Sunday, March 04, 2007

FLASHBACK TO THE 50s (PART IV)
AFSANA (1951)


It was while searching for Ashok Kumar starrers that I stumbled upon this oldie. But a few reels into the movie and the plot began to look vaguely familiar. Now a 1951 film can be a lift off from an older work, but my chances of having seen that original would be pretty remote. As things stand, my ten digits are sufficient to keep track of all the 50s films I've seen. For pre-50s, an ape hand would suffice.

If it wasn't an earlier version could it be a later one. It was, as I soon remembered.

Two decades after its release, Afsana went the way of many Bollywood films, that is to say it was recycled or remade. Called Dastaan in its new avatar, it, unlike other remakes, kept the plot and scenes almost unchanged. The new name, too, was a mere word play on the older one. Afsana, a Urdu word means a tale or a story as does Dastaan. The deja vu I felt was on account of having seen the remake many years ago.

Watching an original and a remake offer a marvelous opportunity to see first hand, the changes in styles of acting and film making in the intervening years. This is especially true if much has happened in those years that have shaped the entertainment industry. A peek at the Devdas series from Pramathesh Barua to SRK via Dilip Kumar can articulate the story of a voyage in film making better than any tomes on the history of the celluloid ever could.

Hindi Cinema of the early 50s carried many elements of the earlier decades. And Afsana was no exception. First, there was extreme awkwardness in all matters related to any emotion. Also the 30s and 40s had made it almost mandatory for the lead pair to look extremely uncomfortable with each other. This translated to zilch chemistry. Obviously there wasn't too much romance and passion on display; but even when there were such moments, the dialogues stumbled out of the actors' mouths as though the sole purpose of their existence was to be gurgled off at the first opportune moment. A fine example of this would be our own Dadamoni, Ashok Kumar singing Mein baan Ki Chiriya to Devika Rani in Achyut Kanya while both dangled from the branch of a tree.

And yet, decades later the same actor showed his fine mettle in an array of films. Whether he played the husband in the romance triangle of Gumrah, or the father in Mili or the aging grandfather in Satyakam, Ashok Kumar could always be depended upon to give a splendid performance.

Aside from the lead actor, the female counterparts in Afsana were endowed with a liberal dash of histrionic incapability. Then, came the bane of the 40s. The nasal tone. Watching this combination today, it is hard not to be amused by the scenes that were meant to be melancholic. When the small boy who grows to be Ashok Kumar is lost in a mela, or when he grows up to find his wife cheating on him; situations that could cull some empathy from the audience then, can merely garner a chuckle now.

In contrast to the gawkiness in acting, the fashion sense was fairly good. This is especially true of the women who, thanks to the styles of the day, were bequeathed with a timeless ageless look (if anyone's seen pics of Maharani Gayatri Devi of the 1930s, you'll get what I mean). In Afsana, both heroines wore short styled hair, exquisite jewelery, well cut clothes; an ensemble that wouldn't be out of place even today. This, however, is not surprising, as the trend for style in Indian cinema goes back earlier. As early as late 1930s, when Himangshu Rai had cast women in unconventional roles that demanded well cut and designed dresses with stylish accessories that were far beyond the times.

Cut to the story. Twin brothers (played by Ashok Kumar and Dilip Kumar double roles in the original and remake respectively) get separated in childhood in a mela. The twins have a friend in a small girl (played by child artiste Tabassum) who in a precocious form of Sati Savitri-esque is devoted to one of the twins. To make recognition easier, there is the birth mark on only one of the brothers. The lost twin ends up as a judge (he has also lost his memory in the meantime so he doesn't know where he comes from and who is pining for him) while the twin at home is a rich businessman. Tabassum grows up to be the actress Veena (Sharmila Tagore in the remake), singing and playing melancholic music for her lost love (lost twin) while the twin at home nurses a soft corner for her. Fates change and the lost twin and the pining girl get to meet whereupon she recognizes him from his birth mark. Songs and tears later, amnesia finally leaves him but there is still the business of sorting out his other life where he has a wife. To make matters easy this is an unfaithful wife who is cheating behind his back with a friend. Eventually justice is served and the good twin gets the pining girl.

Two decades later (decades that had seen more realistic acting, more melodrama, better camera work), the remake fares better than the original. For one, there is visible chemistry between the lead pair, Dilip Kumar and Sharmila. The pace is faster, the fight sequences are well shot and the sets are more convincing without the cardboard moons for the lovers to serenade. Taking advantage of all the realism (!!) Sharmila and Dilip Kumar actually do a good job of pretending to be in love and have some human rather than wooden moments. Obviously there is some excess in every department, so an overabundance of tears ensues with sudden bursts of music to underscore the high points of melodrama, just in case you miss it.

7 Comments:

Blogger Shreemoyee said...

Very nicely done again. Can I request a review on Half Ticket?

7:52 PM  
Blogger shampa said...

shreemoyee, you warm the cockles of my heart :-)))
will write on half ticket, if i can lay my hands on it.

4:53 AM  
Blogger Shreemoyee said...

I am going to link to this post on my blog, the 50s series is pretty interesting.

2:46 PM  
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