Khoya Khoya Chand – The Lost Moon: The Cinema of Sudhir Mishra

Just when you were despairing that all the great directors were no longer exploring film language in Hindi cinema, along comes a classic! Khoya Khoya Chand  released in December 2007 with a highly accomplished cast of actors from Soha Ali Khan, Shiney Ahuja, Rajat Kapoor, Sushmita Mukherjee and Soniya Jehan,  the grand-daughter of the legendry Noor Jehan, shouts from the roof tops that all is not lost in Hindi cinema today. The film is produced by the legendry Prakash Jha. 

Sudhir Mishra has created a masterpiece of cinema in the true creative and artistic tradition of film making. And it does what it set out to do; to bring to the audience great actors and directors of the 50’s and 60’s film world in Hindi Cinema.

Shooting in the style of light and shade, akin to Guru Dutt’s cinema, Sudhir Mishra has created his own film language. Here he uses the camera effectively as an observer. Mishra lays out the narrative of Khoya Khoya Chand through an exploration of a classic love story between an actress, Nikhat played by Soha Ali Khan and a writer-director, Zafar, played by Shiney Ahuja. Many have written about the fact that perhaps it was the telling of the story of Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman’s  story love affair. Nikhat and Zafar’s coming to the industry are a form of escape and refuge; here Mishra employs great technique and vision of the black and white era where shadows are used colourfully to explore depth and emotions, life experiences and intellect of a character as was the norm within the works of Guru Dutt, Bimal RoyMehboob  to name a few.  Mishra uses these when focusing on the characters of Zafar, Nikhat and Prem Kumar, played by Rajat Kapoor.

Each character carries a multitude of shades and as the film progresses, the journeys and transitions forced upon them by the outside world bring to the foreground their darkness. Ultimately the film is about love, loyalty and passion, even within the perceived fickle world of film.

 

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Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam – Cinema of Guru Dutt

Starring Meena Kumari, Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, Sapru, Nair Hussain, Krishan Dhawan and Dhumal Mukund, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam is set in Bengal at the turn of the 19th century and tells the story of an aristocratic family on their way to ruin.

Meena Kumari plays Chhoti Bahu who is married to the youngest aristocrat in the family Chhote Babu, played by Rehman. Bhootnath, played by Guru Dutt enters this world of mystery, intrigue and crushing traditions. He lives with his uncle who teaches the children in the grand mansion. Bhootnath soon finds employment in a local factory that produces the bridal red powder to adorn the foreheads of women. There he meets Jabba, played by Waheeda Rehman, a confident daughter of factory owner played by Nazir Hussain. It is his employment in this factory that brings Bhootnath and Chhoti Bahu into close contact. Meeting with men outside of the family was forbidden and unheard of. 

Exquisitely lit, the film is photographed with his long time collaborator, V.K. Murthy and was made in 1962. Although the credit of director is given to Abrar Alvi, the visual language is that of Guru Dutt’s and many still argue to this day that in fact it was Guru Dutt who directed the film but gave credit to his friend.

Guru Dutt shows Meena Kumari’s character, Chhoti Bahu, spiral into an alcoholic when she tries to seduce her husband to stay with her which by default turns into love when Rehman, Chhote Babu, is left paralysed after a brutal attack over a quarrel about a prostitute.

Complex and layered, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam is told in flashback; when Bhootnath returns to the ruins of the grand mansion – he finds the remains of Chhoti Bahu, buried with all her jewellery. Guru Dutt shows us the stifling world of the aristocrats, their hedonisms, entertaining of prostitutes and gambling steeped in tradition, culture and machismo. He wanted to go beyond conventions and create daring work. He was forced to edit out a scene where a drunken Meena Kumari puts her head in the lap of Guru Dutt. Despite working in stifling conditions, he created a master peice.

