The last quarter of 1982 was extremely exciting in the history of India primarily for two reasons. The Asian Games came back to New Delhi after a gap of three decades. We realised that we were capable of rising above mediocrity as a nation and make our mark as a progressive and progressing country. Confident landmarks like Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Indraprastha Indoor Stadium and Khel Gaon got added to the Mughal-Lutyen landscape of the capital city, and became a part of the collective national modernisation dream almost overnight. We understood the power and impact of live TV, with the athletic pixels beaming across the country through seedha prasaran on Doordarshan. Offering solidarity to the cause, the TV screens started transforming from black & white to coloured, showcasing the buoyant hues of the tricolor like never before. Ath Swagatam Shubh Swagatam, we sang on 19th November at the Opening Ceremony, welcoming and celebrating the world and India, and I also suspect, the first mega-public appearance of Amitabh Bachchan after the Coolie accident.
The other big event in the life of India was the release of Disco Dancer.
B Subhash’s Disco Dancer is the rags to riches story of Jimmy (Mithun Chakraborty playing Mithun Chakraborty) who braves acute poverty to become India’s best disco dancer. Fighting the whims and fancies of his punishing fate and inner demons, Jimmy goes on to ace the coveted International Disco Competition, bringing joy, pride and honour to the nation and her people, one pelvic thrust at a time.
There is enough in Jimmy’s stimulating and sterling biography to shake, rattle and roll the viewers. As a kid, he is falsely accused of stealing by PN Oberoi, the evil rich businessman. His mother takes the blame and goes to jail. The mother-child combine is taunted and tormented with the cries of maa-chor-beta-chor (which, for the record, does not sound like what it is meant to sound like), and they leave Mumbai to settle in Goa. Jimmy grows up to sing and dance at local weddings, while Oberoi’s son Sam becomes the country’s most popular disco dancer, and a pompous ass with ill-fitting moustache and trousers. His manager David Brown leaves him because of his wayward ways, discovers Jimmy, and soon enough, Sam is dethroned. Side note: Om Puri playing a character called David Brown is why a lot people from the 1980s still have trust issues.
The now-famous Jimmy exposes Oberoi at a party, and also falls in love with his daughter. Outblinged and outsmarted, Oberoi gets his men to electrocute Jimmy through his guitar, but kills his mother instead. Jimmy gets Guitarphobia, developing cold feet at the Competition, unable to dance. That’s when Rajesh Khanna in a career defining special appearance as Raju Bhaiyya hams what looks like an entire episode of Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi to motivate Jimmy, asking him to “Gaaaaa!”. The film is still called Disco Dancer. “GAAAAA!”, he beseeches and screeches. Jimmy gets his mojo. Oberoi’s goons kill Raju Bhaiyya to make him ham some more. Our hero kills them back. Oberoi gets electrocuted.
And they all lived happily ever after.
This may sound very simplistic and formulaic, thanks to my ha-ha-ha retrospective gaze, but for the 1980s cine-goers, nothing could be farther from the truth. Disco Dancer is not a film. It is a state of mind. This journey of the lowbrow to the high street is an electrifying – in more ways than one – celebration of the absurd and the awe-inspiring, the real and the surreal, the sounds and the silence. Disco Dancer is definitely not a film. It is the overwhelmingly viscous space between the trash and the transcendental.
The audiences, while rooting for the classic good-versus-bad tale, also played cheerleaders to what they thought was the emerging, new India. Where the macho hero could be a dancer, wear shiny clothes on stage and lungis at home, shake his limbs without any love-interest around for most part of the film, be surrounded by fangirls, and still have his mother feed him food with her own hand. This was a protagonist hitherto unseen. Not a brawny rebel, but an artiste, a performer. Who could fail and clam up and cry, but finally emerge victorious. Because maa ka aashirvaad. That a primarily western and alien concept like disco could be mainstreamized, with quintessentially Indian storytelling and a central character that never would exist in real life is what got the audiences to the theatres. Then you had the emotions, struggles, failure, success, vengeance, love and drama. Also, Jesus Christ and Krishna. Plus, a mandatory Rahim Chacha, thank you.
Disco dancing became us.
While there was not much to talk about the country’s economy, militancy was rearing its head in Punjab, mills in Mumbai were coming to a standstill, and the honourable Prime Minister was publicly throwing out her widowed daughter in law from her home, we were still dancing. Maruti Suzuki was on the threshold of giving the middle-class-middle-brow India wheels that they had never imagined, Amitabh Bachchan was gearing himself to get back to the studios after a long stay at the hospitals, Chambal dacoits had started wilfully surrendering, Kaur Singh and Satpal were trouncing their opponents at the Asian Games in Boxing and Wrestling respectively, Jimmy was crushing the disco kings and queens from Afreeka and Paris. Things were beginning to look up. Toh jhoomo, toh naacho, aao mere saath naacho gaao. We had reasons to believe. Backed by Bappi Lahiri’s music. And moustachioed men wearing ballerina dresses complete with tutus.
The Buggles may claim that Radio Killed the Video Star, but Auva Auva belonged to Bappi Lahiri and Usha Uthup. Jesus by Tielman Brothers could become the ballad of Krishna, and Jesus did not really mind it seeing the perfect fit. The ultimate winner of the film, though, was the title song, I’m A Disco Dancer. The song starts with Mithun jumping on the stage, and then freezes on a screaming woman’s face for almost 5 seconds. That, in a nutshell, sums up the impact of the film on its audiences. Hypnotic and frenzied. It wasn’t as if Mithun Chakraborty’s histrionics or Bappi Lahiri’s music had any novelty value. Ravikant Nagaich had previously gifted Surakksha, Sahhas and Wardaat to the audiences. But Disco Dancer turned out special because of its very universal, very identifiable theme. The synthetic saga of tribulations and triumphs scored because of its straightforward simplism. And not just in India. It was the first Indian film to pocket 100 crores worldwide, with Goron Ki Na Kaalon Ki becoming an unlikely anthem across countries!
The impact of Disco Dancer was pretty much like the Asian Games. It made us feel all good and gooey till the next big jamboree. The beats were lost to the Madrasi eyesores featuring Jeetendra, and then to the Nadeem Shravan onslaught. Mithun went on to do Ooty films. The buzz around Kaur Sing and Satpal was forgotten already.
But what a thrilling high it was when it lasted! It was quite the time to disco.
(first published on Arré)
“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.