Dev Anand turned 88 last week. He’s still making movies. His next, Chargesheet, comes out pretty soon, in fact.
The golden age of Navketan films may be long gone, and while his current cinematic offerings may be met with a bit of embarrassment and even ridicule, his place in Indian cinema history is one that even a hundred bad films can’t — and haven’t — ever tarnished. Like Hindi film romances, they may be strange, unrealistic, and old-fashioned, but we love them nonetheless.
Because of songs like this.
Dil Ka Bhanwar Kare Pukar from the 1963 movie Tere Ghar Ke Samne is the definition of simple, old-fashioned Hindi movie romance. While the big song-and-dance number with a hundred choreographed dancers and elaborate sets is the image that looms large in one’s mind, Dil Ka Bhanwar is filmi romance distilled to its essence: two people, and the chemistry between them — no dancers, no dancing from the leads, and the most odd of places to set a song, a stairwell!
It may seem like Dev Anand & Nutan were making it up as they went along, but if you look closely at this (and indeed all Navketan films of this era) there is a level of technical skill at work that is breathtaking. The lighting, for instance, as they move through the space, catches them at just the right moments and angles, without ever seeming forced. This is shot on a set, and yet it feels very real. Vijay Anand films always had that something extra to them (the writer/director, Dev Anand’s brother, makes a cameo in this video as a fellow tourist), a finesse and attention to detail that his contemporaries (barring Guru Dutt) either lacked the talent or the inclination for. This technical prowess is not very flashy, but like all great craft they make a good thing great. I had a hard time picking one song from Tere Ghar Ke Samne. Each track is a noteworthy gem, both musically and technically (the title track itself deserves a future post).
And speaking of music, while I generally put my money in the corner of Kishore Kumar in the silly but nonetheless frequent fanboy question of ‘Rafi or Kishore?’, I always answer S.D., not R.D. in the clash of Burmans. While Rahul Dev Burman was a phenomenal talent & innovator in Hindi music, his father Sachin Dev Burman remains for me the godlike genius whose minimal, magical tunes still surprise and delight me today, even on the thousandth listen.
Kishore Kumar may also hold that godlike genius title for me, but there’s no denying that Mohammad Rafi was a titan. I can’t really imagine anybody else singing this song as well, even Kishore Kumar. That breezy, blissfully besotted tone that it has, is all Rafi. It is, in some ways, the voice of Hindi film romance itself.
That specific tone of Hindi film romance can defeat even the most cynical of souls. ‘Cheesy’ is certainly a term that can be applied when it’s looked at from certain angles, but the chaste, overtly* non-sexual exchanges between hero and heroine have a certain frankness & confidence to them that seems anything but puppy love.
*(there’s plenty of sexual tension & subtext simmering beneath the surface, in songs especially — but that’s a subject for another time)
It’s a quality that endures, even today; though near every Hindi movie nowadays is incomplete without pelvic thrusting item songs with juvenile sexual expression, romance itself — true love — as depicted on the silver screen continues to be, well, almost unrealistically old-fashioned.
This is not a bad thing.