Post about "100 years of Indian Cinema"

Rajesh Khanna the first superstar – in the Lokmat

There was something about the way Rajesh Khanna smiled that made your heart lurch. It wasn’t a perfect smile by any stretch of imagination. It was slightly crooked. But there was a twinkle in the eye that went with the smile – a slight tilt of the head and  a swagger. It is hardly surprising that women of all ages fell for him like a ton of bricks. He was possibly the first Star to get mobbed and police would be deployed to keep the women away from him. In his hey day there was no other actor or star who could come close to his popularity . He was the original Superstar of India.

 

Rajesh Khanna (born Jatin Khanna) was the product of a talent hunt run by Filmfare and United Producers, in 1965. In a world without reality television or indeed 24 hour television – it is difficult to believe how a short, pimply, slightly podgy person, with really small eyes and poor skin won a talent hunt. But, obviously the panellists saw something that modern television does not. That something was Star Quality. The X factor that we all talk about but can never define. It is strange that none of the superstars produced by India have ever been the ‘gora, chikna’ varieties that television repeatedly throws up.

 

Rajesh Khanna’s first big – though big is an understatement – hit was Aaradhna, that set up the hit pairing of him and Sharmila Tagore. The film has Rajesh Khanna in a double role. Two songs in that film helped build the myth of Rajesh Khanna – super Romantic hero. The first was the wet song. The smouldering eyes of Rajesh Khanna following a very wet, blanket clad Sharmila in “roop tera mastana, pyaar mera deewana, bhool koyi humsena hojaye’. And the second is “Mere Sapnon ki Rani Kab Aaye gi tu” – the carefree lover boy song for that generation. Rajesh Khanna and Sharmilla Tagore was a hit jodi starring in some fabulous films- tragedies in which the loving couple never gets together. Amar Prem a film in which e he plays a dissolute landowner in Calcuttaand she a courtesan, and their unfulfilled love story. Songs such as Chingari Koi Bhadke, and Kuch toh Log Kahenge add to the pain of two good people (despite her profession and his habits) who will never see happiness in their lives. The same is the case in Safar – a story of sacrifice and tears and unconsummated love.

If the pairing between Sharmila and Rajesh Khanna was riddled with angst and guilt , the pairing between Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz was zany and fun. Who can forge the scene where like Jack and Jill they come tumbling down the hill under the influence of bhang in the film “aap ki kasam” – Jai Jai Shiv Shankar encapsulates the zing of the pairing. While the film is a tragedy (his possessiveness drives her away), their pairing was not. Films such as Apna Desh – remember Rajesh Khanna in that ghastly red jacket and peach trousers and Mumtaz in a blonde wig singing Duniya Mein Logon Ko Dhoka Kabhi Ho jaata hai – Sachcha Jhoota and Roti brought audiences in droves to the theatres.

 

While Rajesh Khanna played a great romantic hero, wooing his heroine with a light tough, he played the heart broken hero with more panache. There was something terribly vulnerable about him as the man who is pining for love. It is hardly surprising that his fanclub was predominantly women. They probably wanted to hug away all his sorrows. In films like Kati Patang , Safar, Aap ki Kasam or even Anand – his pain at rejection is palpable. Songs like Zindagi ke Safar mein bichad jayege (aap ki kasam),  Jeevan se Bhaari in Aankho mein, Zindagi ka Safar hai yeh kaisa safar (both in Safar)  – all added to the aura of Rajesh Khanna. The Rajesh Khanna Kishore Kumar combination is as much a part of Indian film legend as was the Raj Kapoor Mukesh or the Shammi Kapoor Mohd. Rafi Combination. IF people loved to see him fall in love, they also seemed to love to see him lose in love. And more importantly die before he can tell the one he loves that he loves her. The films in which he doesn’t get together with the heroine are numerous. Movies such as Aap Ki Kasam, Safar, Anand, Khamoshi, Namak Haram, Amar Prem saw the hero lose, women cry buckets in the theatre and box office registers ringing over and over again.

