Where Did All Of These Go?
By Gagan Rism
02 February, 2012
Gabbar's ‘Aak-thoo' is thing of past. And so is Om Prakash's whiny ‘aa haaan haaaan…' before delivering a dialogue and Utpal Dutt's ‘eeeeshhhh……'. Neither are seen anymore the miserly, cunning old Sahukars in our pastoral romances, nor the picnic-songs in the picturesque valley of Kashmir . At times, it leaves one wonder – where did all of these go?
Indian movies have come a long way from these innocent romances of past. Last decade, since the arrival of Lagaan (2001), has literally put a new garb on the character of Indian movies – experimental, multifarious, treading into traditional no-entry zones like homosexuality, sci-fi 3D future oriented heroes pushing effectively the typical Indian-ness of Indian movies behind the glam of avant-garde cinema. Not only the actors/characters but scenes, settings, plots, stories too have undergone tremendous change. Here is a bunch of some typical Indian characters lost in this newly discovered euphoria which has put Indian movies on global map.
Though the pastoral or chase-the-smugglers kinda romances are dead-long-ago, but a little scratch on the grey matter would resurface the legendary characters associated with them. The roles that shaped the character of Indian cinema, imparted it a distinctive trait that makes films typically Indian! These personas reflected the out-of-reel Indian society – literally as well as metaphorically. They were thus representations of not only their characters in narrow framework of the movie, but representations of entire society which enabled the viewers to identify with them and became a cause of their repeated typecasting in the movies.
Who could forget the Sukhilala of Mother India (1957) whose cunning sahukari (money-lending) spanned most of the countryside romances of that time. He represented the shrewd middleman of Indian agrarian society – crafty and deceitful. Western economy might have embarked upon fiat money and banking, but our Sukhilala would sail on his money-lending. He enabled the perception of moneylender in a particular perspective – a morally corrupt and sly usurer whose eyes always set on the jewelry of the womenfolk of the village. Kanhaiyalal with such dexterity performed this deceitful character that the moneylender got synonymous with him. He truly personified the Shylock of rural India . Ram Aur Shyam (1967), Upkar (1967) are iconic in this respect, not to forget of course Mother India (1957).
We are talking about 1950-60's India – this India which has recently gotten free from the yolk of British rule. Freedom is in the air, and so is the enthusiasm to build a new India . The air is replete with the rising voices of peasants in countryside, and workers in Mills of Bombay! The leadership has not tainted its character yet, and so has not the police. Both are concerned largely with securing this newly found freedom. Hence, major threat is from the antagonistic ‘external' forces and ‘internal' moneymakers. No doubt then villains of 1960's are the external invaders (mostly Chinese) or smugglers, black marketers and so on. Cops are always on their tows to deal with them. Who could be better than our own Jagdish Raj?
Imdb recognizes Jagdish Raj as the most typecast of Indian film actors who played the role of a Police Inspector in as many as 144 films! Hailing from Sargodha , Pakistan , Jagdish Raj immortalized the clean and honest ‘ khaki vardi' on screen. This is a transition period of 1960s to 1970's cinema – the dawn of smugglers. The likes of Ajit, Jeevan and Premnath are shrewdly deceiving the government with its deserving due of customs! Dev Anand's movies of this transition period best capture the rise of this new trend in villainy. Be it Johny Mera Naam (1970), Shareef Budmash (1973) , Chhupa Rustam (1973) , or Hare Krishna Hare Rama (1971) , the villain folk is busy in stowing away the ancient wealth of Indian heritage – its pristine idols of various Lords! Jagdish Raj is wonderful in these chase-and-nab riots. His brief stint on gondola ride behind Dev Anand and Hema Malini in song ‘O Mera Raja…' from Johny Mera Naam is equally splendid as the two protagonists! After Jagdish Raj, nobody has performed the character of a cop so beautifully on celluloid, even though he would have only brief dialogues. Most of the time, he would be a Sub-Inspector to senior Inspectors like Iftekhar!
Born in 1922 in Kanpur , Iftekhar Khan almost became a second name to DSPs, DIGs, IGs, in short, the high-ranking cop of this era. His business is invading into the minds of the murderers, groping for clues at the murder sites, nabbing the smugglers. Is there any parallel to Don's DSP D'Silva who took the breath away of the dreaded don, well, literally? Debuting in 1937 in Qazzak ki Ladki , his first stint as a police inspector came with Raj Kapoor's Shree 420 (1955) that continued with blockbusters like Guide (1965), Teesri Manzil (1966), Ittefaq (1969), Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971), Apradh (1972), Zanjeer (1973) and of course , Johny Mera Naam (1970). Iftekhar represented the honest cop that relentlessly pursues the criminal till his last breath. The way he would lighten up a cigar, look sideways from the camera, his eyes-lashes batting – all that lent a casualness as well as glam of a high ranking officer to his persona. The integrity, loyalty and efficiency of cops started and ended with these super-cops – Jagdish Raj and Iftekhar.
