Thursday, 3 October 2013

Kohraa and more…..

I am very sorry for this long gap, I was busy with some activity and also spent considerable time  digging up stuff for this post.

If you are wondering why the title Kohraa and more….? You see, as I was watching Kohraa once again, I could not help but think that my father had a very expressive face and also very expressive eyes so I thought why limit this post to Kohraa, let me dig deep and look at his other black and white films too (I am restricting this post to his black and white films) some of which sadly sank at the box-office.

 So far I have discussed my father as well as other aspects of cinema – it was a film appreciation of sorts, but yes I do concede that the appreciation was restricted to my father’s films. However in this post, I am taking the liberty of appreciating  my father’s art. September 14th was my father’s 85th birth anniversary, so I think it is okay for a daughter to pay a tribute to her father’s talent and art. I would like to add here that my observations are of course personal, you may or may not agree with me but all the same I thought I will share them with you.

I was little more than a kid when my father passed away, therefore I did not have the maturity to understand the difference between good and bad acting. It was after my father passed away and I grew up that I began to appreciate acting and cinema in general. As I watched my father’s films I noticed two things, his versatility when it came to emoting, his varied expressions and his impeccable dialogue delivery. His enunciation and pronunciation of each Hindi and Urdu word was spot on.

In Kohraa (produced by music director Hemant Kumar) his role was small and not that crucial to the story, and yet he left an impact with his expressions and wild laughter indicative of a mentally unstable man. Kohraa was based on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca but was adapted to suit Indian sensibilities. In the novel there was a character by the name of Ben and my father’s character was based on this character. In the book Ben is just a fleeting character but in the film the role was lengthened a bit.

In sharp contrast to Kohraa's mentally unstable man, he played the villain's crooked henchmen with finesse in  Farrar which was also produced by Hemant Kumar. This film  starred Bengal's Anil Chatterjee with Shabnam. When I saw the film's CD at a book store, I grabbed it, although the film by itself is not that great I liked my father very much in this one.

What struck me was he did not resort to any gimmicks, my father just relied on his expressions, he refrained from using any gimmicky or irritating mannerisms. He had been advised by a few people to take on some mannerisms while playing the villain but my father refused; his contention was that in real life do bad people always have some mannerism?

My father effectively used his eyes and face to give varied expressions, from that of a mentally unstable man,  to a henchman, he could play the ruthless villain with absolute ease. I have dwelt at length on one such film and that is Benazir but there was another film- another Muslim social- Shama starring Suraiya, Nimmi and Vijay Dutt (here is the link to the entire film).

  My father played Dilawer, Suraiya’s elder brother, a decadent man pretending to be a civilized and decent man but who in a reality is a womanizer very much at ease spending his nights with the courtesans of Lucknow. Nimmi played the title role. She is an orphan and  Parvez's (Vijay Dutt) parents (Mumtaz Begum and Kumar) take her in, while living with them she falls in love with Parvez., Parvez on the other hand has lost his heart to Roshan Ara (Suraiya). While this love triangle is being played out, Dilawer (my father) sees Shama (Nimmi) and loses his heart to her. Being an evil man he decides to kidnap her but his henchmen mistakenly kidnap his own sister. Brother and sister are both shocked to see each other and the sister after lashing out at her brother comits suicide. A stunned Dilawer who till then was a man in complete control of every situation, is completely shaken at this sudden turn of events and slowly loses his mental equilibrium. I was bowled over by my father’s performance. It is unfortunate that I do not have the film’s DVD, so I could not get the screen shots and the results of the screen shots from the online version were not satisfactory, all I have is the above still from our personal collection.  Sadly  some portions towards the end have been snipped in the online version, the impact of my father’s performance is therefore diluted.

Shama bombed at the box-office because both Nimmi and Suraiya had reached the fag end of their respective careers-- if I am not mistaken Shama was Suraiya's last film. Both Nimmi and Suraiya looked much older than my father, besides Suraiya had also gained weight. The film’s leading man Vijay Dutt whose actual name was Vijay Bhatt also did not click with the audience. The songs composed by Ghulam Mohammed were beautiful. Although I could never relate to Noor Jehan’s voice, I personally love Suraiya’s sweet voice; these two songs from the film are really beautiful mast aankhon mein shararat and dhadakte dil ki.

