I suppose I should have dedicated this blog post to fellow blogger Anu Warrier, since the uncanny coincidences that dog our two respective lives and blogs seem straight out of a Hindi masala flick. There is also the fact that Anu and I got slightly acquainted with each other online years ago, then lost touch—until ‘meeting’ again on a film blog a couple of years ago, and realising that yes, this was the same person.
But no, this post is dedicated not to Anu, but to Sidharth Bhatia, whose delightful book Amar Akbar Anthony: Masala, Madness and Manmohan Desai, I’ve been reading. Here, by the way, is my review of Sidharth’s book—if you like Amar Akbar Anthony (and I, despite my love for 50s and 60s cinema, have to admit that I do, wholeheartedly), do get hold of Sidharth’s book. It’s a very satisfying read.
Amar Akbar Anthony, as those familiar with the film would know, is the classic tale of lost and found: the parents and their offspring (three sons) are separated from each other. The mother is blinded when a falling tree knocks her on the head while she’s running off to commit suicide after realising her husband is a criminal. The husband, meanwhile, has had a confrontation with his boss, has escaped with some smuggled gold, and blah blah… many, many events lead up to the couple’s three sons going three ways, too. One, a baby, is adopted by a Muslim tailor. One, sheltering on the steps of a church, is adopted by a Christian priest. And one is taken under the wing of a Hindu police officer.
22 years later, everybody—till now, totally oblivious about the existence of each other—finally discovers where and who their nearest blood relatives are.
Reading Sidharth’s book, I was struck by the fact that some tropes have gone so completely out of fashion in Hindi cinema—like the ‘lost and found’ trope. This wasn’t at all uncommon in Hindi films from the 50s, right through to the 70s. I won’t go so far as to say it was there in every other film, but it wasn’t considered too unreal or outré to be shunned by script writers.
Some weeks back, when Richard reviewed Kismet (1943), he’d suggested that it might be the earliest example of a lost-and-found child (as opposed to the lost-and-found sweetheart) theme. This sparked off a discussion on whether Kismet, indeed, was the first film to utilise this trope (a theory, incidentally, which Sidharth Bhatia too adheres to in his book, though without the qualifying bit about lost-and-found child). Or was it Taqdeer, released the same year?
I can’t tell, really, but I’d like to propose another film as the first Indian film to deal with the lost-and-found theme: India’s very first feature film, Dadasahib Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra (1913). The story of Raja Harishchandra, after all, does centre around a man, his wife, and their child—who are separated from each other because of circumstances, and only come together after having weathered various storms.
Whether it was Raja Harishchandra, Kismet, Taqdeer, or some other film (The Jungle Princess, perhaps?), one thing is certain: Hindi cinema fell in love with the idea of lost-and-found relatives/sweethearts/friends (even enemies) pretty early on—and continued the love affair for well over four decades.
Why this love for losing characters and finding them, always years later? Possibly because, with Hindi cinema—especially prior to the 80s—being so focussed on family and its importance, it made sense to show how devastating the loss of family could be. Family was what you identified with; if lost—in whole or part—it made you lose some of your identity too. That was why the scion of a very ‘respectable’ family ends up a criminal, if only a petty thief, in Kismet (and Boyfriend, and Waqt, and countless other films). That was why, in Amar Akbar Anthony, children born in a Hindu home ended up being brought up as a Muslim and a Christian. Getting lost messed around with your life and sent you down paths you’d never have travelled otherwise. Sometimes good, sometimes bad.
There were innumerable films that dealt with the theme, in varying degrees of complexity.
The most basic and least distressing, perhaps, were offspring who were not really lost, but had been brought up by one parent while separated from the other (Nasir Hussain, in Dil Deke Dekho, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, and Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon, was a pro at this). Even though one could always be sure in Hindi cinema that a poor lost child—no matter how small and how helpless—would always be picked up by some benevolent soul who would look after them and bring them up, it was always a comfort when the child, even if separated from one parent, was at least in the loving care of the other parent. So what if the parents themselves were at daggers drawn (as in the case of Nasir Hussain’s oft-repeated formula)?
Sadly, for every baby who ended up with Mum while Dad sulked or stayed away for whatever reason, there were babies and even slightly older children who were separated from both sets of parents. The reasons for these were invariably turmoil, whether manmade or natural. Among the natural, it got as disastrous as it possibly could: storms (preferably at sea, as in The Jungle Princess), floods (Ji Chahta Hai), and—the granddaddy of them all, earthquake (which was what shattered the family in the first big multiple-starrer, multiple-lost-and-found film, Waqt). Plus, of course, not a natural disaster, but not intentional, either—the Kumbh ka Mela (or any other largeish fair, for that matter).
