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

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.
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
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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)
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
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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.
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
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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)
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
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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…’
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
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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)
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
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By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

In ’60s cinema, a long-ago glimpse of faraway lands

Before Emily went to Paris, Sharmila Tagore had an evening there. A clutch of Hindi films in the 1960s gave viewers who had never gone abroad glamourous views of another world.
Sharmila Tagore in An Evening in Paris. The ’60s films set abroad introduced a very different India to a world where women wore swimsuits and couples embraced in public.
Sharmila Tagore in An Evening in Paris. The ’60s films set abroad introduced a very different India to a world where women wore swimsuits and couples embraced in public.
Updated on Jan 22, 2022 05:38 PM IST
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An original city of letters: The Way We Were by Poonam Saxena

Long before litfests went viral, lovers of Hindi literature made their way to Allahabad, where words were celebrated all year.
At a pavilion in the fort of Allahabad. Coloured aquatint by Thomas Daniell, 1795. (Wikimedia Commons)
At a pavilion in the fort of Allahabad. Coloured aquatint by Thomas Daniell, 1795. (Wikimedia Commons)
Updated on Dec 25, 2021 01:43 PM IST
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We were lucky to have skinned knees and pakdan-pakdai, says Poonam Saxena

Between pollution, the pandemic and the lure of too many screens, children are no longer playing the kinds of unstructured outdoor games where the aim was just to get together and have fun. What a pity.
Games like pithu and stapoo were fun despite (or perhaps because of) all the squabbles, scabs and muddied clothes. Cricket and football are all very well, but they’re not the same thing. (Shutterstock)
Games like pithu and stapoo were fun despite (or perhaps because of) all the squabbles, scabs and muddied clothes. Cricket and football are all very well, but they’re not the same thing. (Shutterstock)
Updated on Nov 26, 2021 06:56 PM IST
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All-you-can-stream buffets: The food in K-dramas is a cultural coup

Bowls of steaming soup, sizzling barbecued meats, crisp fish cakes — Korean shows are taking their cuisine to the world. Why haven’t we done the same with our dazzling array?
Scenes from Crash Landing on You, a romance series, and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, about a group of college athletes. Food is an integral part of all South Korean shows, regardless of genre. It’s always beautifully staged too, and shown in delectable close-up.
Scenes from Crash Landing on You, a romance series, and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, about a group of college athletes. Food is an integral part of all South Korean shows, regardless of genre. It’s always beautifully staged too, and shown in delectable close-up.
Updated on Oct 29, 2021 09:13 PM IST
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The rather frightening fade of reality TV: The Way We Were by Poonam Saxena

It started out simple, with set-ups designed for drama. Then came the vitriol and online fan clubs lashing out at each other. Today, sadly, even this isn’t the worst of what hits our screens.
Dolly Bindra fainting in Shweta Tiwari’s arms: Bigg Boss’s early years, while startling then, seem positively innocent today.
Dolly Bindra fainting in Shweta Tiwari’s arms: Bigg Boss’s early years, while startling then, seem positively innocent today.
Updated on Oct 02, 2021 04:07 PM IST
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Laying on the gilt: What’s next for Sanjay Leela Bhansali?

In an industry with less and less room for opulent productions, he seems determined to stay the path. His upcoming movies and a Netflix show about courtesans hold out the same promise of glitter. Could that very steadfastness stream him onward?
 (HT Archives)
(HT Archives)
Updated on Sep 17, 2021 07:31 PM IST
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Smoke, sip, swerve: Poonam Saxena on status symbols in Hindi films

What makes something the most coveted in its class is rarely clear, but for the stars of ’50s and ’60s Hindi cinema, there was no debate: the Chevy Impala, Vat 69 and 555 cigarettes were it.
Tanuja, dressed to match her character’s Chevrolet Impala, in Haathi Mere Saathi (1971).
Tanuja, dressed to match her character’s Chevrolet Impala, in Haathi Mere Saathi (1971).
Updated on Sep 04, 2021 03:19 PM IST
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India in flashbacks: The early years of celluloid magic

From the ’40s to the ’60s, Hindi cinema championed hope, change and humanism, in original and entertaining films.
Films such as Do Bigha Zamin (above), Mughal-e-Azam and Mother India reflected the pain of the oppressed, young India’s pride in its past, and its aspirations for the future.
Films such as Do Bigha Zamin (above), Mughal-e-Azam and Mother India reflected the pain of the oppressed, young India’s pride in its past, and its aspirations for the future.
Updated on Aug 13, 2021 05:53 PM IST
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Remembering Bhikhari Thakur, the bard of Bihar

