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Analysing Bollywood classics

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Analysing Bollywood classics

In a cult of their own

Author - Amborish Roychoudhury

Publisher - Rupa, Rs 295

Is a film’s box-office performance the only parameter to judge it? Amborish Roychoudhury begs to differ, and presents his theory of ‘classics’ in his book, In a Cult of Their Own. Excerpt:

It was in the late 1980s that actor-turned-TV presenter Simi Garewal made a documentary called Living Legend: Raj Kapoor. It was aired on Doordarshan around the time Raj Kapoor passed away, in 1988. In it, Kapoor describes a scene thus: “…this performer has invited all his past attachments, emotional involvements — the girls, the teacher — all of them he has invited. He is a joker and he is giving his last performance. He knows that he’s going to die now. He has a kind of ailment and he is not going to live long. We begin with an operation: seven–eight doctors are pulling out the heart of a clown, of a joker. They pull out his heart, and then we find that he has no heart. And he’s walking on the ring of the circus, and he asks all from his past, ‘Have you seen my heart? Have you seen my heart? Please, have you? Anybody here who has seen my heart?’ This scene affects me very much. ‘Has anybody seen my heart?’ For that matter I feel that (there are) a very fortunate few in this world who have probably the distinction of having people who have seen their heart, to have loved them, to have received love in return…this affects me. Tremendously.”

Anybody even faintly familiar with Raj Kapoor’s work will vouch for the fact that this magnificent obsession summarises the man and his work, leading one to believe that he poured the essence of his very being into Mera Naam Joker; more than any of his other creations, more than Shree 420, more than even Awara, Mera Naam Joker is the one film that most aptly represented Raj Kapoor’s world view.

A little fiddling on YouTube will reward you with an ancient video depicting Raj Kapoor putting up a grand show at Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium for naval officers.* In attendance were the newly appointed Chief of Naval Staff, Sardarilal Mathradas Nanda, Admiral Chatterjee, President V.V. Giri, the Governor of Maharashtra, actors Prithviraj Kapoor, David, Simi Garewal, Dara Singh, Prem Chopra, Sadhna, Babita, Agha, Johnny Walker, Vimmi, Mehmood, Junior Mehmood, Helen, Rajendra Kumar, Jeetendra (introduced as ‘James Bondy’ Jeetendra), Raajkumar and above all, the stars of the evening, composer duo Shankar-Jaikishan and ace singers Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh. The audience were in a tizzy following the live performances of Rafi and Mukesh, when Rajendra Kumar introduced the song Jeena yahaan, marna yahaan/ Iske siwa, jaana kahaan from Raj Kapoor’s upcoming magnum opus Mera Naam Joker, with a group of sailors providing the chorus. After another round of Rafi’s popular numbers, Raj Kapoor appears on stage unveiling another number from his new project—Jaane kahaan gaye woh din/ Kehte thhe teri raah mein/ Nazron ko hum bichayenge. Following this, Kapoor himself waltzes on the stage and croons ‘E Bhai, Zara. Dekh Ke Chalo’ in his own voice, ostensibly to account for the absence of Manna Dey, who had sung the original.**

As is obvious, Mera Naam Joker was launched at en epic scale. Magazine covers, mainstream media, billboards, public functions—nothing was spared. But the plan was not to mount just one big film. The word on the street was, the great showman was conceiving a two-part spectacle. As quoted in daughter Ritu Nanda’s book Raj Kapoor Speaks, he is known to have spoken about this in an interview:

My work is my religion. My obsession. I stand or fall by the yardstick of my creative work. That is why I find questions concerning length, footage and how many parts and so on totally irrelevant, where Mera Naam Joker is concerned. Yes, there will be two films, Mera Naam Joker Part I and Mera Naam Joker Part II. Yes, both parts will be long. Is not human life long? And engrossing? And with never a dull moment?***

Enter Chintu Ji. Few films till the 1970s—such as Kitaab (1977) and Mera Naam Joker—had captured adolescence in all its idiosyncrasies. Although the growing pains of an adolescent are not exactly what the film largely concerns itself with, Mera Naam Joker goes into territories no one had ever explored before. Like a teenage boy’s obsession for his gorgeous teacher, his raging hormones and certain nightly indulgences adolescents commonly engage in. Rishi Kapoor mentioned on several occasions how he was over the moon when his father asked his mother whether he could borrow little Chintu (his nickname) for an acting job.Without further delay, the boy locked himself up in his room and got busy practising autographs.

Although it was hardly his first on-screen appearance (as is well known, Rishi Kapoor was one of the three little children scooting along wearing raincoats in the song ‘Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua’ from Shree 420), this was the first time he was playing a significant part, and hogging significant screen time. The chubby little blue-eyed boy that he was, Rishi was already winning hearts—his face stared from magazine covers, long before the film was released. As for his performance, it was self-assured enough for one to wonder if it could really have been his first acting role. He was spot on as the adorable little bundle of mush in love with the much older Mary (Simi Garewal), and his performance won him the Bengal Film Journalists’ Association (BFJA) Special Award. Amusingly enough, a younger Rishi (seemingly) falling for an older Simi was repeated again, exactly ten years later. The film was Subhash Ghai’s Karz (1980).




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