My Bihari cousin is getting married to a lovely Tamilian girl.
I am sure the dainty Miss Sridhar must be doing her homework already to know more about what she is getting into. We may not have life sized cut-outs of Ms. Cloaked Rotundity and Mr. Goggled Baldness, but we have enough loud fodder loud enough to make her feel at home. What we lack in flashy flamboyance, we make up with our brassy brashness. We are a raucous country, yes ma’am. When the alphabets were getting distributed, the Biharis decided to take everything with all the hard consonants. Marathis come a close second. Pethe, Kekade and Madke would agree.
But let’s stay on Bihar. Or in Bihar, if I were to take Raj T’s advice.
So we have Litti, Laktho, Thekua, Ghughni, Bhabhri, Makuni, Khaja, Pedakiya, Gaja, Dalpittha as a smattering of names randomly taken from the Bihari fridge. NONE of them sound appetizing. Not one. They taste phenomenal, but they don’t sound like something you may want to consume. And some of them look like what they sound like.
Blame it on the pastoral background of the Biharis, if we were to get all historical and sleuthy. While the neighbourhood Bengal was busy carving intricate creases on their Nolen Gurer Sandesh, singing their Baul and doing their Dhunuchi Naach, Biharis were too busy either tilling their lands or rearing Chanakyas, Buddhas and Mahaveers. So they did not really have the time to create artworks in the kitchen or outside of it. We developed as an ungainly and unsophisticated nation, without any apology and with a definite hint of pride. Take it, world!
And this gets reflected in everything we do. Or say. Or make. Or celebrate.
Which brings me to Chhatth, a festival that some theorists claim even predates the Vedas. At the concept level, it has perhaps the most modern outlook for a festival so ancient. There is no idol worship at all in Chhatth, unlike most Hindu festivals. It is not gender or caste specific. And there is no involvement of a presiding pandit. No random mumbo jumbo being babbled by some patronizing priest working on an hourly remuneration in front of a gaudy concoction of gods. It is a festival with rituals led by the devotee, dedicated to the deity. A hardcore one-on-one with the all-encompassing to acknowledge and achieve the common, combined greater good.
Spread over four days, the worship is dedicated to the Sun god and his wife Usha, greeting and thanking them for creating and controlling all the life forms on the planet earth. While Chhatth follows Diwali, it is no selfish agrarian festival stemming from the contribution of sun to the agricultural produce, coinciding with the cultivation. It is a very noble recognition of the influence of sun in our combined lives, way beyond its material beneficence, with pronounced philosophical undertones. Which explains why the worship of the rising sun is preceded by the veneration of the setting sun.
So far, so good.
Only, I don’t remember getting influenced or enamoured by any of this while celebrating Chhatth in the Patna of the late 1980s. Neither by the philosophy behind the festival, nor by its rather liberal stance. Outside of the exhilarating thrill of traveling at 4 in the AM for the morning arghya, moving past the colourfully lit-up roads to a crowded Pehelwaan Ghaat or Collectorate Ghaat, and then letting the feet play with the cold, moist sand, what actually has stayed with me is the harsh aesthetics of it all.
I am not referring to the festival, of course.
I remember the crowd. A sea of humanity amidst all the muck of the riverfronts. People rushing at the ghaats with their chaadars, fighting for and marking their territories to be as near the slushy expanse of the Holi Ganga. The rich and the powerful moving around with their gun-toting musclemen. The blaring loudspeakers, the long traffic jams, the arguments on the roads, the hawkers selling posters of Hindu gods, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the general wide-ranging cacophony of the people forming a buzzing backdrop. It all came together into something memorably lurid and raw.
This rasping rhapsody was amplified by the sindoors on the noses of the parbaitins, or the fasting worshipping ladies. Indeed. A shining, flaming, thick and radiant saffron vermillion marking starting from the tip of the nose meandering into the parting of the hair. Imagine multitudes of ladies with their brightly painted noses half immersed in the muddy waters, offering their obeisance to the rising sun. The effect was mesmerizing. The effect was daunting.
To be fair, though, it was not just these nose antennas that were browbeating me into meek submission to all things colourful and coarse. The GulshanKumarization of India had just about started to happen. The combined might of jhankaar beats recorded in cheap Darya Ganj studios on Super Cassettes was beginning to juice the entire pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. Johnny ka Dil Tujhpe Aaya Julie was being appropriated as Bhakton Ka Dil Tujhpe Aaya Devi, and then some. People not only seemed okay with these, they were, in fact, revelling in them. It was a crude, uncouth phase in the life of India, both culturally and otherwise. Patal Bhairavi and Bhavani Junction were legit Hindi cinema releases, Rajeev Kapoor was playing the Lover Boy, Rajesh Khanna was romancing Reena Roy, and people were really paying to see Raj Babbar on the large screen.
It was the attack of the lowbrow. And Chhatth was as impacted as any other festival.
