Taxi Driver: A love triangle in glorious Bombay

Been a little down since the Mumbai Indians were knocked out of the Indian Premier League cricket tournament on Tuesday. But there is nothing quite like a movie review with notes on Bombay to get over it. Saw Taxi Driver (1954) on Memorial Day, as part of my ongoing effort to check out Bollywood classics. Starring Dev Anand (as Mangal a.k.a. Hero), Kalpana Kartik (as Mala), Sheela Ramani (as Sylvie), and Johnny Walker (as Mastana), and with music by S.D. Burman. Absolutely loved it! Here are some highlights:

1. The very first piece of dialog in the film, "Hey Memsaab, aap ka rumaal," reminded me of MemsaabStory, one of my favorite Bollywood-related stops in the blogosphere. (If blogging were a Chak De India, I'd hold up my hockey stick to salute Memsaab for her knowledge of Hindi cinema and the sincerity with which she shares it.)

2. Among the opening credits is this frame with a passenger being dropped off at this location with an advertisement of Parle! That is worth noting as an addendum to a recent post on the Parle Monaco biscuit commercials starring Aamir Khan.

3. The customer focus displayed by Hero the taxi driver is worthy of recognition. Here is something we might not expect to see too often today:

4. Mala -- an aspiring singer -- moves to Bombay to begin a career as a playback singer. En route to discovering a music director's whereabouts, she comes across two goons. Hero saves her from them, earns her trust, and offers her a place to stay. She accepts.

5. Sylvie is a performer at a club, and tries to garner Hero's attention at every opportunity.

The club is referred to as the 'doston ka adda', as this sign notes:

The word 'adda' means 'place'. The formal and more frequently used word for 'place' is 'jagah'. So, think of adda as synonymous with 'a hangout place'. More often than not, adda is used to refer to a gangster's stronghold, e.g. a bhai's adda.

6. Mala is a tremendous vocalist. She is a typical Bhaaratiya naari (Indian woman) who is ethical and loyal, and often recites verses from the holy book.

Mastana hears her once, and Hero jokes about the sweetness in her voice being a result of being stung a honey bee (and I was just talking about bees over the weekend too!).

7. The scene in which Hero's bhabhi (sister-in-law) visits is hilarious, and very well executed. In his efforts to keep Mala's staying at his home a secret, Hero cuts her hair and teachers her to 'walk like a man'.

Of course, bhabhi does not suspect a thing, and neither does Mastana.

8. Mala leaves and returns. We're taken inside the taxi again, this time with a bit more kashish (attraction) between the two, and to Ratanlal the music director's home.

9. In the mean time, Hero has confessed his fondness of Mala to Mastana, who thinks Sylvie is a better option.

The conversation takes place while driving from Fort (beginning at Flora Fountain)... Kaala Ghoda.

These two Bombay landmarks are of special significance. I went to school in Fort, and would drive by Flora Fountain every weekday. And one of my mom's darzis (tailors) was at Kaala Ghoda (to the best of my memory, the picture above captures the building where the tailor was). I remember going there with her as a child, sometimes being dragged along and bribed with a visit to Rhythm House right across the street! ;) This area was also where I purchased my favorite Bollywood-themed caps from -- the Friend cap from Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) and the sailor cap from Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin (1992).

Speaking of significant locations, there was even a scene set outside Eros cinema in Churchgate!

I spent a good portion of my childhood (long enough for me to remember very clearly) about a five-minute walk away! =) Pleasantly surprised and feeling nostalgic with this frame (a few before the one above), in which the apartment building I lived in is shown as well.

The scene eventually flows into the neighboring streets, and while a lot changed between when this film was made (the 1950s) and when I lived there (the 1980s and early 1990s), it was still very refreshing!

The [old] Taj hotel is showcased in all its splendor. The bakery at the foot of this building, named 'La Patisserie', will forever be my most favorite source for chocolate cake. Those were unbelievably good! Likely still are.

