Retrograde. Bamboozlement! More Bamboozlement!

slow bus to nowhere


Naag Muni, 1972, Pakistan

Hero travels to a place called "Naag gram", Snake Village, to research on snake venom that will save life of millions. He drives through a road that looks like poplar avenue of Baramula in Kashmir to arrive at a valley populated by a tribe of snake worshipers. Soon after arrival, forgetting all about research, Hero falls in love with a woman who is training to be a Naag Dasi, a woman who claims to be 'daughter of Naag Devta' and a 'Vish Kanya' whose mere touch can kill a man. And yet there are feelings of anti-animism budding in her heart, she doesn't understand a god that offers poison.  Love booms. Noorjahan sings. Father goes -Babu, Naag Dasi say prem karna paap hai. Violence erupts. Noorjahan sings. Lovers try to run-away. Get caught. Father goes - Shalaka ko Beti say Zyada Dharam pyara hai. Hero gets bitten by a snake. Heroine sings and dances to an idol of Snake god to save her love. God obliges, takes back the venom. In comes an old holy man who claims that Hero and Heonie where lovers in previous life too, lovers who couldn't become one, so in this life their love is kind of legal. Flashback, story of a girl named Naag Muni: a king and a queen desiring a child call on Snake God. The priest puts in a condition that if the queen gets a girl, she will have to become a 'Nag Dasi'. A girl is born. She is forcibly turned into a Dasi. Her parents cry. The priest is unrelenting. He converts the girl into a Vish Kanya by feeding her snake poison. She grows up and in a tragic turn of events becomes the cause of her mother's death after she unintentionally poisons her by her kiss. Out of guilt she tries to end her life but is saved by a prince who claims his love will cure her poison. He wants to marry her.Priest spews venom. Prince's father also doesn't approve of this relation. Prince is house-arrested. Noorjahan sings. Priest tries to initiate Naag Muni into the snake cult and make her Naag Devi, but at the last minute prince arrives to rescue her by offering to drink a goblet of poison from her hand to prove that all this is nosense, that love shall prevail over everything. He passes out. Naag Muni dances to please the god (who obviously would do anything in return for a nice latka jatka). Prince survives. Everyone happy. Prince and Naag Mani are allowed to marry, but in a moment of mushiness of brain trigger by unexpected happy turn of events, promises that all girls born in his bloodline will be offered to the temple to become a Naag Dasi. Which brings us back to: Flashforward. The hero offers to again undergo the poison test. In comes, Hero's friend, who comes up with  test of his own for the Heroine. He wants her to change in a snake and then back into a girl to prove that she is Nag Devi. The Heroine dances to the Snake god to get the boon of 'woman-to-snake-to-woman' Morphinator. God obliges. She slithers to meet her lover. In comes an extra woman, a jealous woman who also loves the city boy. She tries to kill the snake, snake bites the extra woman. Snake is also injured. It turns back into heroine. To save her hero drinks the goblet of poison.  It seems snake gods feld Pakistan a few years before the rise of Zia-Ul-Haq, both the lovers die.


People of India: a series of photographic illustrations, 1868

One of the responses of British to the events of 1857 was to try and better categorize the people that they had come to rule. They went around with their cameras and shot all kind of natives, all tribes, castes, races, religions, belonging to places all across the length and breadth of this land and put them in books and added neat captions to these photographs describing in brief the 'must remember' of each native type. All this in hope that it would help them govern these people and more importantly rule the land better. One of the gigantic product of such an exercise was the eight volume series titled 'The People of India' published between 1868 and 1875. Collected from these eight volumes of 'The people of India : a series of photographic illustrations, with descriptive letterpress, of the races and tribes of Hindustan' (1868) by John William Kaye, Meadows Taylor, J. Forbes Watson,[available at] here are 345 photographs of the people of India.


Hindu Camera! Muslim Microphone! 1940

A Muslim As "Krishna"!
I cannot forget the words uttered by Khalil, a veteran among actors, at the Motion Picture Congress. Addressing Dad Phalke, he recalled how he, a Muslim, had been given the role of Krishna in dozens of films. In spite of the opposition from the orthodox element, Dada Phalke continued to cast a Muslim youth in the roles of Hindu gods. Art knows no barriers of caste or creed. And, looking through the pages of the history of the Indian film industry, you will come across numerous such instances. It was a Jewish producer who revived the glory of "Nur Jehan," a Hindu who dramatized the romance of the Taj Mahal in "Shiraz," a Muslim who produced "Chandra Rao More" and a Parsi who produced "Vaman Avatar". And even if some of these films were bad, I believe that they did bring the people of this vast country nearer in their understanding of one another's culture and traditions.

Not only Art but Commerce too, decrred that communalism should be kept out of the studios. Parsi and Hindu producers did not hesitate to employ Muslim artistes if they could exploit their star-value to make a few lakhs. Similarly, Muslim directors (such as there have been) and artists built their reputations with the help of their non-Muslim colleagues. There was never any question of putting communal labels on persons working in the studios. Yusuf Mulji was a good Cameraman, not a Muslim Cameraman; Syed Fatehlal was a good Art Director, not a Muslim Art Director; Nawab was a good actor, not a Muslim actor. At the same time no one worried if Chandulal Shah was a Jain; Sabita Devi a Christian; Leela Chitnis a Bene-Israelite; Ezra Mir a Jew. They all belonged to the same community - the community of artists. Their religious beliefs were a matter between them and their God.
Hindu Camera! Muslim Microphone! "

~ K Ahmad Abbas on rise of communalism in Indian Cinema for FilmIndia Magazine, February 1940.

Complete article here: 

ekdum GOW hai

'Sukarwaar' Market'. Sector 34.Noida. 2010.
For the first true made in India spaghetti westerner: Gangs of Wasseypur

The Bengali Baboo

"Full of inappropriate words and phrases"
Came across it in "Twenty-One Days in India, or, the Tour Of Sir Ali Baba K.C.B.; and, the Teapot Series" by George Aberigh-Mackay (1848-1881).

Achhut Kanya (1936)

Devika Rani with Mehmood's father Mumtaz Ali in Achhut Kanya (1936).

The Golden Temple, 1881

A couple of illustrations from 'Indian pictures, drawn with pen and pencil' (1881) by William Urwick (1826-1905).


Shyam Benegal's Nayi Sherwani, 1986

Cross-posted from my Kashmir blog.

In year 1986 Doordarshan ran a tele-film series called 'Katha Sagar' directed by few prominent and few would-be prominent film-makers who presented adaptations of some famous international short stories, but all of them set in various parts of India.  In on of these adaptations, Shyam Benegal turned Gogol's The Overcoat into Nayi Sherwani and set it in Srinagar. The adaption with its scenes of Kashmir life and office bureaucracy makes one think that Gogol had written the story for Kashmir and not Russia (Kashmiri writer Amin Kamil's Kafan Chor seems like a darker sequel to Gogol's story).

Here's the film: video link
Part 2
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