Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kalpana Kartik : Luck By Chance

In the recent past I have made an interesting observation. The greatest truths of life dawn upon me when I am indulging in my favourite guilty pleasure - you Tubing. The last time it was the discovery of the phenomenal talent called Dr Chaudhury, this time it is the realisation of the phenomenal luck of Kalpana Kartik.
For those who have been weaned on the trivia of Indian cinema it is a known fact that Kalpana Kartik was a one-time actress who ended up as screen legend Dev Anand's wife. For those who are tuned in to me and my preferences it is a known fact that I was a one-time fan of the same screen legend Dev Anand (before you put two and two together, that is not the luck factor that I allude to here). For those who are not tuned in to either to my whims or to the bylines of Indian cinema, this will not be making much sense, so to un-complicate matters I shall start at the very beginning.

We can start in the 1949-50 frame. Mona Singha was a student of the prestigious St Bedes college in Shimla. In her graduation year, she participated in the Ms Shimla contest, and as luck would have it she bagged the trophy and also the attention of a struggling film-maker from Bombay . The director was an erudite man and he managed to convince her otherwise elitist family to allow her to accept his offer of joining his fledgling film company as a leading lady. Thus, Mona Singha was re-christened Kalpana Kartik and she moved to Bombay. Film history tells us Kalpana Kartik was the wrong person, in the right place at the right time. It was Chetan Anand who brought her to Bombay to join his film company Navketan, that he ran along with Dev Anand, his younger brother. Her first film 'Baazi' was a huge success and went on to become a landmark in Indian cinema. 'Baazi' was a gamble that defined the destinies of many luminaries all of whom got a career boost from the film. All this was about the 'right place' and 'right time' part of it. The 'wrong person' part of it is that Ms Kartik's contribution to the success or legendary status of the film would probably count at #50, (after spot boy #5).
Anyway, the year was 1951. Six years, six films, a marriage and a baby later, Kalpana Kartik had retired from limelight forever. She settled into her role as Mrs Dev Anand and her only contact with films was in being credited as 'Associate Producer' for all Navketan Films (which, I think was a good excuse to keep an eye on her husband). In the later years she completely disappeared from public life and became a recluse. It was rumoured that the Anand marriage ran through many problems driving her towards religion with the zeal of a fanatic. She is still married to Dev Anand but keeps a strong distance from his public life.

So that is her story. Now you would ask, where is the luck there? Surely being the most forgettable component in some of the most unforgettable films is not 'lucky'. And however much the smitten grandmother might disagree, being Mrs Dev Anand is not really a piece of fantastic luck either (a woman who has a husband who wears orange trousers and a yellow shirt cannot possibly consider herself lucky - look left).

So then where is the luck? This is where a little musical bent of mind comes handy.
Kalpana Kartik, became a part of Navketan when it was beginning to spread it's wings. She was associated with the film company during it's most momentous years. She started with 'Baazi', the debut of Guru Dutt and ended with 'Nau Do Gyarah', the debut film of Vijay Anand! Between these two films came 'Taxi Driver', which was the 'coming of age' film of the Navketan banner. It was Navketan's first super-success and also the film on whose sets Dev Anand secretly said 'I do' to Ms Kartik making them Man and Wife (an event that apparently still haunts her, see 'Taxi Driver still haunts Kalpana Kartik' ). Her time in Navketan saw four different directors take reign - Guru Dutt, Chetan Anand, Mandi Burman and Vijay Anand. Musically it was the period of the mighty SD Burman and his memorable partnership with Sahir and Majrooh. She was also the heroine of the only two films for which the sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan composed music. If one sets out to make a list of songs picturized on Kalpana Kartik, it is likely that the count would stop before fifteen. The wonder is that the top ten of those fifteen songs could give any legendary song a run for it's money.

