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Poonam Saxena

Poonam Saxena is the national weekend editor of the Hindustan Times. She writes on cinema, television, culture and books

Articles by Poonam Saxena

We had no camps, apps or even TV, but we had the best summers,says Poonam Saxena

Train journeys with home-made aloo-poori, afternoons spent lounging with cousins and comic books. Saxena takes a fond look back, in this week’s The Way We Were.

‘I’ll never forget the chaos of refilling our surahi or earthen pot with drinking water at a midway station. I also won’t forget the spicy chana at Tundla Junction.’ (Shutterstock)
Updated on Apr 06, 2024 05:19 PM IST

The mastery and mystery of Hindi’s first woman novelist, Mallika

She wrote about desire and hope at a time when most women couldn’t read. Then she disappeared. I wish we knew how her own story unfolded, says Poonam Saxena.

The world’s first Hindi novelists: Bhartendu Harishchandra and Mallika. (Image courtesy Mallika ka Rachna Sansar by Vasudha Dalmia; published by Rajkamal Prakashan)
Updated on Mar 09, 2024 07:23 PM IST

A different time, a different kind of love: Poonam Saxena in The Way We Were

The world has changed, moved forward, opened up to new possibilities. But a tale of lost love by the Hindi writer Kamleshwar still haunts me.

At journey’s end: Commuters at an unnamed railway station. (Art by Bijay Biswaal)
Updated on Feb 10, 2024 10:59 PM IST

I wish there was more of the Delhi I knew, on celluloid: Poonam Saxena

A certain long-gone Mumbai is preserved in movie after movie. One must hunt much harder, to revisit the Capital of the ’50s to ’70s.

A rain-soaked Mumbai gleams with nostalgic beauty, in Basu Chatterji’s Manzil (1979); a world both familiar and yet so different can be revisited in his Baton Baton Mein (1979).
Updated on Jan 13, 2024 03:30 PM IST

Pushpa Bharati’s ‘Yaadein, Yaadein! Aur Yaadein’ breaks mould of memory-writing

The 2016 work and winner of the 33rd Vyas Samman chronicles 20 luminaries from Harivansh Rai Bachchan to her late husband, the formidable Dharamvir Bharati

Born in Moradabad of Uttar Pradesh in 1935, Pushpa Bharati did her MA in Hindi literature from Prayag University in 1955 (HT Photo)(HT_PRINT)
Published on Dec 25, 2023 12:37 PM IST

Code name - Blockbuster: Poonam Saxena on Bollywood’s infatuation with the spy

Secrets, lies, guns and gizmos… the spy captivated the box office this year. But the infatuation began 55 years ago, with a hit film by you’ll-never-guess-who.

Ankhen, starring Dharmendra and Mala Sinha, was the big hit of 1968.
Updated on Dec 09, 2023 10:25 PM IST

Celebrating the jump-scare: A Bollywood Halloween list by Poonam Saxena

Horror may still be a niche genre in Hindi cinema, but there’s plenty one can revel in. Start with these.

Jaani Dushman (1979) was Bollywood’s first multi-star suspense-horror film. Gehrayee (1980) is arguably Bollywood’s first good horror movie.
Updated on Oct 28, 2023 09:05 PM IST

Starry, starry knight: The Wknd Dev Anand tribute

He was a superstar, social commentator, even – briefly – a politician. Dev Anand would have been 100 this year. How has his legacy unfolded? Take a look.

 (HT Illustration: Mohit Suneja)
Updated on Sep 29, 2023 09:49 PM IST

The way we were: Poonam Saxena looks back on the magic of Star Trek

The Original Series sparked such a frenzy when it was aired on Doordarshan in 1984, that crowds gathered before public TV sets on Sunday mornings.

There was a sense of people being the best they could be, on board the USS Enterprise. As Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and the others travelled through space, there were a number of firsts on board too, including the interracial kiss between Kirk and communications officer Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) in 1968.
Updated on Sep 23, 2023 04:54 PM IST

When the rules of engagement change: The Way We Were by Poonam Saxena

The song Kudmayi, from Karan Johar’s Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, bears within it echoes of a very different world.

