In a Cult of their own (Part – I)
Films that gained a ‘cult following’ over the years, despite being unnoticed on release
Back in the 80s, all we had was Doordarshan. Anything you wanted to know about cinema, mythology, world literature, astronomy, science fiction, history; it was all there – right in your living room. So, in that glorious age of kitsch, I remember noticing this bubbly-looking but rather demure young woman in two films – one was Raghuveer Yadav-starrer Massey Sahib (1985) and this obscure film with an interesting name – In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (1989). By the third time I caught her on TV, she had won a Booker Prize for fiction, for her book The God of Small Things. She was Arundhati Roy – the above-mentioned films were made by her then husband, Pradip Krishen. But we’re more interested in the second film – In Which Annie… was about a group of students in an Architecture College in Delhi, a coming-of-age story with a difference. Featuring witty dialogues, wisecracks and a talented cast, the film is largely known today for the screen debut of a cocky young man – though his dialogue delivery and mannerisms were to be iconic later on, his lines in this first film were dubbed! In spite of appearing in a blink-and-miss role, In Which Annie Gives It Those ones was, technically, Shahrukh Khan’s first film.
Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)
Guru Dutt’s early films didn’t allow him an opportunity to showcase his madness. Despite a dream debut with Baazi (1951) – starring the reigning screen-God Dev Anand in a Hindi Film-Noir – Guru Dutt kept pining to go berserk with the kind of cinema that he wanted to make. With the resounding acceptance of Jaal (1952), Aar-Paar (1954), Mr.& Mrs. ’55 (1955) and CID (1956), Dutt finally took the plunge. Pyaasa (1957), made with all the quirkiness and dexterity of craft that he could muster, was a runaway success. Despite the sombre mood. Despite (or because of) all the poetry. Guru Dutt had proved to the world that his Cinema worked. Next, he did what most geniuses do at this stage: he looked inward. Arguably a semi-autobiographical film, Kaagaz ke Phool(1959) dwells on the life of a master film maker, his obsession with his craft, and being infatuated with this pretty young thing that enters his life and films – which finally proves his undoing. With soulful music (S.D. Burman) and moody cinematography (V. K. Murthy), Kaagaz ke Phool had Guru Dutt at his indulgent best. But the box office was as frigid as evening snow – the film flopped miserably. Five years later, Guru Dutt committed suicide and Kaagaz ke Phool was a forgotten chapter in the annals of Hindi Cinema. In the 80s, there was a sudden resurgence of interest in Guru Dutt’s work and a re-evaluation of his work in the light of his craft. Alongside his other masterpieces, Kaagaz ke Phool got a new lease of life. Today, it’s considered a veritable classic, and rightly so.
Wahan ke Log (1967)
Contrary to what a little blue alien in a hood would have us believe, Rakesh Roshan’s Sci-Fi Epic Koi…Mil Gaya (2003) wasn’t Bollywood’s first encounter with guests from outer space. Owing to our long, revered tradition of deriving inspiration from Hollywood films, how could our film-wallahs be untouched by The Golden Age of Science Fiction Films out there in Amreeka? Towards the latter part of the 60s, there were a number of sterling attempts at science-fiction, Bollywood-style. Some notable films of this genre were Miss Chaalbaaz (1961) starring THE diva – Helen and the Martians, Trip to Moon (1967) where Dara Singh is sent to the moon (at least two years before Apollo 11 landed there) and meets its ‘inhabitants’. The third and a more, ahem, serious attempt at Science Fiction was Wahan ke Log (1967).
The plot was rather ingenuous as far as Hindi films were concerned. Martians pay a visit to Delhi, and – get this – steal diamonds. They are also hatching a sinister plan which involves kidnapping Earth’s (India’s) scientists. In comes the suave (breaks my heart to use that word) Agent Rakesh, played by Pradeep Kumar who finally saves the day. The film contains a generous sprinkling of spaceships (UFOs/”Udan Tashtari”), three-digit aliens, laser-guns, floating mikes, and even an extended battle between the UFOs and what seems like the Indian Air Force! The film obviously met a dismal fate at the BO. But lately, with a newly-found respect/curiosity for old Hindi films, the Blogger community is going ga-ga over the film, with quite a few tongue-in-cheek reviews doing the rounds! One can even get hold of a re-mastered DVD that’s floating around online.
May I ask our dear reader to take a close look at the above picture (its quality notwithstanding)? Yes, that is The Phantom, but look closer. Ah yes, that IS Rajesh Khanna, playing The Phantom. Before you faint or fall off your chair/cushion/bean bag, let me reassure you by informing that it’s a dream sequence from the Shammi Kapoor-directed debacle BundalBaaz.