Another film where my father played the heartless villain was Anokhi Raat.  Here he was a very rich  middle aged man who has set his sights on young Rama (Zahida). The ruthless man that he is, he takes advantage of the fact that Rama’s grandfather (Badri Prasad) is deep in debt, so he insists on marrying Rama, so that the grandfather doesn’t have to auction off his property and valuable antiques. It is while they are discussing and arguing about all this on a stormy night that a dacoit (Sanjeev Kumar) barges into their home. Earlier in the evening an artist (Ajay Sahani) also seeks shelter in this home. The film was not what the story promised to be, Asit Sen who had directed such wonderful films like Mamta, Khamoshi and Safar appeared to have lost his touch, and the fact that film was in black and white when most films were being made in colour did not help matters.

Yet there were flashes of Sen’s earlier brilliance, the low angled shots and tight close-ups so typical of Asit Sen and with the help of which he captured my father’s villainous expressions were very much on display in the film.

Interestingly my father in real life was the exact antithesis of these characters. In real life he was just the opposite, he had so much of fatherly affection towards anybody be it  a man or woman. Anybody who was younger to him found in him either an elder brother or a father figure.

While he looked perfectly heartless as the villain, I felt my father was able to play the heart-broken man with complete sincerity.  I have watched many actors in such roles, but personally I always felt that their emotion was only on the surface but in case of my father he genuinely looked heartbroken, a defeated man full of despair. One such film was Jyot Jale in which he played an alcoholic who is thrown out by his wife (Nirupa Roy). You can see his expression of despair in the stills below.

There was another film Begaana, starring Dharmendra and Bengal’s top leading lady Supriya Chowdhury. My father was not too enthusiastic about this role, he didn’t even bother to see the film after it was released, he did it because he was being paid good money. However when I saw the film on Doordarshan, I really loved him for here one got to see how affectionate a man he really was, his interaction with the child artiste is really endearing (see the clip below).

Finally a few words about his dialogue delivery. People generally make fun of Bengalis and South Indians and most of those who do so themselves do not pronounce Hindi or Urdu words correctly. I noticed that my father was among the few actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar (I am no Dilip Kumar fan but I do concede his pronunciation is faultless) whose pronunciation was impeccable. For instance if you hear his dialogue in this scene from Bandini (see clip below), you will notice how he pronounces the words charitra and bhagya, most people get it wrong. He gets that short ri of charitra just right.

I started with Kohraa so before I go to my trivia section let me talk about my favourite scene from Kohraa, those who have read my guest posts on Memsaabstory will have a fair idea of which scene I am referring to. In this scene the director Biren Nag makes good use of silence to create the required impact. The scene begins with Waheeda Rehman searching for her dog, as she walks into a rundown cottage looking for her dog, the silence is broken by the sound of an empty bottle of alcohol rolling down the stairs, curious, she climbs up the stairs only to be well….. I will stop now while you watch the clip below. This scene made a huge impact on the audience and well the impact was not just on the audience, but also on my father, however that goes into my trivia section.


While watching the film during its premiere my father himself was startled by his sudden laughter so much so that he involuntarily caught my mother’s hand which my mother had placed on the hand rest between them. He was sheepish at his own reaction. I have also heard that a producer-director’s daughter who was also at the premiere fainted while watching this scene.

My father was one of those parents who liked to share everything with their children and also expose them to the various aspects of their professional lives. Those were the days when the film industry did not have the benefit of technology, it was a different ball game altogether. There was an important scene in Kohraa, that of a car sinking into a pond. The pond is apparently in a remote place surrounded by tall grass and bushes. An indoor set was erected for what was supposed to be an outdoor location. My father specially took my brother to see the shooting of that scene (see above), my brother who was just a little boy then, he still has some fond memories of that shoot.

