Manna from heaven

I know it’s a clichéd headline, but what else can you say for the owner of a made-in-heaven voice? For me, the essence of Manna Dey is captured in his two songs that are linguistically, musically and emotionally poles apart but cover two ends of the melody spectrum he ruled for nearly 50 years.

Manna-deyThe songs are Laga chunri mein daag and Coffee House er adda. The first is a masterly rendition of a classical-based playful number pulsating with energy that makes me go in a trance. The beautiful words penned by Sahir Ludhianvi is layered — naughty and philosophical at the same time.

At one level it is about a woman afraid of returning home with a stained chunri after a rendezvous with her lover. But at another level it says — “wo duniya mere babul ka ghar, ye duniya sasural” — and hence the stain on her chunri can also be compared to the worldly sins that stain one’s soul.

Sorry couldn’t help digressing there! But you only have to close your eyes and hear Manna unleash this torrential number now going berserk with the sargam and suddenly restraining with a tonal inflection bringing to life every poetic nuance of Sahir’s masterly woven lyrics.

And on the other end of Manna’s spectrum is the melancholic, pining-for-the-past melody Coffee House er adda. The song penned by Gauriprasanna Majumdar recounts the Coffee House days of seven friends, who sat over endless cups and cheap charminar cigarettes burning between their lips with dreams to make it big.

But life has taken a toll on them, DSouza is now dead, Amal is dying of cancer, Rama is in an insane asylum betrayed by his lover, Sujata is married to a rich man, Nikhilesh is in Paris and Moidul has gone back to Dhaka. The seventh friend is the unnamed narrator pining for the old carefree days of Coffee House.

There is not a time when I don’t get a lump in my throat listening to this song. The pain in his voice makes you die with DSouza, the guitarist of Grand Hotel, it makes you suffer as Amal, the failed poet, it makes you stare at nothingness like the insane Rama, the love less, failed actor.

I can imagine a concert tonight in heaven where Manna will join the already departed trio that made the famous quintet of Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore and Manna.

Manna in heaven, sing in peace.

PS: Uploading the two songs. Enjoy!

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Arey o Sambha!

The man had a streak of grey in his hairs even when he started off more than 40 years ago. That was the most striking feature of Mohan Makhijaney, who adopted the somewhat strange screen name of Mac Mohan.

He had been a constant presence in the films of the seventies and eighties as the villain’s henchman. Every Bollywood villain worth his smirk had Mac standing guard behind him.

Mac Mohan

Even the mighty Gabbar had Mac watching over his den in Sholay. Yes, playing  Sambha was the highlight of his career spanning more than 170 films in a host of languages, even English, Russian and Spanish.

I doubt if there’s a single Indian who has not heard of Sambha.

“Arey o Sambha, sarkar hum par kitna inam rakhi hai re?” Gabbar asks his trusted henchman perched atop a hillock with a .303 rifle by his side. Sambha replies: “Sardar purey pachhas hazar.”

This exchange between the dreaded dacoit Gabbar and his sidekick Sambha is probably the most popular dialogue of Hindi cinema.

It’s easy to dismiss Mac as an extra artist, but there was something about him that struck in the memories of all of us who have seen him over the years even if we barely remember any other dialogue he ever mouthed apart from the one in Sholay.

He continued to act for more than four decades ever since he debuted in Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat in 1964. In the 70s and 80s when a villain’s henchman’s chief requirement was a brawny look, Mac with his unimpressive lanky physique held his own and continued to be cast in these minor villain roles.

In a ruthless industry like Bollywood where one bad Friday could ruin the career of stars, Mac’s decades-long career deserves a special mention.

The ageless villain regretted the fact that despite being from a theatre background he was typecast as a baddie. But he was happy that he managed to stay in circulation for so long.

In an interview to The Hindu he revealed the secret of his longevity in the ruthless filmworld. “If I was not improvising and researching on my roles, I would not have been alive on the big screen for so long.”