Our hero Raja is a daydreamer and a comic book fan (probably the only such character in the Hindi film pantheon). When not busy wooing his lady-love Nisha (Sulakshana Pandit) at college, Raja mostly dreams of being Phantom and bashing up Ranjeet (THE Ranjeet), college bully and a rogue. Raja’s fate takes a turn for the surreal when he comes across Aladdin’s fabled Lamp, Genie included. Rest of the film is about how Genie helps him fight Ranjeet and get Nisha. In one priceless sequence, Ranjeet and Kaka switch bodies by magic, but their voices remain the same – for a while, Kaka does the bad guy and Ranjeet gets to play the hero! Reminds of that famous John Woo spectacle called Face-Off, no?
Chashme Buddoor (1981)
Chashme Buddoor, better known as the ‘Chamko’ film, brings back memories of those long-lost lazy Sunday evenings when we got to watch that one precious movie in an entire week! A story of simple people and simpler times –the idealist Siddharth Parashar (Farooq Shaikh) lives with his somewhat bizarre roomies Omi (Rakesh Bedi) and Jomo (Ravi Baswani). All three fall for the same woman Neha (Deepti Naval), who reciprocates Siddharth’s feelings but ends up making fools of the other two. As retaliation, Omi and Jomo concoct weird tales to keep Siddharth and Neha from being together. As the story unfolds, chaos ensues and you laugh so often, your sides start hurting. In a much-celebrated scene, our hero meets his girl as she’s selling ‘Chamko Washing Powder’ door-to-door. She demonstrates the virtues of ‘khushboodar, jhaagwalla Chamko’ to him with a bucketful of water and a ‘dirty’ towel. While they wait for it to clean, he plays the radio which blurts the song “Hum tum, ek kamre me bandh ho” – He jumps to open the door. In time, love blossoms.
In the year of Kranti, Lawaaris and Love Story, Chashme Buddoor did not do well. Owing to the generation that grew up watching it on DD in the 80s-90s, the ‘Chamko’ film survives and thrives. So much so that a remake, directed by David Dhawan and starring Ali Zafar, is slated for a December release. Lord save us!
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro(1983)
It’s not humanly possible to say anything about Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro that has not been said over and over again. It contains the mother of all comedy scenes that ever adorned Indian screens. The “Mahabharat’ scene – where Bheem is asleep, Draupadi is a masculine – rather hairy corpse, Duryodhan protects ‘her’ while Pandavas try to ‘correct’ him, Arjun’s bow is broken and Emperor Akbar makes a grand entry! Acclaimed Directors Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Sudhir Mishra, who were Production Controller/Actor and Writer of the film respectively, are immortalised in the screen-names of the two leads, Vinod Chopra (Naseeruddin Shah) and Sudhir Mishra (Ravi Baswani). A razor-sharp satire on the government-real estate nexus,and a commentary on morality and ethics all at the same time, the film still resonates – 29 years after its release.
Mondo Macabro, an extreme-horror DVD label of Europe that digs out cult classics of world cinema, has an entire series of Box Sets called “The Bollywood Horror Collection” (Vol. 1, 2 & 3). The series contains selections from the body of work of five brothers who worked together. Popularly known as Ramsay Brothers.
Their father F.U.Ramsay had started investing in films once his electronics business faltered. When his third film Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi (1970) sank without a trace, Ramsay sent his sons to check what went wrong. It was revealed, people were trickling in to check out just one particular scene and promptly left after that. It had Prithviraj Kapoor, a man of towering physique – wearing a prosthetic mask and a dark robe, dodging bullets – resembling a burly monster. The Brothers concluded that’s what the audiences wanted, and became the flag-bearers of Horror B-movies in India. Ramsays collaborated on writing, directing, sound, and cinematography, all between the five of them. They did India’s first Zombie movie, the first monster movie, vampire movies, even an Indian Nightmare on Elm Street/Freddy Krueger movie called Mahakaal: The Monster (1993). Purana Mandir (1984) was perhaps their biggest hit (though none of their films really made a loss, considering the flimsy budgets), starring future villains Mohnish Behl and Puneet Issar and the chartbuster Woh Beete Din Yaad Hai. But almost all of the Ramsays’ works are cult films. Veerana is still considered by some to be the definitive Ramsay film to swear by. Tahkhana has a cheesy, campy, slightly disgusting quality that makes it a relish to watch! [To be continued]
(I remain indebted to the zillions of blog posts, articles and interviews that provided fodder for information, without which this would be a lifeless piece)