So in the middle of the folk songs evoking the Sun god, the shrieking loudspeakers would play one of them Karolbagh ditties sung by Babla and Kanchan. Hum Na Jaibe Sasur Ghar Re Baba. Yeah. Soon enough, these tardy renditions were accepted as a part of the mainstream. The eighties never left the festival. The festival never left the eighties. Every subsequent Chhatth was more of the same. Exciting. Rousing. Breath-taking. And very bloody loud.
I moved on. Bombay became home. Then I shifted to Mumbai.
Patna, Bihar and Chhatth continued to be a part of my subconscious persona, but not being there meant not being there. My new native city gave me newer references to ponder over. I had graduated from Gai Ghaat to Lal Bagh. I had moved on. Or so did I think. Untill I suddenly discovered the luminous vermillion-nose brigade in a traffic jam at Juhu one fine evening. The parbaitins were back in my life, and how! And I was amazed to see that twenty-five years later, the unhinged aesthetics and revelry were unaffected, give or take a few Sanjay Nirupams trying to make Chhatth the North India Pride Parade. It was beautiful. To be in that jam. To be back there. To relive the scale and the noise. And to revisit the fantastic reasons behind the celebration of this wonderful festival.
Here’s to many such discoveries, Sanjana! And welcome to the family. Some of your new relatives may look like aliens once every year, and their vocabulary may be predominated by words with ट, ठ, ड and ढ in them, but we are good, warm god-fearing people, I promise you. Despite that fluorescent patch on our noses. Or because of it. :)
The year was 1996. Mumbai was still a little bit of Bombay, the fair-haired megapolis accepting us migrant cousins, the mofussil India denizens, with open arms. Chintan Upadhyay and I were amongst the very many who had come to the city to make her our home. Mumbai was beautiful and affectionate, inspiring and challenging. The taller-than-tall apartments wowed us, the shimmering lights of the Crossroads mall and the display windows of Rupam and VAMA showrooms aroused us. We were romancing with the local trains and rented homes in decrepit lower middle class societies, savouring our starvation in late night road side bhurji-pavs amidst the golden-brown haze of the sleeping city, revisiting our tangential dreams. And we knew we were growing up in an environment that we would romanticise about some day.
But I am digressing.
Chintan and I were together at the Faculty of Fine Arts, the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. (I was ragged by him the day I had joined college!) He wanted to become a painter. I wanted to be an Art Critic. Neither of us could take the isms and theories that we thought the world, the art world in particular, was drugged with. We wanted to create our own idiom, our own language, our own movement. We did our bit in college, questioning everything around us, celebrating the yellow and the red cards thrown at us. We wanted to change the world. We were rebels without a pause, our shabby kurtas spearheading the mutiny. Baroda gave us the freedom to be. We revelled in it, especially Chintan. Little had I ever imagined that his freedom would be abruptly curtailed some day.
But I am digressing again.
The Faculty taught us to think differently, humouring our attempts to create the revolution. Revolution of another kind was getting simultaneously created by one Dr. Manmohan Singh. The wise man sure was doing his bit to prod and perturb us lesser mortals. While Ganesha was drinking milk straight from the carton, McDonald’s was about to get launched in India. While masjids were getting demolished, what once were the goodies in the foreign-returned-suitcases were now being seen at the local stores. Liberalisation and Globalisation were ceasing to be mere buzz words. We could see the results in the hostel common room with MTV’s funky graphics and Malaika Arora’s legs staring at us, as we discovered a whole new universe, all bright and beautiful.
Before we could realise it, we were in a strange, uncomfortable place. We could no longer figure who or what were we rebelling against. It was an odd conflict brewing in our hearts and our heads. This dispute wasn’t just between ideas and ideals. The fight was amongst our sanskaari past, our hum-le-ke-rahenge-azaadi present and our shiny-disco-ball future. And it was a very very tough fight. Our middleclass idealism was being hit on its backside by this new India we did not know much about. But we realised we wanted to embrace this India. Despite the guilt.
The pride in penury was stupid.
We were the gareeb consumerists, sold to the idea of consumerism, though not having the means to live it. It was during these days in Mumbai that I curated what was Chintan’s first independent exhibition. Titled This Has Been Done Before, the exhibition was our tribute to the Turkish artist Bedri Baykam, making a point against what we thought were the prejudiced norms, aesthetics and points of view in the world of Indian art. The catalogue was complete with a “Common Minimum Programme” for young artists. We had heated debates on what should the communication be. Chintan wanted to be loud and vociferous. I was recommending a more subdued approach. We ended up calling Picasso and Gauguin ‘derivative artists’, and talked against the “biased and old fashioned attitude of the artists and art historians of the present century”.
This Has Been Done Before catalogue | 1998
This is how my piece began: “What, exactly, is Chintan Upadhyay? A frustrated phallicentric nerd out to prove the sexual connotations and escapades of everything surrounding him? Or a confused, overgrown kid, still in an animated awe of his trinkets and toys, but whispering voices of discontent against the system promoting their production? Is he just another faceless addition to a metropolis, coming to terms with the various layers of personae being gifted to him by the assemblage of cultures in a big city? Or is he simply an artist, sensitive to all things red, blue and green, exploring for an order in disorder despite his own sarcastic sneers against this search?”
