Retrograde. Bamboozlement! More Bamboozlement!

Space City Sigma, 1989

A strange new deadly creature has sneaked aboard the ship. The latest maneuver of  Zakhakoo to take down Commander Tara and his city, the last hurdle to his plans of adding earth to his galactic kingdom and the universe. This time he sent a small Blob, strangely, much resembling a stinky wet Upla, a throbbing pack of  cow-dung . The Blob is given to jumps onto its unsuspecting victims and sucks the life force out of them. Soon, this 'death-on-contact-with-skin' creature starts making victims out of helpless citizens of the Space City who have no clue about the nature of these new deaths. As the word slowly spreads,there is mayhem, in this mayhem the Blob zeros in on what could be its most prized victim - Shakti. As a doors open (automatically, woosh-pause-woosh), Shakti walks in only to be attacked slyly by the Blob. In the manner of its previous killings, this time too, Blob goes for the face, sticking to the face of Shakti who for a moment seems to be in the grips of death itself. There is a struggle, but by now it has already dawned of the viewers - Blob stands no chance, this was a brilliant stroke of luck (or genius of its makers). Stupid Blob had gone for the metal half of Shakti's face. Shakti will survive and kill the Blob. Space City Sigma was safe again, Zakhakoo had again been defeated.

With the end of each episode, its young viewers would often run out of their homes singing a new ditty of unknown origins, 'Sigma Par Jayengay aur Zakhakoo Ki Khopdi kay Nimboo Nichodangay' (We will go to Sigma and maybe squeeze those lemons of Zakhakoo's skull)

First telecast on May 21, 1989, Space City Sigma marked Indian television's first foray into Science-Fiction. The inspiration was obviously Star Trek but instead of making a straight copy, it makers came up with 'Sci-Fi Soap-Opera'. Unlike Star Trek, Sigma had a villain and the story, each episode was woven around 'Good Vs Bad'. Interestingly its makers admitted to not targeting people who had already seen Star Trek, instead they were hoping to capture the imagination of small town audience.

The Plot:
Sigma, a space city (running on fusion energy) docked at a Galactic frontier, is the last stand of humans against an even more technologically superior alien race ruled by one ZhakhaKoo.

The crew of Sigma:
Commander Tara with Heeri

Commander Tara (Krishan Kant, from drama background, ran a theater group in Delhi called 'Sakshi'): the leader of Sigma. The Captain Kirk, but lot less melodramatic and more 'man-with-a-responsibility' kind.

Heeri and Shakti

Shakti (Sanjeev Puri, already worked in Ashok Talwar's 'Police File Se'): the Indain Mr. Spock, only a Cyborg and not an alien.
Heeri (must say looks totally space punk)

Heeri (Savita Bhatia, a familiar face on Doordarshan back then, had worked in serials like 'Tasveer Ka Dusra Rukh', 'Zindagi Zindagi' and India's first color serial- 'Dadi Maa Jagi' ): the beautiful communication officer.

Tiba (1. Mita Vashisht, went on to be quite famous, still into drama): the scientist who might be having a thing for Commander Tara.

Varey (2. Kishore Dang): the engineer who obviously has a thing for Heeri. His creation, the robot 'Gogo' is programmed to serve Heeri as its top priority mission.

Dr. Luka (3. Anand Sharma): the Doctor who often questions Commander Tara's leadership but is devoted to Sigma.

ZhakhaKoo (Shailendra Srivastava, still active in Bhojpuri Cinema): the humanoid-mad-scientist-alien having an ambition of dominating the universe.
Make-up session for ZhakhaKoo
Directed and Produced by Ashok Talwar and Bizeth Banerjee
It seems I still recall the 'Blob' episode of Sigma. I was seven and gowning up in Srinagar.

I recently managed to get my hands on a 1988 issue of 'The Weekly Sun' dedicated to Sigma (which hadn't yet hit the small screen, so this was more like a 'getting the word out' thing). The images (originally clicked by Naresh Suri  )  are from that issue. Enjoy! (No I don't think there is hope for a video.)

Vinod Khanna in Cinthol Ad

Vinod Khanna in Cinthol Ad, 1986.
 Men finally got a soap.
Only a decade earlier, in 1970s, Cinthol  'India's only deodorant soap' too was targeted at ladies.  


Azuri - First of the Dancing Sirens

Before Helen there was Cuckoo, and before Cuckoo there was a popular dancer on whom Cuckoo modeled herself, and her name was Azuri. This Anglo-Indian woman used to freelance for all the studios in the days  when the other popular dancer of that era Sunita Devi used to work with only Ranjit Movietone studio.

Some of her best work was in Gentlemen Daku (1937) and in Mehboob Khan's Watan (1938). Her only full starring role was in a film called 'Maya' in which she played the role of hero-chasing spoilt daughter of a rich man.

Salunke – The first Indian Actress

Salunke in 'Lanka Dhan' (1917)
Salunke in raja Harischandra.
(And yes, that would be first bath on screen by an Indian actress)
The story goes like this: Around 1913, Dadasaheb Phalke was planning to make his magnum opus – a mythological feature film titled ‘Raja Harishchandra’. But before he could start, he needed to find a young woman who could take on the role of female lead. This proved to be the tricky part. Back then no woman, even the prostitutes and the dancing girls that he approached, was willing to sell his soul to the devil. Facing the camera was akin to laying bare at a public square. Dadasaheb Phalke’s grand plans for cinema were stalled. Then one night while dining at a restaurant, some say while sipping a cup of tea there, Phalke found his heroine, an impressive womanly beauty, working the kitchen as a lowly help. Dadasaheb Phalke made an offer that was promptly accepted, and in this manner on a monthly salary of Rs.10 (or according to some, Rs. 15 with Rs. 10 being the salary of the cook's assistant) Phalke's film got an actress and India got its first heroine, a man named Salunke who ruled the silver screen for almost a decade spanning the entire era of Phalke’s mythological dramas. Riding on the success of these films and the slow rising public approval for the new medium of cinema, a celluloid Star, arguable India’s first, was born – Anna Salunke.

