|ARTS TRIBUNE||Friday, June 21, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Original Beauty Queen of Hindi films
Painter brings alive Banaras on canvas
Original Beauty Queen of Hindi films
People today would remember her as Saira Banu’s mother and Dilip Kumar’s mother-in-law. But there was a time when Naseem Banu was known as the original Beauty Queen. Her daughter Saira’s title, years later, was only hereditary and, perhaps, not so deserving.
Naseem Banu possessed natural beauty. She did not need to wear silks, satins and jewels galore to attract attention away from her face. She had the most gorgeous eyes — round-shaped, heavy-lidded, large. There was such kindness, compassion and innocence that no human would fail to be attracted and fall under her magic spell. Naseem had a plus point over most beautiful women: she possessed the rare quality of serenity. She wore her hair in a shoulder-length bob which she used to style in ringlets. There was just too much of Europe in Naseem; she appeared like a tall statuesque Swede, say like Greta Garbo.
While most of the heroines of Naseem’s ‘zamana’ rose from dire poverty and had not even been to primary school, Naseem was born with a golden spoon. That is why one never found gaudiness or vulgar display of wealth in her lifestyle, unlike most of the other stars who were first generation ‘noveau rich’ and displayed lack of taste by exhibiting their wealth like the illuminations on buildings on Republic Day. She was an only child and was denied nothing.
Naseem’s entry into films was quite by chance. Her school had closed for summer vacation and she had come to Bombay with her mother on a visit. They stayed with a family friend. Every day she would plead with her host to take her to the film studios. Then one day she saw the shooting of "Silver King" starring Moti Lal and Sabita Devi. She decided that she would become an actress. She continued to frequent studios and got offers to work, but her mother turned them all down, for she wanted Naseem to study medicine. But Naseem was determined to pursue her desire.
Soon she got Sohrab Modi’s offer of a role in his movie "Hamlet". She resorted to tears and hunger strike and at last her mother gave in. Naseem did "Hamlet" and became a sensation overnight. She returned to Delhi to complete her studies but found that she could not get admission to any college, for she had joined the ranks of film artistes. It was this attitude that made her seek a film career with a vengeance. She worked in "Khoon ka Khoon", "President", "Divorce", "Khan Bahadur", "Meetha Zahar" and "Vasanti".
Then came the greatest role of her career. She acted in Minerva Movietone’s "Pukar", the historical classic whose charm and popular appeal remains unchanged even today. Naseem played Noor Jehan and the grey green-eyed Chandermohan played Jehangir. Dressed in Mughal finery amidst artistic sets, Naseem and Chandermohan made a handsome pair of royal lovers. She gave a heart-warming, tender portrayal of the immortal Mughal Queen.
In "Pukar" Naseem sang her own songs. She had learnt singing for two years. One number of "Pukar" which is remembered even today is Zindagi ka saaz bhi kya saaz hai....
Another Minerva Movietone film was "Sheesh Mahal" where Naseem gave an excellent portrayal of a poor daughter of a fallen zamindar. She seeks employment to keep the kitchen fires burning rather than live on charity. Dressed simply with hardly any make-up, an edge of pathos to her soft voice, Naseem gave a portrayal that moved audiences to tears. "Sheesh Mahal" also starred the green-eyed, voluptuous Nigar Sultana as the glamorous, spoilt rich heiress. Between Naseem and Nigar the audience was presented with a rare visual delight, their close-ups being enchanting.
After reigning as the queen of Minerva Movietone, Naseem began her reign over Filmistan. Her first picture under this banner, "Chal Chal Re Naujawan", with Ashok Kumar was a grand success. Another Filmistan hit was "Shabistan", a costume drama in which Naseem wore long flowing gowns.
In the early ’50s, Naseem, having crossed her 30th year, played the lead with such young heroes as Shyam ("Shabistan"), Rehman ("Ajeeb Ladki") and Ajit ("Tarang") more than 10 years her junior, but the difference in age was not evident.
Naseem’s husband Ehsan had become a film producer, and together they made "Ujala", "Mulakaat", "Begum", "Chandni Raat" and "Ajeeb Ladki" under the banner of Taj Mahal Pictures.
With the coming of other stars like Nargis, Suraiya and Madhubala, established stars like Khurshid, Nurjehan, Swarnalata, Mumtaz Shanti and Sardar Akhtar were pushed to the sidelines. Some later migrated to Pakistan. Naseem, Munawar Sultana and Nigar Sultana were the only three from the old brigade who continued side by side with the new breed of heroines.
Naseem then made a big mistake by taking up "C"-grade movies like "Baghi", a swashbuckling drama, with a non-star like Ranjan. Another movie was "Sindbad" where she played a pirate or some such thing, roles definitely not in keeping with her status.
