I’ll only take a slight excuse to put up a Bollywood clip. But I was inspired by a couple of recent things: I got a comment from a young Indian cinephile that “Indian cinema … produces gems that have the power of creating a frenzy”; and saying myself that Depeche Mode’s “People Are People” would be my all-time favorite song if I didn’t understand a word of English.
Even though I did not like the film at all, one of the most important movies I’ve seen this decade was GHOST WORLD because the opening credits and the trailer both made extensive use of the song “Jaan Pahechaan Ho.” This song was so memorable that, combined with a couple of other events in 2001-02, it quickly got me interested in the Hindi pop cinema of “Bollywood,” which is the biggest film industry in the world by some measures, and it’s been a minor interest of mine ever since.
The “Jaan Pahechan Ho” song-and-dance number is from the 1965 film GUMNAAM and is without question the greatest musical number ever to open up a serial killer movie. (I finally found a VHS tape of the film, loosely based on Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, in a mom-and-pop shop in the tourist section of St. Maarten while on a Caribbean cruise. The scene is from a nightclub dance contest at the start of the movie.)
If you can resist that, you are hereby forbidden from reading this site. I really do think the “Jaan Pahechan Ho” scene deserves mentioning in the same breath as “Singin’ In The Rain,” “Cabaret,” “The Trolley Song,” “That’s Entertainment!” “Make Em Laugh,” and the rest of the legendary Hollywood musical numbers. The voice is the legendary playback singer Mohammed Rafi (and I’ve been told it’s him onscreen) he gets to sink his high, smooth voice around a melody that is the Platonic form “Catchiness,” a singular mixture of hyperactive jazz, American beach music and early pop-rock.
The lead-dancing woman is Glomesh Ganesh whose gold lame dress deserves a spot alongside Rita Hayworth’s black getup in GILDA for sheer … sheerness, and Ganesh puts a lot more mileage on her dress than Hayworth does (one wonders how many Advil she had to take between takes). She’s no Ginger Rogers as a pure dancer, but she handles a whole line of male dancers like Monroe in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” More than anything else though, Ganesh just exudes sheer brassiness and “joy of performance,” simply illustrating the catchy melody by sharing in its pure infectious fun, with all the shots cut perfectly to rhythm and repeating and riffing movements when the song repeats lines.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about “Jaan Pahechan Ho” is that we Westerners may be able to enjoy it better than Indians can because it is, at its heart, a light-as-a-feather song. One Indian co-worker told me that the words of most of the best and best-known Bollywood songs are really rather simple in terms of ideas, but it’s all a “poetic-sound” tradition, going back to classic Urdu poetry. Here are the lyrics of “Jaan Pahechan Ho” in Hindi and opposite them what the words mean in English, according to another Indian co-worker (I just asked Ashish for the literal meaning, without any consideration of what would be usable English lyrics for this melody).
OK, not really, but that’s how this post is inevitably gonna come across. Reader James in a comment below says among a list of questions, “nor do I get the greater love for Welles sophomore work than his freshman one.”¹
Now … I would, if a gun were held to my head, pick THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS over CITIZEN KANE. But how does James know this? I don’t recall saying that here, and I’ve only mentioned AMBERSONS once in detail in this post here, where I lament upon 23rd viewing the fact I can never see it again for the first time but didn’t compare it explicitly to KANE. Telepathy?
But anyhoo … that is the case, and I explained myself a few years ago in Movie-Nerd Discussion Group in the context of a thread about Orson Welles (which I reproduce here with only a few details added). If your favorite Welles film is anything other than CITIZEN KANE, the consensus “greatest film of all time,” you kinda feel compelled to provide a reason. And understand that CITIZEN KANE is still #1 on my 1941 list, though I sometimes DO get tempted to displace it with THE LITTLE FOXES. Anyway, here are my reasons for preferring AMBERSONS:
1) KANE’s structure makes it a bit of a stumper on first viewing,² certainly when compared to AMBERSONS. Philistine that I am … I persist in believing this is at least somewhat of a flaw.
2) Charles Foster Kane is an enigma in some ways that George Amberson Minafer is not, especially since Rosebud pretty much turns out to be a psychological red herring, compared to George’s comeuppance. Plus George’s comeuppance gets brilliantly, gradually forgotten over the course of the film, until it’s yanked back in the most shocking “remember this?” voiceover-narration line ever (in contrast Rosebud weaves itself throughout the film a bit much for a red herring).
3) Agnes Moorhead has more than one scene in AMBERSONS, and Welles even manages to make good actors out of Tim Holt and Ann Baxter. I also treasure Welles’ radio-trained voice more than his physical presence as an actor,³ so making him the narrator is a mo-fo genius move.
4) The last scene of AMBERSONS, which is always held against it, is not bad at all despite the “hearts and flowers” reputation it’s picked up. Eugene’s dialog and the plot points are rather the same as Welles’ original cut (George has been reconciled to both the Morgans, thanks to Isabel’s intercession). Though I shudder to think of hearing this in a poorhouse with a senile Fanny half-listening.
And to repeat … I’m comparing masterpieces here, and it’s like saying MACBETH was “only” Shakespeare’s fifth-best play. But I wouldn’t blame a KANE-lover from reacting as though I’ve “trashed” his favorite to elevate mine.
¹ Actually, I would guess that a very significant share of my readers, if not a majority, don’t share my political or religious beliefs. Particularly since I prefer to write about snooty art films, the audience for which is overwhelmingly secular-liberal.
² Though again, Welles is a brilliant visual storyteller and no film structured like KANE is could possibly have been more of a pleasure and an ease to follow.
³ Again, not that his movement and presence are bad or nothing — just that the voice was the best part of him.