Na koi umang hai na koi tarang hai, meri zindagi bhi kya ek kati patang hai…
I am currently drowning in the charm of romance and courtship in films from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the Golden Era of Bollywood (GE B as I call it in all my playlists). It has actually completely consumed me today and yesterday and day before for that matter, that I absolutely cannot seem to focus on anything at all. It is Rajesh Khanna’s charm. To be fair a lot has to do with the films’ script and dialogue writers and also the time period itself where standards of “modesty” were different but Rajesh Khanna definitely has a big part to play as well. A lot of credit to those behind the scenes but end of the day the stars really did bring the characters to life, and in what fabulous fashion.
Gushing over Aradhana
I have so far seen 2 of his films completely, both among the record-breaking list of 17/15 consecutive hits – Aradhana and Kati Patang. I don’t want to focus too much on the slightly convoluted stories, instead just the romance in them. I had read the plot summary of Aradhana ages ago and have listened to a couple of songs multiple times but never got around to watching the actual movie with all its repeated tragedies. My thatha (Granddad) keeps reminding me every time we watch or listen to Mere Sapnon Ki Rani that this is the only time Sharmila Tagore is smiling and happy and for rest of the film she is forlorn. But Roop Tera Mastana was also in my list and I figured okay right after the former the latter happens so about 15 minutes or so of a smiling Tagore. Then recently, I finally added Kora Kagaz Tha Ye Man Mera to my playlist after having listened to it a few times over the months. I was then recommended Gun Guna Rahe Hai Bhanvare and all four of these featured a smiling (or ahem excited) Tagore and I was wondering how their romance spans at the least four songs and yet the dad Rajesh Khanna dies at the beginning? So I open YouTube, watch the first half (almost) until he dies and sped through the murder and continued after the moustachioed charmer comes in, which includes Baaghon mein Bahaar hai (which my thatha made me watch many many months ago but I didn’t deem it good enough then to be added to our playlist) and his discovery and the recognise-your-sacrifice-and-publicly-acknowledge-birth-mother end. Okay so turns out thatha remembered it slightly wrong, they did have a lovely romance for almost 40% of the film even if it spans just a few days. I also had immense appreciation for Roop Tera Mastana – the acting there, and oh my god people are right about Rajesh Khanna’s eyes because that is the first time I actually saw what “eyes burning with desire” looks like. The switch from lighting the fire mumbling to looking at the stunning Tagore wrapped in the blanket, I was transported into his mind immediately what acting *chef’s kiss*! I mean today it is not something that unacceptable so there is little need for such ‘restraint’. I, for one, certainly don’t care and will have no qualms not waiting for “jab takk duniya ke saamne shaadi nahi hoti”. So I personally feel there isn’t a possibility of another Roop Tera Mastana. (Also shout out for the supportive father to Vandana who is excited that she might be crushing on Arun!)
The insane part of it all is his romances and courtships and heart pangs and pining for his lover and all of it seems to happen with equal intensity in all his films (at least early ones from the music videos I have seen) and HE SHOT 15 OF THESE FILMS (17 if we count the multi starrers but let us stick to 15 for the moment) IN THREE YEARS! And in each of these 15, I as an audience am, left completely convinced that for this person this heroine is all that matters in the world. His slight head nod alone leaves one mesmerised. He deserved every bit of his ultra-super-stardom and understandable why ‘ek zaamane mein ladkiyan khoon se chittiyan likha karte thi’.
The poetry in Kati Patang
Anyway, I then watched Kati Patang the next day. I read the plot beforehand to mentally prepare myself and to know when to skip. I chose this one after adding Pyaar Deewana Hota Hai and Ye Shaam Mastani to my list a little while ago. Needless to say both these songs are beautiful and I didn’t actually look up their meanings at first and then after listening a few more times I looked up the meaning and kind of got the gist of it having also read the movie plot. I figured I might as well watch the film. Boy, what a gentleman this ‘Kamal babu’. Yes there are issues, nobody believes he is actually drunk in his “drunken” number (brilliant song no doubt). I don’t like the trope of the widow having nothing to do other than sadly while away at her in-laws’ (also attempted at Aradhana, and of course Sholay’s Jaya Bhaduri) and a man interested in the woman means he is somehow rescuing the woman, okay yes so many issues. Can we just put those aside for a moment? Just stick to all interactions between ‘Kamal Babu’ and Asha Parekh’s “Poonam”. So many metaphors, and each of them calling back to the other’s phrases. Both clearly into each other and their expressions speak so much! He writes song(s) for her, and as he starts singing Pyaar Deewana Hota Hai and his eyes so clearly scream “this one is all for you” as they exchange glances throughout. I mean can it get any better? I strongly believe this blows Patrick’s Simply The Best for David out of the water. Same goes for Jis Gali Mein Tera Ghar or of course Ye Shaam Mastani, with Kamal basically serenading Poonam. Then come the conversations and their beauty. He doesn’t hide his feelings towards Poonam but the whole time is never stepping over the line. He always pauses to make sure she is reciprocating before reaching his arm out, or inviting her places, or just exchanging those speaks-volume eye glances that are burned into my brain. He is respectful of her the whole time but also direct time and again, and of course it’s problematic that her father in law has to “give permission” but when he does, the way he communicates it to her – so beautiful and poetic. Not to mention the insightful songs, him complimenting her smile. I mean I guess he fell in love with her beauty and it is repeated by many people throughout the film, that Poonam / Madhavi is very beautiful but I still choose to believe that he was attracted to her personality and it was their conversations that ultimately tipped the scale. Kamal would have seen many a pretty woman I’d imagine, yet he starts enjoying her company after the conversations they have. I mean the scene where they walk home after Kamal’s birthday party for instance with Kamal subtly inserting the tum, and after that he alternates between tum and aap rest of the film because there is now permission for tum with its unmatched apnapan. Their chemistry when she joins him to meet a prospective suitor and her mother (I didn’t like the fat-shaming here or in Aradhana for that matter, subtle sure but a clear reminder that being fat is undesirable) with Poonam’s gentle nudges and him just enjoying her company and how he clearly couldn’t care less about anything else in the world. Of course, he is impeccably dressed in every scene, quite easy on the eyes. It is also refreshing that except the part where her father-in-law reads her letter and questions her motives, nobody “gossips” about all the time Kamal and Poonam spend together. Kamal of course has no qualms about marrying “a widow with a child” unlike his sister or father or even Poonam’s father in law. I don’t want to go down this path because then I would feel obliged to point out the million problematic aspects in the movie.