In Chandradhar Sharma’s 1915 short story Usne Kaha Tha (later turned into a film starring Sunil Dutt and Nanda, above), choice is impossible, and love is expressed as sacrifice. In the new film Rocky Aur Rani..., kudmayi or engagement is a celebratory cry.
Updated on Aug 19, 2023 11:51 AM IST

Hindi film’s Cupid: Poonam Saxena on the bhawara, or bumblebee

In song after song,the bee marks the birth of love, drawn irresistibly to the flower. It is a symbol of passion, yearning; but of a fast-fading and fickle kind.

Preity Zinta in Bumbro from Mission Kashmir (2000). The song is based on a Kashmiri composition written in the 1950s by the poet Nadim.
Updated on Jul 22, 2023 04:10 PM IST

Flooded cities, burning trains: Poonam Saxena on the lure of cinematic disaster

2018, a Malayalam film set during a flood, calls to mind Bollywood’s first such effort, set on a burning train. Both tales spotlight fear, hope, humanity.

The film 2018, starring Tovino Thomas, is a tense thriller about the floods that swept Kerala in that year. (Above right) Vinod Khanna, Jeetendra and Dharmendra in the multi-star disaster film, The Burning Train (1980).
Updated on Jul 27, 2023 04:52 PM IST

Before they peaked: Poonam Saxena on hill stations in classic literature

The hills promised romance, excitement, experiences outside one’s mundane life. Revisit two Hindi stories of fleeting encounters, love lost amid the mountains.

Shimla, 2021. India’s more popular hill stations are known more for their traffic and concretisation than as breezy getaways, today. (HT Archives)
Updated on Aug 03, 2023 02:34 PM IST

High on drama, low on decor: Poonam Saxena looks back on the living room

Today’s homes are designed with an eye on every detail. But there was a time when the TV set and glass-fronted showcase full of knick-knacks ruled front rooms.

The TV set, the focal point of any drawing room that had one, often sat proudly in its own wooden cabinet, or at least covered with a pretty cloth, to protect it from dust. (HT Archives)
Updated on Jul 27, 2023 11:29 PM IST

Master filmmaker Yash Chopra and his working girls

He is known for his sweeping love stories, but even in these, the women had meaty roles. Many had jobs, built their own lives. The best example may be Chandni.

Sridevi, in one of her elegantly simple outfits, in a still from an office scene in Chandni.
Updated on Aug 03, 2023 11:33 PM IST

Fierce, fearless, fun: Poonam Saxena remembers Subhadra Kumari Chauhan

Her stories capture the mood of the early 1900s. But it’s in her lifelong friendship with poet Mahadevi Varma, amid giggles, that her spirit shines.

Google honoured Subhadra Kumari Chauhan on her 117th birth anniversary with a Doodle in 2021.
Updated on Aug 04, 2023 12:13 AM IST

Too many screens have timed out: Poonam Saxena on cinema halls

What I miss most about the grand old theatres, Saxena says, are the large crowds, low prices, and their promise of dreams and fantasy escapes for all.

Then and now: The Odeon cinema hall in Delhi; PVR Icon, Mumbai. (HT Archives)
Updated on Aug 04, 2023 12:53 AM IST

Capital letters: Rereading Andhere Band Kamre,an ode to Delhi,with Poonam Saxena

Set in the tumultuous decade after Independence, Mohan Rakesh’s novel explores a marriage that crumbles as a city is reborn.

In 1950s Delhi, a man stands and gazes at the Delhi Secretariat. (Mahatta Archives / Photoink)
Updated on Dec 20, 2022 12:45 PM IST

Baiju Bawra deserves an encore, says Poonam Saxena

There’s drama, music, love, in this soaring tale of a legend who once challenged Tansen to a vocal duel. And who better than Sanjay Leela Bhansali to remake the 1952 classic?

A tousled-haired Bharat Bhushan as Baiju Bawra; Surendra as Tansen, in the original.
Updated on Oct 29, 2022 04:41 PM IST

Poonam Saxena on Gandhi’s early brush with death

On his 153rd birth anniversary, a look at Gandhi’s early displays of courage at a forced quarantine in Durban and a brutal mob attack in 1897

Gandhi (centre) with co-workers at his Johannesburg law office, six years after the Durban incident. (Courtesy National Gandhi Museum)
Updated on Sep 30, 2022 10:55 PM IST

A BA, a cough: How Bollywood clichés can unlock our past

There are clues in tropes from the ’50s and ’60s to diseases once feared, achievements once prized. The world changed, but they remained. Poonam Saxena does a little decoding.