Thus, by the mid-’50s, Naseem retired though she lit up the screen with a brief role in Minerva Movietone’s "Naushirwan-e-Adil". It is said Guru Dutt offered her an important role in his "Pyaasa", but she turned it down.
Years later, in the ’60s, after Saira was an established star with "Junglee", "April Fool", "Aayee Milan Ki Bela" etc, K. Asif was thinking of launching a movie based on the life of Empress Noor Jehan, with Naseem in the title role. She did not accept it. Other producers, when they came to sign up Saira, were enchanted with Naseem’s well-preserved beauty and wanted to sign her up. She was reported to have said that she did not want comparisons with her daughter.
Naseem could have led a dull, listless life after retirement. Instead, she embarked on a new career of dress designing for Saira. Who can forget the sarees, with intricate embroidery only on the pallav, which Saira introduced in "Aayee Milan Ki Bela"? The tight salwar-kameezs with embroidery on the neckline and sleeves, sported by Saira in "Junglee", too were Naseem’s creations.
We have seen on TV the George Bush-Al Gore shootout complete with all its controversial vote fixing. We have seen the warlords of Afghanistan sniping for Karzai during the Loya Jirga. But give me the current Indian presidential dual every time. For colour, for political dirty tricks, for telegenic brevura. And all over two candidates who are respected, loved, as apolitical as people in their professions can be — one is a scientist and the other a doctor — and you have all the ingredients if not for a Mumbai "fillum", at least for a television drama.
Let us take their extremely photogenic looks, to begin with. Dr Abdul Kalam’s shaggy hair style, his white eyebrows, his warm, spontaneous smile, his stiff competition to George Fernandes in the matter of sartorial casualness— floppy bush-shirt, loose chappals and total lack of fancy attire. Then, there is our much-loved 88-year- old Capt Lakshmi Sahgal, as elegant and trim now in her beautifully starched sari, her up-to-the -minute short hair style, her dignity and charm, not to speak of her spirit, as she was as the young commander of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment in Singapore in the 40s just a foot step behind Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Well, no photographers could have asked for more. One was not surprised to hear that one cameraman had actually come to blows with a party member at her press conference, when told the shooting session was over.
Their wonderful backgrounds. Dr Abdul Kalam’s brother recounting how this poor boy from a fisherman’s family had to see his sister sell her gold bangles to pay his school fees. His old teacher at the modest mission school telling us how Kalam shared a hostel room with a Christian and a Hindu. And friends speculating how a rice-and-curd vegetarian would cope with the menus at Rashtrapati Bhavan’s official banquets. Then Dr Sahgal attending to a woman patient at her free clinic in Kanpur until the last moment before catching the Shatabdi to Delhi and telling the press emphatically that of course she would return to her practice when her campaign was over. In short, two endearingly natural personally lovable but highly professional people, clearly and openly loving it all and thinking more of the country than themselves. This is the stuff of which presidential drama is made and it simply would not have been the same without television, which does have its uses at moments such as these. For which we must be thankful and forgive TV its constant irritations.
Meanwhile, the World Cup continues to provide human interest as well as high drama. At times, even the commentators are reduced to "My goodness". As the stands burst into music, tears, cheers and everything from ecstacy to dark gloom. And when one has time for our highly contrived and unrealistic serials, one feels as gloomy as with the thought that all that India could contribute to the World Cup was commentator Baichung Bhutial while Kolkata’s football fans waited bated breath for the Brazil-England encounter, and wondered why India was not playing in the World Cup, like smaller Asian nations and why cricket remains the pampered child when football is so obviously the common man and woman’s favourite. Umaji and the Ministry of Sports, are you listening?
I mentioned our silly serials and there are few to beat the rash of hospital serials, only "Hospital", the Alva brother’s contribution to the BBC, at least having passed the reality test. This is more than can be said of "Sanjeevani" which beyond the opening shot of four doctors looking like minor starlets, walking arm in arm to work, straight out of a foreign serial, has more of a Mumbai "fillum" script than medical reality. Nagging mother-in-law in hospital bed, urges cowardly son to take a second wife as his first wife (heroine) has not produced a son. The wife at last persuades the husband to take a fertility test, of course he is the erring party. But treatment required Rs 1/1/4 lakh so she lies to him that she has failed the test. A couple with small daughter with cancer, are looking for bone marrow to save her life. The wife contributes the same defying the mother-in-law, and the husband gets cheque for Rs 2 lakh from grateful parents. The Mother-in-law and the husband smile at last, after gross over-acting all round, cliched dialogue and prolonged in action. Why don’t they leave hospital alone? They insult the medical profession as well as hospitals.
Painter brings alive Banaras on canvas
An ancient city on the banks of the river Ganga, the seat of Hindu spiritualism with a more than 2000-year-old culture and hundreds of temples where mornings begin with devotional songs — this is the Banaras brought alive on canvas by modern art painter Ram Kumar.
