Monday, June 27, 2016

Jottings: Slice of Life- 20

Jottings: Slice of Life- 20
It is widely believed, and to a large extent true that "Sholay" - the 1975 blockbuster movie by Ramesh Sippy is one of the finest entertainers ever made for Indian cinema. It had everything in it. Melodrama, a convincing story line, magnificent performances, scintillating music, rollicking slick edits, compact screenplay, liberal doses of glamor and titillation, heart stopping villainy, stylish heroism- and above all a breadth and scope of cinematic vision that enthralled audiences of all ages and types. It is one of those rare films, which like vintage wine, grows upon you as time passes by. I own only two Hindi DVD's, and Sholay is one of them.
This jotting is about the other DVD I have, which in my opinion, is as good if not better in conception and execution than Sholay is. Feroz Khan's "Janbaaz" released in 1986 is the movie I am talking about. As a young boy, I grew up watching Qurbani. When one is 10 years old, Movies are all about make-believe. Three hours of reel time has to fulfill childhood fantasies. There must be action, heroes, villains, lots of color on screen and definite triumph of good over evil. No copious tears over unfelt emotions, no lengthy dialogues on topics that make no sense to me. I must be able to come out of a film feeling good, on top of the world and a sense of superiority over others (The reason all of us love super hero movies is precisely because of this). Qurbani, distinctly gave me that feel. The young, handsome, fair skinned, savvy Feroz Khan and his lover - the incredibly beautiful Zeenat seemed descended straight from Heaven. "Aap zaisa koi" was on our lips and mind for a long time, and so was the spectacular night club environment that Feroz had woven around the shining body of Zeenat. Qurbani was the only Feroz khan I had seen till 1986, which was when the maverick Khan bought out his magnum opus "Janbaaz".
I am not sure what the reason is: Probably right age, testosterones beginning to flow in prolific quantities, adolescence, sense of rebellion, or what not - "Janbaaz" just hit the right chord at the right moment. I cannot, even at this distance, describe with complete objectivity the intense feeling of joy, lust, contentment I felt when I first saw the movie on big screen in Hyderabad. My head was swirling with sheer breadth and scale of Khan's movie. Here on single screen, painted with lush colors, in exotic rich locales, were characters rolling in wealth, intoxication and class; prancing around in 100 acre ranches, zooming in imported cars, dressed and draped in fashionable clothes, doing and saying prohibited things, crossing those elusive and often blurry boundaries of ethical and moral decency, singing lilting songs, burning and seething with passion; arguing, fighting and killing with nonchalance and perhaps pride. It is just too much for a teenager to handle and digest at one go. I had to surreptitiously borrow videos, catch snippets of TV, ogle endlessly over magazine covers and somehow, over time, make sense of this whole new experience in Indian cinema.
Those were the glory days of Sridevi. Every actor has that purple patch when nothing can go wrong. Sridevi was in that zone, and to use her for just ten odd minutes in a movie was virtually unthinkable. Yet Feroz dared to. In brief transcendental moments of acting she dances, drugs, swoons and dies in a pool of water after romancing to one of the most memorable Kalyanji-Anandji compositions " Har kisi ko nahi milta" ; then he had Rekha, an actor at the height of her prowess, dance lasciviously at a disco under flashing flights and colored shadows; and then there was the phenomenon of Dimple Kapadia – in her early thirties, a flower in full bloom, nubile, with an aquiline face which could launch a thousand ships, wavy black hair that tumbled and tossed with each graceful and erotic step, her deep black eyes radiating love, passion and grief all at the same time with equal intensity. Her steamy scene in a horse stable on a pile of strewn hay with hairy, masculine and lusty Anil Kapoor forever changed the way physical love was presented on Indian screen. While Raj Kapoor always stopped at the boundaries of sensuality, Feroz crossed it with disdain. Critics, conservatives and traditionalists shouted from roof tops on collapse of moral standards, but I am sure, most of them silently watched the clip in closed corners of their privacy. And to what to speak of the opulence, grandiosity and lavishness of Khan's cinematography. Everything about the film was stylish, including the crime it portrayed. For Feroz, the young man of Iranian descent, born and bought in Bangalore in the lap of luxury, Janbaaz was his apotheosis, a culmination of all that his autodidactic education in Hollywood films had led to. After Janbaaz, he could never touch this font of cinematic creativity ever again. The only drawback of this film was its lack of depth. While Sholay managed to bring out some very deep emotional undercurrent amidst the gunshots, horses and all the rest of it, Janbaaz would only linger in our memories as a well told fantasy with none of the characters leaving a deep mark. Both of them have Tragic endings, but somehow, the climatic death in Sholay resonates much deeper. Well, that’s the price one pays for a tradeoff between style and opulence versus artistic and aesthetic.
Feroz khan was neither an original film maker nor a quality actor; and he never claimed he was either. Both Qurbani and Janbaaz were adaptions of its Hollywood cousins; one starring Kirk Douglas and the other Gregory Peck. But his strength lay in grafting these stories into Indian soil. Though his work was a little outlandish (and some would call it garish), he was able to make it seem plausible. In an era, when Actors were running around tress aimlessly, he had the audacity to make love, lust and rivalry seem more real and tangible. His locales were exotic, and so were his men and Women. His personal flamboyant life style percolated into films he made, and he was very clear and vocal on why he made movies. To entertain himself first, and then to please his eager audience. To the very end of his life (he died in 2009) he stuck to this theme of lavish, uncharted film making, and I must say, he succeeded.
You may wonder why all of a sudden I slipped into writing about Janbaaz and Sholay. The reason is simple. I was cleaning my cupboards yesterday night, when two old copies of these two films surfaced. I had bought them in Delhi years ago. I suddenly had this impulse to watch Janbaaz again, and I did. The last I watched it must be at least ten years ago, but I was surprised that I had the same intensity of enjoyment as I did the last time. It kept me riveted. Though, at this distance, the movie looked a little out of place and context, but nothing diminished the pure unadulterated entertainment it provided. It helped me relive my infatuation with Sridevi and Dimple. Thank God for that…
God bless…
Yours in mortality,

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