Jul 012012
 

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
Jun 172012
 

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

 

May 132012
 

My Column in today’s Lokmat 

Yes the Force will be with them

A mother is the cradle of civilisation. We are what we are because of them. And, in Indian cinema, they are the scene-stealers. And, also the cause for your samosa and popcorn getting oversalted, as your tear up in the comfort of the dark watching gung-ho males quivering their lips and warbling: “Maaaa!” Harini Calamur peeps into her bioscope to rewind Bharat”s history and Indian cinema”s solid theme on the special day and for Lokmat Times” continuing series on 100 years of Indian cinema

Aai! Maa! Mom! Mother. The term that is laden with emotion. An emotion of security and safety. An association of being well-loved. A memory of being scolded for doing wrong. A taste of your favourite meal. The comfort of hiding your head in her lap and wailing. The sensation of being protected, comforted and safe. A flash of her sitting next to you when you study. The vision of her bringing you a glass of piping hot tea, when you used to wake up really early to study for your board exams. And yes, a flash of her disapproving, which translates thus: “Look at something you have done!” All these memories are distilled in us as various threads that we can call on when we need it the most. These memories are indeed special. Almost every culture in the world has one day in the year dedicated to celebrating mothers, motherhood and the love that is showered on you. The logical question is why only one day, what about the remaining 364 days. And, the answer is quite simple — one day in a year helps create an ‘event’, sell cards, market chocolates, and create a warm & fuzzy feeling around motherhood.

 

In India the cult of worshipping the  mother is as old as time. The Mother Goddess, Mother Earth, Birth Mother, Adoptive Mother, Step Mothers, Mother of the heart – the epics had them all. The ancientIndusValleycivilisation had depictions of the mother Goddess. Hindu theology is replete with stories of the Mother of the Universe destroying evil and saving her children. The epics, the puranas have given us some fabulous role models as the epitome of motherhood. And, till today those ideal types  endure. Indian cinema has given them a lease of life and converted these to stereotypes we all know and love.  So, on Mother’s day –here is looking at you, mother!

 

The Mother as one who endures. The child gives birth to a mother, goes a popular saying. It is almost as though a switch is turned on. The moment a woman becomes a mother, her tolerance for all things increases exponentially. She endures for the sake of her child or children. She tolerates almost anything, until such time an invisible line is crossed. When that happens she takes action that is fairly final, including taking action against a child who disturbs the lives of her other children. . In legend this is the role played by Bhooma Devi or Mother Earth.  She who endures till she can endure no more. Movies have tried to build this epitome of motherhood through their narrative. All movie mothers built on this stereotype don’t necessarily have to kill their kids, but they definitely endure all sorts of travails and troubles while being good ‘marg darshaks’ for their children. The most famous of all Indian films based on this role model is Mehboob Khan’s film Mother India – starring Nargis. From the word go the movie is about a woman who endures everything that the universe throws at her. Death of a husband, extreme poverty, a salacious money lender, being a single mother, having to manage on her own – everything is taken in her stride with equanimity . The iconic poster of Mother India wielding a plough to farm on her meagre land and provide for her children reinforces this image of the Mother. And of course, the final scene in which she shoots her son to maintain ‘dharma’ is a hark back to the most ancient narratives of the mother. She has to do what is right for the good of the social order.

The Mother as the Guru, the teacher of values. A mother is the guide who forms the child’s character, teaches him between dharma and adharma. And, in this regard there is no mother greater than Kayadu, the wife of Hiranyakashyap and the mother of Prahlad. This tpye of mother is a pillar of goodness and decency and will stand up against her husband and disown her son, if need be, if they deviate from the path of righteousness. Indian films have honoured this form of mother in many movies. One of the most enduring Marathi Movies is Shyaamchi Aayi, based on the book by Sane Guruji. It is the story of a mother who teaches her son, through personal example,  the importance of values. Till today, the movie and its message resonate with audiences. Another mother in the same mould is Nirupa Roy in Deewar. She brings her sons up, with great difficulty –enduring poverty and manual labour to give them a chance at a better life. When her favourite son – Amitabh Bachchan (Vijay)  in one of the most powerful roles in Indian cinema – strays from the path of what is right, she disowns him and goes to live with the good son – Shashi Kapoor (Ravi). When Vijay taunts Ravi, in the film, with his wealth and possessions and asks Ravi what he has,Ravi’s retort “Mere paas maa hai” is a reminder of the values most mothers expected us to follow, and the acute disapproval when we didn’t follow those. The same is the case  with both variants of Agneepath. The mother’s disapproval of the wrong path chosen by the son is evident, as is the need of the son to be accepted by the mother. All three films end with the death of the errant son in the lap of the mother. As symbolism it can’t be greater – Motherhood will not accept wrong doing by the child and the imparting of values is as important as feeding or giving love.

