Seventy years is a long time to be watching (and making) films. In the run up to Independence Day, The Quint
brings you the story of India through the films she has loved; the ones
which have defined how she looks at herself, and how we as Indians look
at our past. Read earlier parts here:
Also Read: As India Turns 69, A Look at the Films She Loved: The Golden 1950s
Also Read: Films Which Defined India: The Technicolour 60s
A generation of Indians would remember the 1970s as the decade of discontent.
Unemployment was rampant, smuggling and black marketing was common and the governemnt was widely accepted to be corrupt. Anti-establishment sentiment was in the air; often directed against wealthy businessmen who were seen as paragons of corruption. India was bristling with anger; and its frustration found echo in one man: Amitabh Bachchan, the ‘Angry Young Man.’ The villains in the films in the 70s were often rich merchants or the government, and the police machinery was but a helpless witness to society’s injustice. Salvation often lay in the hands of individuals; who blurred the lines between moral right and pragmatic wrong.
In the opening frames of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand, Dr Bhaskar (played by Amitabh Bachchan) is a frustrated doctor.
Idealistic and principled, he is disillusioned with the worthlessness of his profession; what is the point of being a doctor when there is so much death and destruction around, he seems to ask. And then enters Anand (played by Rajesh Khanna, in his best role). His optimism answers Dr Bhaskar’s disillusionment simply. The point is to live, love and laugh in the moment.
Hailed for its excellent direction by Hrishikesh Murkherjee and music by Salil Chowdhury, Anand is a film which doesn’t shy away from the realities of middle class India in 1970s, yet manages to find solace and calm in its nuggets of disappointment.
‘ Babumoshai, zindagi lambi nahin, badi honi chahiye!’ Anand says to Dr Bahskar with twinkling eyes. And we, in the audience use the line as a talisman to face our mortality.
Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1972)
The hippie culture in India may not have been as widespread as in the West, but it left its indelible mark in Indian cinema, thanks to Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
At the outset, Hare Rama Hare Krishna does come across as a moral tale warning against the dangers of Westernisation.
But through its iconic songs, trend setting clothes and of course, Zeenat Aman’s attitude, the film was (and still is, in many ways) the zeitgeist of a generation of young Indians. Unlike the films of their parents’ generation which brimmed over with ideal families and principled heroes, Hare Rama Hare Krishna had a divorced family and a lead actress who smoked, looked fabulous and didn’t give a damn about ‘log kya kahenge.’
Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come, said Victor Hugo. And when Zanjeer released in 1973, it was one of the few times in Indian cinema when one could sense that here was an idea (and a man) whose time had come.
Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer gave birth to the Angry Young Man in Hindi films, and for the crowds in the theatre, a hero they could identify with.
Here’s a man who is very clearly a part of the establishment (the police force), but chooses to fight corruption and power by putting himself outside it. The Angry Young Man, much like the actor who became synonymous with it, was an outsider in Indian society; and as Zanjeer makes it clear, is angry enough to take back the system, rules be damned.
Hum tum ek kamre mein band ho, aur chaabi kho jaaye..
Romance never looked as fun as it did in Raj Kapoor’s Bobby. Raj (played by Rishi Kapoor) and Bobby (played by Dimple Kapadia) were India’s first teenage idols and Bobby, its first brush with teenage romance. Gone were coy actresses who refused to express their love, Bobby symbolised the new Indian woman for whom a bikini might not be a big deal, but an arranged marriage would be. On the other hand, Raj isn’t afraid to confront his father for love, ready to leave behind all his wealth.
From awkwardly touching flowers to closed rooms with lost keys, Bobby paved the way for a new kind of love in Hindi cinema. And with panache.
Everyone knows Sholay.
Through its iconic dialogues which have inspired many a caffeinated copy-writer, its songs which have been remixed countless times and of course, Gabbar Singh, the most villanous of all villains in Hindi cinema. Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay is a labour of love, passionate filmmaking at its best and a crackling example of a masala film done perfectly.
But more than that, Sholay is symbolic of a new generation of Indians, who are willing to root for a bunch of crooks. Who identify with Jai (played by Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (played by Dharmendra) when they profess their friendship to be more valuable than family. Indians who shiver at dacoit Gabbar Singh because they are all too familiar with loot and violence. Who weep uncontrollably when an aged Imaam Saab (played by AK Hangal) teaches a village a lesson on communal harmony.
We know Sholay. It’s how we want our lives to look on a 70 mm screen: colourful, melodramatic and with Dolby-surround sound.
Indians are notoriously shy about the personal lives of politicians.
Which is why when Gulzar’s Aandhi released, it raked up a storm. Believed to have been inspired by Indira Gandhi and her relationship with her husband, Feroz Gandhi, the film was not allowed to release when Indira Gandhi was in power. Behind the extra-textual political saga, Aandhi is essentially about an Indian woman and her struggle to balance two of the most important relationships in her life: her work and her husband.
Skillfully directed in the able hands of India’s finest poet, Aarti (played by Suchitra Sen in her last film role) stands defiantly when she is scrutinised about her husband JK (played by Sanjeev Kumar).
But even in 2016, the criticism she faces for being a powerful and successful woman stings. Turns out glass ceilings, whether in politics or in the workplace, are harder to crack than they look from the ground.
Aaj mere paas paisa hai, bangla hai, gaadi hai, naukar hai, bank balance hai, aur tumhaare paas kya hai?
When Vijay (played by Amitabh Bachchan) asks his policeman brother, Ravi (played by Shashi Kpaoor) this, he is railing against the establishment which didn’t give him or his idealistic father what they deserved. He is angry at an unjust society which snatches everything from him, and still casts him as a ‘villain.’ Vijay is an underworld don who doesn’t care for morals decided by the world. He is the archetypal Angry Young Man, and in Yash Chopra’s Deewar, his smouldering eyes broke conventions of Hindi film in a way no one had before.
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