Friday, November 25, 2011

Thappad ki Goonj: Seven Tight Slaps from Bollywood

On the enquiry of @vicramb and @GabbarSingh after today's momentous event, I decided to compile my list of favourite Bollywood slaps. You see, what we lack currently is a good book that will contain all such quirky and funny lists. If one comes out any time, do remember to pick it up (*ahem*). 
Hindi movies have a profusion of slaps and that tends to reduce the impact over a period of time. Hence, it would be good to look at some of the iconic ones.

So - here goes - in no particular order, a quick list (of which I have managed to dig out the videos of most *clap clap*):

Lage Raho Munnabhai
In a bid to get Atmaram's son to attend his birthday, Munna walks into the son's office and tries to convince him vinamrata se baat karkey. But Vinamrata is a very useless person and usse baat karke koi faydaa toh hota nahin. In fact, the prodigal son threatens to get into fisticuffs since he was a boxing champion. And that's when Munna announces that he is a Lafaa Champion. And proceeds to prove his credentials by slapping the guy to an inch from death.

Mothers and fathers have slapped children quite indiscriminately, especially when caught eloping. But a son slapping a mother is quite unheard of, really!
Aruna Irani - after a lifetime of sucking Anil Kapoor's lifeblood - has a change of heart when Anil lay dying after she poisoned him. She asks her own son to give up the property as her stepson Anil is the rightful owner. Her own son - drunk on impending richness - refuses and when things get ugly, he slaps her. Probably for the time in Hindi cinema, something like this had happened.
And continues to slap her while Aruna Irani screams her lungs out, calling for Anil. You know the rest, right?

In the Subhash Ghai multi-starrer of generational enmities, violence was not uncommon and slaps a little less so.
Nevertheless, Raaj Kumar proceeded to slap Amrish Puri with a satisfying crackling sound (for suggesting Raaj's grand-daughter marry a jerk)! And in a triumph of film editing, Amrish Puri's face almost came apart in a series of cuts.
Never able to explain these in words. See the scene.

Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar
JJWS showed college life with a perfect balance of realism and style. And nothing was better depicted than the poor-boy-masquerading-as-rich-boy charade. And when the whole drama fell apart, Pooja Bedi and Aamir Khan had a fight in which both were found guilty of lying to each other. And when Pooja called Aamir  a sham, he called her a 'bloody gold-digger' (which eventually went to become a catch-phrase in our college days). And in retaliation, Pooja Bedi gave Aamir Khan ONE TIGHT SLAP!
Immediately afterwards, Kulbhushan Kharbanda joined in when he discovered his younger son was siphoning off his hard-earned cash and Aamir was given the same - once more!
Incidentally, Aamir pretends he is from the multi-billionaire Thapar family and is referred to as 'Thapar ka beta'!

Yash Chopra's best film had a veneer of style lesser filmmakers can only aspire for. And in the only scene of marginal violence, the style saved the day.
Sridevi's haveli is about to be usurped by his evil cousins who have won a court battle. In order to have her wedding pass off peacefully, Anil Kapoor starts to negotiate a later date for the occupation. The cousin turns out to be a complete jerk and Anil slaps him.
When asked to name his price for delaying the haveli occupation, he says - "chhe din ka chhe lakh. Aur iss thappad ka ek lakh."
Anil Kapoor walks up to him, slaps him thrice, turns to his munimji and says, "inhe 10 lakh ka cheque de dijiye."

What can I say about this scene that has not been said already? It is a thirty-year old film and yet the echo of the slap reverberates in the corridors of our memories.
Iss thappad ki goonj...

In a brilliant but under-rated film, Amitabh Bachchan is pitted against super-criminal Ajay Devgan and in a pre-climax encounter, AB manages to slap Devgan despite being cornered. Ajay has him and his entire police team on gun-point and asks a constable to slap Amitabh, the DCP.
What happens next? Who gets hurt and who does not? Watch the scene, no?
BTW, read this post on Khakee - which points out another scene in Khakee where Tanuja (a convict's mother) slaps AB in a later scene. Amitabh probably has never been slapped so many times in a movie.

So, aap ko kaun sa thappad sabse achha laga?

Updated to add: I have just been informed by the good people of BlogAdda that:

Monday, November 21, 2011

5 Tall Tales that Happened even before the Titles

I have received curt feedback that my previous two posts may well warm the cockles of the Bengali intellectual's heart but this blog may lose its 'mass appeal' (*snigger, snigger*) if I don't churn out a Bollywood post - pronto! 
So, I thought I will kill two birds with one stone. 
1. I will thulp a Godzilla-sized Bollywood post (2500-words). 
2. I will also give a quick update on the book. Book? What book? 
Oh you heartless people - you have forgotten that The Book of Bollywood Lists is in the making and you are expected to purchase large quantities of the book shortly.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is a zeroeth draft of the first chapter of the book (from the time when it still existed in my mind) before stern well-wishers asked me to cut down the length instead of Amazonian rain-forests. That I have... right now, not a single chapter is more than three A4 sized pages. 
Once my editor is done with her gig, it is rumoured that the book might even be readable. 

* * * * * * * * *
The concept of this post owes its origin to Rajorshi Chakrabarti, who propounded it in his essay ‘Perchance to Dream’ in the anthology ‘ThePopcorn Essayists’ (edited by Jai Arjun Singh). Great essay, great collection – BUY it! 

The censor certificate flickers off. 
A ‘Dedicated to the Loving Memory of’ card is followed by garlanded pictures of the producer’s father and/or mother and/or elder brother and/or mentor and/or Mohammed Rafi.
Then we have the Acknowledgments – including (but not restricted to) any or all of the following – financiers’ fiancée, staff of the hotels where the crew stayed, Police Commissioner of the outdoor location, some assorted goons and the caterers who hadn’t been paid yet!
And the first scene comes on.

Oh? Who’s in the film? Who directed it? Who sang the songs? WHAT’S THE NAME OF THE FILM?
Well, this was a device of great popularity till the 1980s – the pre-credit back-story compression – by which directors took economy of expression to a completely new level and said more in these 22 minutes than in the next 222!
In a burst of adrenaline and creativity, they managed to knock off the socio-historical context of film, motivation of the hero and the emergence of the key characters so that the ‘real’ story can begin!

Here is a look at five famous such back-stories – of which three are from the acknowledged master of the device – that could well have been subject of cinematic epics in less creative countries.

Amar Akbar Anthony
The most familiar façade of Bollywood – Central Jail – comes on. We see Kishanlal (in a white driver’s uniform) come out and count the few pennies he has in his pocket.
Kishanlal has bought some gifts and laden with them, he enters a slum only to be informed by the neighbourhood crone that his family is in shambles – sons hungry and wife suffering from TB. When he enters his house, he finds proof of these two assertions by way of a wife coughing, elder sons fighting and youngest son bawling.
A quick flashback reveals that he had gone to jail taking a rap for a hit-and-run accident his boss Robert (pronounced Raabet) had committed. He was promised a ‘jail pension’ by Robert but obviously, that had been forgotten.
Kishanlal leaves home to get his dues from Robert. On his way out, he sees his eldest son burying a toy pistol to hide it from his brother.
He arrives at Robert’s mansion (while the big man is celebrating his daughter’s birthday) and asks for redressal. Robert – obviously in a jolly frame of mind – gets him to polish his shoes before he pays up. When given an anna for his efforts – immediate and past – Kishanlal snatches a gun and shoots at Robert, who remains unharmed because he’s wearing a bullet-proof jacket.
Kishanlal runs to the garage and escapes in a car which has gold biscuits. Robert’s goons chase him. He manages to elude them and get home to pick up his family.
He finds his three sons and a ‘suicide’ note from his wife – who has left to commit suicide because of her debilitating disease. Completely distressed, he leaves with his sons.
To completely escape from Robert’s gang, he deposits his three sons at a park (under Mahatma Gandhi’s statue) and zips off. The eldest son runs after him, gets hit by a speeding car and falls by the roadside. He is picked up by a Hindu police officer. The second one too runs off and takes refuge in a church. A Christian priest takes him in. A Muslim gentleman sees the youngest son in the park and picks him up.
On her way to committing suicide, the mother has a tree fall on her and she loses her eyesight. The same Muslim gentleman rescues her and drops her home (with her own son in the same car – oh, the pathos!) She is devastated to find it empty.
Kishanlal, meanwhile, hoodwinks his pursuers – who think he’s dead – and returns to the park with his booty of gold biscuits but there is no one there.
Years pass as we come to an accident site where a blind flower-lady is hit and urgently needs blood.
A Christian do-gooder takes her to the hospital. At the hospital, there is a Hindu police inspector to lodge the case. A Muslim qawwali singer is also at the hospital flirting with a lady doctor. All of them are found to be the same blood group as the blind lady and they are co-opted to donate some blood.
As the transfusion starts, a doctor asks them their names.
And as the titles come on, they tell us their names… Amar… Akbar… Anthony…

We open in a bus-stop where Namdeo is seeing off his wife and son, John. They are being accompanied on trip by Salma, Mrs Gomes and her daughter, Julie.
At the bus-stop, they are met by John’s best friend, Vicky and his father, Damodar. It is Vicky’s birthday and he insists on being fed a ‘mawa’ cake on this one and every birthday from now on.
After the seeing off, Namdeo and Damodar quickly make way to the restaurant where the former is a waiter. They meet their two other friends – Jaggi and Raghu – who are being badgered for not paying the restaurant’s dues. Namdeo – as a good friend – offers to pawn his three rings to pay of the dues. These three rings have the symbols of Allah, Om and Christ on them and are the gifts from his three wives.
In the meantime, a drunkard is discovered who does not have money to pay his Rs 4 bill. However, he does have a lottery ticket worth Rs 5 and he offers that to the four friends at a 20% discount. Each of them pay one rupee each and draw cards to decide who keeps custody of the ticket. Jaggi wins and gets to keep the ticket.
We cut to the place where Namdeo’s wife, son, Salma, Mrs Gomes and Julie are staying and there’s an earthquake in the night. All of them get trapped in the falling debris.
The next morning, Jaggi wakes up to see his wife and two daughters off. He picks up the newspaper and is delighted to find their ticket no. 112061 has won a huge prize (of indeterminate size). Delirious with joy, he calls up Namdeo, tells him of their good fortune and asks him to land up.
Raghu and Damodar are waiting just outside his door and Raghu walk in immediately after the call. As he stabs Jaggi in the back (literally), the title appears.
We could go on for five minutes after the title and see how Damodar takes pictures of Raghu stabbing Damodar, how Namdeo walks in to get framed for the murder and he gets dumped into the river by his two friends. But that would be cheating. This is supposed to be ‘pre-credits’!

A British government honcho (slyly called Curzon) packs up priceless Indian treasures. When an Indian mob protests, they are gunned down by his henchman (even more slyly called Dyer). One bleeding heart (literally) manages to crawl to the palace of their Raja, Azad Singh – who has just been blessed with a baby boy.
On hearing, the burly Raja gallops off to an airstrip from where Curzon is making an escape, lassoes the tail of the plane and pulls it to a stop. For those reading these lines open-mouthed, let me clarify that the Raja was played by Dara Singh who made this feat look absolutely normal.
The scene changes to a quasi-courtroom presided on by Lady Helena who promises to help Azad Singh’s cause but not before he nearly squashes some of the Britishers and not after the Britishers pump a bullet into him but he escapes.
A half-Indian doctor is bribed to help arrest Azad Singh – who promptly visits the Raja’s secret den to treat his bullet wound. The doctor gives him a sedative and promptly the police throw a perimeter that’s tighter than a gnat’s ass.
Azad Singh now realizes two things – one, his wife and newborn son need to make a break for it. Two, it is supposed to be his son’s naamkaran ceremony. He solves the first issue by getting them on to his trusted steed. He solves the second one by making John Rambo look like a wimp playing with Barbie dolls. He takes out a knife and carves ‘mard’ on his son’s chest as the little tyke giggles! Woo-hoo!!
Azad Singh gets arrested by the British while the horse carries away his wife and son. The wife keeps the son in an orphanage while escaping from pursuing British soldiers and the horse picks the baby up and deposits him with a childless couple. When the mother realizes his son is missing, she promptly loses her voice in shock. *aarrgghh*
Meanwhile, in the British palace grounds, Azad Singh is about to be tortured when he delivers a rousing speech against the British, promising revenge which his infant son hears from the crowd. Lady Helena (see above) arrives to save Azad Singh from death (which was not getting executed by the sissy Britishers anyway) and he is incarcerated for life.
We cut to a decade or two later when the Doctor’s (see above) spoilt daughter zooms off in her car with her bodyguard. She manages to tangle Azad’s wife’s saree in her bumper who can’t complain (see voice loss story above) and drag her off.
Enter a tanga-wallah, who stops the car, beats the bodyguard to a pulp and extracts an apology from the brash girl. When asked for his identity, he tears open his shirt and proudly displays the name etched on his chest – MARD.
And, the title comes on. Amitabh Bachchan As…

The film opens in a courtroom that’s so packed that it looks like a Mumbai local!
The contesting parties are one Mr Ravi Verma and one Sir Juda. The judge solemnly rules that Sir Juda – who was Ravi’s father’s business partner – has not done well by trying to usurp the Vermas’ Ooty property and Ravi is the rightful owner of the same.
Ravi celebrates this verdict by immediately getting into a clinch with his girlfriend, Kamini, right outside the courtroom while Sir Juda’s ominous looks hint that we may not have heard the last of him.
The scene changes to Sir Juda’s den where his lawyer (“Bharat ke sabse mash-hoor vakil, PP Roy”) is summarily executed for losing the case (and suggesting a Supreme Court appeal). We are now made privy to two earth-shattering revelations:
1.      Kamini – the girl in the aforementioned clinch – is a Sir Juda mole (moll?), who is told to become Ravi Verma’s wife by 8th January and his widow by 11th. For the trivially inclined, the date of the scene is 5th January.
2.      Sir Juda is mute (but not dumb, as his admiring henchman Macmohan points out) and communicates by smiling, flexing his voluminous cheek muscles and beating out a tune on glass tumblers with his fingers.
As soon as the advance to Kamini is paid, she gets hitched to Ravi Verma in a mandir as her brother puts on a hyper-happy façade marrying off the two.
As they leave the mandir, we cut to Ravi’s palatial mansion where his mother is presiding over a major round of spring-cleaning to celebrate her only son’s only marriage. We are also introduced to Ravi’s sister, who does the usual simpering sibling routine templated by Farida Jalal.
The newly married couple drives down to their Ooty estate in a jeep (with a ‘Just Married’ heart on the front), his favourite tune plays on the stereo and all is well with the world. Till the car radiator runs dry and Ravi gets off to fill a can of water. 
And – to the accompaniment of clanging music – Kamini runs him over (again and again) in front an idol of Kali.
There is much chest-beating and head-banging at Ravi Verma’s mansion as the mother threatens goddess Kali that she cannot take away a mother’s son at such an inopportune moment and wants her son back. As her shrieks reach a crescendo, the titles start.
As the titles go on, a solemn voiceover reminds us that a mother’s sincere wishes are never unheard and as years pass, we have one Monty who’s the ‘inheritor’ of Ravi Verma’s curse (or Karz).
As Monty bursts on to a stage (helpfully marked 1980) and starts singing the first hit song of the film – Paisa yeh paisa – the titles keep on coming…

Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak
The film opens in the estate of landowner Jaswant Singh, who has just received an invitation to attend the wedding of Ratan Singh, the younger son of Thakur Raghuveer Singh. We are introduced to his ‘city-educated’ younger brother, Dhanraj Singh.
In a family scene, Jaswant’s brother-in-law – Bhagwan Das – tells him of the possibility of moving to Delhi and expanding his textile business. In this conversation, the wedding of Ratan Singh comes up causing some discomfort to their younger sister, Madhumati.
The scene moves to the haveli of Raghuveer Singh where great festivity is on. Benarasi sarees and elaborate jewelry are being purchased, with Ratan Singh being an active part of it. In between the bonhomie, Ratan comes out for an errand and sees Madhu striding purposefully towards his haveli. Despite the fact that he has impregnated her, he tries to wriggle out of his past promises. His offer to go into town and abort the baby is met with the familiar indignation sisters of Hindi films are hard-coded with. 
Madhu leaves in tears but Ratan’s mother overhears this conversation.
On hearing their sister’s plight, Jaswant and Dhanraj go to Raghuveer Singh and plead for the marriage to happen but they are insulted before being turned away. The confrontation is not helped by Ratan's own flat denial of the affair. Ratan’s mother tries to intervene citing the overheard conversation but she is ignored.
After returning home, the two brothers decide to escape their impending ignominy in the village by selling off their properties and move to Delhi. After Jaswant leaves to meet a prospective buyer, Madhumati is discovered with slit wrists.
And this becomes too much for the hot-headed Dhanraj.
Ratan Singh is about to leave with his wedding procession when Dhanraj Singh enters with Madhumati’s dead body. He reminds Ratan of the broken promise ("tumhare vaade ke mutabik isse aaj tumhara dulhan banna chahiye tha...") and announces that there’s going to be more than one corpse. With that, he shoots Ratan and all hell breaks loose. 
And as Dhanraj Singh takes aim once again, doomsday hits the two families and the titles come on.
Quite ominously, the title seems to suggest there will be one more doomsday in the future.

* * * * * * * * *
So, what do you think? 
If I tell you the edited chapter is, say, 23 million times (*cough cough*) better than this draft, will you buy this book? 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Art of Satyajit Ray and an Appeal for Sandesh

Images courtesy: Satyajit Ray Film & Study Centre - University of California, Santa Cruz

In the second instalment of tracing the art of Ray, I have just put together examples of magazine cover design. Ray's favourite format of design was to experiment with the fonts & typography of the magazine's title. For two magazines, he did this with an incredible inventiveness.
The first was Eksan (Now), a literary magazine edited by Soumitra Chatterjee (among others). The second was Sandesh (the famous Bengali mithai, also meaning news) - which was Ray's family enterprise started by his grandfather and revived by him.

But first, another angle of his versatility.
Being approachable, Ray got thousands of requests for contributions to magazines, anthologies and special issues - which he refused only on extenuating circumstances. For example, somebody approached him for an article on Pablo Picasso for a special issue on the legendary artist. Ray refused since he was in the middle of shooting a film.
But being the bhadralok he was, he got a little embarrassed by the disappointment of the people who came to him. He offered to sketch a portrait of Picasso for their cover.
Totally delighted, the magazine's publishers asked when they should come to pick up the sketch. He asked them to wait, picked up his drawing book and drew out the portrait you see here.

For Eksan, he also did quite a few portraits for special issues on a really diverse group of people. The three I found have Karl Marx, Manik Bandopadhyay (a fantastically, under-rated Bengali novelist) and Alighieri Dante on their covers!

All the covers of Eksan were radically different despite being essentially reprisals of the same three letters. Using the concept of negative space, different styles (from ancient scriptures to modern) and motifs, he made them look completely fresh.

And then, we have Sandesh - which follows the same principle as above but the visual imagery is completely different, keeping the audience in mind. Sandesh being read - and occasionally eaten - was the leitmotif here.

Sandesh ran almost entirely on Ray's creative output as he illustrated entire issues of the magazine, wrote stories and novellas, created puzzles and brain-teasers, judged contests and even answered fan-mail. His involvement can be summed up by the opening paragraph of this article by Sandipan Deb.

I met Satyajit Ray only once, when I was seven years old. Like every month, my father had taken me to the office of Sandesh, the children's magazine that Ray co-edited, to collect my copy. We rang the bell, and the door was opened by the tallest man I had ever seen. Far above me hung a huge face seemingly carved out of granite, which now turned and called inside in a voice of distilled thunder: "Mini-di, here's a subscriber of yours." (Mini-di, or Nalini Das, was Ray's cousin, whose home doubled as the Sandesh office.) As we waited, my father kept prodding me in the back: "Ask him, ask him!" So, finally, shyly, I did. "I sent in a story three months ago..." I squeaked to this unknown giant. (Sandesh had a section which carried the literary efforts of its underage readers.) "What's it called?" asked Ray. I told him. "I'll see," he said, and we left. The next month, the story was published in Sandesh.

The office that he talks about was a rambling building on Rashbehari Avenue, not very far away from my home in Calcutta. Every time I walked past this building, I imagined Ray to be somewhere inside - maybe hunched over proofs or changing some element of the typesetting.
In a comment on the earlier post, Sue mentioned that the office was being demolished and I have felt incredibly sad ever since. Here was a place which I can literally call my Palace of Memories and that was going to make way for - presumably - a swanky apartment block.
I wondered how apt it would have been (and a friend echoed my thoughts later on) to build a Feluda Museum in that plot.
I have no clue of the property prices of South Calcutta but surely, it couldn't have been too difficult for a million Feluda fans to contribute a small amount each and make it happen through a publicly funded trust? I believe a Feluda Museum will easily draw enough footfalls to be run profitably through ticket prices and merchandise sales.

Tintin has many museums and even parks dedicated to him. Surely, Feluda deserves his spot under the sun too...

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Art of Satyajit Ray... 1

Images courtesy: Satyajit Ray Film & Study Centre - University of California, Santa Cruz

Recently, Blaft Publications (in their Twitter avatar, @blaftness) put up some antique Bengali book covers. While their dated value was undeniable, they were not really the 'classic' variety or the best of cover design. In fact, any discussion of cover designs for Indian books cannot exclude Satyajit Ray. So, I managed to pick out some covers designed by Ray from this wonderful collection.
I had come across some of these covers (on real books!) when I was a child and while I marveled at some of them, I did not know they were designed by Ray.

Some of these covers are for stars of Bengali literature while some of them are for unknown books. But the attention to detail, the play with typography and the connect to the content are present in each of the designs. I wanted to present them without comment but for the non-Bengali reader, a bit of description becomes absolutely necessary.

Aam Aantir Bhnepu is a part (about a third) of Bibhutibhushan's classic, Pather Panchali, which (roughly) corresponded to the plot of Ray's film. It was while illustrating a children's version of this book that he discovered the film. The cover has all the simplicity of an idyllic village life that distinguished the film.

Abanindranath Tagore, unfortunately, has to be introduced as Rabindranath Tagore's nephew. He was not only one of the major Bengali artists but an amazing author for children.
The following cover is for his autobiography, Apon Katha, and has a simple - yet perfect - portrait of the author.

Along with the above, I would put the cover of Raj Kahini - which was a rendering of the historical tales of Rajputana and its valiant rulers. As kids, we all got to know of the honour & valour of the Ranas from this wonderful. (If you want to convince your kids Chhota Bheem is not the bravest bloke around, you can pick up the book here.)

Talking of bravehearts, I have written about Shankar of  Chnader Pahad earlier. This cover for the book brings out the dangers of African jungles and a single boy's adventures quite chillingly. (My father and aunt had this book, which I read as a kid and never realised it was Ray cover).

The following book cover is by a completely unknown (at least for me). But Suruchi Senguptar Sreshtho Golpo is a collection of short stories, with the words of the title presented like the flowers in an arrangement.  

Lila Majumdar - another stalwart of children's literature in Bengali - wrote this book called Tong Ling (which I haven't read) for which the cover is a wonderful play of the Bengali fonts as two letters have become the eyes of sort of scary character.

The next book on - as is evident - Charlie Chaplin was written by Mrinal Sen has a lovely sketch of the auteur-actor on the cover. And it highlights how one top director lent his skills for the project of another (despite having many professional differences).

Banalata Sen is the most enigmatic woman in Bengali literature and the cover of the book of poems (containing the poem about her) keeps her exactly that way.

Bede (pronounced bay-day with a soft d) has a wonderfully done play of the two Bengali syllables put together almost like mirror images. 

And finally, an eternal favourite - Khai Khai - by Sukumar Ray (who's also, unfortunately, only Satyajit's father for non-Bengalis). It is a simple re-creation of the title which, literally (but inadequately) means "Eat Eat"!

That's the first 10. Any other suggestions / links? 

As you can see, I have every ambitiously numbered this post as  '1'. Evidently, more such posts are being planned. Hopefully, one for magazine covers and logos and one more for covers and illustrations from his own books.