Bollywood has changed. These days, it’s all about big budgets, bigger weekends and the biggest stars. Gone are the times when films were either a Dacoit-Drama (also known as gaon wali film) or a Breezy Romance set in Kashmir (aka city-type film). The angriest word ever spoken on screen was “Kuttey!” and only Dharmendra was allowed to utter it. Girls went to college on bicycles, wearing sarees, with one notebook and two plaits. Flowers would tremulously kiss each other each time the Hero and the Heroine visited Vrindavan or Shalimar Gardens to sing a song. Elderly Mothers always wore white. Everyone had a Mandir at home, no matter how poor they were. When the title credits rolled, “Records” were always on HMV and the “Playback” singers list was headed by Lata Mangeshkar 100% of the time, even for the obscurest of films.
Simple times they were. I mean, even Rajinder Kumar was a hero, giving monster silver jubilee hits, so…what else to say? Anyway, my point being, those were the homey, familiar days of Bollywood that are now long gone. Sadly.
I watched an old Hindi film the other day and started to reminisce the wonderful things about Old Bollywood that are now lost forever. Here is a list of things I miss.
The Side-Heroine cum Cab-Ray Dancer – For decades, this was almost always Helen, but sometimes a stray Padma Khanna or Jayshree T, even the occasional A-lister like Parveen Babi, would get to play this character, too. This Lady had a soft spot for only two things in life. First, the Hero, even though he was clearly not so keen back because he only had eyes for women with very large hips (e.g. Asha Parekh, Vyjanthimala etc). Second, Blond Wigs. After all, Blond Hair was practically made for dancing along R.D.Burman’s western tunes. Wait, actually, the Lady had a fondness for a third thing, too. Alcohol. That immediately made her an immoral woman who could never be taken by the Hero to his mother for pairee penna. Which was just as well because our Side-Heroine would invariably be shot by a Pran or a Prem four reels from the end anyway. Remarkably, the bullet would always hit her in the heart. Each time. No shoulder injury, leg, kamar, arm, ghutna, nothing. Heart, it had to be. Oh, and she would die in the Hero’s arms and he would shed tears because she would say “Ho sake toh mujhe maaf kar do!” (for what?) before conking off.
The Singing Sardar – Quite often played by Parikshit Sahni, with Mahendra Kapoor (whose voice always appeared to emerge from the hollows of the gut) doing the singing honours. This character was that over-ebullient Sardarji truck driver who would automatically start crooning the moment he touched a steering wheel of any kind (could even be a taxi’s). For every up-note, he would steer left, and for every down-, right. No wonder then that our Singing Sardar would constantly, and violently, keep flinging the wheel one way or the other keeping up with the melody, even though the road ahead was always very, very straight. (Strange, then, that in real life, truck accidents are blamed on alcohol, not music).
The Blind Beggar – You remember this one? This was another singing character. Usually seen with a harmonium, but always without pupils. Of the eyes, that is. I presume that the screen test of any actor trying for this role involved him rolling his eyeballs up and under his head, and holding that posture for hours. (I just tried to do it myself and it gave me a headache in 4 seconds flat. And kindly do not attempt this in front of little children, they will pee with fright). Anyway, sometimes, the harmonium would be replaced by an 8 year old girl in a torn frock and an unwashed face. Together, the Blind Beggar and his Young Associate would walk up and down a Roadways bus, hands thrust forward asking for alms, all the while singing the exact tragic story that compelled the heroine (Mala Sinha, Reena Roy, Jayaprada etc etc) to run away from home. “Has this fellow been stalking me?” was a thought that never crossed these women’s mind, maybe because they would be quite busy sobbing softly into their pallu.
Satyen Kappu – Yes, seriously, where is he? I mean, unless he is dead or something, what is his excuse for going missing? He could play any character in any film, and he did – smuggler, drunk, mill worker, cop, brother-in-law, TB patient, driver etc etc. I am quite certain he once even played a camel in a film.
Dil ka Daura – Way before Alok Nath had even learned how to spell sanskari, there existed a Babuji called Nasir Husain. He was naturally blessed with sad eyes perennially swollen with tears. With a crisp pagdi atop his Ooncha Sar, and a Budhape ki Laathi that kept him sprightly, he was every Hindi Film Heroine’s dream daddy. Sadly, however, he was to Calamity what bees are to honey, magnet is to iron, and Poonam Pandey’s bra is to sports. A family tragedy usually meant that the lathi would topple to the floor, the pagdi at the feet of the Baraat departing in a huff from his daughter’s unrequited wedding, and a Dil ka Daura, with Babuji immediately clutching a central location in his chest, and mouthing 4 full pages of dialogues, slowly and tearfully, before breathing his last. With his incessant heart attack related fatalities, Nasir Husain had single-handedly kept the Glass Bangles Industry of India flourishing for decades.
The Tawaif – This one hurts. My favourite Rekha could have had as protracted a career as Amitji had the Tawaif roles of Bollywood not dried up. I understand, it might be odd to imagine Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor or Katrina Kaif as Kothewalis, but how would we know it won’t work unless they tried? Actresses today are no risk-takers. I wish they took a leaf or two out of Abhishek Bachchan’s script. I mean, just because his Inspecter Jai of Dhoom is about as similar to his father’s umpteen Inspector Vijays as a non-AC 3-tier on Patliputra Express is to the Tokyo-Osaka Shinkansen, has it stopped the remarkable young man from trying? Over and over (and over) again?
The Climaxing Cop – After the Hero has landed the last punch on the Villain’s viciously battered face, and the ropes trussing the Heroine and Maa-ji have been untied, an open Willy’s jeep would fly into the “Smuggler’s Godown”. Off would jump one rotund man in khaki and four rotund others in blue half-pants. Maybe a bullet would be fired in the air for good measure. And then, Jagdish Raj would yell – “Hawaldaar, arrest him!” – pointing at the most grievously hurt man at the site, not once needing any tafteesh of any kind. Possibly because Jagdish-ji, may his soul rest in peace, could simply smell evil? After all, he played a cop in over 87,000 films.
The Cock-eyed Drunk – The last time one of my friends acted like Keshto Mukherjee, Bhagwan, Johnny Walker etc after swigging a few at a party was…well, never. In fact, other than hooting loudly on the dance floor to a Honey Singh song, and then puking wildly on that lovely lady’s dress, you could barely tell that the fellow was drunk! No cock-eyes, no donkey-like guffaws and no slurring on jokes – none of the typical symptoms of Bollywood drunkenness were displayed. No wonder then that this character fell by the wayside with time. Sigh. I used to really like Keshto Mukherjee, though. <sad emoticon>
Munimji – No, I don’t mean Tina Ambani. I mean the character who would keep all the hisaab-khaata for the Zamindar. Always in a dhoti and topi, carrying an umbrella, and walking two paces behind the Boss, with folded hands. His all-time favourite word was Byaaj. Also, by law, he could never be taller than 4 feet 5 inches.
Moti the Dog, Badal the Horse, etc etc – Also, Safed and regular Haathis, Monkeys, Crocodiles, Babbar-Shers, Tota-Maina, Do Hanso ka Joda, Kabootars et al, all gone! I think, despite PETA’s strong presence in India, the destruction of the Animal Kingdom of Bollywood had started the day Sridevi outstared a snake with her blue contact-lensed eyes to grab the main lead in Nagin. After that, even a valiant Tuffy didn’t stand a chance, did he?
Oh, how one wishes some of this golden stuff could find its way back to films! (Now, all I need to pray for is for Sajid Khan to read this post and remake one of my old favourites)