There were accusations of him being a light actor – but films like Safar and Anand– where he plays a cancer patient who knows he is dying – Khamoshi – where he plays a man committed to an asylum because he has had a nervous breakdown because he has lost in love or even Avtaar where he is the unforgiving father to ungrateful children – laid to rest that notion. But, audiences wanted to see him as the romantic hero, when romantic films were going tout of vogue. Audiences moved away from the romantic classics to the angry young man films – that were personified by Amitabh Bachchan. And Rajesh Khanna could not make the transition. Its possibly because audiences could not imagine him smouldering with anger, with passion maybe, with unrequited love maybe – but not with the desire to change society. His persona was very much – my corner of the world rather than I will change the world. And, he stuck to that. No matter how the industry or the fans treated him – he maintained his dignity and his distance and remained the star.

 

Top 10 films

  1. Aaradhna
  2. Aapki Kasam
  3. Anand
  4. Amar Prem
  5. Apna Desh
  6. Avtaar
  7. Kati Patang
  8. Khamoshi
  9. Namak Haram
  10. Roti

Singing in the Rain – Part 1 – on the 100 years of Indian Cinema in the Lokmat

Monsoon have arrived. The rains washing away the heat and the dust of the past few months. There is something uniquely beautiful and reinvigorating about the season – its almost as though its onset revives the parched soul and gives it hope. For most rains are the season of renewal, of rejoicing, of kids on the street playing cricket or football in the rain, of getting drenched. For an agrarian people rains represent life itself. It is almost as though nature wipes clean all the ugliness of the past year and gives you a second shot at living. Monsoons – the world looks washed, the skies look silver and grey. The trees sway, the air smells fresh and there is that cool breeze that refreshes. And, despite the wetness, the slush, the potholes and the traffic jams – it is a time for fun, a time for flirting and a time for falling in lust and in love.

 

Have fun for it is Raining – Rains are a time for pakodas, garma garam chai and masti. There is something wonderful about getting soaked.

There is an energy and a buzz, and just that wee bit of a devil may care attitude. Kishore Kumar in Chalti ka Naam Gaadi lightly pulls the leg of a rain soaked and very irritated Mahdubala – ek ladki bheegi bhaagi se. There is nothing romantic about that song, unless you happen to think “uska koi peech bhi dheela hai’ to be particularly romantic. It is a fun song, lilting and merry and quite out of synch with the weather outside (pagli si kaali raat mein –says the song). But it is rain that makes one giddy with cheer. A bit like the kids dancing in the rain and singing Ghode Jaise Chaal, Haathi Jaise Dum – as a prelude to the song picturised on Shahrukh and Madhuri Dixit in Dil Toh Pagal Hai. More recently in the hit film 3 Idiots, Rajkumar Hirani recreates the fun of old fashioned Hindi cinema with a hat tip to the rain song and dance. Kareena in a blazing orange sari that looks like she has been poured into it, and Aamir Khan have fun in the rain with Zobie Doobie (bhigi bhigi sari mein yooh tumki lagati tu, )

Hold me – thunder and lightning scare me – The first rains with thunder and lightening is when the hero and heroine discover that they are more than just good friends. It is almost as though they realise in a thunderclap what they mean to each other. But thunder and lightening serve another purpose and that is to get the hero and the heroine together. She is obviously frightened, he has broad shoulders – and chemistry takes care of the rest. In the film Dil Tera Deewana, the sound of thunder sends Mala Sinha scurrying into the waiting arms of Shammi Kapoor who declares his intent and is pleasantly surprised when she reciprocates. In Betaab it is the turn of Amrita Singh to rush to Sunny Deol (who indeed has very broad shoulders) with Badal yoon baraste hain. Thunder also brings Zeenat Aman and Rajesh Khanna closer in the film Ajnabee – Bheegi, Bheegi Raaton mein..

