With a background in engineering and advertising, Jaideep Sahni wasn’t your typical Bollywood guy—that is, till he started delivering hits.
In 2006, he tickled audiences with Khosla ka Ghosla. Last month the scriptwriter hit another goal with Chak De! India. Here, Sahni—who is also a successful lyricist—details what he believes are some of the best ‘environment’ (movies about a particular time and place) films ever made in Indian cinematic history.
Garam Hawa (1973)
If you didn’t grow up in the post-Partition era, live through it now. Truly a once in a lifetime experience, this movie takes you to the mohallas where every Muslim household was debating whether to stay in India, or leave for the newly-formed Pakistan—a land with which they had no connection, of which they had no idea, which they had never seen. The swaying struggle of Mirza Salim (played by Balraj Sahni) to somehow find a place, respect and love in independent India, inspite of everything giving him gentle hints to leave, is worth a thousand history books.
Chashme Buddoor (1981)
Delightful Delhi of the 1970s. The time of bell-bottoms, manicured lawns and cruising Yezdi motorbikes. As also the time of ‘chatai’curtains, fresh lime soda dates and Charms cigarettes. Sai Paranjpe’s genius and naughty take on a middle class confused by its own double standards, and a huge inspiration behind my own writing in ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’.
The days of the licence raj. Feuding business families, greedy politicians and self-important bureaucrats, tied together by the magic glue of avarice and monopoly. An insight into how a cabal of 10 families, 20 politicians and 50 bureaucrats perhaps controlled not just an economy, but a country. And, lulled by ration sugar, 10-year waits for a Bajaj Chetak, and Sunday offs, all that the fooled middle class did was watch ‘Chitrahaars’ and Sunday feature films. A masterpiece of modern history in the form of cinema.
Invest some time in a journey into Punjab during the days of the separatist movement—when common men and women were caught between the separatists and the forces, and the idea of the Republic of India was stuck between apathetic citizens and vicious politicians—and you’ll get more insight into today’s Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia than The Economist can ever give.
Visit the underbelly of the 1990s’ Mumbai underworld where ambition begins with a cup of tea and ‘vada-pao’, and ends at a Mauser. Next time you drive past a slum under a lit MNC neon, see it reflected in the eye of the young boy watching it. In his book, crime is the only real equal opportunity employer in India. Have a look at how “distribution of wealth” and “trickle-down effect” appear from his point of view. It’s different.
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