Saturday, January 11, 2014

Maa ka apmaan – on Nirupa Roy’s varicose veins and bandaged torso

Spent some time at the National Film Archive library in Pune this week, and wish I had stayed longer – especially because, in my last hour there, I came across old 1950s issues of the magazine Film India, edited by the famously snarky Baburao Patel.

Couldn’t go through as many issues as I would have liked, but there was time enough to note that Mr Patel really did seem to enjoy mocking poor Nirupa Roy in the mid-50s (she was a couple of decades away from her iconic “mother” roles, but was well known for playing homely bhabhis in family dramas, or pious characters in mythological films). When I fondly called her a land mammal in this essay, I feared it might be considered disrespectful, but Baburao Patel was in on the act decades earlier: I saw at least eight photos of Ms Roy with sarcastic captions. Here are just two (both from the same issue of the magazine):

(Click pics to enlarge)

And as a bonus, the opening page (with headline and intro) of Film India’s review of the just-released Pyaasa:

P.S. an earlier post that serendipitously begins with references to both Nirupa Roy and Pyaasa is here.


  1. who wrote this review? And, can you please tell me (if you know) -- who was India's first film critic?

  2. No idea - I don't think it was bylined. And I don't think it would be possible to say who India's first film critic was (defining "critic" very broadly as anyone who reviewed a film, even in a 100-word space tucked away on the last page of a newspaper). But I do hope to revisit the archives and take a closer look at some of the reviews of the 50s.

  3. Haa haa haa. Poor, poor, Nirupa Roy. As if the misfortune, all laden with tears, and blindness(read the early scenes in Amar Akbar Anthony), and what not, that befell her in her long and tragic film career wasn't enough, this man goes ahead and spoils even the little smile and happiness she managed to gather earlier on.

  4. Jesus.Varicose veins.Now that is unkind. (Though I'll admit I looked at my hands rather carefully after reading this.) These columns might be catty, but they are well written compared to the stuff which passes off as masala journalism these days.Even our cheap thrills have been ground under the wheels of the Bollywood mass adulation machine. I wonder what the Pyaasa 'reviewer' was going on about.Guru Dutt made good films, Mr Reviewer! Fun post.

  5. @ sukhmani - heh, I too found myself sneaking a glance at my hands. I don't think those were varicose though - more like very prominent veins - perhaps just as well that she had those, considering the number of scenes she had in the future in which blood had to be tubed into her. When Neetu Singh said "unka blood RH hai aur tumhara blood bhi RH hai" at least she didn't have to moan about how difficult it was to find a vein in mataji's hands

    1. Ha. Actually, I had thought of writing something about how Ms Roy's veins might be expected to bulge at least, considering they had the rakht of Amar + Akbar + Anthony running through them at the same time.

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  7. Funny.
    I've watched quite a few films lately from the 60s starring Nirupa Roy (invariably the bhabhi - wife to Ashok Kumar!). Fun films.

    I especially recommend Chand aur Suraj - a Dharmendra starrer. An ingenious film that never ceased to entertain! I love the inherent modesty in these films. No attempt to lecture audiences. No "message" or "ideology". Pure melodramatic fun but with complex ideas buried underneath which one can choose to ponder over if one thinks hard about the film beyond the entertaining veneer.

    Another film is Aabroo where Roy is this nice, homely bhabhi for 90% of the film only to reveal herself as an articulate lawyer right towards the end of the film! Good fun again.

    I also liked her in Dharmaputra where she plays mom to Shashi Kapoor (15 years before Deewar) and lectures him on modern values! (Shashi is a dim-witted hindu "fundamentalist"), The film was nice enough but gets some basic facts about the partition wrong.

  8. I like that irreverent review of Pyaasa as well.

    Goes to show how films attain a certain aura over the years which clouds the judgment of people. Pyaasa is a fine film but definitely erring on the side of sentimentality and self pity. It is full of itself and not one of the best films of the 50s/early 60s in my book.

    Unfortunately strained seriousness often passes for art in this country and even elsewhere. Personally I'd spare more time for those weepy Meena Kumari/Rajendra Kumar/Raaj Kumar/V'mala melodramas than several Guru Dutt films. They discuss more complex ideas about our civilization in a less preachy and more ambivalent tone while also being more "entertaining" even on the surface.

  9. wow. freedom of expression sure was much more in those days. Imagine making such comments today and getting away..........either the stars of the day were graceful to take such caustic comments in their stride or else one cared much for Mr.Patel's views.....

  10. Loved that review of Pyaasa! I really liked that film, however, I cant disagree with whatever he wrote. Certainly the quality of journalism seems a lot better then. It is also interesting given how folks glorify Guru Dutt. Most of his films were very typical for that day and age. People seem to judge him just by Pyaasa. The first time I watched Pyaasa, I was bowled over. However, on second viewing, I realised how ham-fisted it was in parts. The scene when Guru Dutt and Mala Sinha are playing badminton. Our hero is wearing sunglasses and as always the shuttle gets stuck in the net. The couple starts moving towards the net to show growing physical proximity between them. However, it had brilliant writing.

  11. Shrikanth, Pessimist Fool: neither of you has read the full review of Pyaasa (not on this site anyway), so I'm not sure why you're going on about liking it. And Pessimist Fool: based on the contents of Film India at least, no, journalism most certainly was not better then! I'm not a Pyaasa fan myself (though I think it's a very interesting and important film for multiple reasons), but most of the Film India reviews show very little understanding of cinema as a form. Back then, in any case, it was fashionable to be contemptuous of films and to see them as a lesser form; critics who had even the slightest literary background had absolutely no qualms about talking down to movies.

  12. Jai: Ofcourse I wasn't endorsing Film India or this particular journalist. I haven't read the full review. I was just commenting on the irreverent tone of the review. With time, certain films do accumulate a quality of sanctity which prevents us from taking an objective view of the same. So it is always refreshing to go back in time and read some contemporary opinions (even if they're wrong headed) to rid ourselves of the mental cobwebs surrounding some classics.

  13. Nirupa roy in her later days became typecast to motherly roles.So if Alok Nath is babu ji of bollywood , the maa is Nirupa ji.
    Check out this funny whatsApp sharing-
    "Nirupa Roy is brand Ambessedor for all sewing machines in India."

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