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Public Hai, Yeh Sab Janti Hai

When Mithun turns with eyes glowing like embers in Manmohan Desai’s “Ganga Jamuna Saraswati” and delivers – Ek artist ko kya chahiye? Do waqt ki roti aur public ka pyaar…. the hall erupted in seetis and taalis. That still remains FTIIans favorite line.

Yeh public hai kya? Kya yeh sab jaanti hai?

Sure. It throws out inept, corrupt governments. Spectacularly Mrs. Gandhi’s regime post-emergency. Lallu’s government recently in Bihar.

When the sheer number of our populance is so mind-boggling, to divide is to always figure.

The divide is as old as the time films started exhibiting and India was divided into A centre, B centre and C centre.

The gen I come from saw authentic silver, golden, platinum jubilees. There were no market sharp-shooters. There was no analysts. Still the message was the medium.

That is why “Pakeezah” a dud in the first week (poetry in cinema) picked up. It was attributed to Meena Kumari’s death. But the truth was simpler. It rocked because of something called “word of mouth publicity”. Same story repeated. “Sholay” was so thanda and manda. Then as word caught on it became a mania.

“Aradhna” anyone? How did this Film and this pimply-faced hero became the rage across the nation? There were only two measly magazines – Filmfare and the chaat-masala Stardust for filmy information. This film went across the South North, East West segregation. With no desperate public gimmicks. Nobody and nothing contributed to the giddy rise and rise of Rajesh Khanna. Authentic success. As I feel Sunil Gavaskar is the Greatest we have ever had who played against the terror batteries with just a floppy hat and towards the end of his career with just a temple guard!

There was 1:60, 2:40, 3:80 and 5:20 tickets. Neeche and balcony. “Chavanni chhap” sat down. (Jeetendra was the uncrowned badshah of this audience). They whistled and clapped. To re-live that experience do please visit Chandan at Juhu.

There was dialogue-baazi films. Oh how I miss them! Two guys would nuke each-other with a pithy verbal feast.

There were paisa-phenk films. When Lata warbles “Shareefon ka zamane mein aji bus haal wo dekha ki…sharafat chhod di maine.” The audience went berserk. Money was thrown at the screen with full too bravado. Or watching Sargam in Jaipur I watched with amazement, awe, complete non-understanding as “Dafli waale dafli baja….” started. The sounds of coins being tossed, the mad, frenzied screams and whistles drowned out the song.

Films were either “bundal” an idiom for bakwaas. Or “Dum” meaning go check it.

When “Johnny Mera Naam” released in Jamshedpur, na kisi chiththi na sanket ke there was a riot at the ticket window. Cops were called. Tear gas didn’t suffice as they went more mad. Finally the riot had to be stopped. To watch a film 4 people died. Unbelievable.

Then there was the “Ladies picture”. Later working in the Industry I nomenclatured them as “six handkerchief pictures.” You went, wept and came back happy.

There was “maar-dad” picture. With Bachchan’s coming they reached an acme.

But my favorite was what later would be called B grade. Sheikh Mukhtaar. Dara Singh. Bad acting. Terrible sets. Some pretty unforgettable music. But “paisa vasool.”

Early on Guru Dutt in “Baazi” and “CID” attempted India’s own noir. Our own dark gritty genre before even these terms were coined.

What a thaali? What choices?

At Sheila cinema in Delhi go to watch angrezi picture. At Jubilee Cinema in Chandni Chowk watch mythos like “Hari Darshan.” And the mother of it all “Jai Santoshi Ma.” At Delite watch the old black and whites on Sunday, morning-show. Jagat off-Jama Masjid, a good 20 minute walk for my family had socials (Jeene ki Raah), relationship picture (Abhinetri)…. “family picture.”

Going to movies was the golden pot at the end of the rainbow. To fill up time there was Chitrahaar on Wednesday. Sunday pictures which if not good the crib and suffering was huge at Monday school. Saturday for dhakkans like me was a wonder. Regional pictures. Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi….

I am still the unseen part of this humungous entity called the Audience. What choices do I have now?

At this age and state to get a pair of pure cotton pajamas is impossible all get. All have lycra in some percentage. Your expanded waist size has put you in the category of XXL. You squirm as two condescending kids with waist size 18 show you around. So is it fair to ask for films that stir you, make you escape, to show you a world which you haven’t seen?

Educate. Enlighten. Entertain.

The audience is there. Dying for Magic.

What happened? Did the audience change? Or the best talent as most things in India never came on the top?

Every Industry creates its own sub-Industry. Lets say I have a cement factory. Just by that action I create tiffin services, chai ki dukaans, snack places, dancing joints. Okay? Now this non-Industry called the Film Industry has created it’s own sub-culture. EPs of television, wannabe directors, struggling actors /writers / lyricists / directors / musicians.

Compared to the Shailendra, Raj Kapoor, Vijay Anand, Bimal Roy the luminaries we as a generation were not so rooted. But the multi-plex gen is clueless! And loaded to boot. They are all residing in their heads in NYC but are unfortunately living in this kachra country. Check any coffee shops they are the new audience. They also have an opinion. They have the technology to make that opinion known.

They are the cuckoos and the cuckoo appeals to them. The name of what they think Films should be is another exported item. Dark-gritty-underbelly. Why dark? Why gritty? Clueless……As because their presiding deity or deities is again in US, makes them like that.

Why are they making them like that? Because their whole system was collapsing. Family. Morality. All was just buckling. Recession (an artificial man-made disaster) brought them to the knees. They are reflecting their own reality.

On the upsurge what are our stories going to be about? Replicating them or finally our own across divides the Big Hit Picture.

Conclude with the seeti maar, taali baja, paisa phenk dialogue. The greatest for all times from “Pakeezah”. Jo doodh se jal jaate hain wo chaachh bhi phoonk-phoonk ke peete hain…… Silence…. Afsos log doodh se jal jaate hain…

Koi jawaab hai kya?

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