And for every baby lost in a natural disaster, there were a dozen lost as a result of baddies at work. In some cases, it was a case of merely kidnapping an enemy’s child and bringing up him/her as one’s own (what purpose that would serve, unless one liked staying up nights and changing dirty nappies for someone else’s offspring, I don’t know).
Then there were those unfortunate children—Shashi Kapoor’s baby self in Pyaar ka Mausam, Hema Malini’s baby character in Paraya Dhan, the three siblings in Yaadon ki Baaraat, and of course the three brothers of Amar Akbar Anthony—who were separated from their parents and/or each other in far more violent circumstances. Arson, dacoity, murder (that bloodbath in which the parents are gunned down in Yaadon ki Baaraat is gruesome), and everything from smuggling to evading the cops, such as in Amar Akbar Anthony.
At their simplest, films had a child separated from a parent. Slightly more complex, there would be two parents, both separated from the child, and from one another. Even more complex (and Waqt seemed to have begun this in great earnest, followed by everything from Yaadon ki Baaraat to Amar Akbar Anthony) were films where it wasn’t merely one child, but multiple children, all of them set adrift and alone by fate.
Often, however, another dimension was given to the lost-and-found theme: the childhood sweetheart. This, too, could go different ways, with the most common being the childhood friend and best buddy of the opposite sex, whom one was wrenched from in unhappy circumstances, and came back to find grown up and most attractive. Anmol Ghadi, Shola aur Shabnam, Deedaar and Hum Kisise Kum Nahin fall into this category. (In a refreshing departure from the norm, though, the love story in Deedaar is one-sided; Dilip Kumar’s character is deeply in love with Nargis’s character, but she thinks of him only as a friend).
(a) promised to each other (even if they hadn’t come within bawling distance of each other); or
(b) worse still, married to each other, and then separated by circumstances (that flood in Ji Chahta Hai) or by irate parents (Chhoti si Mulaqat is a prime example), or by a concatenation of circumstances, people, and more (Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam).
The whole point with having a child being separated is that the child is too young to be able to identify himself/herself and his/her parents, and—as he/she grows up—changes sufficiently in appearance to make identification well-nigh impossible for a parent or other adult who would have recognised the infant.
This, of course, leads to another important aspect of this entire getting-lost-and-found business: the fact that nobody in Hindi cinema is ever irrecoverably lost.
If they’re adult and ‘lose’ the rest of their family because of either illiteracy, amnesia, emotional trauma (typically brought on by any of the causes listed above, such as fire, earthquake, hoodlums and so on) or blindness—[a time-honoured and very convenient disability]—there is still hope.
After all, they are adults. They will be able to remember whom they belong to, and where. Eventually, even if not right now. They will also hopefully be able to recognise well-loved voices if heard again. Which is why a ‘shared’ family song is such a very useful thing. From Tum bin jaaoon kahaan to Yaadon ki baaraat nikli hai, there’s much in Hindi cinema to prove that signature tunes, carefully guarded and sung only by a very select few, can be useful in bringing them together when lost. [This also leads to an unsettling question: does learning the same family song leave a family more prone to being separated?]
Even if it’s through newspaper advertisements, suddenly-recovered memory, the family song, or the help of benevolent strangers, lost adults have an easier time of it. The ones doing the searching might have a hard time, ending up wandering around and singing to attract the attention of the lost—a technique I’ve never quite been able to swallow.
The problem arises with the kiddies, especially when they’re too small to be able to memorise songs (though Tum bin jaaoon kahaan got around that hurdle too). Children have to be helped out in other ways. Typically, in a Hindi film, if a child has a distinctive mole or birthmark or other easily identifiable (and unique) physical feature, you can bet the kid is going to be lost in the course of the film. If the child doesn’t have any of these, a loving parent will bestow an artificial equivalent, such as a tattoo.
Tattoos, especially of the Ramkali or Lakshman type, etched badly onto a forearm, are of course painful and certainly unfashionable if the child is destined to grow up into a suave Shammi Kapoor.
Much easier and less trouble is a convenient piece of jewellery [a locket is de rigueur, though I’ve seen signet rings and taaveezes used to good effect, too]. Or, better still, baby photographs. These, of course, will remain hidden through much of the film—at least when the now-adult ‘lost child’ is in the presence of someone who, if aware of his/her identity, would immediately know that this person was a long-lost offspring.