Multicultural face in a cosmopolitan city (Mumbai) | Acrylic on canvas | 10’ x 6’ | 1998
The exhibition was a failure.
Not Chintan, though. He was sharp enough to realise that all the personas that I had spoken about had to be a subset of this overarching singular persona that he had to become. The Common Minimum Programme was, therefore, out of his life. As were the thoughts of creating an artists’ collective. He had to get there first himself. He had to be in a space where he would be self explanatory and nobody would have to elaborate on “What is Chintan Upadhyay”. He latched on to the right people, allowing them to manufacture him. He figured the importance of marketing, of full page ads in Bombay Times pushing his works. Commemorative Stamps, his 2002 exhibition, flaunting the presence of filmstars and other pretty people at the opening, and a completely new artistic language, was a super hit. A brand was born.
There was no looking back after that. Chintan was always the supremely talented one. He realised it in time that it was not about being just an artist. It was about being a popular and successful artist. The kind that sells. It was about earning and spending and earning some more to spend some more. The Raphaels and Van Goghs and Manets and Monets were meant to be seen in person. The fancy perfumes were meant to be sprayed on. The aircrafts were meant to be flown in. The conflict that was, soon ceased to be. It had been dissolved and resolved.
In the quest to become a consumerist, he became a heavily marketed consumable product himself over the next ten years. We continued to play conscience keepers to each other, although I now suspect our chats, infrequent and few, were more to flaunt and justify our acts and actions than question them. I don’t know how convinced I was of the transformation of the Multicultural face in a cosmopolitan city to the mass produced Chintu, and also those performance art sessions created to shock and awe, but I guess he knew what he was doing. Chintan and Hema – another friend from the Faculty of Fine Arts – became the ‘it couple’ of the Mumbai art scene. His ganda bachchas were all over. She was kicking some serious ass as an artist of repute in biennales and triennales across the globe. Chintan’s compromises – artistic and otherwise – were worth the heartburn. He had become famous. He had arrived. He had become one with Mumbai.
But then again, success and fame have their own trappings. The couple learnt it the hard way. After some very petty fights and a very public spat over their divorce proceedings, their love story came to a tragic and abrupt end. Hema was murdered. What followed was a macabre prime time drama that continues to get rolled out. Insinuations, charges and counter charges. Cops playing art critics, reading motives in his doodles and diary entries. And a man in jail since 22nd December 2015, held as a suspect in the double murder of the ex-wife and her lawyer.
I am not here to offer arguments. But I know of Chintan’s expedition from 1992 to 2018. Twenty-five long years, how it all panned out, how our values, successes and failures got defined and redefined. I know of his hopes and desires, fears and apprehensions. I know he is very many things, or that he became very many things that I think he was not. But one thing that I know he certainly is not, and can never be, is a murderer. Not after the prolonged and tedious journey he took from the Borivali shanty to the Juhu house, redefining his art and himself in the process. It was hard earned. He would never ever squander it away.
I understand it sounds simplistic, my conclusion, but I also understand it is the truth. I know the man. I know his life. I don’t care whether the matter is sub-judice or whatever the technical term is which prompts people to not have an opinion on an on-going case. My friend Chintan Upadhyay is NOT a murderer.
I am innocent (I hope you know why) | Performance art | 2013
More than two and a half years of confinement of an artist, of a sensitive, intelligent person is not a done thing. Especially if it is leading to clinical depression. But, apparently, this is how the system works. Guilty until proven innocent, psychological traumas be damned. The only consolation is that he will come out of this unscathed. He will emerge more insightful a person and more piercing an artist. Loud and vociferous, as he used to be!
I may ask him to go back to the Common Minimum Programme when we meet up. He owes me a chai and a long conversation. And, while we are at it, the bastard also owes me some money back from the college days!
I am a big fan of Justin Trudoeu Tredaeu Treduae Trudeau. I like Canada. I like Canadians. I also like Punjabi, the language most of the Canadians speak. So, naturally, I was intrigued when I got a mail with the subject “Canada Immigration” from one Suman Jha from Prime Track, an ISO 9001:2008 certified firm specialising in sending people to far out countries. Fairly articulate and persuasive, our man informed me that there was a shortage of skilled manpower in Canada, and the time was right for me to start the process of migrating to Canada without any delay. He also told me that he had profoundly reviewed my profile and that he was very pleased to inform me that my CV had successfully passed through what I am assuming must be their rather stringent first phase of screening process.
This was all fantastic. Only, there was one very minor technical issue. I had not sent him my CV.
So I did what any self respecting man secure with the belief that the best career opportunities were available in Canada with high earning job profiles for foreign skilled workers would do. I ignored his mail.
However, the eloquent Mr. Jha, with his dogged determination and stubborn seduction, would not have taken no for an answer. He sent a few more mails over the next four weeks, reminding me of the interest I had shown, asking me for the details of my documents, and promising me the completion of my documentation under the fast-track services. This was all too good to be true, this outpouring of concern and affection. Unfortunately, random unnecessary work took over my life, and I could not write back to him. Let’s just say the beloved was very much aware of the admirer’s strong overtures, but I had to consciously reject it.
Suman continued to have my best interests in his mind. The natural extension of his love was yet another mail from him.
“It;s a golden opportunity”, he said.
That one sentence did the trick. Guess I was hit somewhere deep inside – the semicolon hitting the colon, as they say – and that was enough to shake me out of my complacence. I was charmed and charged by the radiance of the golden opportunity, ready to immediately take on his offer. I was raring to go. And Canada was waiting.
I wrote a polite response explaining my silence and my readiness, in order. The mail also outlined some very regular practical issues I was facing. But I was sure it was nothing Mr. Jha or Prime Track, an ISO 9001:2008 certified firm, would not have been able to sort.
Surprisingly, my positivity was reciprocated by a very stoic silence. It was as if the fizz had gone from our relationship. It was my turn to follow up.
The professional Mr. Jha had a single-lined response for me. Apt. I deserved it.
He had not asked to me for write my biography. Obviously. I was blinded by the warmth that I had seen, and it had led to some weak moments. He was totally right in chiding me. This is exactly how businesses are conducted. I realised my mistake and apologised profusely to the man who stood between the Rocky Mountains and me.
Sassy Suman was back in the game. He sent me a quick reply asking me for my CV and other documents.
By now I had figured the curt Mr. Jha meant business. I sent my biodata to him almost immediately. I also had some basic queries for him to address. Felt stupid and sorry about sending those inane questions to him, thinking how smart guys like him have to go through such dumb Qs in their line of work. But then I thought Mr. Jha and Prime Track, an ISO 9001:2008 certified firm, must be used to such harmless naiveté of their clients.
He rejected my CV.
Crestfallen, I wrote a rather poignant mail to him. I was hurting. And it didn’t feel good. But despite the grief and the hurt, I maintained my poise and my positivity. I felt like a Himesh Reshammiya heroine. With a smile on my face and a song on my lips, I asked him to reconsider my application.
His response was the complete anti-thesis of the turmoil going in the atriums of my heart. He started using his silence to numb me, and comfortably so. I waited. Twenty-four hours later, I decided to graciously confront him while respecting his point of view.
I knew he would come around. I have lots of money. And come around he did.
THIS was the point where I figured a thing or two about the psychological make of Mr. Jha. He was a man of few words. That’s what he wanted in a man. He didn’t want long treatises. He wanted short jabs. I had to change my strategy to stay ahead in the game. I had to become as succinct as him.
The whole world stood in silence as the mano-a-mano struggle ensued between the two protagonists. And then he spoke. I had nothing but gratitude towards the big man.
Soon enough, I sent him all the documents that were needed. He had given me this extreme resolve to fight, live and survive. The underlying tension had led to this overarching tenacity. I was ready to take on the world!
I knew what I was talking.
It worked. We were now willing to go to the next level. We were exchanging numbers. And I am not just talking account numbers here.
This was not just a mail exchange I was having with the man. This was a life lesson I was learning. We were talking the talk. Kind of.
Just after I hit “send”, I realised that I had ended up sharing some very critical information about myself. And I knew it instantly that it would come back to harm and haunt me.
I had inadvertently revealed that there was somebody else in my life.
Mr. Jha decided we were done. He knew he had to severe all ties with me at one go. Just like that. Or not.
He closed my file, but he opened my life. I am upset, yes, but at the same time, I am content that this experience made me find answers to that one question that has always bothered the mankind.
“Had i asked to you for write your biography?”
(If Close Encounters with Suman Jha is your kind of a thing, you may want to know more about my original heartbreaker, Probaldwip Bakshi.)
Sajid Khan is an intelligent man.
Not everybody will agree with the statement, I know, and you will throw Himmatwala and Hamshakals at me. And you will not miss. Having said that, while I am still not sermonising that he is more sinned against than sinning, I don’t think half the world has seen either of the two movies. I have, and I have suffered them. BUT I also have picked up gems from both that are quintessentially Sajid Khan. Quirky, funny and fun. Wonder how many of us are aware of the random tribute – in black & white, no less – he has given to Alfred Hitchcock in Himmatwala, with Mahesh Manjrekar duplicating Marion Crane from the famous shower scene of Psycho! Of course, I yearned for more, and, of course, I felt disappointed. However, my faith in the man stays. He is not an auteur, and I don’t think he aspires to become one either. But he certainly gets humor better than most of his contemporaries. (I’m looking at you, Rohit Shetty.) The problem, and I say it only from a regular viewer’s perspective, is that he doesn’t know where and when to stop.
