Saturday, June 27, 2009

Blast from the Past: Stardust 1972

More dope from my mom's old Stardusts...

To answer a few questions from the earlier post's comments, Miss S. Rajadhyaksha (Editor), Ingrid Albuquerque and gang did have the chatty, Hindi-laced Bambaiyya English as their lingua franca - diverting to the Queen's language only for a 'serious' article (Is the Mangeshkar Monopoly ruining the industry?) or an iconic interview (Dilip Kumar).

The still-going-strong column of Neeta's Natter always set the tone for the rest of the magazine and the 'Oh-dahlings-you-gotta-believe-me' style of film journalism still runs through the entree snippets of most film mags even today.

Excerpts from Neeta's Natter
* Another 'cheez' (a hit or miss case) whose publicity pictures I failed to recognize was the Zaroorat-wali - Reena Roy. Looks like her Zaroorat for showing us thise undelectable views of her stripped down to her clumsy underthings, are over (thank God)! Gone are those adoloscent pimples and and the 'starlet' hair style (untidy bangs of hair framing the face). Now she has that smug I-know-I've-made-it (so what if its only in C-grade films) look, a new wig, a new complexion and I hope a better bra and panties wardrobe.

* Says a furniture-wallah friend who's doing Jaya's flat up, "Arre, everytime I go to her house, I find that Bachchan chap lying stretched out on the carpet in her bedroom!" Do you knock before you enter, friend?

When you read through a bunch of it in one go, you realise what an amazing list of gossips they strung up in a span of just a few issues. Following is my gleanings from Sept 1972 to July 1973. Purely indicative, far from exhaustive!

Sept 72: Asha Bhonsle- OP Nayyar split official.

Oct 72: Rekha finally turned nineteen!

Nov 72: Hema Malini turned down Sanjeev Kumar's proposal because something was cooking between her and cricketer Venkatraghavan.

Dec 72: Anju-Dimple incident at Rajesh Khanna's birthday party, when Anju knocked out Dimple's name from the guest list but Rajesh went out and personally invited Dimple and her entire khandaan.
PS: Dimple was too involved with Chintoo Kapoor to give Rajesh any serious thought!

Jan 73: Shobha Sippy quit her job as an air-hostess in the hope of getting married to Jeetendra (which eventually happened many months later).

Feb 73: Rumours of a romance between Kiran Kumar and Yogita Bali surfaced at Ramanand Sagar's son's wedding.
Admittedly, a dull month - as only aficionados would appreciate.

Mar 73: Rajesh-Anju quarrel at party. Rajesh engaged to Dimple the very next day and married her three days later.

April 73: Three whiffs of romance - Mumtaz and Mayur Madhvani, Kiran Kumar and Radha Saluja, Hema Malini and Rajendra Kumar!

May 73: Shatrughan Sinha proposed to Zeenat Aman, while an indifferent Dev Anand carried on with her.
Zanjeer released.

June 73: Amitabh-Jaya married. Tanuja married Shomu Mukherjee. Rishi Kapoor hooks up with Neetu Singh.
Rekha's marriage with Vinod Mehra on the rocks, apparently due to Moushumi Chatterjee.

July 73: Rekha's suicide attempt. Pointed out that if she had made the attempt a day later, she (and Vinod Mehra) wouldn't have missed the most fun party of the year - Jalal Agha's birthday party.


Coming up is an 'investigative' piece on what grounds the Censor Board cited to block certain films.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Short & Tweet

If you hear the 'Emosanal Atyachar' song from Dev D, you will realise it starts with a count - Ek, do, teen, chaar, chhe...
Could it be that because of director Anurag Kashyap's traumatic experience with his unreleased first film - Paanch - he wants to eliminate the number from his life?

Anyway, this and longer pieces of trivia will continue to haunt the readers of Calcutta Chromosome. Shorter ones will now be relegated to my Twitter page!

Facebook, Twitter and other such new-fangled technology is my way of coping with the increasing grey hair and decreasing grey cells.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blast from the Past: Stardust, 1973

My mother - one of the earliest fans of Stardust - not only read the magazine religiously since its inception some time in 1971 but even bound all her issues in two fat volumes, for posterity. She did not know what this rather odd bit of archiving would do in the future. She, obviously, had not bargained for a son who had inherited her movie genes.

So, I was browsing through one of the volumes (far more interesting than TV!) and put together the following gems!

