Discover more from Just One Thing
#166 From the ’40s
Someone’s been experiencing a bit of writer’s block, Myself, Someone. We’ve all been there (we have, right? don’t leave me hanging.). I’m taking Karina‘s advice to get over this dry spell – which is to write about the thing I love most – Cinema, specifically film noir.
In the shadows of film noir lurks an unsung hero of the genre: Bombay Noir. Great cities all possess a tinge of darkness, but Mumbai (or Bombay, if you like) takes it to a whole new level. It is a city of stark contrasts, with glitz and glamour and high-rise lifestyles sharing fate with densely packed slums and everyday stories. The city bears a rich criminal history, with heists, scams and contract killings being a part of everyday life. Despite all the darkness, there is a certain allure, a mesmerising energy that sets it apart from the rest of the country’s billion souls.
Back from my meandering soliloquy. Oh, Bombay, how I love thee.
Yes, Bombay Noir. The sultry, gritty, and oh-so-sexy side of Hindi cinema. It all started with Guru Dutt‘s Baazi. He dared to take risks in his portrayal of humanity and didn’t hold back in showing the flaws of his hero and society. Enter Dev Anand, Hindi cinema’s first anti-hero, the one who made bad look oh-so-good.
Vijay Anand took the reins in Kala Bazaar, painting the portrait of a man who may have dabbled in shady dealings but cannot be fully deemed as evil. After all, as we all know, we all carry a bit of darkness within us.
Raj Khosla, the undisputed monarch of Bombay Noir, understood that the crucial element of a great noir film is the enigma of identity, and he nailed it in Woh Kaun Thi. Kamal Amrohi‘s 1949 horror film Mahal explored the mysterious woman archetype, which incidentally is the perfect pre-date movie for all noir aficionados.
The Noir aesthetic was born in the aftermath of World War II and the societal upheaval that followed. Which is likely why it has become a rarity in contemporary cinema. But we must not forget the influence it had on Indian cinema, marking a period of truly imaginative filmmaking for which we should all be thankful. Without Bombay Noir, we would not have the smooth, chic, and ethically questionable films that grace our screens today.
I wrote this Just One Thing for me. But also in the hope that this will be a treat for black-and-white movie lovers everywhere. If you haven’t explored the genre yet, you have no excuse.
PS: Film noir is love. Black and white cinema is love. Sharing is love. You know what to do.