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40 Retakes


Films that deserve a second chance
SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | Issue Dated: February 23, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : 40 Retakes | Avijit Ghosh | Hindi films | Bollywood Classics | S.S. Vasan | Mr Sampat | Gulaal | Antardwand |

Selecting only 40 Hindi films that are lost in the mist of time could not have been a cakewalk. But reading 40 Retakes – Bollywood Classics You May Have Missed – is a breeze. The list may be debatable but the intention of the exercise certainly isn’t.

Among the titles that author Avijit Ghosh has cherry-picked for salvaging from oblivion are films that have been all but forgotten after being feted, if only briefly, in their time as well as ill-timed releases that came and went without making so much as a blip on the Mumbai showbiz radar.

This list has several films (like Awtar Krishna Kaul’s 27 Down) that have rarely been seen since they went out of circulation, except by a loyal band of cineastes whose commitment to the output of Hindi cinema before it was swamped by Bollywood remains unwavering.

Awtar Kaul died in an accident within a week of 27 Down being adjudged the best Hindi film of 1973 at the National Awards. Who knows what heights the maker of this bright little gem of the parallel cinema movement would have achieved had he lived longer.

This book is in many ways actually an overview of some of the biggest and most poignant ‘tragedies’ of Hindi cinema history. It is littered with stories of missed opportunities, of the vagaries of popular tastes, of inopportune projects, and of films that came well before their time and suffered the fate reserved for entertainment rule-breakers.

Every Hindi film that has slipped through the cracks in the 80-odd years that speaking, singing and dancing Indian cinema has been around has a tale of its own and Ghosh captures them with critical acumen and empathy. The forty write-ups here are pithy and sharp, making this a great book to curl up with irrespective of who you are -- a trivia-loving lay filmgoer or a serious student of the medium.

The book begins with S.S. Vasan’s Mr Sampat (1952), which had Motilal at his very best, and Zia Sarhady’s Footpath, a barely remembered left-leaning film which saw Dilip Kumar in top form. And it ends with Anurag Kashyap’s Gulaal (2009) and Sushil Rajpal’s Antardwand (2010). Interestingly, though separated by several decades, all these four films have a strong political core and are trenchant critiques of all that is wrong with this nation. So, is there a conspiracy at work here?  

In between, the book recalls 36 more “Bollywood classics you may have missed”, many of which either cannot be regarded as ‘classics’ or aren’t quite representative of the catch-all ‘Bollywood’ label. Ghosh clearly leans towards films that defied the norms of mainstream cinema, always at their own peril, but he does not ignore movies that were essentially aimed the front-benchers.  

On the one had are titles like Basu Chatterjee’s Sara Akash, Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Dastak, Govind Nihalani’s Aghaat, Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Naseem and Shyam Benegal’s Hari Bhari, on the other films like the C-grade spy movie CID 909 (starring Feroz Khan and Mumtaz), the Harmesh Malhotra thriller, Gaddar and the suspense drama Yeh Raat Phit Na Aayegi.

An aside: talking of Feroz Khan, wouldn’t the Narender Bedi- directed Khotey Sikkay, for all its obvious flaws, have been an apt inclusion? Released in 1974, it was probably Mumbai’s first curry western and provided the template that Ramesh Sippy’s timeless Sholay built upon.  

It is just as well that Ghosh has clubbed deeply personal films with markedly less highbrow movies because in the new millennium the line dividing the two spheres have blurred. In revisiting films that have dropped out of the collective consciousness, what Ghosh essentially does is celebrate Hindi cinema in all its variety.

This isn’t merely a recap of the tales that are up there on the screen. 40 Retakes is replete with interesting anecdotes about and behind the making of these films, culled out from interviews with directors, screenwriters and actors.

These are films that definitely deserved better, but not all great films have the good fortune to receive their due when it really matters. Each one, like Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool (which, mercifully, isn’t a forgotten film), was made with passion and diligence in the hope of attaining box office success.

But several films like Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Haasil and Manish Gupta’s The Stoneman Murders, have acquired a life of their own outside of the conventional distribution system, thanks to their online fan base and steady video rentals.

If you haven’t seen Jaideep Verma’s remarkably well-scripted Hulla or found Shimit Amin’s Rocket Singh too drab, do read 40 Retakes. You might begin to see these two films in a completely new light. And you’d be so much the richer for it.

Author : Avijit Ghosh
Publisher : Tranquebar
EDITION: Paperback
ISBN: 978-93-83260-31-7
PAGES: 297
PRICE: Rs 395

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017