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The Way They Were

Friday, November 18, 2016
By Deepa Gahlot

A delightful play based on Satyen Bose’s 1958 film Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, by underprivileged kids attached to the Salaam Bombay Foundation, reminded one of things that are no longer part of Bollywood cinema.

The heroes are rarely blue collar workers, like the men in the film (played by Ashok, Anoop and Kishore Kumar), who are motor mechanics. In so many films, the leading man does not do anything at all and audiences don’t care. Just ‘business’ is enough, and nothing that would get the hands dirty.

The leading lady—Madhubala in this case—mostly wore saris or salwar kameezes and still looked sexy as hell. The women did not have to flash cleavage or legs, the eyes and smile did the job of flooring the hero. In the Ladki bheegi bhaagi si number, Madhubala does get soaked in the rain, but did not look in the least vulgar. Leading ladies in those days did not have to worry about being stick thin or having bikini bodies.  

The men did not have to bother going to the gym to build six-pack abs. Kishore Kumar was happily plump and audiences loved his comic antics and wonderful singing—he never needed to take his shirt off, and he was still a major star. So was Ashok Kumar; their third brother, Anoop, unfortunately, did not make it as big as them.

The leading ladies were unapologetically silly. They giggled and flirted and a career was the farthest from their minds. Their daddies funded their lifestyle; those silk dressing gowns and pipes that indicated Rich Daddy have also gone out of fashion. (When was the last time anybody wore a dressing gown in a movie?)

Today, if a character declared his misogyny—like Bade Bhaiya in the film, who hates women—the politically correct factions on social media would have slaughtered the film. Audiences then just laughed at him for being an eccentric idiot.

Younger brother today would never be as deferential to older brothers—Bade Bhaiya orders them about and they obey without protest.

When leading men do comic roles in today’s films, they are rarely as uninhibited as Kishore Kumar—he went over the top with his goofiness without the slightest embarrassment. Now actors seem to constantly look over their shoulders and never achieve such perfect comic timing.

And yes, the old family domestic helper-Ramu Kaka, with that springy walk and gamchha on shoulder—has vanished for good from our movies.

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