His 31 paintings — oils on canvas, acrylics on canvas and acrylics on paper — that were previewed here before the exhibition in New York were a gist of Kumar’s philosophy towards life, bending away from the conventional.
And the influence of the holy city was paramount in his works.
Of the paintings on display, the only one that is titled is "Varanasi 2002,’’ portraying temples, houses, ghats, and boats on the river.
The creamish white colour that dominates the piece adds to its serenity and the blue waters transport the viewer to the banks of the Ganga.
Guiding through the lanes and bylanes of Banaras are four more paintings. The biggest of them, an untitled oil on canvas, captures the waters of the river on an earthy brown background with marble white temples scattered all over. The piece silently explains why Varanasi is called the city of temples.
The artist has virtually done away with figuration but for the architecture of the holy city.
For Kumar, life is dyed the colour of his imagination and when transferred to the canvas, these hues become a silent commentary on the life of the artist.
Kumar’s creations, coloured in "his’’ shades, reflect his vivid life spanning eight decades during which he travelled extensively from Shimla to New York and from London to Tokyo.
Kumar is also a keen observer of the environment and his beautiful landscapes in muted colours are abstract hymns to nature.
All his creations are untitled because "I had lots of things in mind while painting them and so a name cannot be given to each of them,’’ said the painter, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 1972.
The artist, who has also authored six books in Hindi, prefers to use muted colours and ochre, ultramarine, sienna, white, greens and earthy colours dominate his oeuvre.
A singing hero after a long time
SUR: The Musical (Universal): Ah, the golden era of Indian cinema when almost every hero sang his own songs. Even when playback singing made its debut, there were several singing heroes like K.L. Saigal and Ashok Kumar who excelled in both fields. But gradually, these all-rounders faded out. Stars like Amitabh Bachchan occasionally did croon their own numbers, but this was done more as a lark.
Now Lucky Ali seems set to bring back memories of an era gone by. He has already made a name as a singer and is for the first time also starring in this film. We do not know how meaty his role is, but as far as his performance as a singer is concerned, he is the kingpin of the album.
His voice is quite different from those of conventional singers. At times, he even tends to be off-key. But this weakness makes him stand out in the crowd of polished professionals.
Most of the songs that he renders are slow, melancholy numbers. Two of them are outstanding, Aa bhi ja aa bhi ja … and Khoya hai tune jo ae dil ….. Two other solos by him, Jaane kya dhoondta … and Aao tumhe ek nayi baat bataon …, are only slightly better than average.
His female foil is Sunidhi Chauhan who is there in two duets with him. One is Aa bhi ja aa bhi ja … and the other Tu dil ki khushi … One song, Kabhie sham dhale … has been sung by Mahalaxmi.
Nida Fazli's lyrics have been set to music by M.M. Kareem.
SUNO SASURJEE (Tips): This album is a mixture of romantic and irreverent. Side A has more of former variety while side B is dominated by boisterous fun songs.
Alka Yagnik and Kumar Sanu are refined in the opening number, Jab dil dhadakta hai … while Alka Yagnik and Abhijeet introduce a youthful playfulness to Aaap kahan rehte hain … Prabha joins Kumar Sanu in singing Mera dil churake …
The surprise packet is Jaspinder Narula whose full-throated voice makes Aaa jaa … quite a treat.
In keeping with the film's title, there is a song called Kardo kardo shaadi sasurjee … which is way over the top. It has been sung by Sonu Nigam, Vinod Rathod, Sapna Mukherjee and Arshad. While the rest of the songs have been penned by Sameer, this one is credited to Vinay Bihari.
Another equally loony number is Tota mirchi kha gaya … by Alka Yagnik and Sonu Nigam. Sanjeev-Darshan are the composers.
WAAH TERA KYA KEHNA (Universal): Speaking of outlandishness, this film takes the cake. That is quite understandable too, given that the hero is none other than Govinda.
He grabs the mike himself to croon I want money … along with Shweta Pandit and does so with panache. But the real insane number is Karele ki ho gayee sagai, shakarkandi nachan ko chali aayee… by Abhijeet. To give a new spin to the traditional children's favourite, "r" is pronounced as "l" with the result that "shakarkandi" become "shakalkandi".
And that is not the only crazy one around. Halloo halloo … by Anuradha Sriram and Sudesh Bhosle is even more so. And to think that this is a Jatin-Lalit creation! The drivel comes out of the pen of Sameer.
As if to compensate for this pedestrian stuff, the composer has added some sweet numbers too. Mujhe teri nazar ne, deewana banaya sanam … (Alka Yagnik, Udit Narayan) and Ye mujhe kya hua … (Alka Yagnik, Udit Narayan) have both been sung with élan.