I had accompanied my parents to Ashok Kumar’s daughter Roopa’s marriage reception- she married Deven Verma- and there I saw my father whispering something into Agha’s ear, Agha and my father worked together in Begaana. I saw Agha playfully hitting my father and my father having a good laugh. I was curious and I wanted to know what was all that about, my father said that he and many others in the industry would tease Agha by calling him Aghada. Now da is short for dada which in Bengali  means elder brother. When added to Agha it could also mean aa gaddha meaning come donkey, so naturally Agha would get irritated though I noticed his anger was mock anger.

A few days ago we bumped into Parikshit Sahani who started his film career with Anokhi Raat. He took the screen name Ajay Sahani for this film. He continued with this name for a few more films before going back to his original name Parikshit or Parikshat (I do not know exactly how he spells it) Sahani. I read somewhere that this name Parikshit was given to him by Rabindranath Tagore thanks to his father Balraj Sahani's association with Shantiniketan and Tagore. When we saw Parikshit Sahani we decided to introduce ourselves, I confess that I had some ulterior motive for doing so, for I wanted to know what memories he had of my father. He was very happy to get to know us and he said that while shooting for Anokhi Raat he was absolutely clueless about acting for he had just returned from Russia where he was learning film-making; acting was not on his mind. He said that it was dad and Sanjeev Kumar who kept encouraging him and assuring him that he would be fine and will get it right after the initial hiccups.

In Anokhi Raat you see some antiques which are to be auctioned off by Zahida's grandfather, these I have heard were not fake but the real antiques from the film's producer's personal collection.(see the clip below).

Those of you who have seen Anokhi Raat will remember  this character who is one of the villains who rape Sanjeev Kumar's newly wedded wife (Zahida in a double role).

Vinod Sharma
This gentleman is Vinod Sharma, he was what nowadays is known as a Radio Jockey, he was also seen in commercials of the eighties, well-known among them is this ad Jo Biwi Se Kare Pyaar Woh Prestige Se Kaise Kare Inkar.  He is the one who delivers the line "jo biwi se...". You see an older version of Mr Sharma in the ad.  Besides that, his is the voice you hear in the song Jhoomka Gira Re saying Phir Kya Hua.

Since I am discussing my father's black and white films, here is another bit of trivial incident which may interest you. I would like to share it because I found it quite funny. My father did a cameo in the Ashok Kumar-Nanda-Dharmendra starrer Akash Deep. He didn't want to do it but it was one those roles which actors usually end up doing because of the relationship they have with the producer or director. In the clip below my father is seen with his eyes closed, he is supposed to be drunk and just a few minutes away from death. While shooting this scene my father actually dozed off because he was absolutely exhausted those days shooting night and day.


If you are wondering why Anupama does not feature in this post, after all it is a black white film and nobody has forgotten that last expression on  my father’s face,  I thought Anupama deserves a separate post and it will also be this blog’s grand finale. I wanted to save the best for the last. My next post will be on some of my father’s colour films along with some more anecdotes.


  1. Ah, what a treasure trove of memories, Shilpi; this post was definitely worth waiting for.

    Yes, I remember gasping at that sudden appearance of your father in Kohra. I must admit I much preferred your father's gentler characters on screen.

    1. To be honest Anu I too liked to see him in positive roles, who likes to see their father play the evil man. Happy you liked the post Anu.

  2. Shilpi, at the risk of repeating myself, I'm going to again say how much I love reading your posts about your father (for me, a particular bonus here was the trivia about Anokhi Raat - it was among the first few films I reviewed on this blog, and I really liked your father's performance in it. He was so chillingly creepy!)

    1. Please do go ahead and repeat yourself, you are a writer, don't you like your readers telling you how much they love reading your novels or your blog posts? I just love it when all of you say how much you enjoyed the post. Yes Madhu dad was creepy in Anokhi Raat but sadly the film flopped and his performance went unnoticed.

    2. I have never been able to quite figure out why Anokhi Raat flopped. Yes, there was some melodrama in it in the latter half, but which Hindi film back then didn't have melodrama? And it had some very fine performances - your father and Sanjeev Kumar especially. Plus it had great music. But I suppose (as you mentioned) the fact that it was made in black and white might have been a factor...

    3. To be honest Madhu I did not much like the film I found that scenes where Aruna Irani and everybody are shown to be chatting with Sanjeev Kumar almost as if they are socializing quite silly, the film sort of was loosely scripted, it lacked tautness that was so essential for the film.

