Films and rites of passage

In my series of columns celebrating Indian cinema, I spoke about my childhood experiences related to films in the previous two columns. In this column, my journey as a film viewer enters adolescence and adulthood.

Rajnigandha (1974) and Chhoti Si Baat (1975) are excellent films but only the music of Salil Choudhury in them registered on me as a seven and eight-year-old. The exquisite music of Salil Choudhury first captivated me when Anand came in 1971. I was three then. He is one of my favourite composers. The velvety softness of his tunes gives me both joy and peace. The rich world of film lyrics opened for me only when I was around 15. The songs of Anand, Rajnigandha and Chhoti Si Baat are memorable not just because of Salil Chaoudhury’s music but also Yogesh Gaur’s lyrics. Gaur’s lyrics in Mili and Baaton Baaton Mein are also great poetry, simple yet rich in emotions.
I sang Aradhana’s Mere sapnon ki rani kab ayegi tu as a three-year-old without having any idea what sapnon ki rani meant. I knew not when I stepped from childhood to adolescence and sapnon ki ranis entered my life. There were many love affairs with dream girls from real life, all of them one-sided. But the celluloid dream girls always had an edge over them. I was especially involved with Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi. Zeenat’s acting was deficient but in my teenage her skin show and loads of sex appeal were enough to make me her fan. When Qurbani came in 1980, I was 13, ready to have a great chemistry with her spectacular oomph in the movie. Zeenat in the sizzling numbers Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye and Laila O Laila set my generation on fire, reducing many to ashes.

Going back in time before Zeenat in Qurbani, I think the last time a heroine gave her competition with her sex quotient was Dimple Kapadia in Bobby. But Bobby came in 1973 when I was six.
Dimple with all her charms was just a blur for me. Of course, I discovered her later, a pulsating blend of innocence and raw sexuality in Bobby. Forgive my fixation with sexuality for I am talking of my early teens. I started going beyond the sexuality of women on screen, evaluating their acting, only in my later teen years after the storm of my sexual awakening had somewhat abated.

While still on screen sexuality, the bindaas Parveen Babi of Deewar hit me like a missile. She still hits me and softens me not just with her talent, beauty and the courage with which she discarded inhibitions and taboos, but also on account of the suffering she underwent due to mental illness before her premature death. Some films have grown with me, offering me fresh reasons to like them each time I saw them. Sholay and Deewar stand out among such films. Sholay amazes me every time I see it because of the way so many crucial aspects of film making have come together and fallen perfectly in place in it. Direction, script, music, cinematography, acting, costumes, locations – you name the department and it has excelled in the film.

Mughal-e-Azam stuns me every time I see it for the same reason. I have visited Deewar several times at different ages. Each time the film has taken me deeper into itself, making me marvel more and more at it. The film is taut with the tension of its plot. The plot moves with spontaneity but the hand of destiny seems to inexorably take it to its tragic denouement. Script is the king in the film and all its characters have served it well.

A movie that helped me mature as a film viewer is Guru Dutt’s Pyasa. I was overwhelmed by it when I saw it as a 17-year-old. Before I saw Pyasa, films largely meant music, acting, script and story. Pyasa showed me much more completely what the medium of cinema can be. Guru Dutt was both master craftsman and sublime poet. Pyasa is sheer poetry on celluloid, poetry of truth and pain. Guru Dutt has unraveled human nature and society with great insight and sensitivity in the film.

The black and white of Guru Dutt’s films and the way he used light and shadow heighten the emotions shown. He reached deep into the recesses of the heart and mind with his camera and turned his films into his soulful, ethereal signatures. Guru Dutt left the world at the age of 39 in 1964, but like all true artists, will live forever. His soul will speak through his work to every age. It is painful how genius gets very little time at times to tell its tale. Guru Dutt’s life and work show that however great the artist, the art is greater than him. The medium of films is the real showman, offering a chance for many artists to bloom and communicate with the world. Long live Indian cinema. See you at my next show next week.
The author is a senior journalist and columnist
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