The Unwed Mother – Happiness mana hai -  Ever since Kunti invoked the power of Surya – the Sun God to have a child, and then abandoned that child, Indian stories have had the motif of the unwed mother. The unwed mother will know no joy in her life. Her life is one of struggle and tears. Her overwhelming guilt at breaking societal rules and at abandoning her child cripples her actions, and allows her to believe that is her only fate in life is misery. The  Tamil film Dalapti, is a modern day interpretation of the friendship between Duryodhan and Karna – but the tragedy of the Mother is as much a pivot of the story as is the friendship. Sri Vidya plays mother to Rajnikanth (Surya) the son she abandons at birth, and Arjun, (Arvind Swamy)  the son she brings up. Her character, throughout the film, only expresses various degrees of acute unhappiness. The Hindi film Aaradhna and its Tamil Remake Sivakamiyin Selvan- have the lead female protagonist going through hell for act of having a child out of wedlock. However, the bonds of mamata are stronger than anything the universe can throw at the woman and she (Sharmila Tagore in Hindi, Vanisri in Tamil) stands like a rock to protect her son. In Paa, the heroine Vidya Balan, decides to be an unwed mother, and while society and her family is kinder to her, her child is afflicted with an illness that can only lead to tears all around. More modern films like Kya Kehna do not heap so much unhappiness on the unwed mother, but they are exceptions and not the norm.

Annapurna – the mother who feeds. Annapurna in Hindu theology is the goddess of food who takes great joy in seeing her children (all of us) fed. In Indian films. Maa ke haath ka khaana is one of the most oft repeated clichés. The mother is for ever making and feeding her children with the choicest of dishes. It is almost as though the love with which the mother makes the gaajar ka halwa or the garma garam phulke gives the hero a suraksha kawach with which the bullets of the bad guy are deflected. A mother, in Indian films, can look at her child and know his hunger. It has almost ruined most Indian children’s diets. The mother looks at her child, decides he is hungry and stuffs him with the most cholesterol ridden food. After all, if you cannot show your love through food, how else will you show it?

The Adoptive Mother – ever since Vasudev let  Krishna with Yashoda, on a dark and stormy night, motherhood implies the woman who nurtures and brings you up – not just the mother who gives birth to you. Movies like Naam, Parvarish, Amar Prem – talk about a feeling of ‘mamta’ that is beyond birth pangs. Her maternal instinct can embrace the whole world and still have enough maternal love left over for some aliens. In the film Anari(1959), Mrs.D’sa looks upon Raj Kumar (Raj Kapoor) as her own son, and he reciprocates that deep affection and feeling. Salma (Waheeda Rehman) brings up Sunny (Rishi Kapoor) with the same love that she had bestowed on her biological child Iqbal (Amitabh Bachchan) in the film Coolie.  In  Karan Johar’s film Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham – Jaya Bachchan’s character loves her adoptive son (Shah Rukh Khan) just as much as she cares about her biological son (Hrithik Roshan) . Movies  such as Mani Ratnam’s Tamil film Kannathil Mutthamittal (a peck on the cheek) deals with adoption in the modern era with a lot more sensitivity. But, it is an exception. By and large the old hindi film dialog “aaj se tu mera beta aur mein teri maa” (From today you are my son and I am your mother) holds more true than taking a nuanced look at adoption.

The Step Mother – ever since Kaykeyi moves into the kopagruha (the room of anger) and demands the exile of Ram and the coronation of Bharat – the role of the step mother has been looked at with suspicion. One of the earliest films from Kerala – the movie Balan dealt with a boy and a girl exploited by the evil step mother. They run away from home to find love elsewhere. In the Hindi film Beta – which is based on earlier Tamil (Enga Chinna Rasa) and Kanadda ( Mallammana Pavada) films deals with a step mother out of hell. Anil Kapoor’s character loves his step mother (Aruna Irani) and would move heaven and earth for her. She on the other hand wants him out of the way so that her own son can inherit everything. More recent films such as ‘We are Family” based on the Hollwyood film “Step Mom” take a more sensitive look at this issue – but frankly, it is far more fun to see an evil step mother on screen than have watch a much nuanced film on the same.