In the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), the boys’ mother (played by Nirupa Roy) leaves her family to spare them suffering, when she gets tuberculosis.
Updated on Sep 03, 2022 05:44 PM IST

When writing wears down the sole: A tale of Premchand’s torn shoes

The great Hindi writer was always short of money. He sometimes couldn’t afford shoes. As his grandson puts it, it seems scarcely credible now, that he should have leaned into the wind as he did.

The picture of Premchand (torn shoes and all) with his wife Shivrani Devi, that was published with Harishankar Parsai’s essay.
Updated on Aug 05, 2022 06:35 PM IST

Help! I’m seeing double: The Way We Were by Poonam Saxena

Actors playing two roles, three roles, even as many as nine: An ode to a trope that harks back to the days of old Bollywood.

Gulzar’s Angoor (1982) had not one but two double roles. Seeta Aur Geeta (1972) was a tale of very different twins. Sanjeev Kumar played nine characters in Naya Din Nai Raat (1974).
Updated on Jul 09, 2022 01:54 PM IST

A writer, a mystery, a quiet tragedy: The tortured genius of Bhuwaneshwar

The experimental Hindi short-story writer, poet and playwright was hailed by Premchand, but then slipped into obscurity, vanished and died, impoverished, at just 45. His work deserves to be remembered and revisited, says Poonam Saxena.

Bhuwaneshwar’s best-known play, The Copper Insects, is probably Hindi literature’s first Absurd drama.
Updated on Jun 11, 2022 04:43 PM IST

Another side to summer: The Way We Were by Poonam Saxena

It’s hotter now, but the summers have always been scorching in north India. So how did people manage in the days before air-conditioning? With inventiveness, adaptation and great company.

A scene from the TV series A Suitable Boy (2020), set in Lucknow in 1951. Summer nights were spent gathered in open spaces for games of cards or a musical performance.
Updated on May 14, 2022 03:29 PM IST

It enriches us when lives lived in the margins storm the page,says Poonam Saxena

Tales of women are rare, tales of older women even rarer. Meet some of Hindi literature’s most unlikely heroines, in this week’s The Way We Were.

Galaxy of Musicians by Raja Ravi Varma, a rare 19th-century depiction of Indian women across a range of cultures. (Wikimedia Commons)
Updated on Apr 16, 2022 02:38 PM IST

Look before you weep: There’s more to Meena Kumari than teary melodrama

To mark the actress’s 50th death anniversary, Poonam Saxena revisits a 1960 film in which she balances versatility, grit, gentleness and joie de vivre.

Meena Kumari is understated, minimalist and moving in the 1960 doctor-nurse romance Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai.
Updated on Mar 19, 2022 03:48 PM IST

Stirring the plot: A Wknd interview with author Geetanjali Shree

Her new book, Tomb of Sand, has become the first novel translated from Hindi to make it to the International Booker Prize longlist. Her storytelling involves unusual twists; the translation by Daisy Rockwell is a tour de force. See why Shree writes as she does.

Shree plays with words and form in her novel about an 80-year-old Indian woman who steps back into her pre-Partition past. ‘Why must a book be easy to read? Often language is treated as just the carrier of ideas, of the story. For me, language has its own presence and independent personality,’ she says. (Sanjeev Verma / HT Photo)
Updated on Mar 18, 2022 12:16 PM IST

Tales of the trials of a full-time writer: Poonam Saxena on Amritlal Nagar

Nagar dedicated himself to building a great oeuvre as a Hindi writer, but he did so at considerable cost to himself and his family. Sadly, it is still almost impossible to make a living as a writer in India.

Nagar spent seven years working as a film writer in Bombay, yearning all the while to return to his beloved Lucknow. In his memoirs, Tukde-Tukde Dastan, he wrote: ‘I didn’t have the mental satisfaction I should have got through film writing… It’s true that in this country, by writing for sahitya especially Hindi sahitya, you can’t earn enough to run your household…’
Updated on Feb 18, 2022 07:09 PM IST

Legend who introduced Indian audience to the era of playback

The ‘Nightingale of India’ gave shape to the culture of playback singing in Hindi cinema, giving film songs an independent existence that led to their absolute dominance

In a career spanning more than seven decades, Lata Mangeshkar received several film awards and honours such as the Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the Bharat Ratna and multiple National Film Awards. (ANI)
Updated on Feb 07, 2022 12:18 AM IST
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
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