Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Duniya Uski Sunti Hai

Here's a rather bizarre cabaret number from the 1966 movie Dus Lakh. I found out about this movie from a book I'm reading called Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, by Jerry Pinto. It's a pretty good book... it's not really much of a biography, but more of an academic look about the cultural meanings and ideologies reflected in Helen's career and her roles. I mentioned in an earlier post that Helen never really succeeded in getting good leading roles because she was not ethnically Indian — this book provides a very thorough explanation of the traits and positions that Helen's characters were given because of her perceived whiteness. Besides that, it's giving me a great list of — what else — more Bollywood movies to track down and get clips from! Because, you know, the six hours of clips I already have captured and ready to post might not be enough... :)

Helen comes rolling in on a giant globe ("the world" of the song's title) dressed in — for some reason — a flamenco/mariachi outfit, with a bunch of fruit on her head like Carmen Miranda. Then Brahmachari, playing her brother, appears in possibly the silliest hat you've ever seen (if you've never been to Beach Blanket Babylon).

Beach Blanket Babylon plus Al Gore plus Carmen Miranda equals Bollywood... it all makes sense now

Also, this might just be me, but I'm seeing a weird resemblance between Brahmachari and Ron Mael of Sparks:

Helen is in fine form in this number, but Brahmachari nearly upstages her with his antics, such as pulling ridiculously fake strands of his hair out and "twanging" them, a bizarre stripping costume change where he ends up in what look like bright orange pajamas, and then just to max out the absurdity, another silly hat with what looks like a blow-up donkey on it. Then Helen walks him on a leash. All this has barely even a tangential connection to the lyrics or to the plot of the movie, and I suspect that maybe it's just meant to illustrate how unruly and strange Anglo Helen and her family are. Pinto writes in Helen that Christians and Anglo-Indians are often characterized in Bollywood movies as having loose morals and being associated with alcoholism, crime and prurient sexuality.

At least in Dus Lakh, Helen's character, Kitty, doesn't die or meet another sad fate, as she tended to. Pinto writes:
Kitty then becomes a nurse, and thanks Kishore, for she has been saved from a life of degradation. Her adoption of what are presented as Indian values and the consequent willingness to enter a life of service — never mind the Anglo-Indian community's long tradition in education and medicine — saves her from a fate worse than death.

Here are the translated lyrics of the song. The "du du du, ni ni ni, ya ya ya" part spells out "duniya," which means "the world."
Du du du
Ni ni ni
Ya ya ya
The world listens and obeys him who makes it bow to its feet

Take from one and give to the other, that's how all live in this can
When it's someone else's wealth, eat, drink, enjoy as much as you can
When this is how everyone lives, then why don't you too try it?

Learn and understand the walk the world walks, dear
You too change your color, what is it that you fear?
If it's necessary, be nice even to him who makes you sick


Anonymous said...

Oh! Re: Helen, have you seen that short Merchant Ivory documentary about her called Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls? I have only seen what is available on YouTube, here:

I realize you're probably already aware of this, but I just thought I'd check.

gjg said...

Yeah, that documentary is a pretty good little introduction to Helen. I saw it as a special feature on the DVD of Bombay Talkie, and I found the actual movie pretty boring in comparison to the documentary, but that's pretty much my standard reaction to Merchant Ivory's stuff. :)

According to the Helen book I'm reading, one of the clips they used in the documentary is black & white even though the original film was in color... I don't remember which one it was, though. At some point I'll try to track down the individual movies they showed in the documentary.