That is what makes Kalpana Kartik extremely lucky. For an actress whose acting skills were less than adequate, screen charisma quite limited and filmography a mere six films, her visibility from a musical perspective is extremely high. Unwittingly she has landed up with a bite-size of musical history that is not backed with justifiable talent or charisma. There have been other lesser actresses down the ages who gained a lot of visibility because they became the muse of a great director. Sandhya of 'Jal Bin Machhili Nritya Bin Bijli' fame is one such case, Priya Rajvansh is another such case (Actually Sandhya and Priya Rajvansh had a genius of their own, that only a priviledged few, such as yours truly, can spot, but that is a topic for another day). For now, lets be content to cite them as examples of not so popular actresses getting a large bite of cinematic history thanks to the over-active hormones of some otherwise legendary directors. Sandhya was V Shantaram's muse and Priya Rajvansh, as we know, Chetan Anand's. But Kalpana Kartik is different. She was not the muse of any of the great directors she worked with, Dev Anand gives no indication of her even being his 'produceral' muse . (the only real muse Dev Anand has ever had as a producer-director is himself), talent she lacked in great quantities, yet she managed to garner such an enviable booty!
To prove my point I showcase ten gems that will ensure Kalpana Kartik a permanent place under the sun. If this is not 'Luck by Chance' what else is?
Click on the links to view the songs on youTube
1. Phaili Hui Hain Sapno Ki Baahen (House # 44) - This song arguably is the finest effort from the SDB-Lata team. If I were Ms Kartik I would be honored to be within sniffing distance of this song. And she actually had the song created for her!. Though most people who have watched this song wish they had never seen it. Her PT exercises tell you that some people stretch their luck too far. In his auto-biography Dev Anand mentions of hallucinating about his wife singing this song in a far away meadow long after the romance had gone out of their life.
2. Aakhon Mein Kya Ji (Nau Do Gyarah) : A fine Asha-Kishore duet from the pen of Majrooh Sultanpuri, this is a sizzler. The chemistry between Dev Anand - Kalpana Kartik on screen and Kishore - Asha off screen sizzles as does the chemistry between Dada Burman and Majrooh Saab in the music room.
3. Aaja Panchhi Akela Hai (Nau Do Gyarah): When it comes to Nau Do Gyarah, the choice between the duets is always a difficult one. If we have a vibrant Kishore-Asha in one end we have this extremely cute Rafi-Asha duet on the other side. Dada Burman shows another ace up his sleeve.
4. Kali Ke Roop Mein (Nau Do Gyarah) : Even though this duet is lesser known, it is not any less of a delight. With a deft picturisation by Vijay Anand and spirited performance by Dev Anand and Kalpana Kartik, the duet is a joy to watch. Majrooh saab is cheeky and classy all at the same time.
5. Dhalki Jaaye Chundariya (Nau Do Gyarah) : Even though this song does not get that much air-time, it is a good candidate for the best songs that Dada Burman ever composed for Asha. With beautiful sitar interludes interspersed with whistling, the song is breezy and extremely romantic. Vijay Anand’s picturisation plays on the romance between the newly married Dev Anand and Kalpana Kartik making the song extremely endearing.
6. Peeche Peeche Aake (House # 44): A lovely and breezy Hemant-Lata duet that is a quiet winner.
7. Teri Duniya Mein Jeene Se (House #44) : No Hemant Kumar list could be complete without this song. Hemantda at his swoony best, the little humming by Asha in the beginning is picturized on Kalpana Kartik
8. Jaayen to Jaayen Kahan (Taxi Driver): The crowning glory of the Taxi Driver score that got SD Burman his first Filmfare award. The Talat version is the more famous one, but the Lata one endures (in my opinion ofcourse). Ms Kartik, does an adequate job with the on-screen depiction. 'Adequate' was actually her keyword. It worked well for Dev Saab as well, since it did not take the focus off him.
9. Aaj Ki Raat Piya (Baazi) : Tender and romantic, sung by a young Geeta Roy. This song is from Baazi a film that not only launched many faces, but also launched many romances. Guru Dutt and Geeta Roy behind the screen and Dev Anand and Kalpana Kartik in front.

10. Ghanshyam ke hain ghanshyam nayan (Aandhiyan) : Even though this song and the film have disappeared from public memory, the vintage film buff still holds the soundtrack in very high regard. One of the two forays of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan in film music (the other being Humsafar, also featuring Kalpana Kartik) the music befits the legendary status of the ustaad. This song is sung by Lakshmi Shankar and the beautiful lyrics are by Pandit Narendra Sharma. Ghanshyam ke hain ghansyam nayan, man mora bana man mor sakhi - only Narendra Sharma could write lyrics like these.

See Also

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A New 'Bond'

Note : This review was started in November when I saw the film.

So there I have finally met him!