The Bhojpuri barber turned playwright died 50 years ago. His lyrical, once-hugely-popular plays still resonate.
A statue of Bhikhari Thakur in Chhapra, Bihar. He was a migrant, lived among migrants and wrote of their lives, in plays that told evocative tales of the poor, women, and the oppressed.
A statue of Bhikhari Thakur in Chhapra, Bihar. He was a migrant, lived among migrants and wrote of their lives, in plays that told evocative tales of the poor, women, and the oppressed.
Updated on Aug 07, 2021 04:58 PM IST
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When the unforgettable Dilip Kumar met Bronte

From his brother, the legendary actor acquired a love of the classics — Dickens, Shakespeare, Charlotte and Emily Bronte. Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights made a particular impression.
Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal in Arzoo (1950), an adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Kumar died this week, aged 98.
Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal in Arzoo (1950), an adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Kumar died this week, aged 98.
Updated on Jul 10, 2021 02:28 PM IST
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A storyteller true to her words: Poonam Saxena on rebel writer Mannu Bhandari

The Hindi author lived an unconventional life, and gave a voice to women of the 1950s and ’60s who were trying to do the same.
Vidya Sinha and Amol Palekar in Rajnigandha (1974). The tale of a young woman trying to choose between two men, unusual for its time, was based on a short story by Bhandari.
Vidya Sinha and Amol Palekar in Rajnigandha (1974). The tale of a young woman trying to choose between two men, unusual for its time, was based on a short story by Bhandari.
Updated on Jun 12, 2021 05:35 PM IST
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A century on, the same current flows along the banks: Poonam Saxena

Stark echoes of today ring out in the writings of poet Suryakant Tripathi Nirala, who lost so many loved ones to the influenza pandemic.
On the banks of the Ganga at Varanasi, April 2021. Nirala speaks of sitting on a mound near the river at Dalmau, and watching in despair as corpses floated by. (PTI)
On the banks of the Ganga at Varanasi, April 2021. Nirala speaks of sitting on a mound near the river at Dalmau, and watching in despair as corpses floated by. (PTI)
Updated on May 21, 2021 08:12 PM IST
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A brief history of popular names for children: The Way We Were by Poonam Saxena

Shankar and Ishaan are both names for Shiva. So why was one so preferred in the past and the other so popular now?
Elon Musk’s child is named X Æ A-XII. It’s possible that wouldn’t even be legal under Russia’s new laws for parents. (Twitter / @elonmusk)
Elon Musk’s child is named X Æ A-XII. It’s possible that wouldn’t even be legal under Russia’s new laws for parents. (Twitter / @elonmusk)
Updated on Apr 11, 2021 06:19 AM IST
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Mahadevi Varma: The poet who broke free, and inspired others to

In Women’s History Month, Poonam Saxena looks back on the extraordinary life of a revolutionary feminist and writer.
Guest artist Sonali Zohra painted this Google Doodle honouring Varma in April 2018.
Guest artist Sonali Zohra painted this Google Doodle honouring Varma in April 2018.
Updated on Mar 14, 2021 06:25 AM IST
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Shining through the Seventies. Then mysteriously: It’s a wrap!

An ode to the lungi-kurta, always in silk, always as resplendent loungewear, which vanished without a trace
Lungi-kurtas are the ’70s trend that time forgot. Zeenat Aman danced in hers in Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
Lungi-kurtas are the ’70s trend that time forgot. Zeenat Aman danced in hers in Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
Updated on Feb 28, 2021 07:15 AM IST
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How trains have kept movies on track: The Way We Were by Poonam Saxena

From falling in love in a coupé to finding closure on a platform, the railways have steered cinema in memorable directions.
In Hindi cinema, the railways have been both the setting and the metaphor. In the 1987 film Ijaazat, a divorced couple spends a night at a railway station, laying their ghosts to rest.
In Hindi cinema, the railways have been both the setting and the metaphor. In the 1987 film Ijaazat, a divorced couple spends a night at a railway station, laying their ghosts to rest.
Updated on Feb 14, 2021 06:41 AM IST
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If Bollywood films could, then sew could we: The Way We Were by Poonam Saxena

On screen and off, the sewing machine transformed lives for decades, and it’s still appearing in the role of agent of change.
In Rohena Gera’s delicately crafted Sir, Tillotama Shome plays a maid who dreams of starting her own tailoring business. Here, her employer has just given her a sewing machine as a gift.
In Rohena Gera’s delicately crafted Sir, Tillotama Shome plays a maid who dreams of starting her own tailoring business. Here, her employer has just given her a sewing machine as a gift.
Updated on Jan 31, 2021 06:28 AM IST
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Remembering Gulshan Nanda, forgotten author of affairs to remember

