Sunday, July 11, 2010

Only Zeenat

An angry young age Sunday 11 July, 2010 Dipti Nagpaul D'souza It was that kind of a time—Zeenat Aman and Dum maro dum, the Emergency and Vijay Tendulkar. Looking back at the 1970s, a decade that gave us the first taste of rebellion
The men fussed over handlebar moustaches and side locks; they also discovered geometric prints and pink. The women had already slipped out of modest saris and into skirts. And they gladly welcomed the next big rage, two-piece bikinis. Polyester ousted cotton, kitsch replaced sober. It was that kind of a time. Beatles was playing on every screechy stereo set but the Fab Four, inspired by Pandit Ravi Shankar, were far away from the hysteria—seeking refuge at Osho Rajneesh’s ashram. The angry young man took on the system and Amitabh Bachchan found his way to the top. Dev Anand launched the oh-so-sexy Zeenat Aman in Hare Rama Hare Krishna, bringing drugs, sex and rock and roll out of the closet and into the Indian courtyard.
That Seventies show is now into reruns. Filmmaker Vipul Shah is revisiting the decade through his comedy drama Action Replayy; Milan Luthria looks at the incestuous relationship of gangsters and glamour that defined
Bombay then in Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai.
It was a decade, says Luthria, that defined us. “The 1970s to India are what the ’60s have been to the world,” he says. Director of the forthcoming film Aisha Rajshree Ojha is making a documentary on the Seventies; she calls it “the formative years that made India what it is today”. Zeenat Aman remembers it as a time when Indians gave up on a few shibboleths. “Fashion shows were a borrowed concept from the West but it was only in the ’70s that Indians first became willing to let go of the traditional definition of beauty and the role of a woman as a homemaker alone,” she says. She would know.
Delhi-based artist Vivan Sundaram calls it the most free-thinking period of Indian art. “The biggest names in contemporary art belong to this time—FN Souza, Akbar Padamsee, MF Husain and Tyeb Mehta,” says Sundaram. “In the late ’60s, anything new was not considered respectable, could be dismissed as too Western. But as the cultural exchange with the West grew and artists like Husain and Raza became known, the avant garde artists in India got legitimacy. That sowed the seed for the contemporary movement that is today associated with the Baroda school of art.”
For the country as a whole, the decade marked, in some ways, the end of innocence. The first flush of Independence and the optimism of the Nehruvian project had faded away. And it faced the first serious challenge to democracy. “The two wars with Pakistan and the Indo-China war between 1965 and 1971, followed by the Emergency in 1975 were big blows—they drained the nation’s resources and the common man found himself in no better a position than he was in under the colonial rule,” says Shyam Benegal.
It was, most of all, a political time.
The anger against the system bubbled under major works of the time. Writers of the Progressive Writers’ Movement like Kaifi Azmi, Shambhu Mitra and VP Sathe had openly aligned themselves to the Left. Playwright Vijay Tendulkar was one of those who scorched the system and made the smug middle-class squirm—be it through his play Ghashiram Kotwal, which faced trouble at the hands of the emerging Shiv Sena, or Sakharam Binder, which was banned in 1974 because it did not comply with moral norms; or in screenplays for films like Nishant or Aakrosh. For every Mera Naam Joker, there was a Satyajit Ray film and for every Raj Kapoor, there was a Benegal.
The figure of the anti-hero was waiting to be born. Javed Akhtar, who, along with Salim Khan, is credited for having created the character that found its way into iconic films like Deewar and Sholay, says, “Sociologists say that Bachchan’s character represented the man who was losing faith in the institutions and hence rebelled, but we didn’t create such characters consciously. They probably came to us naturally since we were a part of the situation. The character became the ultimate hero to the common man—the one who did what you could not.”
Ironically, this was also the time when government patronage pushed a new movement in Indian cinema. “The government had declared that films depicting real life in the country will receive financing and that set the stage for the evolving film scene in Bengal, with makers like Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray,” says Benegal. As the movement grew, filmmakers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan in Kerala and Girish Karnad in Karnataka also joined in. “But Hindi cinema shook itself out of the stupor when people like Kumar Shahani, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Mani Kaul, MS Sathyu, Saeed Mirza and Govind Nihalani ventured in,” he says. The result were films like Garam Hawa, Bhumika, Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastan, Ardh Satya—which in many ways reflected the losing faith in the state and established conventions.
And beyond the watch of the government, another alliance was being stitched up. The underworld had discovered the movies. Shobhaa De, a former film journalist who is a consultant to Luthria’s film, says, “The underworld was very ‘out there’ during the ’70s. Stars hobnobbed openly with these dons, attended their family functions and accepted their lavish gifts. It was a very cosy and surprisingly open relationship.”
The wheel has turned. The angry young man moved on long ago to host Kaun Banega Crorepati. No one has turned up to claim Vijay Tendulkar’s mantle. Parallel cinema died, the ‘indie movement’ was born. It was the best of times, the worst of times. “Everything of consequence, from the politics and the Emergency to the IITs and the concept of NRIs, was formed then. The Seventies were truly the years that made us a democracy,” says Ojha.

Zeenat Aman was among the top Bollywood heroines in the 1970s and 80s. As she returns to the silver screen after a considerable gap with director Anil Sharma's forthcoming film, Dunno Y... Naa Jaane Kyon, the actress spoke to Meenakshi Sinha

How do you feel about the comeback? 

I have a problem with the word comeback. I don't like the word because it has a connotation that one is out of the scene for many years. Post my marriage (to Mazhar Khan) i was completely involved in motherhood raising my two sons. It was very important for me to spend quality time with them. Then their father fell seriously ill and all my time went in tending to him till he passed away. But in between, i tested the waters with odd roles like the ones in Bhopal Express, Jaana... Let's Fall in Love, Ugli Aur Pagli, did theatre with Sanjay Garodia and kept myself busy with the kind of projects and people i wanted to work with.

But these were not major projects. 

One has to take appropriate roles and can't be a laughing stock. I have to make choices from what's been offered to me. It's a male-dominated industry and one has to face that reality. Many ladies of my time bemoan the lack of roles of their calibre. I feel there should be more scripts for people like us. Look at the West; they have wonderful films like the ones done by Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon.

Why can't we have that in
India? Mr Bachchan, with whom your pairing was a rage at one time, does get to experiment with roles even today. 

Like i said, it's a male-dominated industry and that's the reality one should acknowledge. But i think he's fabulous as an artist. He knows his craft exceedingly well. I wish we get some opportunity like he does and wish him many more such roles.

You set a bold, sexy trend. Was it difficult to break the stereotype of a conventional heroine of the 1970s? 

I wasn't planning any such move nor had any fixed plans. I was just being myself. Having studied abroad, my outlook towards life was far more open. Many years later, when i would read in magazines that i broke x amount of trends, got many publicity titles and accolades for it, i said 'thank you'. I simply didn't realise the furore and impact i'd created.

Being a Navketan discovery, please comment on your relations with Dev Anand. 

I became a star in Navketan. Then Nasir Hussain offered me Yaadon Ki Baraat. It was followed by B R Chopra's Dhund, Insaaf Ka Tarazu, Dharam Veer, Don, Laawaris, Qurbani etc. I did more than 90 films as a female protagonist. When Hare Rama Hare Krishna was offered to me by Dev Saab, i was on my way to
Europe to live with my mother in Germany and study languages. I knew nothing about films. But Dev Saab took me to Kathmandu for the film's shooting and urged me to wait till its release. When the film became a huge hit, there was no looking back. It's only in the last few years that i've paused and looked back to realise what my career was all about. 

It's a woman's world KANKANA BASU
Women have been portrayed in a variety of ways in Hindi cinema over the years. While some actors rejoiced in author-backed sensitive roles, others were confined to a fleeting appearance in a male-dominated film. KANKANA BASU takes a look at how women are asserting themselves again in Bollywood: both as actors and filmmakers.

When Waheeda Rehman relinquished her dupatta to the winds and cast aside her inhibitions and marital obligations as well, little did she know that her signature tune would become an anthem for generations of women.
Decades after the film was made, kaanton se kheech ke ye aanchal......aaj phir jeene ki tamanna haifrom “Guide” continue to epitomise the blithe, free spirit of women.
One of the first films to have an adulterous heroine, “Guide” remains a path-breaking film in terms of maturity and a deep understanding of a woman's emotional needs. As a young dancer who leaves her abusive and elderly husband for the sympathetic young guide Raju, the character of Rosy was well ahead of the social period it was made in (1965). Women-centric movies continued to be made in later years (bold, timid and in-between) but were destined to follow a rather erratic graph. […]
Era of revenge
The departure of Rajesh Khanna from the silver screen marked the end of romance, while the arrival of the angry young man Amitabh Bachan heralded a cinematic era of rage and revenge. The heroine found herself relegated to a scattered peripheral presence either as the love interest of the hero or a decorative piece in a movie filled with muscles and testosterone. Consequently, a breed of actors emerged who looked like sculpted goddesses and who were quick to perfect the art of running around trees. The thinking actor was a threatened species and the likes of Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi and Deepti Naval will always be remembered for holding their own during this masculine and masochistic Bollywood chapter.
“The turn of the millenium was a dark phase for Bollywood films: rehashed themes, tinny music, lyrics sans poetry and women often projected in a derogatory manner,” says Naheed Merchant, a keen observer of Bollywood changes. However, this period was responsible for heralding some startling changes in social and gender stereotypes. Yesteryear heroines had been virginal, docile, bathed in virtue, the professions they hailed from being slightly vague; they were either nurses, dutiful daughters, students or beautiful women just content to be. The heroine and the vamp were two distinct identities.
“The sensational, promiscuous cheroot-smoking Zeenat Aman swaying to dum maaro dum in “Hare Ram Hare Krishna” was a defining moment in Hindi cinema, one that was destined to change the image of the leading lady forever. Parveen Babi followed suit by doing a smouldering cabaret in ‘Shaan' and the watertight compartments reserved for the leading lady and the vamp respectively dissolved forever,” says Mumbai based photographer and movie aficionado Deepankar B. […]
No one quite understands a woman like another woman and women directors are going places. While Mira Nair's “Monsoon Wedding” tackled paedophilia lurking within the family, Aparna Sen spun “36 Chowringhee Lane” around the loneliness of old age among the Anglo-Indian community. The Hindu Sunday, Jul 11, 2010

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