The three books in this series constitute three different ways of looking at cinema. First was Jai Arjun Singh on Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (directed by Kundan Shah, 1983). Singh’s was a journalist’s account of the success of the film that can lay claim to be the first Hindi film to aspire to the status of black comedy. To hand here are Anubav Pal’s take on Disco Dancer (B. Subhash, 1982) and Vinay Lal on Deewaar (Yash Chopra, 1975).
Academic: Vinay Lal’s book on Deewaar, one of a series on Bollywood cult classics, evokes little of the magic that was the film.
Pal’s book is a disappointment. The basic conceit: that there lies in the shooting script of the iconic movie a full-length comedy only waiting to be translated into English. This means you get nothing much more than a long and somewhat tedious joke (however, we must all be grateful to Pal for discovering that one of the chief assistant directors is credited as Vinod Vermin). At the end, however, there are two interviews which somewhat redeem the book. Bappi Lahiri tells us he “brought the ho to Bollywood” with Rambha ho in the sleeper hit Armaan and Mithun Chakraborty stakes his claim to immortality on the fact that his “pelvic movement had an Indian style in it”.
Vinay Lal’s take on Deewaar is standard issue academic. You get one chapter on the history of the country around the 1970s. You get the context neatly set up. You get a chapter on the film itself, if you haven’t seen it (although why you would want to read a book about a film that you have not seen, this reviewer cannot figure).
Lal’s prose is efficient although every once in a while he gives in to the desire to write in Academese, the dire prose style of the academics of the world: “Writing is the harbinger of a hermeneutics of suspicion…”; “…the footpath takes ontological precedence over the skyscraper…”; “Deewaar…may be interpreted as having created concentric circles of dyadic relationships—among these, the relationship of Vijay and Ravi, and of each to his mother, are only the most prominent.”
Let us look for a moment at the third remark, just for its geometric logic. If there are two points chosen in space, whatever kind, Euclidean or otherwise, an infinity of circles can pass through them. But concentric circles? Ah, that begins to make sense. But only for a moment. There are six dyadic relationships in Deewaar:
• Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Sumitra Devi (Nirupa Roy)
• Ravi (Shashi Kapoor) and Sumitra Devi
• Vijay and Anita (Parveen Babi)
• Ravi and Leena (Neetu Singh)
• Vijay and Davar (Iftikhar; the surrogate father figure, his mob boss)
• Vijay and God (in the saguna roopa of Lord Shiva).
Who is the centre of these concentric circles? How do they fit into each other? (If they are concentric, they must fit into each other, one into the next, each scooping up what the earlier relationship implies.) What Lal probably meant is that they represent a Venn diagram in which various relationships intersect each other, overlapping at certain areas: Vijay’s relationship with God is a problem with his mother but Anita and Sumitra Devi do not turn up in the same frame ever.
This next step was taken by Ramesh Sippy in Shakti (1982), where the outsider woman (this time Smita Patil in one of her few civilized outings in the commercial world of Bollywood) is actually drawn into the family circle and thus allowed some measure of “legitimacy” in the way that is defined by a patriarchal society not intent on dyadic relationships (the dyad is always trouble; the joint family is the model to look to).
Shakti is the stepchild of Deewaar. The Oedipal world of Bachchan is played out to its full here, down to the famous meeting scene over the mother (Raakhee). Lal also suggests that Raakhee and Roy had simultaneous careers. In Shakti, Raakhee was persuaded to play Bachchan’s mother, moving from his bhabhi in Reshma aur Shera to his beloved (in the largest number of films) to his mother. She became one of the first star mothers to emerge and take work away from the likes of Roy and Dulari (who plays the mother of the boy killed by Ravi in one of his first acts as protector of the law).
Lal does not seem to have bothered with his background reading. He ignores almost studiously the work of Dr Rachel Dwyer on Yash Chopra. He mentions Haji Mastan but does not tell us that the gangster went on record to say that the film was “too violent”. He misses one of the strangest scenes in the film: When Vijay proposes marriage to Anita, he does so in a roomful of red. And as soon as the word marriage is mentioned, all the red is leached and replaced with white. At every screening I have attended, the symbolism of this shot has been greeted with cheers. He misses the antecedents to the film too: Aradhana (Shakti Samanta, 1969) has the first ninda stuti aimed at God. And it does not come from the mouth of the hero.
His placement of the city is unclear. In Deewaar, he acknowledges that “Sumitra Devi’s prospects are better in the metropolis” but in his analysis of Do Bigha Zameen (Bimal Roy, 1953) he says the city “unambiguously stood for self-aggrandizement, sophistication, unsuppressed greed, and utter lack of moral restraints”. It did, still does; but it was also clear that Shambhu’s only chance of getting his do bigha back would lie in the city.
Of course, a book such as this cannot be expected to scoop up all the details that have been lying around for years. The writer must pick and choose what he thinks will add to his thesis. And after years of general books on Bollywood, it is good to know that we now have specific texts addressing specific films. And we hope that more are coming, jald se jald, aap ke sheher mein, action aur emotion aur writing ka milan.
Jerry Pinto is the author of Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb.
Write to email@example.com