If you began reading this in happy anticipation of gems like Mera Saaya and Teesri Manzil, allow me to disillusion you. The mysteries I mean are those that occur in Hindi films of just about any conceivable genre from the 50’s and 60’s. They’re plot contrivances that have puzzled me for a long, long time, and made me wonder if sometime, around the genesis of Bollywood, some little-known scriptwriter laid down rules which, idiotic and illogical though they may be, became gospel truth and continued to be followed faithfully for the next few decades.
Here we go.
Mystery 1. Why is it that women need simply tuck their hair up under a cap or turban and wear trousers, and they can pass themselves off as male? Doesn’t anyone wonder about the high-pitched voice? Aren’t they astonished at the youth’s well-endowed chest or his rather shapely waist? Don’t they wonder why he’s so paranoid about remaining clothed from head to toe?
Mystery 2, in a similar vein. Why are men’s disguises so cursory? Clothes maketh a man, I know, but they don’t work miracles. Neither do a paan tucked into one cheek; a patently false moustache and beard; a turban; or spectacles. But in the convenient world of Bollywood, even such contrivances successfully fool people—wives, parents, girlfriends, etc—who should be able to recognise the man in question. His height and width hasn’t changed; his voice is the same; and if you look closely, so are his nose and his eyes behind all that shrubbery. Even I can identify these guys:
Mystery 3, a little gory now. Why do even educated people (who presumably have watched enough cinema or read enough books to know better) act so dumb when confronted with a bloody corpse? Why must they:
1. Touch all that blood and gore (Ewww). It’s obvious the poor creature’s dead; wallowing in all that blood isn’t going to do them any good.
2. If there’s a weapon—dagger, gun, etc—around, quickly grab it, preferably with bloodied fingers. Why?
3. Run, and that too only after someone (nosey neighbours, the police, a watchman, etc) arrives in the vicinity. Again, why? Isn’t this vaguely indicative of guilt?
And all this, mind you, while completely innocent.
Mystery 4, and this often crops up in rife-with-crime films, which feature a good-at-heart vamp, a girl who drinks, smokes and flirts, though she doesn’t sleep around or kill people. Why does this type of girl always fall for the hero, and why does she, usually towards the end of the film, end up dying trying to save the hero’s life? Yes, I know she’s the awkward and unwanted third in a love triangle, but surely there are less gristly ways… and this, by the way, seems also the usual way to get rid of the `other’ girl, even if she’s not bad, just pesky. Why?
Mystery 5, a little risqué. Why is it that if a girl sleeps with her boyfriend—or husband whom she’s married secretly—(though I don’t see how exchanging garlands in a deserted temple, with no witnesses around, can be classified as a marriage), the following is bound to happen:
1. She gets pregnant. What timing! What fecundity!
2. The poor bloke either cops it, or is presumed to have copped it, or in some cases, vanishes (due to circumstances beyond his control) from the girl’s life.
Mystery 6. Why are hotels such dens of iniquity? I have come across some hotels where the food might have been better for a splash of poison or where the staff was surly enough to make me think they’d happily murder me in my room. But why do Hindi films make every hotel out to be a front for smugglers, murderers, traitors and gangsters of the worst sort (with, of course, the slinky dancer—invariably Helen—being responsible for distracting pesky policemen/amateur detectives)?
Another question: how on earth do hotel managers find time to manage their hotels and their nefarious activities? I worked in a hospitality company for four years, and spent most of it trying to juggle a million different tasks. I didn’t have the time to leer at any dancers (the hotel was obviously pretty duh, since we didn’t have a dancer anyway), or smoke cigars, or do any of the other stuff filmy hoteliers do.
Mystery 7. On a different, more domestic note: assuming a parent gets separated (ideally, at the Kumbh ka Mela!) from his/her child and doesn’t see the offspring until he/she is grown up. Why does the sight of the offspring (even if he/she looks nothing like either parent) make the estranged parent feel there’s something `familiar’ about the person? And why (and Nasir Hussain was particularly good at adhering to this rule in the films he wrote and directed) is the parent:
1. Suspicious of, or downright belligerent towards, the offspring?
2. Guardian to the offspring’s beloved?
3. Keen on his/her ward marrying someone other than the person he/she loves?
These questions are getting to be a tad too many.
Mystery 8. How come makeovers are such a cake walk? I don’t mean the makeovers where you go get a new hairstyle and slather on lots of greasepaint. I mean big time makeovers, where an illiterate villager—someone who’s spent their life herding goats or washing clothes at the local ghat—becomes hip and happening in a twinkling. If it’s a girl, one totter across the room and she’s perfectly balanced on stilettos; if a man, knotting a tie becomes second nature after one try. And the intricacies of dancing (from the twist to the waltz), of playing a piano, of knowing which cutlery’s what, of being fluent in not just English but also often a handful of foreign languages—seem to be mastered in a jiffy. How?
Mystery 9. Why is buying a train ticket tantamount to signing a death warrant for one’s fellow passengers (this is valid only if the person in question is the hero or heroine, especially if wronged, heartbroken and wanting to run away from it all)? How come, in such a case, the train always either plunges down a gorge or falls off a broken bridge into a river? The casualties may run into the hundreds, but why is it that the hero/heroine:
1. Is given up for dead by all and sundry
2. Is rescued by strangers
3. Loses his/her memory (sometimes) and is able to begin a new life
I’m thinking the Indian Railways should protest. This isn’t exactly good publicity for the corporation.
Mystery 10. How do people fall in love with people whom they’ve never seen, sometimes never even met? This seems to be particularly popular with women when the beloved happens to be either a poet or a writer. For men, especially in Muslim socials, just a glimpse of the hand (or foot) of a burqa-clad girl can result in the love of a lifetime, without a word passing between the two people involved. Slightly tricky, I’d think.
Ah, how I love Hindi cinema!