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

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 May 27, 2023 04:46 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 Apr 15, 2023 07:13 PM IST

Master filmmaker Yash Chopra and his working girls

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

Sridevi, in one of her elegantly simple outfits, in a still from an office scene in Chandni.
Updated on Mar 18, 2023 03:54 PM IST

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

Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s short 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.
Published on Feb 18, 2023 12:05 AM IST

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

What I miss most about the grand old theatres we’ve lost, Saxena says, are the large crowds (they could seat hundreds), rock-bottom 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 Jan 21, 2023 04:37 PM 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

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.
Updated on Jan 22, 2022 05:38 PM IST

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)
Updated on Dec 25, 2021 01:43 PM IST

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)
Updated on Nov 26, 2021 06:56 PM IST

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.
Updated on Oct 29, 2021 09:13 PM IST

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.
Updated on Oct 02, 2021 04:07 PM IST

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)
Updated on Sep 17, 2021 07:31 PM IST

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).
Updated on Sep 04, 2021 03:19 PM IST

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.
Updated on Aug 13, 2021 05:53 PM IST

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.
Updated on Aug 07, 2021 04:58 PM IST

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.
Updated on Jul 10, 2021 02:28 PM IST

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.
Updated on Jun 12, 2021 05:35 PM IST

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)
Updated on May 21, 2021 08:12 PM IST
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