Mumbai: My address really was to blame. Pali Hill, Bandra, Mumbai in the sixties was idyllic, a glam but quiet Beverley Hills. Green, leafy with bungalows, the monstrous hi-rises hadn’t yet come into the frame – it was a hilly suburb, far from the madding crowd and only minutes away from the sea. Union Park, the quaint colony that I resided in, had a fair share of movie folks.
Baddie Pran – couldn’t get a sweeter, warmer and nicer gent – headed the list. Director Amiya Chakravarty (Daag, Patita, Seema) M Sadiq (Chaudvin Ka Chand, Taj Maha) also graced the neighborhood along with Fat Comedian Gope, but he soon popped it, (reportedly) at the Race Course when his horse had a polite difference of opinion with him about the direction to pursue. A little away was Meena Kumari and Kamal Amrohi and a little further was the great Dilip Kumar. Sunil Dutt and Nargis, also, soon joined this gang.
For a kid in love with Hindi films, this was truly heady stuff. So between Elvis (don’t forget Pali Hill and Bandra was hugely Catholic and Goan-driven) and Shammi Kapoor life was Yahoo all the way.
Dad had to go and spoil it all. Junking his cool Hind Lever job to move to Kolkata as head of Communication – Ad and PR – for Dunlop India, was bad news for me. A planet away from the bindaas, fun-filled, cosmo, laid back, cool and easy, apolitical non-intellectual/cultural space, this new city spoke a lingo I just couldn’t figure out.
Che and Ray, Truffaut and Fellini, Bergman and Kurosawa, Vietnam and Lal Salaam, who were these guys and what the hell was going on? Where were my precious Shammi, Sadhana, Dev and Nutan, Rajendra and Saira, Joy and Asha? I got busy assembling like-minded people (movie junkies), but I had clearly underestimated female guile of the Bong kind. In the name of getting me to understand the ‘real Kolkata’, this clever, gorgeous, doe-eyed, dark, culturally- driven bong babe – all of 17 both of us – introduced me to the Film Society/Club phenomenon and with varying degrees of threat, persuasion and seductive baits, got me hooked on both her and the ‘other’ cinema.
I don’t think she gave a damn about the masala stuff I took her to – quid, pro, quo, remember? – although she made the right noises. Suddenly I found myself falling headlong in love with Ray, Ghatak and Sen as well as fabulous commercial fare made by Tapan Sinha, Tarun Mazumdar, Ajay Kar, Asit Sen and gang. Also, the magic of the Uttam-Suchitra team.
This experience offered me an amazingly new perspective, injected a welcome schizophrenia that empowered me with the ability to see and enjoy different genres, categories and types of movies – from Shammi Kapoor to Soumitra Chatterjee – without heading for a shrink. I learnt to see and judge every film through different prisms. Ray and Ghatak, Benegal and Adoor needed to be seen and judged with a different benchmark than Shakti Samanta, Prakash Mehra or Manmohan Desai. This clear demarcation continues to shock a lot of purists (How can a guy love SRK and Buddhadev Dasgupta at the same time, for chrissake), but I remain cool...
Today, in year 2012, as I look back at that sultry morning show in Mumbai all those years ago, when, bunking school with a group of pals, seated in the front row in Lido Theatre in Juhu, watching mesmerized the flamboyant and devastating hero of our childhood, Shammi Kapoor doing his number with a young Saira in ‘Junglee’, the thrill returns. Is it still the same when I see Rowdy Rathore? To a large extent, (the puritans will faint) Yes!
Indian Cinema has come a long way from the time Dadasaheb unleashed the genie to create magic in darkened halls in year 1913. From the Khan dominance to the strike-force club of Messrs. Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and gang to the breakaway ‘inde’ group in passionate pursuit of doing their own thing miles away from the Bollywood flavour. Indian Cinema has indeed come a long way and more wind beneath its wings.
Only one thought troubles me, despite our gigantic volume, why do our films remain such insignificant specks at most major film fests across the world? Why are they perceived as nothing more than quaint, exotic, oriental, sing-dance ‘tamashas’ to be indulged and forgotten? Why aren’t we sought after, respected and saluted as we once were when Ray and gang walked tall in world cinema.
If China, Iran, Korea and Japan can do it, why can’t we? We have the talent and technology, nuances and narratives, but where do we go wrong? Why don’t we even register a blimp in any radar outside the Diaspora? I await the unspooling of that glorious dawn...