Indulging in a fit of nostalgia, I have lately been devouring Hindi movies from the sixties – a time when heroes had names like Ashok, Vinod and Rajesh and heroines were Sunita, Asha and Sushma. Directors were so enthralled with Eastman color that they instructed the sets to be saturated with neon colours – often leading to shocking pink sofas on crimson carpets. The men were strong and suffered silently and the women were wholesome, curvaceous and generally spoke with a strong South Indian accent.
I’ve realized that many of the clichés that we associate with Bollywood were spawned in the 60s. To name a few –
– The autocratic/repentant father – The roles now routinely carried out by Amitabh in movies like Mohabbatein and K3G were once the province of Nasir Hussain, who showed up in virtually every movie spouting dialogues like “Tumne bhare samaj mein mujhe badnaam kiya hai,” before booting the offending son or daughter out of said samaj. Of course, at the end when all the misunderstandings were sorted out, he would beg for forgiveness. “Mujhe maaf kar de beta,” he would sob, doing a rapid swipe at his child’s feet, sending a delightful chill up the patriarchically oppressed audiences’ spines.
– The suffering mother – Sharmila Tagore may have essayed the role of the tragic mother in Aradhana, but this part was dominated by Nirupa Roy, who was estranged from her son and blinded in the process in so many movies that she probably permanently carried around a pair of dark glasses and vial of glycerine.
– The comic sidekick – Rajendranath and a host of lesser known starlets provided the comic relief to the three hour sagas of suffering and woe. Never too funny to begin with and more slapstick than wit, the role steadily degenerated into the vulgar and unfunny antics of Johnny Lever and co by the 80s.
– Separation and reunion – Once again, Nirupa Roy cornered the market for this plot device, where convoluted situations involved fairs, temples or fallen women. Often a birthmark or birth swaddling provided the key to identification leading to the much spoofed “Bhaiyyaa…!”
– Loss of virtue – It was rare that the heroine fell victim to the debauched villain. It was usually the sad lot of the heroine’s friend or sister to be snared by the oily but charming cad, leaving the hero to come to the rescue and impress the girlfriend. “Mathe ka kalank” was an oft used phrase, succeeded by summary ejection from the surroundings.
– The shotgun wedding – Once the virtue taker was brought to justice, he was summarily married off to the hapless victim in what has to be an enormous leap of faith in the institution.
– The dancer – A long line of lovely ladies did what the heroine could not– wear shimmering, sexy clothes, live an independent life, smoke, drink, cuss and eventually come to sticky end for daring to have a mind of their own.
– The misunderstanding – A theme that ran through a majority of movies in the 60s was a misunderstanding between the hero and the heroine usually caused by catching the hero in a compromising situation with the dancer. This had the virtue of being able to drag along a wafer thin plot line for the requisite 16 reels. Somehow, it never occurred to the parties involved to just talk it out, and thanks to the absence of DNA testing, the story of the hero’s illegitimate child was swallowed hook line and sinker by ‘autocratic father’ and the virtuous heroine.
– The volte-face – The villains of the sixties were the mostly the non-violent sort, restricting their villainy to drinking, boozing, carousing and ill-treating their wives. At the end of the movies, they would have an instant change of heart – a fantasy denouement that surely met with the approval of many oppressed spouses in the audience.
– The unsatisfactory ending – Eventually, everybody walks off into the sunset, somehow managing to shrug off the death of a parent, a jail term, ugly familial confrontations, blinding and abuse with a stoicism worthy of followers of the Gita.
All you need to do to sample a typical example of this genre is to rent ‘Aya Sawan Jhoom Ke,’ which manages to incorporate every single one of these stereotypes and some.
Enjoy your trip down memory lane.