The nostalgic eighties/ nineties cheese make the cinema of Sajid Khan, coupled with a micro-focus on the audiences who get his references. Getting Shabbir Kumar to sing I Don’t Know What To Do in Houseful 2 was a masterstroke. It may not have been even registered by half the world, but for legions of Shabbir Kumar fans, it was an emotional reunion with the hamming hummer. Way different from, say, an Altaf Raja being experimented with, and made a mess of, in Ghanchakkar or Hunterrr. This was unadulterated Shabbir Kumar for the unadulterated Shabbir Kumar fans. And getting Ranjeet to play Papa Ranjeet, again, in Housefull 2, was, well, a very Papa Ranjeet thing to do. Only Sajid could get Ranjeet to give a homage to Ranjeet! And I am still not talking about the random Jeevan, Shatrughan Sinha, Sanjeev Kumar, Rajesh Khanna moments that he inserts (I wouldn’t be surprised if some of it is done unknowingly!) in scenes and scenarios which also double up as his narratives.
But Sajid is not just about nostalgia or talking only to the hardcore fans of nostalgia. He also gives the identifiable Tom & Jerry cartoonish coloration to his characters and situations to appeal to the sensibilities of the newer, younger viewers. (Who, I suspect, are sometimes as young as five. Days, that is.) Crocodiles and pythons attack the crotches of his heroes, diapers fly, and cute slap-fests, including one with a monkey, are integral parts of his movie-making. Some people find these funny, others find these unfunny. But the theatres get the laughs, sometimes louder than normal. Purpose served. Then there are the cringeworthy prejudices, some subtle and some not-so-subtle. The bimbetteness of the womenfolk is glorified, the lecherousness of the mankind is glamorised. Oh, and an occasional repulsive appearance of a dwarf maid cavorting with Mithun Chakraborty also makes inroads. But I would still refrain from donning the judicial robes here. History will evaluate and appraise Sajid Khan – and David Dhawan plus a few more directors for that matter – for the kind of films that they have made and the kind of laughter their humor has elicited. But they sure will make it to History, even if as post-scripts. Purpose served.
Last, Sajid Khan knows how to get his audiences to have some random, mindless fun with confusions and conundrums galore in all his outings. Yes, these are random, and yes, they are mindless. But, hell, some of us enter that big dark room to let go! The climax of Housefull had Queen Elizabeth talking in Marathi and yelling the “Jai Maharashtra” war cry, arbit Russian folk dancers forming the backdrop in a strictly British set up, Boman Irani LOLing and saying “Tu toh homos hai” to Arjun Rampal and a roomfull of Brits laughing uproariously and behaving demented because of a Nitrous oxide leak. Do the math already.
The Sajid Khan formula – if there is one – doesn’t always work, of course. It did not, for sure, in the Saif Ali Khan-Riteish Deshmukh starrer Hamshakals. It was a universally panned film, and for all the right reasons. As his loyalist, I felt cheated when I saw the film. While I had not gone expecting any high art, my biggest grouse was that Sajid Khan failed his audiences as Sajid Khan, the director. The film was loud, alright, but not ludicrous. And THAT was its failing. It isn’t easy making his kind of movies, and I am sure Sajid figured it himself while making Hamshakals. I hope his next one, whenever it happens, gives him back to us. Meanwhile, Sajid-Farhad tried being him in Housefull 3, and, well, didn’t really succeed. “Sirf bhaunkne se koi kutta kameena nahin ho jaata“, Papa Ranjeet had predicted in Housefull 2. And rightly so, despite my disagreement with the kutta-kameena analogy.
Hamshakals had one redeeming thing, though. The Cocaine Ke Paraathe song. It is as moronic as it can get and it is not funny when seen in isolation. But it was the high point of the film. Vintage Sajid Khan. Ridiculous to the core, and giving you those laughter trips you know you would eventually feel extremely guilty about. You can switch directly to 2:08 if you do not want to see the set up.
And why am I remembering the man now? The entire #BREXIT noise took me to the climax scene of Housefull 2, obviously! (Stupid Brits, no, really.) And I actually came across an article on drug laced parathas being sold in Chandigarh. Like, for real.
Guess I am not the only one who gets enamored by the genius of Sajid Khan!
“What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence”, said Ludwig Wittgenstein in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I have NO clue what that means or who Ludwig Wittgenstein was, but this sure makes my discourse esoteric and academic right at the outset! Almost like all the Bombay Velvet reviews. The only difference is that I actually am here to discuss academics today. Specifically, the appointment of Gajendra Chahuan (or Chouhan or Chauan depending on which stage of his numerically challenged life you are talking about) as the Chairman of Film and Television Institute of India.
There have been protests galore against the selection of Mr. Chauhan, the erstwhile Dharmaraja Yudhishthir from BR Chopra’s eponymous TV series Mahabharata, and the entire world seems to have colluded to collide with the coronation of Gajendra. They say that the legacy of the hallowed premises of FTII has to be respected and that he doesn’t have the vision or knowledge of cinema. That he has no experience in the field of academics. That he is the Caesar of C-grade cinema, with the C standing for very many things. That he is a bad actor and a stooge of the ruling political party. That he is an obtuse idiot, a bumbling moron and a blockheaded dimwit. Okay, the last bit was me taking poetic liberty, but, yeah, similar sentiments.