Sizzling in the Rain – For some strange reason, rains in India have an opposite effect of a cold shower. Instead of cooling down passions they invoke them. And, the hero and the heroine discover hormones in addition to love. Rajesh Khanna and Sharmil Tagore in Aaradhna get drenched in the rain, and find shelter in a convenient wooden lodge with a blazing fire. And while Kishore Kumar croons Roop Tera Mastana – and the rain rages outside the house, passion rages inside. In later years women took the initiative. Somehow there is something special about women wearing saris and getting wet in the rains. Raj Kapoor mastered the art of the wet look for a traditionally draped woman, and other directors have just taken it forward. Shekar Kapoor in Mr.India gives Sri Devi the wet look while she dances away with an invisible Mr.India. While Rain with non stop thunder & lightening, doesn’t deter a sari clad Raveena Tandon, in the film Mohra, from sizzling to Tip Tip Barsa Paani while Akshay Kumar looks dumb struck.

Falling in love in the Rains : Remember Amitabh Bachchan and Smita Patil dancing to Aaj Rapat Jaye to in Namak HalaI. The streets of Mumbai have never looked cleaner, and discovering the joys of love on a handcart has never seemed more appealing. Getting wet for an entire song sequence – shot over multiple days is never fun. It is a testimony to the skills of both actors who make the song seem to be the ultimate falling in love experience. If that song was energetic love, then Mujhe Jaan na Kahon meri Jaan picturised on Sanjeev Kumar & Tanuja is at the other end of the spectrum. Sung by Geeta Dutt with almost no musical accompaniment the song oozes romance & tenderness. Then there is the amazing Rhim Jhim Rum Jhum from 1942 – where Manisha Koirala and Anil Kapoor discover a whole new world of romance and oneness in the rains. And, who can forget Nargis and Raj Kapoor in Shree 420 – Pyaar Huva ik raar huva defined romance for an entire generation, as sharing an umbrella and getting equally wet in the rains
Longing in the Rain – where is there is love, there is longing. And for some reason rains make you miss the one you love. O Sajna Barkha Bahar aayi picturized on Sadhna for the film Parakh deals with the parched yearning of a lover for her beloved – ‘tum ko pukaare mere man kaa papeeharaa meethhee meethhee aganee me, jale moraa jiyaraa’. And longing itself is sweet. Because you know that the rains will bring him or her back to you, because they remember you just as much as you think about them. When Bharat Bhooshan sings Zindagi bhar nahi bhoolegi woh barsaat ki raat – his song resonates ith the woman he briefly met – Madhubala –who longs for him as much as he longs for her. Today’s world of instant messaging and instant communication does not leave much scope for longing to see the one you love. He or she is but a click or a speed dial away. But, in an earlier era – longing for the lover was expressed through verse. Barsaat mein humse mile tum Sajan – possibly the most definitive of all love songs that speak the yearning of love in the rains.

The monsoons – a time to forget about water borne diseases, and potholes, of traffic jams and water logging and maybe just for an afternoon reminiscing about love, romance and the nicer things of life.

Ssongs featured in this column

 

On Heroes – 100 years of Indian Cinema

My column in today’s Lokmat Times. page 14

 

Hero, Hero on the Wall – which one of you is tall

India. A land of myths and legends. Of heroes and their heroics. Of larger than life men who perform the most incredible of deeds. The characteristics of the hero are fairly well defined through the ages. He is the alpha male. The leader of the pack. The man other men will follow to the gates of hell. The man whom women desire. A man who is capable of managing each of his relationships as though they were the most important in his life. A perfect son, one who would respect his parents’ wishes through hell and highwater – and, that is exactly what Ram did. On the eve of his coronation he accepts exile to fulfil his father’s wishes. The hero is A considerate kind lover, and while he is an alpha male, he is also comfortable with the idea of a strong woman.  Myth and legend is replete with stories of valorous heroes and feisty heroines – all the women in the epics be they Shakuntala or Sita, Draupadi or Subadhra are no wilting lilies – they can hold their own against the strongest of men.  The ideal hero is a great friend – a friend who will lay down his life for you without thinking – think Karna .  The Hero is a leader – a man who can inspire people to follow him. The Hero is multi talented. He can sing, dance, woo, hunt, game, be childlike in his innocence, yet have the wisdom of a  philosopher, be statesmen like, be a street fighter, hold the peace, go to war, and yet not appear contradictory and confused.  Every Hero is deeply human yet capable of taking on the powers to be, even if those powers are those of God or those blessed by God, and win. Most of us, who have grown up with the Indian epics Ramayan and Mahabharat can recognise these characteristics of heroes.