He had made cameo appearances in dozens of blockbuster hits of Amitabh Bachchan and other superstars and I suspect those minor roles were written with Mac in mind.

So when I saw the TV ticker running the news of his death I immediately googled and ended up learning things that surprised me. His foray into Hindi cinema was not as an actor but as an assistant to none other than Chetan Anand.

He had come to Mumbai to be a cricketer not an actor but got involved in theatre and finally ended up in films.  There were other trivia like he was Sunil Dutt’s classmate in Lucknow and was the maternal uncle of actress Raveena Tandon.

But the most interesting bit of information came as a real surprise. Although, Sholay made him a household name, the film closest to his heart was another Bachchan starrer called Majboor.

In an interview to the Indian Express he says: “I played the villain opposite Amitabh Bachchan. For that role I completely did a makeover. I changed my look, my voice and even my dialogue delivery. It was my best.”

In an industry that has seen many a yesteryear actors even stars dying in penury and relegated to small briefs in newspapers, Mac in his death was able to make a splash in the media, if only because he played Hindi cinema’s most famous villain’s most famous sidekick — Sambha.

En-Chan-ting!

The best part of a Jackie Chan movie is when the credits roll. Oh no I’m not trying to make a nasty comment about his movies, in fact, it’s a compliment.

His movies entertain you even after it ends, till the last of the credits have rolled. You get to see the funny bloopers of Chan and his co-stars while they were canning the movie.

It has been the hallmark of his movies, especially for me. I love them, these bloopers leave me in splits every time. I like the Rush Hour movies. Chan and Chris Tucker are hilarious. Both get to mouth some really crazy dialogues.

Chan’s movies are a great stress-buster for me. After a hard day’s work in office if I get to catch one of his movies on TV nothing like it! It’s not that I wait eagerly for his movies or rent them, but I’m always pleased if I catch one of his movies on TV — then I don’t flip channels, mostly!

You get a good dose of bone-cracking martial arts and rib-tickling comedy.

He’s been one my favourites ever since I saw Armour of the Gods 2 as a senior-school student. This is the one in which the action takes place in a desert where he is searching for gold hidden by a Nazi commander with help of two pretty blondes. The movie was hilarious I was nearly ROTFL!

I still remember my grandpa calling out from the other room saying this guy has gone mad laughing so hard at the dead of the night.  But my guffawing ended only after the last of the credits had rolled. Even the bloopers were as funny as the movie itself.

I hear Chan is training Will Smith’s kid Jaden in Kung Fu for a remake of the 80s classic Karate Kid. This movie is also one of my favourites.

I loved Mr Miyagi — played by Pat Morita — the reclusive but loveable Japanese martial arts teacher who becomes a mentor to the Karate Kid. I wished as a kid that I had a Karate teacher like Mr Miyagi!

Wonder how Chan would be in Mr Miyagi’s role — will he make the serious Mr Miyagi smile?

The Father of Yin Hua

Amid the rising tension between India and China came a blink-and-miss news recently that Dr Kotnis has been voted among the top 10 international personalities who shaped China.

Dr Kotnis who?

I would have probably wondered myself had I not vaguely remembered watching a black & white movie on Doordarshan as a kid.

A hand-painted poster of the V. Shantaram classic.

It was called Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani. Some  grainy images flickered in my mind as I tried to recall but all I could remember was a man in a doctor’s coat trying desperately to save a soldier in a war setting. It must have been nearly 20 years ago that I saw the movie.

So I Googled and came up with some surprises. It was a pre-Independence movie made in 1946 scripted by the legendary Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and directed by another legend V. Shantaram. And, like most of his movies, Shantaram also played the lead — Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis.

This 28-year-old doctor was sent as part of a five-member medical team to China in 1938 during the Sino-Japanese war. Subhash Chandra Bose, the then Indian National Congress president, made arrangements for the team to be sent as a mark of solidarity from a nation struggling for its own freedom to another fighting an aggressor.