It is interesting to note that till recently it was common for a man to do the role of woman in local nautankis, religious dramas. Another interesting feature of these dramas was that often a single person would have to play multiple roles, a trend quite common in (one can say still) popular in Indian films at one time.

In ‘Raja Harishchandra’ Salunke played the female role of Taramati as well as the male roles of Bhalchand and Dattaraj. It seems Salunke was quite apt at playing multiple roles, and Phalke quite content with a small crew of actors. In Phalke’s Lanka Dahan (The Burning of Lanka, 1917) Salunke played Sita as well as Ram, a feat that can’t be replicated in modern times without having the film falling under comic genre instead of mythological. But back then these mytho-drama films starring Salunke were setting box office and public imagination ablaze. However, when public appetite for mytho-dramas was full and after they developed a taste for socio-dramas that were now being made, and maybe because of arrival of real women on screen (Phalke's Mohini Bhasmasur from 1913 had mother-daughter duo Durgabai Gokhale and Kamlabai Gokhale), Salunke, in a story of first fall from stardom in India, slowly faded from public memory.

This was the story of androgynous beginning of the Indian Heroine - the rise of a man as a woman through a spell induced by devil’s magic eye.

Hindu Dieties by Bernard Picart, 1722

Came across a bunch of interesting rare Hindu images over at the Life Magazine archive [Link]. A group of engraving caught my interest. As these images came with bare minimum information (simply tagged 'REL ORIE Hindu GODS'), it took me quite some time to figure out  that the fascinating images were in fact engraving (from 1722) by French artist Bernard Picart (b Paris, 11 June 1673; d Amsterdam, 8 May 1733) as appearing in William Hurd's 'Religious Rites & Ceremonies of All Nations (Vol. 3, 1780)'. Picart never left Europe, most of these engravings were based on accounts of various travelers and the sculptures that they brought with them.

Shiv. Brahma. Ganesh.

Scene at a Hindu temple

Hindu Trinity or Trimurti
Ten Incarnations of Vishnu
A collection of engraving devoted to each incarnation:

In addition to the images of these gods we have this intriguing image of sea-warfare of Marathas.

Hindu Dieties by Pierre Sonnerat (1774-81).

Selling Soap

Medimix Soap Ad, 1970s
Launched in 1969. The early campaign was...simple and the soap was beach friendly.

Soni Mahiwal, Wall

inside a Jhanjghar (Community Hall) in Jammu.
Geetali informs me that this famous image is by Sir Sobha Singh.

Nycil Ad, 1970s

Just got back from Jammu. It's a city that I will forever associate with 'pricklyheatpowder' Nycil. Back in early 90s, apart from Odomos (that used to be lemony green back then and smelled nothing like lemons), Nycil was part every Pandit family's ' Essential Migration Survival Kit'. I remember growing beans in old used Nycil packs. 


Pran's Debut

Taken from an old article by K. Razdan for a film magazine.
The story of his long, long struggle begins from Lahore, now in Pakistan, It was 1938 - one moonlit midnight. A young boy of eighteen, who was employed in a photographer's shop on a monthly salary of Rs.150/-,stood in a relaxed mood before a 'paan' shop. He was slightly tipsy because he had taken one or two "chhotas". He was handsome, smart and he wore a confident look on his face. He waited for his turn to pick up the 'pan' from the 'paanwala'...and here, he had a date with his destiny.
Walli Sahib, the well-known writer (who later married Muntaz Shanti, the heroine of the Bombay Talkies hit."Kismat") arrived there, also to buy a 'paan'. He stared at the young man, examined him from head to toe and felt he had found the one he was looking for. Walli Sahib was fanatically on the look-out for a young man to fit the villain's role for a Punjabi film. Walli Sahib, who was himself slightly high in spirits at that time, offered the role to the young man who, in fact, did not care much for the offer. the young man, however, asked him curiously,"May I know your name, please?" "Walli," Walli Sahib replied. The young man laughed mischievously and muttered to himself that everyone after a few drinks at midnight considers himself to be a "Walli". Walli, in Urdu, means a self-realized person. the young man reluctantly promised to turn up at the studio but he actually forgot all about it the very next moment. After three or four days, he went to see an English movie at a matinee show and as luck would have it, Walli Sahib once again bumped into him during the interval. Walli Sahib asked him,"What happened?You did not turn up. Why?" The young man realized the seriousness of the offer for the first time, since the offer was made in the daytime. He went to the studio the next day and was selected to play the villian's role in a Punjabi film "Yamla Jat", on a monthly remuneration of Rs.50/-. This is how Pran, the young man of 18, started his career in films. Directed by Moti B.Gidwani, for producer D.M. Pancholi, "Yamla Jat" became a big hit. It was edited by Shaukat Hussain who introduced Pran in the leading role after a few months in "Khandaan' (directed by Shaukat Hussain himself) opposite Noor Jehan, described as the Nightingale of Punjab on account of her great singing faculties. "Khandaan" was also a big hit of its time and soon Pran hit the headlines.

Ali Baby

Poster of Uzbek version of Alibaba Aur 40 Chor (1980) by  Latif Faiziyev and Umesh Mehra.

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