though. It has always been considered glamorous to film in locations other than India. When I was a child films featured scenes from the Swiss Alps as it was considered exotic to have snow in a movie. The ones I loved the most featured Leicester Square and befuddled passers by wondering why these people were dancing in the middle of London. This one goes a step beyond and is more travelogue than love song.

Generic sixties movies: Beehives and winged eyeliner a-go-go ! 

The best by far - in my opinion - is the truly retro style of the movies made in the sixties. The women were all winged eyeliner and beehives and the dresses were just gorgeous. I recall watching my Mum get ready for social events and she would style her beautiful long black hair and apply make up with precision using a steady hand to get the eyeliner just right. She would choose a pretty bindi colour from a carousel and using a tiny brush she would draw it on. She looked as elegant as any of the actresses - Saira Banu, Waheeda Rahman or Nargis. I love the music of movies from this era. Sometimes it's beatnik, often it's rock and roll and it's always got an indian twist.

No kissing please we're indian: 

While it wasn't the done thing to show too much flesh, movie stars could get away with it in the name of art. The directors even created the infamous 'wet sari' phenomenon which enabled them to show the female form without any nudity. I honestly had no idea it was so well thought out. The puritanism of the movies from my childhood (no kissing, no nudity) has relaxed in recent years. It reminds me of Cinema Paradiso when the priest would go to the cinema to check all inappropriate content has been edited out of films before they were shown to the public. Salvatore's reaction at seeing all the banned kisses on a film reel that he was left by his beloved friend - the projectionist - Fredo was joyous. When the film Sagar came out indian cinemas sold out every performance as youngsters flocked to watch the first on screen kiss of their lives. It was a big moment for kids raised in traditional homes that had banned such 'filth.' Can you imagine if we'd seen this ?

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