January 1973:
Raakhee-Gulzar Marriage Off!
Reports industry speculation that Gulzar and Jaya Bhaduri may be having an affair. Scotches it by reporting that Jaya calls the director Gulzar-bhai. And finally reveals that Jaya's secretary - one Susheela Kamath - is the reason behind the break-up, with whom Gulzar has met for long 'story sessions' for Jaya's films (without Jaya)!
Apparently, Gulzar isn't very keen on the marriage to a more famous Raakhee in the first place. And wanted her to wash her hands off films before getting married.
Four months after this issue, Stardust did a photo-feature on the Raakhee-Gulzar wedding (May '73).

March 1973:
Stop Telling Those Lies About Us: Amitabh
Lie 1: Jaya was married to one Bhaskar Chowdhury, a FTII classmate.
Lie 2: She is the mother of two kids, trying to pay her husband Rs 10 Lakhs to divorce her!
Lie 3: Amitabh was using his relationship with Jaya to further his career.
Other snippets from the story: Amitabh has gone on a couple of dates with Mumtaz. Goes out with Sheila Jones, a friend from his Calcutta days. Had mentioned in an interview that he would not like to marry an actress or career-woman.
Three months after this story, Amitabh and Jaya married (June '73) and Stardust duly carried a photo-feature titled "Guddi becomes Mrs Lambuji!"

April 1973
From a column called "Everything You Always Wanted to Know..." in which readers ask questions ranging from Dev Anand's possible cosmetic surgery to rumours of a Rishi-Dimple love affair on the sets of Bobby. The answers are so uniformly off the truth (and bland!) that I am convinced that the questions are manufactured to be scandalous and the answers deliberately innocuous to keep the stars happy.
A sample:
Reader's Question: Now that Asha Bhonsle has broken off with OP Nayyar, has she started lavishing her attention on RD Burman? The other day, I saw them driving by in his car and I did think they looked like a teenage couple in love. I wonder if you know more than I do.
Answer: Does seeing them in the same car imply a raging romance between them? He might just have been giving her a lift after a song recording... True, they have been spotted together quite often... perhaps you have forgotten that Asha is a mother of not just teenagers but adult children herself. Surely at her age, she won't behave like a love-struck school-girl with a man who's a little older than her own son?

May 1973:
End of A Seven-Year Romance
Chronicles the end of the Rajesh Khanna-Anju Mahendru romance through an interview with both separately but the answers intercutting like a conversation.
"Dimple is a clever little girl. Rajesh and I met her together for the first time. Then we were Rajesh Uncle and Anju Aunty to her..."
"Anju used to deliberately snub Dimple. You know how Dimple is. Young, sweet and carefree..."
"Rajesh took the step first. If only he had told me himself that he wanted to marry another girl, I would have understood..."
"I had intended to go to Anju on my return from Khandala and tell her simply that everything was finished between us. But when I met my driver, he told me that memsaab asked him to give me a message - that if I stepped through her gates, she would ask the gurkha to throw me out..."

There's more to come... Don't go away!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Random Movies I Like: Gangaa Jamunaa Saraswathi

I watched Gangaa Jamunaa Sarawathi in a town called Dibrugarh in Assam, where my grandparents stayed and I have only happy memories of. My aunt, who took it upon herself to keep me deliriously entertained during my summer vacations, took me to watch the film one matinee show in Aurora Cinema.
GJS - directed by Manmohan Desai and produced by S Ramanathan - was a potboiler in the truest sense of the word.

Ganga (Prasad) is the son of a benevolent thakur and Nirupa Roy, who grows up in an idyllic palace (complete with a amphitheatre) where the only jarring note is a bald Amrish Puri's shining cranium.
Amrish has a crocodile farm and is up to no good. When news of his wrondoings reach the benevolent thakur, the thakur gives him hell and he promptly throws the thakur in the croc-pit. After this, he usurps the throne and starts wrestling as a hobby (spread over a screen-time of 3 minutes). When Ganga and Mom reach the amphitheatre to protest against the killing, he slaps the little boy around and breaks a tooth of his (Note: important plot point).

Thrown out of their palace, Ganga & Mom set up home in a nearby village.

Years pass and we cut to a mujra performed by tawaif Saraswati (played by Jaya Prada). Talk about out-of-place names.
When she is about to be molested by a drunk viewer, her screams reach a truck on a faraway highway that rushes over farms & ponds to crash into the kotha.
Needless to say, Saraswati is smitten by Ganga's daredevilry and falls in love with him man hi man mein. Ganga - again needless to say, unaware of the impact he has on soon-to-be-molested-tawaifs - points to Phir Milenge message on the back of his truck and zooms off.

