Bollywood Booked Cult Classics
It is raining Hindi cinema related books all over the market, and the continuing dark overcast skies forecast more in the days to come. And they related to almost every conceivable aspect: serious studies, biographies, coffee table books, history, music etc. Now another genre, though not necessary novel, has come into play, full length studies of not only cult classics but new releases as well like re-runs on the television screens. Anupama Chopra and Nasreen Muni Kabir, two women film historians, whistled off the trend in diametrically different ways. The later through examining classics, like Mother India, Awaara, and now Pyassa, by revisiting the screenplays and dialogue, by adding a comprehensive commentary, and pictorial support while the former sought to do it with films like Sholay in terms of time and place. A new publishing house experimented fairly successfully by publishing screenplays of Lage Raho Munnabhai and 3 Idiots, though generally such attempts had been going by default, including those with Satyajit Ray classics.
HarperCollins, India is now trying to approach the examination in a slightly novel way, and recently came out with three relooks at cult classics like Deewar, Disco Dancer and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro by three different authors using diverse methodology, though to the same effect.
Anuvab Pal is a playwright and scriptwriter, and therefore he has approached the film from that point of view. To a question if he were to rewrite the screenplay how he would approach the subject, he replied: “Great question. I have not thought about it much but it’s worth doing it. I don’t think I would touch the central conflict which has to do with “guitar phobia”. There are many great things in it- Basco, a henchman, A Murderer from London, Mr PN Oberoi (a villain) and his son, the bad Disco Dancer, Sammy. Those elements are great. And there’s Jimmy, a force of good. And his girlfriend is PN Oberoi’s daughter. There’s a neat trifecta formed there. But instead of violence, which they ultimately resort to, I would attempt to keep the conflict around dancing. Maybe a face off between Jimmy and Sammy. Maybe over the slum redevelopment (Jimmy’s old home) which Sammy’s father wants to do. Near the end, I would not get Jimmy’s legs broken. I think the psychological issues around his mother being electrocuted and him passing out every time he saw a red guitar are big enough as a conflict.”
Vinay Lal approaches Deewar from a sociological point of view, though he overly denies it. “I don’t have a discipline as such. I work in history, literature, cinema, philosophy etc. The film seems amenable to analysis at various levels, and the results are there for you and others to assess. Similarly, I don’t accept the common distinction between academic and non-academic writing. There are a few passages which may not be transparent to the ordinary reader, but much of the book is accessible to common readers. The intent is to write for an educated person with a reasonable degree of intelligence and curiosity; those who wish to probe some issues further can consult the notes and index, and others can ignore them. And, finally, I don’t write with specific audiences in mind…the only audience I have in mind is someone who is a bit probing, unwilling to take things for granted and I don’t think of audiences as Indian, non-Indian or global. It is a film that appeals to me (and others) for many reasons: some themes are grounded in the essentials of post-1947 history (the migrations to urban areas, for example), others invoke the rich mythological literature of India.” And unlike the other two books, Lal does not interrogate either the film maker or any of the leading characters in the iconic film.
Jai Arjun Singh deploys yet another approach with his relook at Jaane Bhi Do Yarro. He begins with probing the mind of the director in a somewhat flashback kind of way, taking director Kundan Shah down the memory lane twenty seven years. Relying heavily on interacting with the now much-scattered cast and crew (mostly unknown bodies then), detailed shooting reports, a biography of Shah (one third of the book) while also giving his own reasons that made this low-budget off-beat film a cult-classic; how even the oddities, lapses etc get overlooked through the sheer magnetism of the overall show.
Jai defends himself saying: “I didn’t have to, of course—20 different writers might write 20 books about Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro by taking entirely different approaches. But when I had spoken with Kundan for some time, I realised that I wanted to make him the protagonist of this story in a sense because a) He is, after all, the person most responsible for the underlying sensibility of this film, and b) I was fascinated by the contrast between the staid, serious-looking man sitting in front of me and the lunacy of what he had created. For me, understanding the JBDY story necessarily meant delving into Kundan’s life and the trajectory of his career, which could so easily have been completely different.” Asked also if the narrative would have unfolded differently if the setting had been other than Bombay. “No, I didn’t. Though it is a distinctive Bombay film in some ways, I don’t think the significance of the location should be over-stressed, because the ideas and the concerns at the heart of this story are universal—it’s about idealism and integrity gasping for breath in a world where profit and personal advancement are becoming increasingly important.”
Each book comes with its own special flavour, reinventing frozen scenes, situations, characters with fresh meanings through subjective interpretative analysis. Especially, when it comes to some dramatic moments in Deewar Shashi Kapoor saying: “mere paas ma hai.” Or the signature scene before that between the brothers with the mother overhearing the conversation. Or the way Jai Arjun Singh tried to bring to life the telephone scene, for instance, between Ravi Baswani and Naseerudin Shah. Or the Satish Shah “thoda khao thoda phenko” or even the descriptive notations about the dead body.
By Suresh Kohli