The best-selling novelist was Bollywood’s go-to storyteller in the 1960s. He wrote family dramas shot through with suspense. The films live on, but what a pity so few even know his name.
Rajesh Khanna and Asha Parekh in a still from the runaway 1971 hit Kati Patang. The story, of a young woman pretending to be someone she isn’t, was written by Gulshan Nanda.
Rajesh Khanna and Asha Parekh in a still from the runaway 1971 hit Kati Patang. The story, of a young woman pretending to be someone she isn’t, was written by Gulshan Nanda.
Updated on Jan 16, 2021 10:13 AM IST
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Poonam Saxena writes on the true heart of the Indian home, the aangan

It now lives on largely in books and film, but the courtyard was where we cooked, celebrated, slept under the stars on summer nights.
An aangan in an old home in Mehrauli, New Delhi. A fixture since the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the courtyard faded away with the coming of Western-style architecture during colonial rule.(Mayank Austen Soofi)
An aangan in an old home in Mehrauli, New Delhi. A fixture since the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the courtyard faded away with the coming of Western-style architecture during colonial rule.(Mayank Austen Soofi)
Updated on Jan 01, 2021 07:04 PM IST
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Lifting the veil on life as an Indian woman, unattached

Hindi novelist Usha Priyamvada turns 90 this year, and the quiet lives of unusual women remain at the core of her work.
The cover of Priyamvada’s Pachpan Khambe Laal Deewarein, in which a young lecturer must choose between a life with the man she loves and her obligations to the parents and siblings she supports. The title, incidentally, is a nod to Delhi’s Lady Shriram College.
The cover of Priyamvada’s Pachpan Khambe Laal Deewarein, in which a young lecturer must choose between a life with the man she loves and her obligations to the parents and siblings she supports. The title, incidentally, is a nod to Delhi’s Lady Shriram College.
Published on Dec 18, 2020 03:51 PM IST
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An ode to the beloved picnic: The Way We Were by Poonam Saxena

If we go on one now, it’s likely for want of other options in the pandemic. But these were once times of fun, family, courtship.
In Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963), the Qutub Minar was the venue of a picnic. The outing concluded with a dashing Dev Anand singing Dil Ka Bhanwar to a svelte Nutan as they walked down the spiral staircase.
In Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963), the Qutub Minar was the venue of a picnic. The outing concluded with a dashing Dev Anand singing Dil Ka Bhanwar to a svelte Nutan as they walked down the spiral staircase.
Updated on Dec 04, 2020 06:41 PM IST
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The Way We Were: In wedding season, does anyone remember the shaadi ka ghar?

Music all day, sleeping on the floor, a tailor, dhobi and halwai on hand at all times — before the planners took over, everything was done in-house. It was chaotic, messy and so much fun.
Kangana Ranaut (centre) plays a bride-to-be, surrounded by the chaos of a shaadi ka ghar, in Queen (2013). A wedding used to be seen as too significant an event to outsource. The families made all the arrangements themselves with help from relatives and friends.
Kangana Ranaut (centre) plays a bride-to-be, surrounded by the chaos of a shaadi ka ghar, in Queen (2013). A wedding used to be seen as too significant an event to outsource. The families made all the arrangements themselves with help from relatives and friends.
Updated on Nov 20, 2020 07:32 PM IST
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Newsmaker: As YRF turns 50, Aditya Chopra looks to further a unique legacy

Yash Raj Films has acted as an informal school for filmmakers, set templates for the Hindi blockbuster, been among the first to take Bollywood corporate, and of course created DDLJ.
Aditya Chopra with his father Yash Chopra, founder of YRF. It was Yash Chopra who, in 1970, turned the chiffon sari and Swiss Alps into cinematic staples, injecting flair and aspiration into Hindi cinema’s visual language.(Photo courtesy Yash Raj Films)
Aditya Chopra with his father Yash Chopra, founder of YRF. It was Yash Chopra who, in 1970, turned the chiffon sari and Swiss Alps into cinematic staples, injecting flair and aspiration into Hindi cinema’s visual language.(Photo courtesy Yash Raj Films)
Updated on Nov 14, 2020 08:34 PM IST
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The Way We Were: Cafes, art shows, a hug and movie dates from the ’70s

Asking her out in the age of bouffants and drainpipe trousers was no simple affair. But films from the period paint an innocent age in the backdrop of the big city.
In Basu Chatterjee’s 1976 film Chhoti Si Baat, Arun (Amol Palekar) and Prabha (Vidya Sinha) go on demure coffee and tea dates. He dreams of being able to take her to the movies and a fancy café.(Courtesy BR Films)
In Basu Chatterjee’s 1976 film Chhoti Si Baat, Arun (Amol Palekar) and Prabha (Vidya Sinha) go on demure coffee and tea dates. He dreams of being able to take her to the movies and a fancy café.(Courtesy BR Films)
Updated on Nov 06, 2020 08:32 PM IST
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