Very soon, Ganga meets Jamuna (played by Meenakshi Sheshadri) and promptly falls in love with her. When he is not romancing her, he uses the spare time to beat up the Thakur's goons, save hapless gaon-walons and dance a mean Disco Bhangra (to the tune of Anu Malik)!
He also makes friends with Shankar - a famous qawwal, with a heart of gold and deadly dance moves (played by Mithun 'Who Else' Chakraborty).
By the virtue of a song the duo sing ("Ek ek ho jaye, phir ghar chale jaana") and the innumerable glasses of liquor they consume (the aforementioned ek ek glasses), they are certified Best Friends by the Desai Institute of Camaraderie.

To move the story forward and in a plot point borrowed from Desai's earlier hit - Aa Gale Lag Jaa (where else in the world do they make films with names that translate as 'Come Hug Me'!) - Jamuna falls into a frozen lake and is about to freeze to death when Ganga decides to physically transmit warmth from his own body. This process is a very complicated one and always involves transfer of other bodily fluids as well! Despite Ganga's respect for Jamuna's chastity and because of the lack of morning-after pills, she is impregnated immediately.
Somehow, this sequence is sounding far less credible when I am writing it than when it was enacted on screen. I guess, a masterful suspension of reality is what autuers bring to the table.

Immediately after this, Ganga is sentenced to a few years in prison, ostensibly for killing some of the Thakur's goons but really for letting the scriptwriter to take a breather and think of additional complications!

Anyway, Ganga is released from jail soon enough and as he meets his Jamuna and a bonny son (whom you can call a tributary!), you are lulled into a sense of complacence that the evil Thakur will probably get his just desserts now and all will be well with the world.
That - my friends - is the hallmark of lesser filmmakers and not a master storyteller like Manmohan Desai.
The truck in which Ganga, Jamuna and Gangaputra are travelling overturns - depositing Ganga & Son on one bank of the river and Jamuna bang in the middle of it. Ganga - who normally, thinks nothing of hopscotching over the river on a lark - plays along with the storyline and remains steadfastly unable to find his beloved wife.

Jamuna, however, loses her memory (!) and is rescued by a good Samaritan whom we have met earlier in the film as Shankar Qawwal!
Ladies and gentlemen - what pathos, I say! What Athos, Porthos and Aramis, you may add!
Shankar rescues and falls in love with his best friend's wife. The amnesiac wife, of course, has a strange feeling but is unable to resist the charms of the country's premier disco dancer - sorry, qawwali singer.

Ganga - on the other hand - ended up with a son for his troubles but not a wife.
Re-enter Saraswathi!
The prostitute with a heart of gold (and ghagras to match) lands up at Ganga's doorstep, at the moment he is shot near-fatally. In true Bollywoodian logic (which beats Cartesian Logic hollow!), Ganga's mother decides that if a proper suhaagan wears shaadi ke juraa and observes karvaa chauth while singing songs, her son would be saved.
I can hear some of you sniggering at this point and some of you even wondering who shot Ganga. Let me assure you that disbelievers are hereby excused from this post and they would do well to browse Washington Post for facts. The rest of you stay back for some good ol' fashioned storytelling!

When Ganga emerges from his coma (thanks to the bullet in his colon), he is fully stopped by his mother. Nirupa Roy ordained that any woman capable of bringing back a man from the brink is destined to marry him and mother his motherless son.
Shankar's father - equally impressed by Jamuna's beauty and sense of duty - do a similar matchmaking for her and his son.
After this, Ganga's mother and Shankar's father also remember the times they sang 'Aao twist karein' in college and decide to get married as well! Actually, no - not that one.

Very soon, we have both the pairs heading demurely towards a mandir to get married.
And of the two, Ganga and Saraswati actually get married.
If Shankar and Jamuna had gotten married as well, we could have all gone home at that point and Amrish Puri would have been saved a gory death.
But here, a very important Law of Social Physics (as accepted by Bollywood) kicks in which states - A woman once married (read: had sex) may not marry (read: have a suhaag raat) again, without dying a horrible death. And some of Shankar Qawwal's old enemies turn up to enact this Law. Mithun - true to form - usually despatches goons of such piddly stature with his left toenail but even he is rather powerless in front of a script writer. He dies (sigh!) but not before bringing back Jamuna's memory (the usual treatment of a well-timed whack on the head!) and delivering a poignant death speech.

