Our recent trip to Nainital prompted me (actually, even before we left on our trip) to read Gulshan Nanda’s novel Kati Patang. Gulshan Nanda, for those who may be unfamiliar with his work, wasn’t just a hugely successful writer of Hindi social-romantic popular fiction, but also a script writer for Hindi cinema: he wrote the scripts (many of them based on his own novels) of blockbusters like Saawan ki Ghata, Khilona, Kati Patang, and Jheel ke Us Paar. This insightful article about Nanda’s writing, as well as its adaptation to the big screen, is worth a read.
The Hindi film industry has always been an upholder of patriarchy. Its male stars attract ridiculously high prices in comparison to their female colleagues, and have disproportionately longer careers than them (plus a much longer time as leads). Sexism is rampant, ranging all the way from sexual discrimination to violence. And, though more women directors, scriptwriters, lyricists etc are around now, it’s still pretty much a male-dominated industry.
Hardly surprising, then, that most of our films tend to look at things (at best) from a male point of view. At worst, they uphold patriarchy in its most virulent forms, reducing women to a cypher, expected to devote their lives to the service of men. Ever-forgiving Sati Savitris, wrapped in saris and simpering prettily every time their lord and master deigns to be kind. Or unkind, it doesn’t matter; he is still her devta.
Doli is one such film, steeped in patriarchy and regressive in the extreme.
It begins in a college, where Amar (Rajesh Khanna) and Prem (Prem Chopra) have just graduated. Amar is the star athlete, Prem the star pupil who has topped the college and won a scholarship for higher studies in America. Later, in their dorm, both Prem and Amar receive letters from home, informing them that their weddings have been fixed. On the same day, in the same town, Nasik. Neither of them is happy about this, but Prem, having known already that a match had been found for him, is rather more resigned.
Hindi cinema has, for many decades (much of its existence?) been stereotyped. Mush, melodrama, music. The usual plot of countless films over the years has been dominated by a few given elements, even when the film’s main story may straddle other genres, such as thriller or comedy. You can’t have a Hindi film without romance, song and dance, and melodrama, seems to be the rule followed by most film makers.
Which is why the exceptions to the rule come as such a breath of fresh air. Majhli Didi, Dekh Kabira Roya, Kaanoon, Ittefaq… and this touching, tragic yet heartwarming story of a toddler wandering through the streets of big, bad Bombay.
For many years now, I’ve been fascinated by what I call the ‘supernatural’ subgenre of Indian suspense films. Offhand, I can’t recall too many [any?] non-Indian films that used a supposedly supernatural theme to veil what was a definitely corporeal, criminal deed. Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, Mahal, Woh Kaun Thi?, Bees Saal Baad, Poonam ki Raat, Anita—all of these (and plenty more) used tropes such as spooky songs, ‘ghosts’ (invariably women in white), mysteriously creaking doors, swinging lampshades and seemingly haunted havelis, all forming part of a grand plan to convince someone that they were surrounded by bhoots when in reality they were surrounded by crooks.
Raaz is one of those films. And yet not.
I can blame my not having watched Bahaaron ke Sapne all these years on my father: when I first expressed an interest in the film because it had been directed by Nasir Husain (back then, a teenaged me associated Nasir Husain only with frothy and entertaining films like Dil Deke Dekho, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, and Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon), my father said, ‘It’s a serious film.’
And that was that. Because, back then, I didn’t care to ask how serious. Anything that smacked of reality rather than escapism was not to be touched with a barge pole.
I was born in an odd generation that somehow missed the Rajesh Khanna euphoria. I missed inheriting it from my parents, who had been young and film-crazy when Ashok Kumar, Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand had been in their prime. And I missed being part of it; I was born just after Rajesh Khanna—who had one of the shortest-ever reigns of any superstar anywhere—had come to the last of his 15-in-a-row super hit films.
Yes, I admit it: I am not too much of a Rajesh Khanna fan. I like him alright; I think he’s gorgeous in films like Aradhana, and so very poignant in Anand. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to read a biography of the man. So, when I received a review copy of Gautam Chintamani’s Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna (Harper Collins Publishers India, P-ISBN: 978-93-5029-620-2; E-ISBN: 978-93-5136-340-8; ₹499; 242 pages), I was a little ambivalent. I was not particularly interested in the life of Rajesh Khanna. On the other hand, this man had acted in some of the greatest hits of the late 60s, films that were both extremely popular as well as critically acclaimed.
I saw very few films till I was about ten years old. Till then, my father had been posted in small towns that had rather dreadful cinema halls. Then, in late 1982, we acquired a TV. And suddenly, though there wasn’t a spate of films to see (Doordarshan’s Sunday 5:45 PM film was the highlight of our week), there were some films to see. And, thankfully, I was old enough to understand what was happening onscreen.
One of my earliest recollections of that period is of watching Anand. For me—exposed till then to the usual Hindi film, where the hero always had a love interest, and where there were few (and mostly pretty melodramatic) moments of tragedy—Anand was different.
There was never any doubt that Rajesh Khanna’s character was the hero. He was ebullient, full of life, charming, friendly, yet (in those moments of solitude) sensitive. I kept waiting for a heroine to pop up.
While, in the world of Hindi films, songs are often sung on trains, alas – trains too are occasionally dangerous places to be in. And I’m not simply talking about a train in which a heartbroken and lonely hero or heroine is travelling [such trains invariably have frightful accidents in which the hero(ine) is about the only person left alive and whole, though he/she has lost his/her memory, leading to interesting complications].
I first watched Khamoshi when I was a child (and too immature to really understand it). I last watched it as a teenager, more able to appreciate the film—which left a handful of clear, sharp images burnt into my memory: Dharmendra, looking out over a balcony and singing Tum pukaar lo; Dharmendra flinging a glass of water at Waheeda Rehman and then watching, half-bemused, half-shy, as she laughingly wipes her face against the front of his shirt. Waheeda Rehman, clinging to Rajesh Khanna but thinking of Dharmendra.
So, considering that this last week saw Dharmendra’s 74th birthday (on December 8th), and having read some very enjoyable posts by fellow bloggers: I decided it was time to re-view and review Khamoshi. It came as a bit of a surprise to realise that Dharmendra actually appears onscreen for just over 5 minutes (and that includes a song). The male lead is Rajesh Khanna. And the film belongs to Waheeda Rehman.
Sabrina Mathew’s recent post on cinema’s most beautiful women reminded me that it was time for me to do the second of my eye candy posts. Men again, but this time it’s good old Hindi cinema. As a reader pointed out, early Hindi cinema—the 30’s and 40’s—doesn’t seem to have had too many men who could be classified as hunks, but by the 50’s and 60’s (the period I concentrate upon) we had them in deliciously large numbers. Here goes, more or less in order, with my top ten: