Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Know Your Censor Board Chief

As a Bollywood fan, the Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (aka Censor Board) is the administrative post you are most affected by. After all, he is the guy who is going to decide if you would get to watch MSG with Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim Singh Insan's topless scene intact or we'd have to make do with his Love Charger instead.
Therefore, today's appointment of the CBFC Chief needs a bit of perspective. More so, since people have already dismissed Pahlaj Nihalani as someone who made some Modi promotional video and are ignoring the impressive line-up of films he produced in the 1980s and 1990s.

Pahlaj Nihalani's greatest contribution is not to Bollywood but to Bangladeshi cinema. Because. He. Is. The. Man. Who. Launched. Suyash Pandey.
Nihalani met (or spotted) Chunky Pandey in the loo of a five-star hotel and immediately signed him for a debut that would electrify Bollywood in the 1990s, energise the Bangladeshi film industry a decade later and provide fodder for jokes at awards functions two decades later.

Apart from that, Pahlaj Nihalani bankrolled many of the massive hit films that would establish Govinda-David Dhawan as the greatest combination to happen to Hindi cinema after Amitabh-Manmohan Desai. [I didn't say that. Anupama Chopra wrote about it in an India Today profile of the actor.]

Pahlaj Nihalani's first film as a producer was Hathkadi (not to be mistaken with the 1990s GTH/LML version starring Govinda and Shilpa Shetty). The film is famous for the Asha Bhosle classic - Disco Station - composed by the legendary Bappi Lahiri. Point to be noted is that the film was released in 1982 with Shatrughan Sinha and Rakesh Roshan playing sons to Sanjeev Kumar, giving it a slight 70s vibe with an 80s disco touch.

His next notable was Ilzaam, featuring the song that would make Govinda the butt of jokes in the snooty English-language film press. I am a Street Dancer (again by Bappi Lahiri) was performed by Govinda with gusto on - well - the streets of Bombay while his cronies slipped into people's houses and stole stuff. This whole crime was being investigated by his brother, a police officer (Shatrughan Sinha) as his girlfriend Neelam confused him for someone else.

Then came Aag Hi Aag, which was the aforementioned Suyash's debut. In an interview to Stardust, Chunky said, "After Aag Hi Aag, it was bhaag hi bhaag for me" - indicating the ginormous number of films he signed after this first hit (!). Chunky was the son of Dharmendra, who was the enemy of Danny, who was the enemy of Shatrughan Sinha - in the typically complicated plot of the Bollywood of yore that needed 2:55 hours to uljhao and 0:05 hours to suljhao.

Shola Aur Shabnam was probably the first of the Govinda-David Dhawan partnership that would rule for the next several years. Govinda as army cadet Karan. Gulshan Grover as Kali. Mohnish Behl as his brother Bali. Anupam Kher as Col. Lathi. And Bindu as a girl's college hostel warden who had the hots for Anupam Kher. Any 90s connoisseur can imagine what an explosion the above chemicals can concoct and the film did not disappoint at all.
Add to that quite a few hit songs including the epic Aaaooooooaaaaa o o o o (x 3).

Immediately after SAS came Aankhen, a film that should have been in the Guinness Book for having a world record four double roles (two Kadar Khans, two Govindas, two Raj Babbars and one pair of Chunky-Monkey). It didn't get into the record books because Nihalani was too busy counting the money this film made. It was the biggest grosser of 1993 and I remember watching the film on cable one night, when I was not able to go for a leak because the events just did not let up!
A prankster duo. Their strict father. A gang of terrorists out to switch a CM with a lookalike. A stock-market scamster who had to be released from jail. Twin brothers of several people. And songs that were bloody catchy.
There was the Anthem of Eve-Teasing: O laal dupatte wali, tera naam toh bataa
There was Semi-Romantic Semi-Erotic Ditty: Ek tamanna jeevan ki (Feat. Govinda's Moobs)
There was the PETA Geet: Bade kaam ka bandar
There was the Ghar Khaali Gaana: Angana mein baba, duwaare pe maa - which probably started the debate around Double Meaning Songs much before Raja Babu, Dalaal and Dulara came into the picture.

The final name on this list - though not the final title on Nihalani's CV - is Andaz.
Anil Kapoor appeared as a bespectacled schoolteacher in this film, just in case everyone thought our favourite neighbourhood tapori was not intellectual enough to be associated with academia. But then, studies were strictly avoided as a love triangle between the teacher, his wife (Juhi Chawla) and a student (Karisma Kapoor—in the mandatory minis of a girl student) developed. In any case, Anil Kapoor’s erudition would have been terribly misplaced in a school—hilariously named Nalanda—which counted Shakti Kapoor among its students.

As is evident, Pahlaj Nihalani was (is) a visionary producer who has always been aware of the thin line between subtle humour and slapstick, between eroticism and porn, between body parts that can be exposed and body parts that can't. He has chosen never to walk that line but that does not make him any less qualified to be the person who decides which scenes stay in the movies we watch and which scenes don't.
After all, he knew that consent from the woman is essential for any romantic liaison (Khet gaye baba, bazaar gayi maa / Akeli hoon ghar mein, tu aaja balmaa said the woman in a song he produced). He also depicted empowered women (When asked her name, his heroine snapped back Pehli mulaqat mein ladki nahin khulti / Har ajnabi pe dil ki yeh khidki nahin khulti). And these modern women were also aware of old traditions of hospitality (Garam garam halwa aur puri khilaibe / Naram naram haathon se khaaja balma).
Overall, a man who blends the traditional and modern. Bring him on, I say. 

Friday, January 02, 2015

My Favourite (Blog)Posts of 2014

Before 2015 becomes more than a few days old, let me quickly upload a list of my favourite (blog) posts of 2014.

Arunava Sinha wrote on buying and reading books in 1980s Calcutta and Interstellar suddenly made sense. When he was pushing the shelves of Modern Book Emporium on Dover Lane, I was on Hindustan Road (the very next lane) at a roadside bookshop looking for nearly the same books and wondering why they were falling off the shelves and into my hands. 

One good Calcutta post deserves another. 
Parama Ghosh wrote on the Bengali New Year (Poila Boishakh) and her visit to College Street with her parents. She bought books, chatted with booksellers, ate at the traditional places, observed the not-so-traditional things and - for many of us - brought this beautiful place alive once again. 
Thought: If the post had been in English, more people would have been able to read it. But then, it wouldn't have been perfect.

Before you start complaining about posts in Bengali that everyone cannot enjoy, let me pacify you. 
Tanmay Mukherjee a.k.a. Bongpen started a parallel blog to assist people desirous conducting their romantic pursuits in the manner of the planet's most poetic, most thoughtful and most articulate people. Pickup lines in Bengali would turn every Kohli into a Kobi, every Ravi into a Robi. So, was it love at first sight or should I link the blog again? 
[Bonus Bengali Post: Tanmay wrote another post on 26th January last year and explained a diplomatic incident we have been trying to understand for the last seven decades.]

Kroswami is someone whose identity I don't know. But when (s)he talks about eating in Calcutta, falling in love while eating in Calcutta, breaking one's heart while falling in love by eating in Calcutta, the identity doesn't matter. There is a blog post about the less celebrated eateries of Calcutta that I cannot describe. And the good news is that I don't have to describe it. 
"Go there. Just go there. And live it."

After all that food, you have to wash it down with some alcohol. 
Amritorupa Kanjilal got that forward about '20 Alcoholic Puns for Booklovers' like all of us. What she did next will blow your mind. She came up with 80 (yes, eighty... eight zero!) more puns spanning both English and Bengali classics (and some not-so-classics). When Omar Khayyam said "A book... a jug of wine... and thou", I think he meant this post. 

Sidin Vadukut - after he became bestselling author - neglected his blog like anything. He returned to it in the beginning of 2014 recounting an interesting bit of his daughter's growing up. When I first read this, I fell on my knees and wept. Partly out of recognition, but mostly out of relief. 
I guarantee all parents will feel the same way. Unless you have a toddler right now. Then you will want to strangle Sidin. 

Arnab Ray a.k.a. Greatbong - even after becoming a bestselling author - did not neglect his blog at all. But he started deconstructing politicians, reconstructing politics and instructing a lot of others. But he returned to form with an elegant post on Bollywood's Ice Bucket Challenge (Classic Era) that ranks among his very best. You expected every blogger to write an Ice Bucket post, right? So what's new? Well, as a (Classic Era) Bollywood punchline went: 'Expect the Unexpected'. 

How can you write a memorable post - one that stays with a reader for several months, if not years - on a single film? Well, I will show you. 

Imaan Sheikh ruined some of the best loved films from my college days with her 'accurate and honest summaries'. My favourite one was the Hum Saath Saath Hain one, where she brought in marijuana, casual sex, incestual undertones, minority bashing and all the political incorrectness that you can think of. And then some. 
I really hated HSSH so I loved this one. On the other hand, I had loved KKHH when I first saw it but I loved Imaan's post on that one too. WTF? Kuch kuch hota tha, Imaan. Tum nahin samjhoge...

Sukanya Verma has been revisiting some of the classics from the 1980s, concocting a brilliant mix of filmi nostalgia, critical analysis and oft-forgotten trivia around some of our lesser classics. I feel about fifty of these columns would be a wonderful book on Indian cinema and her piece on JJWS was one of the best. Primarily because it is one of my favourites. But also because I loved the way she changed to top gear at the very end. 

Beth Watkins had developed an (unhealthy?) obsession with Shashi and Soumitra till it took the Deol to family to shake her awake and ride into Fictitoustan. As she explored Sultanat (yet another of my childhood favourites), it was like watching the film once again - this time with subtitles, an expert commentary track and mental popcorn to munch on, 

So, those are my ten favourites from 2014. You wouldn't believe the agony I went through to reach this shortlist from the hundreds of posts I liked. What I do for you guys! 
Happy? Now, go buy my book.