The Single Mother  – The prime example of a Single Mother who brings up her children with the best of care and nurtures them is Sita. She brings up her children alone, after her husband, Shri Ram, exiles her.  When they grow they take up the issue of their mother’s humiliation with their father fairly effectively. Kalidasa’s Shakuntala touches on the same theme. The woman rejected by her man and her fight for her child’s patrimony. The boy is Bharat – the emperor after whom this country is named. What greater tribute to a single mother.  Indian films are full of stories of women who are abandoned by their men because of social pressures. For example, in the film Trishool – Sanjeev Kumar abandons Waheeda Rehman. She moves away – into exile – and brings up her son. The son grows up to be Amitabh Bachchan and settles the score on his mother’s humiliation.

The Conflicted Mother – The bond of the mother and the child (son), as portrayed in legend so strong that it can sometimes threaten the authority of the man as the head of the household. One of the earliest example form the epics is the story of how Shiva decapitates his son for following his mother’s (Parvati’s) instructions .It takes a unleashing of Mother’s powers to get the Mahadeva to restore his Son’s life, albeit with an elephant’s head. That family lived happily after. But, most women have faced the conflict of choice between the two most important men in their lives – husband and son. In the film Moghul-e-Azan we see the depiction of the fight between Akbar (prithviraj kapoor) & Salim (Dilip Kumar). But the most imporatnat woman there is not Anarkali (Madhubala) but Jodha (Durga Khote) – the wife and the mother who is put in a position of having to choose. A similar predicament is faced by Rakhee in Shakti – her husband (Dilip Kumar) a cop and her son (Amitabh Bachchan) are estranged – and that takes a toll on her. She does, in both these cases, choose the husband – but the cost of her choice is high.

And finally even nature cannot compete with the power of motherhood. Death bows before her. As is evident in films like Karan Arjun – where Rakhee’s character wills her dead sons to be reincarnated to take revenge on those who wrecked her life.  The power of motherhood is a magic wand, it so impacts those who see it that even the wicked transform. In the film Dada (1979) gangster Fazlu (Amjad Khan) comes across the abandoned wife Tara Dharamdas (Seema Deo) and the way she brings up her son (Vinod Mehra). He is so moved by the power of that love that he turns new leaf and becomes ‘good’. The song “’Allah Karam Karna Maula Tu Reham Karna’ tells of the point of transformation of the bad into good through the power of mother hood. magic of motherhood is that it recognises ‘its blood’ even through blindness and does not need complex DNA tests. The line “meri mamta yeh keh rahi hai ki woh mera beta hai’ epitomises the woman’s link with her child. In the film Amar, Akbar, Anthony –a sightless  Nirupa Roy gravitates towards all her three lost sons without even realising that they  are hers. Motherhood sees no religion, no race, no looks. It just loves without questioning.

Indiais a young country – our median age is 26. In such an era film makers are tending to make films about the lives of 26 year olds and their trials, tribulations and coming of age. The mothers too have become more modern. Less traditional and more ‘cool’. However, when a film comes along that harks back to the traditional mother – the mother with the gajja ka halwa, the mother who soothes your brow, the mother who waits up for you to get home, the mother who yells at you because you are doing the wrong thing – it still resonates with the audience. Nothing stops us from celebrating Mother’s day all year long, but today is extra special. The day, that maybe, you tell you mother about all the little things that made your growing up years so very special.

May 102012
 

My column in today’s Lokmat

The biggest open secret inIndia was her disappearing daughters. As prosperity has increased, family size has reduced, and advances in medical techniques have led to families choosing only to have a boy, by terminating pregnancy when a girl child is conceived. The Government has banned sex selection tests through the PNDT Act, but as a people Indians  know how to get around or even break most laws. The very well to do take flights outside India to avail of end to end services that help them break the law, while the not so well to do go to shady fly by night operators and pay a premium to get the same done.   The end result is the same. Selection of boys over girls. Aamir Khan’s show “Satyameva Jayate” did something exceptional for a television show.  It got people across the nation to talk about the issue of female foeticide. The issue for the first time moved away from AC studios and news anchors to home and the neighbourhood.