10. The climax is fitting, and kicked off by a song at the adda, with Sylvie making one last attempt at winning Hero. How will the love triangle end?

11. Here is honorable mention of one of the bad guys, whose look reminded me of Arjun Rampal's look in Om Shanti Om (2007).

12. The biggest strength of the film after some excellent acting performances is its music. Dil Se Milaake (by Lata Mangeshkar -- listen to it here) is a beautiful song, and for today's Bollywood, it offers proof of the possibility of depicting a song with suggestive lyrics in clean fashion.

My other favorite is Chahe Koi Khush Ho (watch it here). In what has to be one of Bollywood's best car songs, Dev Anand proves that he might well have been the Aamir Khan of his time (how 'bout a remake of the song starring Aamir bhai?). Wonderful acting in a song that could serve as an anthem to life. Not surprisingly, it is sung by Kishore Kumar! Reminds me of another Dev Anand-Kishore Kumar-S. D. Burman car song that I discussed in this post not too long ago.

Chaahe koi khush ho chaahe gaaliyaan hazaar de,
Mastram ban ke zindagi ke din guzaar de.

Whether someone is happy or curses a thousand times,
Be a jolly fellow as you go through the days of life.

Other very good songs include Dil Jale To Jale (by Lata-ji -- watch it here) and Ae Meri Zindagi (watch it here). The only song from the film I had heard prior to watching it was Jaaein To Jaaein Kahaan. Did not know that it belonged to the film, and was pleasantly surprised with its placement. The song appears twice; one sung by Lata Mangeshkar (watch it here -- Kalpana Kartik looks gorgeous)...

...and another by Talat Mahmood (watch it here).

Overall, Taxi Driver has everything one could expect in a Bollywood film. I loved how the plot, centered around one woman's desire to become a playback singer, transpired with a taxi driver and a seductress in the mix. Excellent acting (by each of the leads and Johnny Walker) and excellent music make it enjoyable and one for the ages! And it would likely make it to my list of favorite love triangles.

Movie rating: **** (Excellent!)

Music rating: **** (Excellent!)

My classification: PG (for songs in a bar); this might have been a bold attempt in the 1950s, with the songs at the bar and all, but it is as clean as one could expect to get.


PJA64X said...

The male vocalist of "Jaaein To Jaaein Kahaan" is Talat Mahmood, not Hemant Kumar.

Glad you liked the film - one of my favourites.


Filmi Girl said...

This is one that was on my list of films to see, but after the disaster of Hum Dono, I've been wary of diving into Dev's filmography.

Your write-up definitely makes me curious, though! I do like a good mistaken identity film. :D

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Imma going to have to find a copy- even though I STILL dislike alpana Kartik, like i've v often cribbed before :B I love watching bolly movies based on towns ive visited, and this seems all the more fun for that reason :)

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Philip: Thank you for stopping by. Yes, Talat was indeed the singer (I've corrected that bit of detail in the post). His son, Khalid Mahmood, has put together this really good site --, where he's made available several hundred songs for download.

Filmi Girl: I have not seen Hum Dono, but I would certainly recommend Taxi Driver!

Shweta: This one certainly shows more of Bombay than the average Bombay-based film. Helps to have a taxi driver as a catalyst!

PJA64X said...

Thank you for the welcome, "The Bollywood Fan".

I know Khalid Mahmood's site. A devoted son. What a good way to remind us of the greatness of his father's talent!

Hum Dono is an excellent film, one of Dev Anand's very best. A bit over-melodramatic, perhaps, but then that is the way of Indian popular cinema.

I have read Filmi Girl's comments on that film and disagree with her.

I urge you to see Hum Dono in the original black and white. A coloured version is due. The film has superb songs - music by Jaidev, one of S.D. Burman's assistants - as well as excellent photography and atmosphere. Dev Anand is very good indeed in both roles. Nanda and Sadhana are also very good and the supporting cast is fine.