Reminded of her past love, Jamuna heads towards Ganga's gaon and in a true Manmohanesque scene, she travels in a train compartment right adjacent to the one in which Ganga and Saraswati are also travelling. Poignant scenes abound. Jamuna sings love songs. Ganga finds the voice vaguely familiar. When he looks for the singer, she is in a position where he can't see him. And vice versa.

Anyway to cut a long story short (and thanks to Amrish Puri the Thakur in no small measure), we soon have Ganga hanging upside down above the croc-pit in which his father met a bloody end, Ganga's son sitting perilously atop a parapet (waiting to be pushed by Amrish) unless Jamuna dances in front of the gaon-walon.
Re-re-enter Saraswati! When did she exit, you ask? Shut up and listen, you pedants!
She saves Jamuna the 'ignominy' of dancing like a nautch girl (since she is a bade ghar ka bahu) and dances while hiding in an elaborate ghunghat (since she is a tawaif anyway, remember?). Now, I have completely forgotten how Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati are collectively captured by Amrish. You will have to excuse me for that but I saw this movie only once and that too some 20 years ago!

Now, concentrate. Drink a glass of water if it helps. Take a deep breath as you read the next 2 sentences.
Amitabh Bachchan (who plays Ganga) takes the help of a snake to gain leverage and untie himself.
He enters the amphitheatre, with a gun in one hand and a CROCODILE tied to his back.
In the final battle, he knocks out Amrish's teeth (all 32 nos) and when Amrish tries to shoot him in the back, the crocodile chomps him up!
Go back to the beginning: Amitabh's father was killed by crocs and his milk tooth was uprooted by Amrish. To take revenge of BOTH these actions, only the climax described above was possible.
As I write these lines 20+ years after the film, I am finding it a little comical. But I swear that when the scene played out in the hall, the tension could have been cut with a knife. I know of no other filmstar in this world who can bring so much seriousness to such utterly ludicrous acts.

This is why I like this film (and several others of those times) so much. It features Amitabh Bachchan the Star.
To appreciate Amitabh the actor, you have to see his earlier films - Anand, Zanjeer, Deewaar, Trishul, Kaala Patthar.
But only when you have to see the clangers - Nastik, Desh Premee, Namak Halaal, Toofan - you realise what a consummate professional the man is. He brought such smouldering intensity to the roles that you couldn't help but be mesmerised by them.

You still want to know how GJS ended?
Look, I have made my point. Go and buy a DVD of the film.
You may not get my point but at least, you will know the ending.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Why Am I A Salesman? - A Tag

This is in response to Mad Momma's tag, on why we became what we have become.

Truth be told, I never thought of becoming a salesman.

When I enrolled into b-school (a necessity since I was unemployable as an engineer), I lied through my teeth in the interviews. I claimed to be an Operations & Systems enthusiast as I 'wanted to build on the knowledge base of my graduation'. What base? I can hear my Engineering classmates asking as they die laughing!
Well, I said it purely because I thought I could 'defend' it if questioned further.
My father harboured hopes of a Finance specialisation because ever since an Eureka Forbes salesman woke him up from a Sunday siesta, he did not wish a 'Sales & Marketing' career upon his worst enemy.
I, myself, had no effing clue.

Within two weeks of joining class, I knew exactly what I did NOT want to become.
Operations and Systems were out because of my traumatic graduation experience. HR was not available as a specialisation. Finance ruled itself out, thanks to a particularly charismatic teacher who insisted on taking surprise tests on days after campus parties!
That let me with Marketing but I was told negative choices are always the worst choices. And this brought a sense of foreboding.
However, when I started reading some of the books prescribed for the initial courses, I was pleasantly surprised that I was enjoying reading a text book for the first time in my life. And very soon, all the guys whom I was enjoying having drinks with turned out to be crazy about Marketing as well.

It has been a decade since I graduated but I remember almost all my projects and several of the better classes quite vividly.
Developing Advertising for Bacardi. Consumer Behaviour of the cinema-going audience of India. An iconic professor bringing alive an Industrial Marketing class. A new way of measuring advertising effectiveness. Some memorable pieces of advertising.
After all that, it never occurred to me that I should even be applying for jobs in banks and consulting companies. Truth be told, I wouldn't have got jobs there even if I did!