  3. Awsummm write up, thanks a load Shilpi, and esp about Vinod Sharma, never knew his real name, lagate raho, Ash

    1. Thanks Ash, I thought I will include that bit about Vinod Sharma.

  4. Excellent. I wish more people would come out and write such posts on how things were in those days of Indian Cinema.

    Sometimes I see a good scene in a film, and remind myself that it was shot years ago without the help of any technology, just sheer hard work and it shows how much those people LOVED cinema to be able to produce works like those.

    1. Yes Ava those people loved cinema and that the reason why I want to share all that I know, am real glad that you enjoy it. You are right more people should write such stuff every film has some interesting anecdote,

  5. You have mentioned about me going to see the shooting of Kohra with our father, I remember the day; I was studying in primary school then. There are a few details I would like to share. On reaching the set I found the place full of smoke, the smoke came from large receptacles holding burning coal and there were large fans blowing the smoke towards the ‘pond’ into which the car was to be pushed. The smoke was meant to simulate fog or ‘Kohra’ as the film was named. Father was keen that I see the car going down into the pond. The preparation for one of the shots, the one before the car actually went down, was taking a lot of time so I was sent to a makeup room where I was asked to wait.
    As I was hungry the production people ordered a light snack for me, I can never forget what I ate. It was actually a simple egg fry accompanied with two thick slices of bread, each slice had a very thick layer of butter (those days it was Polson’s Butter, it was tastier than any brand of butter available today), I never ate so much butter before in one sitting, the guy who applied the butter seemed to be extraordinarily generous; I thoroughly enjoyed my snack. While I was eating a lady in white dress entered the makeup room (there were no vanity vans then), looked at herself in the mirror and went away. I did not know who she was; I later knew that it was Waheeda Rehman.
    Since the sinking of the car was taking a lot of time and it was getting late, I was sent home; I only saw a few takes of two men trying to push the car, these were the production men who were hidden from the camera. I was slightly disappointed that I could not see the car actually sinking in the pond but I was at the same time relieved because I just couldn’t bear the smoke-filled set any longer.

    1. Thank you for sharing that! Such an interesting anecdote. :-) (And it reflects something I have believed for a long time now: that food tends to be preserved in very long-lasting memories).

    2. I am replying to this on behalf of my brother, he would have replied himself but he is a bit busy. He asked me to tell you that essentially we have always been foodies and maybe that's the reason why we also have a food blog. HA! HA!. BTW my brother still cannot forget the quantity of butter on those slices maybe because he has to be careful with that butter he is not getting younger now.

  6. Shilpi. I'd read the post some days ago, but had to rush and then forgot to comment, but today I remembered I hadn't. :-)
    In a way it was a good thing, as I came back and read your brother's very interesting comment.
    The picture of the car being submerged must be the only piece available. Quite a relic.
    As always an engrossing read, Shilpi. And a satisfying dose of trivia.
    I'd forgotten about the sudden appearance of your father in the cottage in Kohraa, and was startled when I watched the clip. :-). I can imagine the effect on the big screen in a cinema hall.

    That's interesting about no one knowing who the muderer was in Gumnam by even the actors.
    WOW! Parikshit Sahni, named by Rabindranath Tagore! What an honour.I got a shock reading what you have reserved for the grand finale. I know there would be one - but reading it brought the truth closer.
    But you'll start writing something else filmy. won't you? Please do.

    1. Thanks for this wonderful comment Pacifist. Yes like you said this blog has to end as my father had a short career of 15 years but yes about another film blog let's see my brother and I are planning something, let's see how it turns out.

  7. Kalakad Ganapathy14 January 2014 at 09:35

    A small correction, I think Suraiya's last movie was the 1963 release - where she played Prithviraj Kapoor's ladylove and Premnath's mother. I think it was called Rustom Sohrab. Suraiya lost interest in acting and so her growing fat was a deliberate attempt to quit movies altogether,

    1. As far as I know Shama was her last film, but you could be right for she may have signed Shama after Rustom Sohrab but the latter may have released later, like one of my father's old black and white film Umeed released long after my father passed away.