And, if operations demanded an overseas collaborations, the first (and probably the last) choice would be Tom Alter – the face-of-a-foreigner in Indian films. Born in 1950 in Mussorie, Tom Alter, of Indian-American origin, entered the scene with Charas (1976 ). In 1978 Dev Anand blockbuster Des Pardes , he succinctly puts the reason of his being a favorite of Scotland Yard, ‘.. because I am the only British officer that can talk to Indians in their own language!' That remained true out of that context as well! Tom Alter remained the only foreigner to be well-versed with Hindi as much as English, who looked and felt like a foreigner, but whom an average Indian viewer could identify as his own. Are we yet missing our favorite foreigner on screen?
If somebody could manage to escape from these cops, then it would usually be Boss's right-hand, trusted crony Shetty. Not that he would be smart enough for that, but he would have been dealt with by the Hero himself before police arrived. I won't get into the debate of why police always came late. Perhaps, to give a chance to Hero to show his mettle; or to give Shetty a chance to give Hero a tough battle. It is usually him who tests the Hero's prowess – a jampacked hand to hand combat, flying our Hero off the ground, blood oozing out of the corner of his lips! If no last minutes duel between this combo, what's the use of putting Shetty in the film? In nutshell, Shetty + Hero is what we call dhishoom dhishoom in our movies. To someone like Dharmendra, if someone behooves a match, then it is him. Shatrughan Sinha's words in Kalicharan (1976) echoes every other Hero's relation to him, ‘I have only one aim in life – Shetty, Shetty, Shetty!' This sums up the aura of Shetty!
Apart from these henchmen like Shetty and Mac Mohan, one that usually would grace Boss' Hall of Fame would be his eye-on-the-people, the mesmerizing cabaret dancer. Born in 1939, Helen J. Richardson, of Anglo-Burmese origin, was the original femme fatal of Indian Cinema! The paradigmatic cabaret dancer! Appealing, but not vulgar; only sensually aesthetic. Often, more sophisticated than the leading lady of the movie itself, in terms of her unique dressing style, her western-accented dialogues that added layers and layers to her panache. She is the only girl in bad-boys gang, who could hold a revolver as well as dance. When Helen would step on the floor, you could believe that floor would set on fire - literally! Even with a slow number like ‘Aa jaane jaaan….' from Intequam (1969) , she could wreak havoc with her performance. It is degradation to call her songs – item number considering what this term means in contemporary lingo. From Howrah Bridge 's (1958) ‘Mera naam chin chin choo' to Sawaal (1982) since Helen last performed her groovy number, Indian Cinema has not yet seen the diva like her. With these chase-the-smugglers riots, the Indian cinema embarked upon the romance-thrillers of 1980's, and evolution of parallel cinema as well!
There are a lot of masterly characters that I have not touched upon. For instance, I have not mentioned the worries of a typical caring old Mausi (Leela Mishra), or the eternal Maa of Indian cinema – Nirupa Roy and Achala Sachdev (remember Ae meri zohrazabeen ?), the quintessential Saas Lalita Pawar, or favorite fatherly figure – Nazir Hussain, or the perpetual drunkard Keshto Mukherjee. I have also not touched upon the running theme of lost and found, glorification of Heroes as thieves, a la Pocketmaar of 1970's cinema. But what I wish to close this write-up with the lost scenes which I mentioned at the opening rather. No more do we see picnic songs, rural belles competing with men-folk in carnivals, melodious songs on piano in the parties, classical dances on stage, or dances in the villain's den etc. The characters have lost, the themes have lost! Like them, pianos, tongas , valleys have disappeared from the big screen. Even if one dare revive any of these, would it survive in face of ‘Bhaag DK Bose' lure? Could there yet again a successful revival like ‘Ello ji sanam' from Andaz Apna Apna – a typical O. P. Nayyar melody in 1990s? Before makers, the viewers need to think.
Gagan Rism is a Research Scholar based at IIT Bombay. For the past many years, she has been doing freelancing. She can be contacted at email@example.com
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