 

Pyaasa – the cinema of Guru Dutt

An eternal thirst for love and fame. This is the subtext of one of the greatest films to come out of Hindi cinema. Produced in 1957 and directed by Guru Dutt, it remains a work that he is associated with. Incredible photography, capitalising on light and shade, Guru Dutt created a visual language instantly recognisable as his own.

Shot by V.K Murthy, his long time collaborator, Guru Dutt turned the elements of light and shade into a character – ever present, constantly signalling the impending doom of the characters.

Waheeda Rehman plays Gulabo, a prostitute that the estranged homeless poet Vijay befriends. They meet on a cool evening as the poet sits in a park, ‘passing’ his time. She sees him as a potential customer and lures him with a lyrical rendition ‘janey kay tuney kahi’ (perhaps it’s something you said, perhaps its something I said). These lyrics are what bind the two together, as Vijay confronts her and accuses her stealing his writing.

Mala Sinha plays Guru Dutt’s lost love and the incredibly talented and stunning Rehman plays a publisher, married to Mala Sinha.

Lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi and music by S.D. Burman has ensured that the songs are sung on the streets of India even today – nearly 50 years after the film was produced.

Sahir’s ‘janey woh kaisey log they jinkey’, ‘yeh mehlo, yeh takhton, ye tajon ki duyna’ and ‘jinhey naaz hai hind per woh kahan hain’ strike at the core of the Indian psyche.

Emotional, political, love-lorn, betrayed, ambition all plays a role in the extraordinary work. Guru Dutt uses the motif of the messiah here with acute vision – as Vijay walks away from the camera, a series of crucifixes appear; as Vijay sings in the company of poets, he stands draped in white with arms extended emulating the cross; Mala Sinha reads ‘Life’ magazine as her suspecting husband, Rehman, questions her about Vijay – the magazine cover has a crucifix on it – she holds it upside down, not reading but dreaming of Vijay, perplexed with her predicament. Finally Vijay is resurrected in a dramatic scene at the end as he comes back from the dead into a large hall commemorating his death, light streams through the back showing his body as a crucifix and of course, Gulabo is Mary Madeleine.

Ahead of its time, Pyaasa continues to intrigue and strike at the heart of films makers and viewers of Hindi cinema.

 

Kaagaz Key Phool – The Cinema of Guru Dutt

Re-visiting the cinema of Guru Dutt, you soon realise what an extraordinary visionary he was. From Pyaasa, Kaagaz Key Phool to Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, his work not only encapsulated the importance of a story but also reached technical heights.

Kaagaz Key Phool (Paper Flowers) made in cinemascope in 1959 is perhaps one of his most outstanding works after Pyaasa and Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam.

Starring Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, Veena, Johnny Walker, Mehmood and Tun Tun, the film was a milestone in Hindi cinema.

Suresh, played by Guru Dutt is a successful film director who can do no wrong. In a small town, on a stormy evening he meets Waheeda Rehman sheltering under a tree. This meeting is significant – here you see the kind of a man who lends a shivering Rehman his coat. She meets him again, when she is in the big city of Bombay looking for work. She seeks him out to return his coat and walks into a camera test. An extraordinary scene which perhaps today would be beyond the imagination of any director working in Hindi cinema -the simplicity and the naturalness of the sequence demonstrates Guru Dutt’s appeal.

By accident, Rehman has succeeded in completing a screen test and the hunt is on to find her and Suresh turns her into a star. Dramatic, visually striking and deep the vision of his work is relentless – there are no broad strokes here.

Lyrics by Kaifi Azmi – waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam, tum rahey na tum, hum rahey na hum (the passing of time has granted the beauty of pain, you have not remained yourself, I have not remained myself) and photography by V.K. Murthy, the film remains timeless. Amitabh Bachchan cites it as one of his all time favourite films.

As the story of their love affair develops, Suresh delivers work that fails at the box office. Coupled with the demise of the studio system and the passion and love for visually striking cinema, the director’s down fall is guaranteed.

Complex, moving, original and visually striking, Kaagaz Key Phool remains timeless.