Over the decades the sex ratio has been falling drastically. In the 1991 census there were 945 girls per 1000 boy in the 0-6 age group. A decade later in 2001, this figure dropped to 927 per 1000 boys. And in 2011, in a more prosperous, more educatedIndiathat figure has fallen even further – there are 914 girls per 1000 boys. What is even more appalling is that in cities likeDelhiand Mumbai the child sex ratio is worse. InDelhiit is 866 girls, Mumbai City 874 girls and Mumbai suburbs 910 girls to a 1000 boys. The rapidly dropping sex ratio on a decadal basis reflects one very stark truth about Indian Society. The girl child is unwanted. And, this holds true across the board, across communities and across socio economic groups. Maharashtrais no different. From an average of 913 girls per 1000 boys in 2001, the child sex ratio inMaharashtrahas dipped to 883. Thirty girls per every 1000 boys are missing.

When the census figure came out last year, the first reaction was disbelief. This cannot be happening inMaharashtra, there must have been a mistake, were the murmurs amongst ordinary citizens. The second reaction was denial – the drop in child sex ratio cannot be done by us, it must be ‘outsiders’. But, the truth is quite different. While cities like Mumbai and Pune that attract immigrants have seen a decline in Child sex ratio, the story is worse in smaller districts across the state. The worst impacted are districts like Beed (a drop from 894 to 801, 91 missing girls), Buldana (a drop from 908 to 842 – 66 missing girls), Washim ( from 918 to 859, 59 missing girls), Hingoli ( 927 to 868, a gap of 59). Everyone of the 35 districts in Maharashtra, barring Chandrapur, Satara, Sangli andKolhapur, saw a decline from the 2001 figures. But all these remained statistics until one event. Last year saw the discovery of female foetuses dumped in drain. That became the tipping point for multi pronged action against those who are adding to the problem of female foeticide.

 

In its attempt to redress the balance and save the girl child the Maharashtra Government has used a plethora of tools – from the legal to the technological, from the social to the financial. At the first level, the Government has strengthened legal and penal action against sonography clinics across the state. Most of us have been seeing and reading about increased action against these clinics, that help detect the sex of the foetus. The State has also gone after mobile sonography units that are mostly used for carrying out sex determination tests that precede female foeticide. The Aamchi Mulgi (our daughter) scheme launched by the CM Prithviraj Chavan set up a special help toll free help line to complain against such actions and offered a financial reward if information can prevent females being killed in the womb.

Also used to curb female foeticide is technology. The silent observer is a tracking device on ultra sound machines that logs activity. The idea behind this is to deter the medical practise from breaking the law and indulging in selective sex abortions. The technology allows recording of every activity done on a sonography machine and be used as evidence if needed. While it is possible to tamper with any technology – the fact remains that  has just become that much more difficult. There will always be people who break the law. There will be always be people who try and get around the system. But, it is important for law abiding citizens to know that the law exists and the State and the system is trying its best to do something about a very serious social issue.

 

The second is unprecedented cross party agreement and cooperation on ending this practise and redressing the gender ratio. We normally focus on isses where politicians are at each others throats to prove a point, but seldom do we see and hear those issues in which they work together for a greater good. Politicians like Sharad .Pawar who has one daughter in an era when large families were the norm, have led the way in showing that families with traditional values need not discriminate against the girl child. The state has brought in celebrities  like Ajay Devgn and Kajol, Sachin & Supriya Pilgaonkar who parents of daughters, to spread the message against female foeticide. Also the State has introduced a number of financial initiatives. But, most of these are for extremely poor families. The issue is not just about poor families, but families across social classes.

The State of Maharashtra, like all other states inIndia, is trying its utmost to save the girl child. But, it is not just about the State. When a person or people decide to break the law, there is very little the State can do, apart from catch them. But, that is too late to save the girl child. For every girl child that is killed there are atleast a dozen or more people involved. The family, doctors, technicians, nurses, support staff. How many people will you put in prison? The change has to come at the individual level. The State can at best be an enabler, but for true gender equality family and society has to try that bit harder.

 

May 062012
 

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.