It was India's official entry at Cannes in 1962, I believe. So happy viewing!


theBollywoodFan said...

Philip: Khalid Mahmood was on the BBC Asian Network a couple of years ago which is where I learned of the website. Yes, what a great reminder!

The beauty about the forms of art, including film, is that it can mean so many different things to different people. I shall hope to check out Hum Dono too!

Filmi Girl said...

TBF: I look forward to your comments on Hum Dono.

Philip: I always appreciate different opinions. :D I did enjoy moments within Hum Dono and thought the score was very well done but on the whole felt that the focus of the narrative was not where it needed to be for me to really enjoy it - too much war and not enough reaction to the fallout of war.

PJA64X said...

TBF: I discovered the Khalid Mahmood site by just googling his father's name a couple of years ago, and was elated.

Filmi Girl: Hum Dono is not about war or the fallout of war. Nor is it about any specific war. The war and the excellent battle scenes are a backdrop for the meeting of the two characters and the development of the story.

I won't say more as that would probably spoil the film for TBF.

Best wishes to both.

theBollywoodFan said...

Filmi Girl and Philip: Sounds interesting, thanks! It might be a while before I check it out, but I shall!

memsaab said...

I really liked this film, especially for how much of Bombay in the early 50's it shows...and how much even I could recognize after just a few visits there. Nice to hear your nostalgic memories from childhood :-)

theBollywoodFan said...

Yes, Memsaab, I absolutely loved how they captured Bombay with those visuals. Indeed a treat. Glad to know you could relate to it too!

I still can't get enough of at least two songs (Dil Se Milaake and Chaahe Koi Khush Ho) and that scene outside Eros cinema. :)

Anonymous said...

Adab! Wonderful post! I recently saw Taxi Driver and was impressed by Kalpana Kartik's beauty. How fun it must have been for you to see real life landmarks of your past! And speaking of that Maine Pyar Kiya cap you were able to buy at the store across from you mom's tailor, don't you think when Kalpana Kartik gets her hair cut in the film that her cap looks a lot like that same Maine Pyar Kiya cap, minus the "friend" logo of course.

All the best,

theBollywoodFan said...

Thank you Sita-ji. Good point about the cap!

It was an amazing ride alongside the taxi driver =) Bombay has some old structures that have continued to retain their glory, and I thought this film did really well in portraying that. Although I haven't seen too many older films (trying to change that, as you know), so I'll keep my eyes open for landmarks in those as well.

Trying not to expect too much with others, though. This will be hard to beat.

bollyviewer said...

Taxi driver certainly sounds interesting - have to watch for Bombay and the songs! :-)

Great screencaps of Mumbai. Isnt it lovely to see how little South Bombay has changed in 50 years? Dev Anand's B&W movies usually had him living in one of the Marine Drive bungalows (in wealth and poverty) and you can see that Marine Drive has barely changed since then. I was back for a brief visit this winter and could still find all my favorite stores - Rhythm House is the fovoritest :-D - restaurants and landmarks relatively unchanged in 6 years.

theBollywoodFan said...

Lucky you Bollyviewer! Glad to hear. It *is* lovely how little that part of Bombay has changed over the years! And Rhythm House has to be one of the best Indian music stores ever (seriously).

Do you have any Dev Anand black and white film recommendations?

bollyviewer said...

Most of his B&W movies were watchable, if not for the interesting stories then for the lovely songs and pretty people. They also covered a wide spectrum of movie genres: the excellent thriller CID (1956) the mystery Baat Ek Raat Ki (1962), the enthralling drama Kaala Paani (1958), the social film Kala Bazar (1960), the romantic comedy Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (1963) and my personal favorite Bombai Ka Babu (1960) a love story with a difference. Most of the movies feature our favorite South Mumbai and Marine Drive! :-D

theBollywoodFan said...

Wow! Thank you very much Bollyviewer! I'll do my best to check them out.