As audiences flock to see the colourized version of Dev Anand’s 50-year-old film, Hum Dono, another offering from his Navketan Films banner is worth recalling. Hare Rama Hare Krishna, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, has over time become something of a cult classic. The film owes much of its cult status to the song Dum Maro Dum, picturized on the sultry Zeenat Aman working a marijuana pipe, at her seductive best.
In recent news, Rohan Sippy is picturizing the song for an eponymous film still under production. But it would be difficult for the film itself to suffer a similar fate.
Hare Rama was Anand’s second film as a director—his first, Prem Pujari, was a patchy effort, the fine songs not enough of a booster to please the box-office gods.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the hangover of colourful romances of the previous decade—sugary confections, light of story and full of interludes in the mountains—was still with us. The angry young man was still to hit the screens and the king of the moment was a young, fresh-faced Rajesh Khanna who had decimated all competition. Anand, in his late 40s by then, was the only exception. He had delivered two back-to-back hits, Johny Mera Naam and Jewel Thief, but both had been directed by his younger brother, Vijay Anand, who later left Navketan. Could Dev Anand survive on his own?
Always on the lookout for a subject that suited the times, Anand was drawn to the hippie movement. Thousands of young men and women from Western countries, fed up of the materialism of their societies, had set out for the exotic East in search of gurus, peace and nirvana. The free love and drugs only helped. Nepal was the mecca of easily available intoxicants; improbable as it may seem, ganja, etc., were not illegal there at the time. The overland route to Nepal, called the “hippie trail”, was via Iran and Afghanistan and then India; most hippies visited Kullu, Goa and Varanasi before heading to Nepal.
High: Zeenat Aman and Dev Anand in Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
During one of his periodic visits to Kathmandu, Anand was taken to a hippie commune where he saw groups of unwashed, underdressed young men and women, all of them white, passing around chillums and swaying to music. Among them was one solitary brown face, a young girl who intrigued the actor enough for him to make enquiries. She met him at his hotel and told her story: She had left Canada after her immigrant parents had divorced and had joined a group of hippies, eventually finding her way to the eastern Shangri-La. Her name was Jasbir but everyone knew her as Janice. Yes, she had heard of Anand. But no, she had no intention of joining the film business.
Convinced that there was a film in this intriguing story, Anand dashed off a script, rushed to Mumbai and set about finding someone to play Jasbir aka Janice. Getting a heroine for the male protagonist’s (his) love interest was easy—Mumtaz was the reigning queen and he signed her up right away. But who would play his sister? Indian actors are notoriously shy of playing sisters, as it puts them in a rut. However, this was the more challenging role—this sister was not the virginal beauty who lived for her bhaiyya but almost the vamp, trading in every idiom of the flower-power generation.
He met several newcomers (including, it is said, Miss India Naina Balsaver) but it was Aman, to whom he was introduced at a party in Mumbai, who was the perfect match. Thoroughly Anglicized, the teenage Aman was a boarding school product who had spent a year in the US as an exchange student. She was part of Mumbai’s party set which stayed away from Hindi films, even though her father (who had divorced Aman’s mother many years before) had written the dialogues of Mughal-e-Azam. She had international looks, spoke Hindi in a chi-chi accent and wore Western clothes. Besides, she smoked. She had already been signed for a small film but Hare Rama Hare Krishna was to be her debut.
The film was shot on location in and around Kathmandu. Local hippies were asked to turn up for the shoot, often causing continuity problems when they were too disoriented to report the next day. The story of a young, misguided girl who falls in with the wrong crowd, and the brother who searches her out, proved to be a hit with young Indian audiences. The song Dum Maro Dum became an anthem. The theme caught the zeitgeist of a rebellious time when youngsters wanted to “tune in, turn on and drop out”. The spirit of revolt in the West had already made its way to India, though the big student and political agitations of the 1970s were still a year or two away.
Hare Rama Hare Krishna was sunny, in keeping with the popular culture of the time, with lush locales, pertinent fashion and great songs. But there was a dark undercurrent to it, reflected in the moodiness of the hippie gatherings and the tragic end of it all. Dark clouds were gathering over India too. The year 1971 was a golden one for the country—two back-to-back overseas victories in cricket, a handsome victory on the “Garibi Hatao” platform by a young Indira Gandhi and the decisive victory over Pakistan that split it into two—but things were going downhill rapidly.
Jayaprakash Narayan’s call to the army to rebel, the railway strike, the Emergency and cynical coalition politics were all to follow in quick succession. The decade that began with hope and promise ended in despair and with a totally changed India.
But in 1971, all of this was yet to come. Anand, a man in tune with youth culture, had caught the mood of the long-haired, batik-wearing generation that wanted to fight everything their parents had stood for. He had captured a fleeting moment in history. A year later, it would have been too late. The Nepal government banned the sale of drugs soon after and the hippies moved to India or went back home, disillusioned and broke, to join the establishment.
A seminal film, Hare Rama Hare Krishna spawned imitations, though there was nothing to them once the hippie scene faded. It is a film that can never be remade, belonging as it does to a time that has gone forever.
Sidharth Bhatia is the author of a forthcoming book on Navketan Films, which is to be published later this year.
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