Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rajesh Khanna....The Memories

My earliest memories of Rajesh Khanna are some of his movies that I watched as a kid during Saturday night Doordarshan. I didn't much understand acting then, it was the 80s where Kaka's downfall had already started. The women in the family loved him. Amitabh Bachchan was the reigning superstar and Dharmendra and Vinod Khanna had started wearing fake mustaches for matured roles. I remember copying his dance steps from the film Aan milo Sajnaa - "Yahan wahan saare jahan mein tera raaj hai", much like a Junior Mehmood. My dad was ebullient with this phenomena. He later showed me his college day photographs. Young men in bell bottoms, with large side-locks and hair that covered their ears. I still remember the pride in his voice, - "We were all Rajesh Khanna fans." Bachchan? I asked. There was a fake arrogance in his voice when he said this.. "Oh.. he was a beggar those days...Those were the days when Navin Nischal rocked.. Anil Dhawan was considered the passionate hero and Rajesh Khanna ruled over Hindi Cinema."

I remember watching the "best" Rajesh Khanna movies with Dad, thereafter. "Daag", where granny sweared at him for not owing up to Sharmila Tagore, "Aradhana" which is still my Mom's fav mother-son movie that she loves crying up to :), "Amar Prem" where me as a kid could never fathom how a person could be as large hearted as Rajesh Khanna, "Kati Patang" which we completed after 3 screenings because of the power cuts, "Anand" which was the first time tears welled up in my eyes because of celluloid magic and i cried in the  bathroom, "Namak Halaal" where i developed semi-permanent hatred for Bachchan and a lot more......

"Hamein jo tumhara sahara naa miltaa... bhanwar mein hi rehte, kinaara naa miltaa"

My obsession with Rajesh Khanna grew after I watched a thriller "Red Rose" on the newly started Sony TV. I thought he was excellent then, and i used this reference between friends to suggest a better performance than SRK's anti-hero craze in those days. I watched him a lot...."Avtaar" where he played the elderly father with one hand kept straight near the belly..."Jantaa Hawaldaar" where i loved it when he crooned ..humse kaa bhool hui jo yeh sazaa humkaa mili...."Mehbooba" which was about rebirth...Roti, where he balances romance and machismo ... The Train, a great suspense thriller....Swarg, where he cries out to Govinda - "aye mere dost lautke aaja.....bin tere zindagi adhuri hai"...Safar, which i was extremely sad about....Aavishkar, an artsy genius (saw it much later)....I moved on....

"Kuch reet jagat ki aisi hai... har ek subah ki shaam hui"

My second romance with Kaka happened because of my love for Pancham-Kishore. While collecting albums of Pancham's music i saw myself crossing paths with Rajesh Khanna's movies yet again. Quite simply put, the man had such a huge collection of good songs picturised on him. While the Pancham-Kishore-Kaka combo rocked, Rajesh Khanna also was fortunate to get awesome songs picturised on him by other musicians.Long before good songs became synonymous with Emraan Hashmi, Kaka existed and ruled. How glad was i to find Pancham. How glad was i to see Rajesh Khanna emote Kishore's voice on screen to the truest possible act?

"Jab Dard nahin tha seene mein.. tab khak mazaa tha jeene mein"

I did a lot of reading on Kaka too. What was fascinating was that, everyone had a story about his downfall and how it was synonymous with Bachchan's rise to stardom. Surely but that's not how a fan should remember the first superstar of Hindi Cinema.

Sholon Pe Chalna Tha..Kaanto Pe Sona Tha
Aur Abhi Ji Bharke...Kismat Pe Rona Tha
Jaane Aise Kitne Baki Chhodke Kaam
Main Chala.... Main Chala
Main Shaayar Badnaam........

A man who lived and loved... who was human in his faults and yet appeared larger than life on the celluloid screens. From famously sharing a toothbrush with live-in partner Tina Munim, to an open affair with Anju Mahendru.. from marrying young Dimple to an unsuccessful stint in politics... from being widely known as the arrogant, first brat child of bollywood to playing second fiddle in the later parts....from romancing the heroines with that twinkle in the eye to staring at death with the blank yet highly expectant expression.... Rajesh Khanna will stay forever etched in some of my fondest and oldest memories of cinema.

