On a recent visit to Patna for an event that pretty much became a non-event, the one positive to come out of the trip was a visit to the wondrous Nalanda ruins.
Nalanda, located about 95 km from Patna, was a centre of (mainly) Buddhist learning from the 5th century AD till about the 13th century AD. The University attracted thousands of scholars and students eager to study Buddhism even from as far flung areas such as Tibet, China, Korea and Central Asia. In fact, it is a very, very early example of an International Residential University, perhaps the first one ever.
This great Centre of Learning is said to have been founded by ruler Kumaragupta of the Gupta Dynasty, who ruled from about 415 – 455 AD. Barring Buddhism, the University also taught Logic, Grammar, Medicine, Philosophy and the Vedas. It is said that at its peak, the University had 1500 teachers and about 10,000 students!
Sure, the structures remaining – largely from what were monasteries and temples – are spectacular and even as one marveled at the the amazing brickwork, all the crazy filmmaker in me could think about was the O Mere Raja song from Vijay Anand’s classic thriller, Johny Mera Naam (1970). Goldie Saab (Vijay Anand) pictured two-thirds of this song with his usual visual flair at these very ruins. To be honest, the situation is absurd. Hema Malini, carrying a brief-case for delivery, is being followed by the cops and reaches the rendezvous point breaking into a song. This is to give waiting partner Dev Anand the lead to go along with the act and make it appear a meeting of two lovers. Dev Anand uses the opportunity to flirt shamelessly with Hema Malini, who has no choice but to grin and bear it. And so, they run around while being chased by the police, led by the permanent film cop, Jagdish Raj. Still, Goldie Saab using his trademark long takes, dynamic tracking shots, brilliant use of foreground and background, and some amazingly well-taken shots takes the song to another level.
Here’s the song, one of the great song picturizations of Hindi cinema, helmed by a master filmmaker at his best. Little wonder even as I strolled peacefully amidst the ruins, I couldn’t help but glance around frequently to see if Hema Malini might just make a grand entry, signaling her coming with the O Mere Raja refrain…