Well. I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him!
According to IMDB, Gajendra Chauhan started his career way back in 1985 with Main Chup Nahin Rahoongi. So 2015 marks his 30th year in Hindi Cinema. That’s a really really long time for a nasal-twanged-single-expressioned-monotoned-jumna-paar-drawl to survive in this very competitive industry. And that, by itself, should be the reason enough for all of us to embrace him with open arms. But let this not be the only reason to be dazed and dazzled by our man. For somebody whose body of work includes watching bodies at work in Vasna, Khuli Khidki, Reshma, Samri and Rupa Rani Ramkali, Chauhan deserves our prostration, obedience and submission, in anywhich order. Find me another actor who can abduct, molest and defile with just his eyes and a lubed mass of thick hair. And the naysayers can die.
Chauhan says he has been in the field of art for 34 years. That is just him being his regular modest and humble self. On the contrary, it is art that has been in the field of Chauhan for 34 years. From Awara Zindagi to Janam Se Pehle, from Jawani Jaaneman to Pathreela Rasta and from Gumnam Hai Koi to A Sublime Love Story: Barsaat, he has taken the service of every single dead cell generated by him to construct and deconstruct his histrionics. Sample the scene from Bhayaanak Panjaa (1997) in which he is being exorcised. It is sublime pantomime. And I just wanted that to rhyme. The technique of conveying emotions and feelings by the mere physicality of the actions is not something every thespian can master. But one look at Gajendra’s frenzied movement can make you immediately realise the years of hamheadeness that must have gone in perfecting that fall. Legendary.
The swagger comes naturally to the Chairman sir. And it is not just because he played Inspector Patil in Himmatvar (1996) or Mukesh Mathur in Vishwavidhata (1997) or Virendra Chaudhary in Arjun Devaa (2001) or Naresh Chand in Issi Life Mein…! (2010). These were, of course, author backed roles where he got the opportunity to stretch his awesome campiness to the fullest for those ten minutes that he was on screen. But the style and the charisma of the man is inherent to his schmaltzy Tank-Road-Jeans-Market self.
To those questioning his acting abilities, I just have one answer two answers. Jungle Love (1986) and Rupa Rani Ramkali (2001). Ah, those consciously constipated expressions where death becomes him. That fierce fervour, those extreme emotions, the deadly deluge. And the arbitrary alliterations.
Haters gonna hate his religious baggage thanks to the Mahabharat connect, but Chauhan never actually has tried overtly exploiting his Pitashri-Matoshri affiliations. Apart from the yet to be released Barbareek aur Mahabharat and Jai Maa Vaishnodevi (1994), mouthing Ayushman bhavah at party meetings and selling some random concoction on teleshopping networks, that is. Of course, the performer in him has been more satisfied with challenging roles like playing Rahul’s father in International Khiladi (1999), Pinky’s dad in Billa no. 786 (2000) and the car salesman in Baghban (2003). And the Ganesh fest dancer in Parwana (2003). Of course.
And so what if he knows people in the reigning political party! Mr. Chairman has worked hard to be where he is right now. The tonsils are getting their due. And deservedly so.
Eventually, the annals of time would judge Gajendra Chauhan on his performance as the FTII Chairman, protesters and wiseguys be damned. If not him, they would find another extremely talented Chauhan, suited perfectly for the job. So yeah. I just hope the hammer is restricted only to his acting skills while I gloat over my punnery.
“What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence”, said Ludwig Wittgenstein in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I still have NO clue what that means or who Ludwig Wittgenstein was, but he was right. Exactly why you must forget about them protests already. Think of this as a long movie, treat this as a willing suspension of disbelief, and all would be good. Also, please slip in the word ‘pedantic’ somewhere in here to close the intellectual loop. Thank you.
PS: And now, thank me. Here.
These are bad times.
The economy does not look all that great. The drought situation is getting worse. Politicians continue to stay aloof and unaffected. Cricketers are getting fixed. Fixers are running cricket. Business leaders are getting their CFOs pregnant. Jackie Bhagnani is still acting.
These are really bad times.
Now, I know there is this terrible terrible urge to hang our heads in despair and feel hopelessly bad about our existences. It does come naturally to most of us, especially after seeing those Rangrezz posters. But you know what, life is not that black, despite how bleak things appear. One can either feel utterly depressed. Or, one can invoke the name of Altaf Raja to make it all disappear. Seriously.
Altaf Raja who, do I hear? For those not in the know, Altaf Raja was the singular reason why the cassette players of the 1990s were mobbed, mauled and molested, day in and day out. Altaf Raja was the demi-god of the autodrivers, their secret man-crush, their muse. Altaf Raja was the snazzy sultan, the ritzy rajah that the entire B-grade population of India wanted to be. But to top it all, Altaf Raja was what kept the people across the country going, giving them hope and optimism, as they sung his songs in the trains, collecting monies for charity, in most cases their own charity.