"Zindagi se bahut pyaar humne kiya... Maut se bhi mohabbat nibhayenge hum......"

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Character Artist

"Mere Karan Arjun aayenge"

"Yaar ke liye jaan bhi chali jaaye, toh koi ghum nahin"

 One of the major supports to the medium of Hindi Cinema has been the supporting cast. In retrospection when we look at the early days, we see our movies much inspired  by the west in terms of style, but later relying on the grounded Indian values of love, friendship, blood-ties, which come into foray in so many ways, thereby getting to exploit the target audience's emotions correctly. Here, a mere leading man or a leading lady cannot do the trick alone. Hence, the need for supporting cast. 

 And what excellent support they gave ! From getting their friend's love letter passed to the correct girl in class, to taking the bullet meant for the hero from the villain's gun, from making the ever so tasty gajar ka halwa or aloo ke parathey till getting raped by the brother's enemy, the support has been untiringly endless.

I wonder though. how the term "Character Artist" came to be associated with these characters. Certainly on a conscientious call, differentiating between black and white, the hero has a good character and the villain has a bad character. Maybe everybody else supporting the film, just has "character". 

Unclear pondering aside, the irony was, the term "character artist" got associated to you, after you did a few of the supporting cast roles. This tag, many artists were rather afraid of to get associated with, many still are. This tag actually ruined promising careers of so many good actors. On the contrary there were also a few who, after having seen it all on the Good or the Bad side, decided to move on to "character artist" roles. Sample Ashok Kumar, who after having been a leading man for quite some time moved into the character artist mode and delivered quite a few smaller gems. There was Pran, who, after decades of terrorizing Indians with his menace on the silver screen, took to supporting roles, as a fish to water and showed brilliance in "Upkaar", "Zanzeer" etc. Sometimes the actors had such great screen presence, their role stood out parallel to the lead performers. A good case in point would be Sanjeev Kumar's "Thakur" in "Sholay", which is one of the best portrayals of a non-lead role. You may say, the role was quite meaty, but it's all the actor's credit, to have left an indelible mark in our minds.

 There were many actors though who lost out after showing decent promise early on. Aruna Irani, once a leading lady, succumbed to being good support later on. Danny Denzongpa, started well early on, but kept shuttling between negative and side artist roles. Deepak Tijori, bollywood's most remembered "side actor" gave company to leading men through the 90's. Chunkey Pandey, having failed as a solo star, did great in 2nd leads in "Aankhen" and "Tezaab". Then, there were also those who turned the theory upside down and made their foray into stardom, the other way round, such as NanaPatekar and even Mithun Chakraborty.

However apart from chance and debacles, we also had those who were regular features as supporting cast. The golden moms, Nirupa Roy, Durga Khote, the lovable funny sidekicks like Asrani ( who IMO did splendid in "Abhimaan" ), the late arriving Police Inspector - Iftekhar, the ever old man - Hangal Saab and Om Prakash. One of the best directors to have made use of the supporting cast in his movies were Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Be it "Khatta Meetha" "Chhoti si baat" "Golmaal" or "Chupke Chupke", a lot of us viewers would still remember and adore the endearing cast. 
As bollywood moved on to changing times, we saw the role of a "character artist" being re-defined. Lot of promising faces over the years have come in and created an impression in roles, which aren't exactly black or white. Last weekend saw the release of two movies - "Paan Singh Tomar" and "London, Paris, New York". PST has Irrfan Khan, one of the best talents India has now, as the leading man. Yet it saw the light at the box office after two years of it's completion. The other, "London Paris New York" featured Aditi Rao Hydari, as the leading lady. Aditi previously essayed small but note worthy "character artist" roles in Delhi 6, Rockstar and a bit of footage in "Yeh Saali Zindagi".

The above cases in point show that the line differentiating "character artists" from "The Leading Artists" is definitely blurring. Awaiting more of these in the near future to end the taboo and bring the glass ceilings down. More power to Cinema..