Category Archives: Hindi Cinema

Om Puri: Four Performances

om-puri

Written by Randeep Singh

On January 6, 2017, Om Puri passed away at the age of 66. One of India’s finest actors, he also won acclaim for his performances in British, American and Pakistani films. Here’s a review of just four of his performances.

Aakrosh (1980)

In this devastating indictment of India’s justice system, Puri plays a poor tribesman (Lanya) wrongly accused by his landlords of murdering of his wife. Silent for much of the film, Lanya finally cries out in anguish for deliverance from a life of indignity and exploitation in a masterful balance of intensity and restraint by Puri.

Ardh Satya (1983)

In Ardh Satya, Puri plays a cop battling for his sanity and conscience in a force bedeviled by corruption. Whether in dealing with gang bosses, his superiors, or his domineering father, Puri humanizes the struggle between a life of dignity or selling out to the system.

My Son The Fanatic (1997)

As Parvez, Puri is a whiskey-loving Pakistani immigrant who falls for a local prostitute while his British-born son turns into a religious fundamentalist. Puri deftly plays the role of father, lover and working-class immigrant in one full comic-romantic-dramatic sweep.

East is East (1999)

In another culture clash comedy, Puri plays George Khan, a Pakistani fish and chip shop owner living in Salford in the early seventies. Struggling to establish his sway over his rapscallion Anglo-Pakistani children and his English wife, Puri’s performance elicits laughs, fear and even a little sympathy.

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Filed under Cinema, Culture, Films, Hindi Cinema, India, Randeep Singh, Uncategorized

Imagining Ancient India

hrithik roshan

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Written by Randeep Singh

Ashutosh Gowariker recently released his trailer for Mohenjo Daro, an action-adventure set in ancient India’s Indus Valley civilization, c. 2016 BCE.

For years, ancient India has been imagined as Hindu in TV and film. The mythological serials, Ramayan and Mahabharata, set the standard back in the 1980s with their recreation of an imagined Aryan/Vedic/Brahmanic society and culture. The vision of Ancient India as a Hindu India has been constructed with every palace wall, turned with each roll of the chariot and uttered in every Sanskritized syllable in Hindu mythological serials and in semi-historical serials like Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat.

It’s also apparent in films like Mohenjo Daro. True, it looks less like the Mahabharata, but also, unlike the epics, Mohenjo Daro was a historical reality. The Indus was India’s first civilization, declining around 1900 BCE. The Aryans thereafter migrated to the Indus Valley from beyond the Hindu Kush around 1500 BCE, giving India the Vedas, the earliest Hindu religious texts.

Gowariker helps popularize the claim of Hindu Nationalists that the Indus civilization was (in part) an Aryan society and civilization. Whereas the people of the Indus are believed to have been dark-skinned Dravidians, the hero in Mohenjo Daro is a light-eyed Hrithik Roshan with blondish locks and a trident. The statues of the Indus gods are recognizably Hindu, the language Sanskritized and the film features horses, animals not known to the civilization and introduced to India centuries later by the Aryans.

Films like Mohenjo Daro suggest what India was and how we see the past. And like the many mythological and semi-historical TV serials and films before it, Mohenjo Daro is less an attempt at faithfully reconstructing a historical India than imagining a perennially Hindu one.

 

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The Censorship of India

udta punjab

Written by Randeep Singh

The Bombay High Court has overturned the censor board of India’s decision to make 89 cuts to Udta Punjab, a film about drug abuse among Indian youth. That’s good news for Udta Punjab; so why was it subject to such censorship in the first place?

It’s because India’s Censor Board (i.e. the Central Board of Film Certification) is an arbitrary, paternalistic and repressive tool of government which dates from the colonial era. The first censor boards in India were set up in 1920 to discipline, rear and guide Indians from their naïve, childlike and unruly selves.

Today’s Censor Board continues the colonial tradition of parenting Indians, protecting them from all sorts of realities films. It has grown increasingly conservative since 1991 as a reaction to Westernization and is currently staffed with BJP members and supporters, including its head, Pahlaj Nihalani.

The Udta Punjab controversy has nevertheless brought out Karan Johar, Mahesh Bhatt and Aamir Khan in support of the film. Online petitions to screen the uncensored version of the film gained tens of thousands of signatures. The Bombay High Court decision too leaves hope that, if censorship of cinema grows in India, so too will resistance.