Dr Kotnis spent five years on various war fronts in China saving hundreds of soldiers. It is said that once he continuously operated upon wounded Chinese soldiers for 72 hours at a stretch.

Amid the frenzy of war, the good doctor also found time for love. He fell in love and married Guo Qinglan, a nurse who worked with him. A few months after a  son was born, Dr Kotnis died of epileptic seizure at the young age of 34.  The couple had named the baby boy Yin Hua (Yin for India and Hua for China in Mandarin).

Every year when the Chinese observe a festival remembering their ancestors, the grave of Dr Kotnis at a village in Hubei province, is covered with flowers.

They still remember their great Indian friend every year. Wonder how many of us Indians even know his name.

PS: Check out this link to know more about the Indian doctor who’s a legend in China:

http://www.china.org.cn/english/culture/141496.htm

Cinema, cinema

I love watching movies. Always have, for as long as I remember. I can watch any movie and enjoy it except for the ghost movies and some stupid superhero flicks.

When I was growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, Bollywood was probably going through its worst phase. The super heroes of Hindi cinema were getting older and to hold on to their careers they were starring in senseless potboilers peppered with mind-numbing action and stupid songs with pathetic dance sequences.

But I loved them. Growing up in a small town called Mughal Sarai near Varanasi, that was all you got those days. Cable television had yet to arrive so the two standalone cinema halls in the town were the only places of entertainment.

But even that was an occasional event. For, a 12-year-old kid wouldn’t be allowed to go for a movie alone or even with friends, you had to go with someone older than you. For me and my brother our uncle, who was twice my age, used to be our only hope.

Provided, he was in the mood to tag us along for a movie. And that happened only perhaps once in two or three months. So we had no option but to for the Sunday evening movies on Doordarshan even though they played old flicks from the sixties and seventies.

The most exciting parts of course were the action sequences that unfortunately came only in the last 20 mins when the hero would beat the villain to pulp and police would come only to say “you’re under arrest” to the villain who was by then half dead.

Slowly word started spreading that there was something called cable TV and if you got connection you could see as many movies as you like. I was told that there were channels that showed only movies throughout the day. And you even had English movie channels that showed movies of Hollywood stars you had only heard or read about.

Wow! That sounded so cool. Names like Stallone, Bruce Lee and Schwarzenegger (Arnold’s name I had heard for the first time from a friend who was bragging about having seen a movie called Terminator in Calcutta. But he couldn’t catch the  last name and called him ‘Swizenberger’ ) were filtering in through the grapevine. We couldn’t wait to get the cable connection.

But my parents obviously did not share our excitement. “Cable TV? Your board exams are only six months away,” my mother said, effectively putting an end to the conversation. However, there was a silver lining when after days of pleading she said, “Let your exams get over and if you score well, then we’ll see.”

That was enough motivation to take to studies with a religious zeal. Months passed, exams came and went, I did well despite many odds (a story for another time).

Then came the day we got our cable connection. A dream was fulfilled. Now I could see as many movies as I liked. But alas the Hollywood action flicks I used to dream about were not being shown. I checked the listings in the newspapers everyday and both Hindi & English channels were churning out duds (by my standards because they were not action flicks).

Finally after a few weeks I caught my first Bruce Lee film — “Enter the Dragon”. And my idea of an action film changed forever. Now all the punches of an ageing Dharmendra or Mithun Chakraborty couldn’t hold my attention. I had seen Lee in action.

Then one after the other came Rambo, Terminator, 36 Chambers of Shaolin the list was endless. Some I caught on TV some and on video cassettes (by then the only video shop in town was beginning to stock Hollywood flicks).

Years passed and I graduated to watching serious cinema both in Indian languages and world movies, but even now I feel as excited watching the reruns of those fantastic action flicks that blew me away from watching the tame stuff dished out by Bollywood.