Which brings us to another facet of the lost-and-found saga: the inevitable meeting, without being aware of who the other person is. Manmohan Desai went overboard in Amar Akbar Anthony, with a mildly injured Nirupa Roy (mildly enough to go traipsing about later in the day, injured enough to need blood transfusions), being given blood simultaneously by her three sons, without either them or her being aware that they’re all blood relatives. [Hindi cinema, interestingly, seems to take the term ‘blood relative’ literally. If you’re blood relatives, your blood group will always match].
In less extreme cases (and Amar Akbar Anthony, admittedly, went a little over the top when it came to coincidences), there are unintentional meetings and crossings-of-paths between the separated relatives. Sometimes, they are the sort that will have a massive impact on how the story plays out. As an example, the scene in Pyaar ka Mausam where a wealthy, urbane Shashi Kapoor hears a blind and poor old man singing a song, and is so impressed by the song, he decides he wants to learn it too (not realising, all the while, that this is the song, the family song).
Then there are those gratuitous meetings, which are put in just to allow the audience—who are in on this, of course—the satisfaction of knowing something the characters in the film don’t. And plenty of them, too, including near-misses between people who might have recognised each other. Look at Waqt, for example, which is littered with moments like this. The scene where Sunil Dutt (the second of three sons who were lost) sits down, broken-hearted and dejected, next to an old man by the seashore, unaware that this is Daddy.
Or when Daddy, banging into a panicking young man who’s running for his life, grabs the young man—who is accused of murder—and hands him over to the police, little aware that this is Son#3. Or when Mummy, coughing her lungs out, goes past whimpering and helpless, just as Daddy has passed by, both looking elsewhere.
These are very brief episodes, hardly-remembered (though everybody in Hindi cinema seems to have a great memory—they’ll even remember, at least by face, anybody they’ve bumped into once, even if no words or blows were exchanged. All that’s needed is for the other person to be a long-lost parent/sibling/sweetheart).
Frequently, however, these chance meetings develop into full-fledged relationships. [In which, invariably, the two people concerned wonder why, for no explainable reason, they feel a certain affinity for the other]. A long-lost child, now grown up, will evoke paternal feelings in a parent; this will be reciprocated.
It’s all a way of setting up relationships so that one already knows the person one’s going to turn out to be related to. Isn’t it so much more satisfying to discover that the young man (or young woman) who’s aroused your maternal affection is really your offspring? And what’s the fun in discovering that XYZ is a brother, if you haven’t already sung a song with him? Where’s the ecstatic relief in discovering that ABC is actually your husband, if you aren’t already deeply in love with him?
The occasional brave scriptwriter has gone the other way and taken the risk of having the separated relatives end up on opposite sides, in some cases unable to even bear the sight of each other. Nasir Hussain was a pro at this; his story—used repeatedly (and even copied somewhat in Mere Sanam)—had the long-lost son (brought up the mother) meet his father when grown up, and fall in love with the father’s foster daughter. The father, hoodwinked by a villain who’s masquerading as the son, takes an instant dislike to the hero since he’d much rather the heroine married the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I could go on and on (and, looking back at this post, I realise I have gone on and on). The point I’m trying to make is that the lost-and-found trope was a delightful one, with completely improbable happenings, crazy coincidences, and plot elements that were a given, all the way from tattoos and ‘family songs’ to accidental-but-unrecognised meetings. All of it was not just hard but impossible to believe.
There was, however, the joy of knowing that all would turn out well. If one of the lost had gone off the straight and narrow (Raj Kumar’s character in Waqt, Pran’s characters in Johnny Mera Naam and Amar Akbar Anthony, Shammi Kapoor in Boyfriend, Ashok Kumar in Kismet, etc), they would still be intrinsically good at heart, and their crimes would never be dire enough to merit anything more than a not-too-hard prison sentence.
There was the happy feeling that came from the knowledge that the family—that ever-important social unit, even in Hindi cinema in this century—had come together again, triumphing over everything fate had thrown their way. There were songs (and many of the lost-and-found sagas, right from Kismet in 1943 to Amar Akbar Anthony in 1977, had excellent music). There were beautiful heroines. Or, in the rare instance where the lost offspring was female, as in Mere Sanam, a passable hero [I have to admit to not really categorising Biswajit as ‘handsome’. Pretty, yes, handsome, no].
So much fun. And, really, if that isn’t entertainment, what is?