It is not just Rajesh Khanna, Asha Parekh also deserves a mention. She has portrayed her character poignantly, always just at the brink of tears as she is holding in all the tragedy while also blaming herself resigning to this fate as repentance for her mistakes. In almost all her interactions with Rajesh Khanna her instinctive reaction is earnest and excitement she cannot help, and moments later she remembers who she is and all that she has done and crawls back into her shell. The anguish in her eyes, pain in her voice, constantly measured movements because she is not living for herself. The pace of her speech increases when she is in good spirits, talking to Kamal, and in a few moments she realises she has to punish herself and slows down and goes back to soft cryptic words. Every time Kamal sings for her she cannot help the smile pulling hard on her cheeks and she comes close while still not quite letting the smile takeover. I never understood people using so many adjectives to describe actors’ expressions until I got lost in Poonam’s world.
The point is, I am charmed. I am so charmed with the courtship. I did have subtitles and they helped a ton in understanding the dialogues so I could watch the film a few times later without them and appreciate just the same, nay a little more. I did notice a trend that Rajesh Khanna is always a “good man”, a great man beyond reproach. If at all he goes wayward (from my reading of the plot of Mere Jeevan Saathi) he is still of “pure heart”. In these two films at least, he is a bit of an overachiever, the son every parent wants, with uncompromising character, well praised in his job and generally accomplished and respected in his community. To be fair the same can be said for the female leads in both films, to an extent. That is a slight qualm I have. Both the male and female leads are so idealistic that to me at least it sends a bit of a message of such romance being unattainable. I mean of course, it is a film not real life and real life doesn’t work that way and I have found out repeatedly but one still watches something on screen and wishes it would happen to them, you know? In the case of these films, I feel almost as if even this wishful thinking is just out of reach.
Then and now (or a little while ago)
Anyway, this is what has consumed me so much that I had to write today. I have contemplated writing about a whole bunch of thoughts I have generally, even just about this “heightened interest” of mine but always put off writing it down. Now that I have started, might as well go on and actually type out a few other pieces I have already drafted in my mind. Today I had another pressing bit of work to do but my brain absolutely refused to let any of the words from my reading enter my brain as it was busy replaying scenes from these films over and over and over and over again. So much that a few other elements at the Starbucks, that I have recently begun frequenting, that usually distract me and pull my focus away have proven to be no match for the poetic metaphors exchanged with snow-capped mountains and flowers and greenery behind.
An observation I couldn’t help but make was the trend of portrayals of courtship and flirting over time. The sheer elegance of the flirting that is completely absent today. I do not claim to be a “film buff”, I watch films occasionally and do not know much about most of bollywood today, or kollywood for that matter. I do know enough to despise what is given a pass as acceptable in the name of “love”. Repeatedly harassing a clearly uncomfortable girl and that being cheered on as love. There’s a ridiculous line in a tamil film (one of many, often in Dhanush’s films albeit not exclusively) which translates to ‘Guys like me – you don’t like them at first glance, you like them as you keep looking at them again and again’ spoken when he is constantly going after the heroine after she has clearly said she is not into him. This repeated trend in his films have put me off any of his work. But let us look at something even more well-known – “come fall in love” they say with DDLJ. Touted by so many as the pinnacle of romance. I have seen the film once years ago, but recently as I was listening to a few songs from the movie I happened to watch the train scene, the earlier one not the last. The one where they are stuck in this compartment and Simran sits in a corner reading her book while Raj … harasses her. I’m sorry you can’t call it anything else. She is sitting holding a book and he pokes his head between her arms, what the hell? You read the plot summary for the film, it just says Raj flirts with her while Simran is irritated. Why is it still called flirting then? How is it not harassment? I was so put off by the scene. Similarly problematic elements of the great romance of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai have also been discussed online quite a bit. These haven’t aged well. In contrast I must say, with all its other dated tropes the romance in GE B films have often stood the test of time. I am not sitting now being grossed out by “koi kisi aur aap mein farak hai Poonam ji” or “jaanti ho kya hua Vandana? Tum mere sapne mein kho gayi thi”. So beautiful and an excellent testament to the power of words. Perhaps because that was all film-makers had then, words (just metaphors mind you) and scenery to indicate all things romantic and sexual. This is not a comment on how it was great then and not now, I believe the opposite in fact, but this is appreciation for the talent of film writers conveying so much passion with just words. I am sure there were GE B films which have dialogues and moments that aged poorly, and Mr and Mrs 55 is one of them that I mentioned right off the bat. GE is not without fault, certainly not, but the moments of beauty are so much grander than subsequent and contemporary works.