I met Bond, James Bond. Yes, I am talking of Daniel Craig, the (not so) new James Bond. After somehow missing 'Casino Royale' I watched the latest Bond flick - 'Quantum of Solace'over the week-end. I know talking about the 'newness' of a James Bond after he is two films old is a crime punishable by unmentionable torture by card carrying Bond club members. [Psst..The best way to achieve that would be to subject the defaulter to a sustained dose of our desi bond, Himesh Reshamaiyya....But I shall keep quiet. Self preservation after all wins over any lure of adulation for a brilliant idea!].

As is apparent, I am not a card carrying Bond club member. I do not have any childhood or adolescence memories of being in love with James Bond. Strangely, I have no childhood memories of Bond at all!. This could be attributed to the fact that we were dependent upon Doordarshan for our dose of vintage cinema and there was no way Doordarshan would show James Bond. As you would guess, he was a little too hot for the safari-suit clad, pan-chewing babus who populated the hallways of this erstwhile monument of socialism. DD had a marked preference for the Hollywood that was sanitized and censored.

Ok, let me confess, I do have a childhood memory of Mr Bond, but it is of the slightly disturbing variety. Mr Uppal, our rotund physics teacher was a terror to those who harboured a devilish streak. He was 4 feet 4 inches high, well-rounded from all angles and it was with an exaggerated air of self-importance that he would rest his pot belly on the desk to expound on the theory of relativity. Whenever he strutted down the hallowed corridors of our alma-mater the class would break into a chorus -  'ding... di ding... di ding...di ding'.. the James Bond signature tune. So profound was the effect of this Uppalomania that even today when I hear the strain of the famous tune I get visions of a 4 by 4 sardar with a wobbling belly and steely eyes striding down a narrow corridor.....

Returning to the present, watching James Bond is a relatively new phenomenon in my life.  'The World is Not Enough' was the first real James Bond film I watched and needless to say Pierce Brosnan is the next best thing after the Greek Gods. (Wait, lets strike out the 'Greek Gods' part and put Dev Anand in instead... yes, sounds better!).  Following on the heels of  'The World is Not Enough', HBO went through a phase of Bond-o-mania and I fresh with Brosnan-o-mania updated myself with all the old Bond movies in a single marathon session that lasted about a week or ten days.  It was a memorable experience and resulted in some lasting impressions. The more persistent of those impressions are reproduced below. Some of them admittedly are established notions about the genre and life as such.

1. James Bond is the male equivalent of a chick-flick. He was created to fuel the adolescent male fantasy.

2. The target audience is the 16 year old male.

3. The direct inference from #2 is that its target audience are all men since men never proceed beyond the mental age of 16.

4. Sean Connery, supposedly the most dashing of them all was nothing but a hep 'Uncleji'. We have seen many of his type in India, esp. when we were growing up. Remember the neighbourhood uncle who still wore checked trousers in the 80s?.

5. Timothy Dalton looked like Anil Kapoor without a moustache (and no that's not a compliment)

6. Roger Moore.. Yawn.

7. George Lazenby... who?

8. James Bond films became 'chick-worthy' only after Pierce Brosnan.

9. James Bond films started losing their teeth with the end of the cold war.

I know #8 and #9 somewhat contradict each other. There is the need to have Bond move with the times and cater to it's alterted audience base and yet remain faithful with what we identify as James Bond, a creature that thrived in a world fighting the cold war. This contradiction is the greatest dillema of the Bond brand in the new millennium

As the credits of Quantum of Solace start rolling this dichotomy presents itself in bold font. The titles flash in the retro seventies format with psychedelic shapes and colours consuming the vision. They all seem to have been lifted off old covers of Fleming's books. The link with the Bond heritage is firmly established. In case you choose to be thick, then the persistent signature tune will surely hammer in the fact that this is not just any film that you are about to watch, it is THE James Bond. But it takes just ten minutes and two thrilling chases into the film and you are already debating over the significance of Bond in this new world.

Even though Ian Fleming drew his inspiration from the second world war spy networks for creating Bond, by the time Agent 007 came of age the world was a strongly polarised place. In the bi-polar world the lines were clearly drawn.  Mr Bond and his entourage were placed squarely on the western side of the Iron Curtain and strange accented Russians were the staple villains from the other side.  In the cold war between communism and capitalism, the flashy capitalist gadgets were the heroes of the day.  It was a simple good vs evil tale, that found it's heroes and villains within the given world order. That has been James Bond's modus operandi from time immemorial. But then came Perestroika and with it fell the greatest bastion of communism. With the disintegration of USSR and the fall of the Berlin wall the world suddenly, was not the place it used to be. KGB lost it's edge and the Russians switched to queing for their daily bread instead of procuring latest missile technology. The enemy had fallen and with it fell the teeth of the Bond Brand leaving behind a doddering geriatric whose dentures simply couldn't bite any longer.