Within 7 days of starting my first-ever full-time job, I was on the northernmost edges of Chennai trying to sell toilet cleaners and shoe polishes to New Demeris Store.
Within 15 days of reaching Chennai, I was changing local trains at Basin Bridge junction, arguing with auto drivers in Veerugambakkam, head-butting distributors in Anna Nagar and tearing up Savlon posters in Ambattur!
Throughout my Chennai stint - which was my baptism into Sales - I was so pooped that I hardly had time to take off my shoes before I fell asleep. As my ferocious boss (who turned out to be quite nice AFTER the stint ended) used to say, "A good MT stint should make you want to leave the job but leave you with no time to look for another!"
Post my action-packed stint in Chennai and North TN (populated by distributors whose names translated as Big Dick!), I was inflicted with a curious version of the Stockholm Syndrome.I hated Sales but I hated the other options even more.
I remember being lured by a job in the then-booming dotcom industry - as a Content Manager of a portal, which did not last long enough for me to land up for an interview!

Post Chennai, I went to Andhra Pradesh - the land of chillies and Chiranjeevi. Again, I was traipsing around Naxal-infested, drought-affected, heat wave-impacted districts - collecting drafts and despatching soap to Rao & Reddy of Rayalseema.
By this time, my intention to leave Sales had reduced. I was spending the Sundays drinking with friends in Hyderabad, Mondays giving excuses to my boss and the remaining 5 days in places with unpronounceable names. This was fun, especially if you had distributors who had names like Gattu Malaiah Nagaraja Chetty or owned restaurants that made the most amazing Guntur Chicken and who allowed you to send them large quantities of fabric whitener to meet monthly targets.
It is during this stint that I wrote this piece in one inspired burst at a Cuddapah cyber-cafe. As I glance through it nine years on, I am unable to make out who would have liked this - people in sales or out of it?

Any shreds of doubt I may have harboured in my mind about a career in Sales & Marketing vanished the moment I entered the Patna godown of my company as a freshly confirmed Area Sales Manager. The guard stood up and gave me a cracking salute!
People have strange reasons for doing strange things, which they are loath to admit. But to be perfectly honest, the communal standing-up of the staff whenever ASM-saheb entered was a very important reason for me. That - and the Murgh Malai Kabab at Hotel Chanakya.
It is in the United States of Bihar (including today's Jharkhand as well) that I became a hard-nosed salesman who saw it all. Kidnapped distributors. Rifles at contract terminations. Diverted trucks. Bounced DDs. I saw it all with a childish glee. And wrote about it as well.

From Bihar to Bengal to Bangalore to Hyderabad, I sold soap, mosquito repellants, soft drinks and coconut oil. Some where in the middle of it, I counted 56 months of selling. Many well-wishers condoled this milestone. Most of my friends congratulated me because they saw me having a lot fun on the job!
Of course, riding pillion on a bike in the rain while following a soft-drink truck in Whitefield is not too many people's idea of fun. But it is mine... so there!

From frontline sales, I drfited to other roles (which are kept reserved for older people) in sales and eventually into Marketing.
I now sell newspapers to unsuspecting souls in Delhi, which unfortunately does not include my in-laws. When I accepted this job, my wife harboured deep suspicions that I may be riding pillion on a bicycle at 4 AM as the paper-vendor goes around throwing paper in balconies. But that's clearly not how it works.

So, what kept me in Sales & Marketing?
The most important reason is, of course, that I have reached a state where I thank my lucky stars that I love doing what I do because I have now become unemployable in other jobs.

Also, this is one job that never gets the limelight but never the sack either. So, when hot-shot I-bankers careen wildly between million dollar bonuses and bankruptcy filings, Brand Managers of soaps & oils remain solidly in a band of 10% growth in sales volumes, salary increase and body weight. Even if we did have the brains to trade in currencies & commodities, we certainly don't have the balls!

The third reason is probably that in no other profession do you get to meet so many interesting (read: crazy) people and go to so many exotic (read: inhabitable) places. In all my sales stints, I used to churn out monthly newsletters, which got forwarded far and wide. The people who complimented me for my imagination probably never realised that I was reporting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

Also, it is that Sales & Marketing is all about giving people a choice.

If you are bored of a sticky oil, we will give you a lighter one. If you are not happy with an overpriced floor cleaner, we will give you a cheaper one. If you like your newspaper to be intelligent, we have just the one for you.

Even if you don't know what you want, we will try to give you one of that as well. Seriously. How many of you wanted a Zoozoo before you saw one?