Silver screen, golden battles

In my previous column I had said that I spent the best time of my life at my nani’s place (grandmother) in Begusarai as a child in the early 70s. The film songs played on the record player at my grandmother’s house are deeply associated with happy memories. These songs always have a feel-great effect on me. The songs of Abhimaan (released in 1973) and many Rajesh Khanna hits are particularly close to my heart because I heard them as a child. 

Aradhana came in 1969. As a two- and three-year-old, I loved its song Mere sapnonki rani kab ayegi tu and sang portions of it with a child’s endearing lisp with a lot of prompting from my elders. 

I hadn’t the faintest idea what the lyrics meant and so had no answer when grown-up members of my family asked me who my sapnon ki rani was. 

The spell that Anand Bakshi’s lyrics and SD Burman’smusic in the film cast on me as a three-year-old has only grown in power with age. 

The wonderful film melodies of the 70s added to the happiness of my childhood. Films were a world of mystery for me. 

For some reason, perhaps the enigma of the hero (DevAnand) chasing an elusive lady (ZeenatAman), the song Ek paheli hai tu, naar naveli hai tu from Heera Panna (1973) reigns among the songs that trigger childhood memories of bliss. 

I listen to it sparingly lest its hold on me weakens and I get deprived of a source of sublime joy. The joy comes both from the lyrics of AnandBakshi and the music of RD Burman. Kishore Kumar’s voice has always lifted my mood and given me youthful energy. This may partly be because many of the songs from my childhood have his voice. 

Begusarai was a quiet place when I was a child. Afternoons made it quieter. Loudspeakers mounted on rickshaws advertising movies being shown in the town’s cinema halls broke its quiet at times.
 I think films were publicised then only through these ads and wall posters. Film publicity has sure come a long way since then.

The first film whose story and dialogues I understood substantially was Sholay which came in 1975 when I was eight, studying in class 3. Deewar came around the same time and made no impression on me. 

But older children in my neighbourhood were captivated by its dialogues and Amitabh Bachchan’s performance. 

Amitabh’s on-screen anger pacified them. My connection with Deewar began in my teens, when shades of anger that accompany adult life started building up in me. 

At eight, I was old enough to grasp the cops-and-robbers plot to which Sholay can be reduced. Sholay made a huge impression on children of my age because it isgrand and simple at the same time. It took 45 minutes for the school bus to reach my school from my bus stop. 
For a long time after I saw Sholay, I would reach the bus stop, all students there would gather around me and I would start enacting Sholay. 
My performance would continue on the entire trip to the school. Kneeling on the front seat of the bus, I would face everyone seated in the bus and ‘show’ them Sholay every day. It just proves the appeal of Sholay and also perhaps my gift for storytelling and acting. 

Idols of Goddess Durga are installed in different localities of Patna in Dushehra every year. 

Ideally, devotional songs should be played at the pujapandals, but loudspeakers all over Patna blare hit film songs of the time. The Dushehra after Sholay hit Patna, however, was different. 

While devotees bowed before the resplendent idols of their goddess, Gabbar Singh growled in Amjad Khan’s gruff voice, ‘Kitne aadmi the?’ Film songs made way for the dialogues of Sholay. For many years after Sholay’s release, I saw huge crowds intently listening to its dialogues played at paan shops in Patna. Some people divide Indian cinema into two periods: Before Sholay and After Sholay. This division applies to my film viewing as a child. 

For a long time in my childhood I thought the scenes shown in movies happen in real life and are ‘photographed’ by people who are somehow present when the scenes occur. I wondered how the camera people managed to be at the right time and place to shoot the scenes. The grand scale of Sholay increased this wonder manifold. 

When my mother tried to explain acting and filmmaking in very simple terms to me, I didn’t get it at all and was incredulous that film scenes don’t really take place, that is, they aren’t slices from real life. 
My nani knew film scenes are not real, but while watching movies, she commented on scenes as they unfolded, reacting to the story and its heroes and villains as if they are real. That was my nani’s tribute to cinema.

My tribute will continue in the next column, when my love for films will reach adolescence.

The author is a senior journalist.

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