The challenge for the new age Bond writers has been double-edged. In the new free world, they have to find a villain that is evil and dangerous enough to be worthy of being a Bond villain. And at the same time they had to upgrade James Bond from the rake of the sixties to a man of today.  Both daunting tasks for they call for shaking the very foundation of the house of Bond. The writers decided to undertake the latter job first.  With the dawn of the millennium we saw subtle changes in Bond films. The Bond girl no longer remained the grand and celebrated bimbette. Along with the staple dose of bust and butt she slowly started showing traces of a third 'B' factor - the brain!  In the same vein Bond started softening. Pierce Brosnan falling in love with Elektra was the first indication of the change to come.  In the Brosnan era, the changes were subtle and limited. It needed a complete overhaul to make Bond a man of the millennium. That overhaul happened with Daniel Craig. And how!

I shall resist from the temptation of going into the details of the 'how' part of it. Partly because realms have already written about it and partly because if I start down that path then there is the danger of my nicely academic tone changing into a gushing torrent of adulation. Needless to say the overhaul of James Bond has been an astounding success. Daniel Craig is a man of today. He has all the vintage Bond genes and with it he brings a complexity and emotional intensity that is spanking new.  He falls in love, pines for a woman lost and shows a Heathcliff like intensity as he comforts a dying associate in his arms. He then shows a Heathcliff like detachment as he chucks the corpse of the same man he comforted a minute ago into a garbage dump with a crisp - 'He wouldn't have minded'. The new Bond does every thing that was an anathema to the old Bond and he does it with a panache that would put the the old Bond to shame!

If 'Casino Royale' focused on reinventing James Bond himself, 'Quantum of Solace'  had the onus of finding him a worthy adversary.  And unwittingly (I say unwittingly because I assume the film was scripted atleast a year before it was released), the writers hit jackpot. Released barely a month after the epoch-making events on wall street, Quantum of Solace has aligned with a new world ethos. As the giants of wall-street fall like nine-pins, the bankers come under flak for extravagant lifestlyes, global-warming and resource management become a world concern,  a new president has created history in USA.  Here is a president who is clearly centre-left in his ideologies, so much so that he is often accused of being a soclialist.  Suddenly capitalism has come under siege in the very place that was the strongest bastion of the ideology. The bewildered world seeks a new order.  

In this climate it is an interesting co-incidence that the Bond villain is the ruthless capitalist who monopolises the natural resources of a land for his personal gains. For long it is being said that the next world war would be fought over water. There is a sudden panic against scenarios where the world's resources would fall into the hands of exploitative capitalists. The virtues of socialism are suddenly in vogue and there is a return to the socialist bent in thinking. In a grand reversal of roles Mr Bond and Mr Villain have exchanged spots. Naked capitalism has moved to the evil side of the fence and 007 now speaks with a socialist accent. Truly phenomenal!

But wait, if you think that all the great things mentioned about Quantum of Solace end up in making a great film, please disabuse yourself of the notion right now. The film is a complete wash out and a total waste of time. It is an opportunity lost. For a film that had everything going for it - good idea , great cast, how did that happen?  Well, it is simple - there is a fine line between building a brand and falling to a cliché. The makers in an over zealous attempt to build the brand strayed deep into the latter territory. The latest Bond flick proves to be grand collection of clichés. It is a true tick-mark effort. A thrilling chase - tick, interesting gadgets - tick, encounter with beautiful girl - tick, sadist villian -tick, grand locales - tick. Get the drift? There is no script to talk about or maybe there was one to begin with, but the script writer lost his way counting tick marks. 

Yet, it is not these clichés that are the real failing of this film. What this Bond venture is missing is a belief in itself. The old Bond films were replete with what we call cliches today but they seemed to genuinely believe in whatever they did. It is because of this acute lack of conviction that this film, ends up being a grand, lavishly mounted caricature of the genre. Yes, Quantum of Solace is not James Bond film.  It is a spoof. Let us just strike it off the list of James Bond films and wait for next one!


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