The first half of the 90s was an exciting period in the life of India. The skies were opening up. The reforms were taking off. We were a bemused and overwhelmed nation, getting exposed to an MTV which played music and a Manmohan Singh who had a voice, amongst other things. The divide between the rich and the poor was beginning to get drastically wider. Rishi Kapoor was still wearing Woolmark-approved pure wool turtlenecks, dancing around trees, and Mithun Chakraborty was singing Gutar Gutar in Dalaal. Not that the last two statements had anything to do with each other.
It was during these times that Altaf Raja made an appearance in the Indian stratosphere. Tum toh thehre pardesi, saath kya nibhaoge, he said it on behalf of the country in his first album in 1996, mouthing the concern that the economic reforms were not to stay forever. Subah pehli gaadi se ghar ko laut jaaoge, that is.
But then again, lest you misunderstand him, it was just a healthy expression of anxiety, and not pessimism. Considering in that very album, Altaf presented the enthusiasm and exuberance of the nation, willing to take on the world: Woh bhi anjaan thi, main bhi anjaan tha. Uss se vaada na tha, kuch iraada na tha. Bas yun hi darr-ling keh diya. Yaaron maine panga le liya. Panga Le Liya summed it up brilliantly. Pokharan-II, the Indian nuclear tests happened soon thereafter.
And THIS – the eternal understanding of his environment and its impact – is what makes Altaf Raja relevant all over again in our lives. Yes, the times are tough. From pathetic rapes to pitiable rappers, from a silent PM to an over-zealous wannabe, from Kalmadi’s fistulas to Kejriwal’s frictions, we have issues and diversions. But we need to embrace our surroundings. And wait. Patiently. Because that is the right thing to do. Thoda intezaar ka mazaa leejiye, sang our man in Shapath. That’s the mantra to live by. Wait and watch, and enjoy the downtime. All material conditions, positive or negative, are temporary. This, too, shall pass. Btw, for the fans of geriatric gyrations, the song has Jackie Shroff and Mithun Chakraborty shaking it with the ladies at the bar. That, too, did pass.
His teachings, though, are not restricted to just helping people cope with the larger issues. Altaf Raja has created many a sparkling gem that are relevant to us in our everyday lives across audiences. Even more so in this day and age, when everything around us is getting redefined and restructured. Refer to the lucidity with which he discusses the complexities of the gender roles and the set of social and behavioral norms that are considered appropriate in the context of the modern times. Biwi hai cheez sajawat ki. Biwi se ghar ko sajaate hain. Sautan ka shauq purana hai. Sautan ko sar pe bithate hain. Bharti nahin niyat sautan se. Sautan ki sautan late hain. Balle balle, oh yaara balle balle. Wow Yeah. Wow Yeah. Brilliantly put. Sajawat. Aesthetics. This is why the purists love him.
The most pertinent message of Altaf Raja for his audiences, however, is in this timeless creation called Kar Lo Pyaar. There are discords and disputes all over. Conflicts have divided the globe. The world is fighting a furious war with itself. And I just used three sentences with exactly the same meaning. Precisely the reason why the world needs to hear these immortal lines in his mellifluous voice. Kar lo pyaar, kar lo pyaar, kar lo pyaar, kar lo pyaar. Pyaar gazab ki cheez hai padh lo aaj subah ka parcha. Pyaar karoge muft mein ho jaayega yaaron charcha. This is poetry at exceptionally sublime levels. No other song in the world has EVER tried rhyming charcha with parcha.
Wikipedia says Altaf Raja has had a mix of twenty-three film and non-film albums so far. But none of this matters eventually. Because it is not about his songs or the albums. It is about the man. Who goes far beyond the songs or the albums or the hits or the platinum discs. Altaf Raja is a concept. He is the victory of the mundane over the elite, of penury over pomp, of the coarse over cultivated, and of hopes over realities.
Thank you for taking the panga, sir!
(Originally published on firstpost.com)
When I moved to Mumbai in the 90s, I had a singular agenda. I wanted to kill Aditya Narayan. He was fast turning into the resident kiddy voice of Bollywood, mouthing inanities like Atli Batli Chakhlo Chakhli Chakhlo Vadapao, Khao Jalebi Oh Baby, Babu Ko Bhi Lao and Sim Sim Pola Pola Sim Sim Pola, Fine Flat Flute Pipe Petula Petula, Drum Drum Tubelet Symbola Symbola on us unsuspecting victims, and his entire vocal fold oscillation system needed to be amputated for the greater good of the mankind. The idea was also to use the opportunity to steal all the pansy purple and ruby red bandmaster blazers owned by his dad Udit Narayan and then burn them with acid. After shredding them into a thousand little pieces, that is. Unfortunately, I could not quite succeed in my mission. I had to let the father-son duo live because one needed the Biharis in the city for Raj Thackeray to get angry at, later in our lives.
I live to regret my decision.