 

Given that the bar for heroes has been set so high, it is little wonder that in creating the hero for celluloid, all these characteristics have been retained. Anyone lower than that belongs in an art house film. A century of Indian cinema, the hero has gone trough multiple evolutions. From the earliest films such as Raja Harishchandra and Alam Ara, to the more recent Dabangg and Enthiran, the hero may have changed costumes, may have become more contemporary but at his core he is the same as his 5000 year old counterpart from the epics.

 

The birth of Indian cinema, a hundred years ago, was also the period when the struggle for freedom began moving out of elite drawing rooms into the space of mass consciousness. The previous year (1911) King George V was crowned Emperor of India, and that act was possibly the greatest fillip to a nascent Independence movement. Films that began getting made reflected the underlying anger of being a slave nation, and attempted to awaken the audience by defining a pan geographic cultural identity that helped in communicating age old  concepts of justice, equality and unity. Raja Harishchandra -  immortalised by  Harishchadrachi Factory – told the story of a King who gave up everything to keep up his word. In his journey from King to chandala and back again, the audience learnt the value of empathy and the oneness of people. In a country riddled by caste there could have been no better first film. The movie resonated across audiences, across the length and breadth of India.

 

The introduction of sound increased the penetration of cinema. People began watching stories in the language they were most familiar with. Stories of heroism, of valour, of love, romance, of great achievement, of the human spirit and the pursuit of perfection (God). Because of the British Raj, and the rules of censorship that existed – the hero could not directly go up against the Raj. Film makers however, found away around it, with heroes taking on unjust rulers. While Hindi films such as Diler Daku (1931) – a direct remake of Zorro –  lal-e-yaman (the Jewel of Yeman), were costume dramas that featured swashbuckling heroes – who danced, sang, wooed, loved their mothers and overthrew the wicked king – brought in the audiences and made lots of money – they also helped create the pan Indian hero. Regional cinema at this time tended to focus on mythological and historical topics, for example The Marathi film Ayodyecha Raja (1932) and the Tamil film Kalidasa (1931). Both looked at contemporary themes in the context of age old stories.  These films would typically run for weeks in large cities, and then the film reels will move to smaller towns and villages. Incidentally, the warrior woman on horseback was also popular in this era. The woman who represented Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi without it ever being mentioned on screen.

 

Post independence, the role of popular cinema has been one of the key instruments in building National Unity. The exploration of themes, the depiction of inequality, the tackling of issues arising from the conflicts between traditional and modern, between capital and labour, between the new elites and the masses were all depicted through the travails of the hero. Through the 1950’s and 1960’s the role of the hero was to combat the changing world around him. IT was to stand up against injustice (Marmayogi, 1951, Tamil) , to hold on to core ‘Indian values (Shyaamchi Aayi, Marathi, 1953), to highlight social evil (Do Bigha Zameen, Hindi 1953) and issues regarding rural poverty (Pather Panchali, Bengali, 1955.

 

It was the troika of Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor who played heroes in Hindi Cinema . Movies such as Shree 420 while actors such M.G.Ramachandran and N.T.Rama Rao began drawing in the audiences in Tamil and Telegu. Hindi film heroes played more real life characters with real life problems. While both NTR and MGR were definitely larger than life, imagery that helped with their political careers in the years to come.  Hindi films as well as films in the southern states worked best when hero led. While, movies in Marathi and Bengali worked more with story lines. It is an issue that has had repercussions on both Marathi and Bengali films in the years that followed. The absence of a Hero who would draw the audience into theatres consistently. That is not to say that Marathi and Bengali films did not have fine actors – they did and they do. But that one hero who cuts across class and sub regional barriers and unites the state or the region into seeing the film, is missing.

 

Amitabh Bachchan, Rajnikanth, ,  Salman Khan all play heroes that we are familiar with. Larger than life. Superheroic. The stories they tell may be different, but their characteristics are immediately identifiable. On the other hand, actors like Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Surya, Vikram play much more nuanced, much more westernised, more focused heroes. It is almost like the era of superhero is finally over, and Indian audiences have finally begun accepting men who don’t fight Gods as their heroes.