 

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Filed under Censorship, Cinema, Hindi Cinema, India, Law, Politics, Randeep Singh, Uncategorized

Shakespeare in Hindi Cinema

maqbool

Written by Randeep Singh

In the high and palmy state of Bombay, the Bard and Hindi screen did meet … It was the Parsi theatre which brought Shakespeare to Hindi cinema. The Parsi theatre flourished between 1870 and 1940, adapting Shakespeare’s plays into Urdu, the literary lingua franca of northern India. Those plays were in turn screened and adapted to Hindi cinema.

One of the earliest such films was Dil Farosh (1927), a silent film based on the Parsi theatre adaptation of The Merchant of VeniceThe Taming of the Shrew, Antony and Cleopatra and Measure for Measure were adapted respectively in Hathili Dulhan (1932), Kafir-e-Ishq (1936) and Pak Daman(1940). Hamlet meanwhile reigned among tragedies, adapted first into the silent film Khoon-e-Nahak (1928) and later into the “talkies,” Sohrab Modi’s Khoon Ka Khoon (1935) and Kishore Sahu’s Hamlet (1954).

In adapting Shakespeare to India, the dramatists of Parsi theatre recreated his pathos, wit and intrigue in Urdu. With the exception of the drama and opera Inder Sabha (c. 1853), Urdu literature lacked a tradition of drama in the Sanskrit or Elizabethean sense; and yet, the verses of Ghalib and the marsiya of Anis and Dabeer demonstrated that Urdu was capable of dramatic resonance. The Parsi playwrights exploited that potential by making an elaborately rhetorical Urdu the vessel through which Shakespeare was carried to Indian audiences.

Take the following excerpt from Safed Khoon, Agha Hashar Kashmiri’s adaptation of King Lear. The dialogue relates to the first scene between Khakan (Lear) and Zara (Cordelia) where Khakan addresses Zara:


Khakhan: Haan, ab teri gulfishani ka intizaar hai
(Now we await a shower of flower from thy  lips)

Zara: Abba jaan, mai kya arz karoon
Ita’ut mujh se kahti hai ki tu chup rah nahin sakti
Magar mera yeh kahna hai ki mai kuchh kah nahin sakti

(Respected Father, what shall I say –
Obedience tells me that I cannot remain silent
But I have only this to say that I can say nothing)[1]

In the following dialogue, each character speaks half a line to the other, a rising tension building in rhyme:


Khakan: Chhor de yeh zid………Zara: abhi chhooti nahin
(Leave this stubbornness)……….(No, never)

Khakan: Be-adab hai tu…………Zara: Magar jhoothi nahin
(Disrespectful art thou)………(But not a liar)

Khakan: Nuqsaan uthhayegi…………..Zara: era bari ta’ala hai
(You will suffer great loss)…………….(The Creator is supreme)

Khakan: Mai kuchh na doonga tujhko……Zara: Khuda dene wala hai
(I will give thee nothing)……………………  (it is for God to give)[2]

This intensely dramatic Urdu style was well suited not only for adaptations of Shakespeare plays in Parsi theatre but for Hindi cinema as well.

Gulzar’s adaptation of The Comedy of Errors in Angoor (1981) aside, adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays in Hindi cinema petered out after 1960. The influence of Shakespeare though has been felt in the theme, story and dialogue of Hindi cinema whether through the The Taming of The Shrew in Junglee (1966) and Naukar Biwi Ka (1983) or Romeo and Juliet in Mehboob Khan’s Aan (1952) and Mansoor Khan’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988).

In more recent years, the bard has travelled to the Bombay underworld, the dusty towns of Uttar Pradesh and Kashmir’s valleys of snow. Shakespeare will continue to evolve and inspire in Hindi cinema as in this monologue from Haider:

Dil kī agar sunooñ to hai
Dimāgh kī to hai nahin 
Jaan looñ ki jaan duñ 
Main rahooñ ki main nahiñ[3]

Exeunt

“Shakespeare in Hindi Cinema,” Rajiv Verma in India’s Shakespeare: Translation, Interpretation and Performance (ed. Poonam Trivedi and Dennis Bartholomeusz), 269-290.

[1] R. Verma, “Shakespeare in Hindi Cinema,” 273.

[2] R. Verma, “Shakespeare in Hindi Cinema,” 274.

[3] The barely sane Haider speaks revolver in hand:
“If I listen to my heart – it’s there
It’s not of my mind 
To kill or to die
To be or not to be

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