Because just when I thought Aditya’s larynx, pharynx and trachea had been tamed and converted into Udit Narayan without his moustache, being aptly utilized in Zee TV’s singing monstrosities, Narayan Jr. made a fresh comeback to Hindi Cinema with Vikram Bhatt’s Shaapit The Cursed, as the leading man, no less, which I caught on cable TV the other day. The film also had Rahul Dev playing Professor Pashupati, a professor of Paranormal Studies. So, yes, it was an intellectually stimulating work of art, indeed, as all the films made by all the Bhatts are. But we are digressing already. Twenty minutes into the movie, Aditya does this morbidly ecstatic dance of extreme elation with an umbrella, swaying his limbs like some spastic sex-toy on stimulating substances. I swear by my middle class gods I am not exaggerating this. He jumps with joy, he goes back and forth, he makes random circular motions. AND he kisses the umbrella like some hungry African kid just hitting puberty. All to express his love for some girl in leotards.
Exactly the point at which the nauseatingly exasperating memories of the past began to haunt me, frame by frame, shot by shot, sound by sound. Doobi Doobi Dub Dub.
And what an onslaught it was. Of actors who were not meant to be heroes. Of heroes who were not meant to be in the movies. Of movies which were not meant to be in existence. Of existences that were… okay, I need to stop this. It was as if Bollywood’s bad chromosomes had suddenly decided to descend into my brains all at one go, punishing me for getting myself reintroduced to Mr. Narayan. Of course, I do realize that all film industries have good actors and bad actors, and Hindi film industry cannot be an exception. We have the histrionics and hysterics of Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and the likes. And then there are the better actors. But I don’t think any industry can flaunt as many also-rans and almost-rans as we do.
Back to the attack, though. The first set constituted of people who believed they had the right to plunder our posteriors with their plasticity because of their family connections. The list was extensive, endless and on-going. From Sunil Dutt’s brother Som Dutt (He debuted in Man Ka Meet along with a small time actor called Vinod Khanna who played the villain.) to Mahendra Kapoor’s son Rohan Kapoor (His father sang Mere Desh Ki Dharti, he danced to Oh Miss De De Kiss. Fair enough.) to Suneil Anand (Dev Anand’s numerically-adjusted son, trained extensively in Hong Kong under Grandmaster Sifu Leung Ting in Wing Tsun Kung Fu. Don’t blame me. Wikipedia says so.) to Uday Chopra and Kishan Kumar, the legendary brothers of Aditya Chopra and Gulshan Kumar respectively, to Faizal Khan (He acted with his brother Aamir Khan in Mela. Then they got separated. Mela.) and Sohail Khan (Salman Khan with a flatter face, flatter nostrils and flatter acting skills.) in recent times.
Then there were the independent invaders, the strugglers who got lucky enough to assault the viewers with their talent, or the lack of it. Legend has it that the theatres would erupt in wild applause when the 70s hero Anil Dhawan would get whacked by the villain Shatrughan Sinha. The decades that followed saw actors like Arun Govil (Of tobacco teeth and Maganlal Dresswala dhotis fame. Also Advani’s best friend.), Dheeraj Kumar (Debut film: Raaton Ka Raja. I rest my case.), Vijay Arora (Romanced with Zeenat Aman in Chura Liya and played Meghnad in Ramayan. Botched them up with equal earnestness.) and later Deepak Parashar, Deepak Malhotra (Famous last word: Pallo.), Inder Kumar, Avinash Wadhawan, Ronit Roy, Sudesh Berry, Vikas Bhalla, Hemant Birje and Chandrachur Singh at various points of times of our lives. A lot of these guys were resurrected later in their careers by Ekta Kapoor. That must be exciting.
The last category was that of the rich boys. Have money, will make movies. Cases in point: Harman Baweja (The robot dance moves of Love Story 2020 got rejected by the audiences. Which is why an Oscar nominated director made What’s Your Raashee with him.) and Jackie Bhagnani (F.A.L.T.U. and now Rangrezz). If you don’t have a rich father from the industry, get one from outside of it. Or so did convey Anuj Saxena (Heir to a mega pharma company. Heard of this film called Chase? Neither has he. He produced and acted in it.) and Sachin Joshi (Aazaan, Mumbai Mirror. Son of Gutkha King Jagdish Joshi. It shows.). The Naseer Khans and Kamaal R Khans of the world were next in line. Naseer, a supposedly partially-blind actor, made this film called Shadows. He was later put behind bars for some chit fund fraud, though I wish they had arrested him for this film. Kamaal R Khan made Deshdrohi, the sole reason why the North Indians believe the North Indians should be out of Mumbai.
Now imagine all these guys entering your mindspace one after the other in a never-ending space time continuum, displaying their mojos. From Kiran Kumar to Kush Sinha. From Mahendra Sandhu to Mimoh Chakraborty. As you simultaneously shed tears and witness the Aditya Narayan thingamajig on screen. Bad acting, awkward screen presence and a personality painful enough to give you haemorrhoids.
Yes. I wish I had taken care of the boy when he was younger. I am sure YOU do now. :)
(Had written this piece for Outlook magazine. That explains the length of the article. Or the lack of it.)