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Those Flashy Days

Friday, April 20, 2012
Deepa Gahlot

It was amusing to read that a remake of the 1983 film Himmatwala is being planned.  Amazing too that the film, successful though it was, is being considered a classic.

The film, directed by K. Raghavendra Rao, was a commercial potboiler of no particular merit.  What it could be remembered for, however, is for making a Bollywood star out of Sridevi.  She had acted in Hindi films Solwa Sawan and Sadma, but those roles were devoid of glamour and Hindi audiences, used to better-looking actresses, scoffed at the plump, potato-nosed Sridevi.

 In Himmatwala, she played a shrewish, whip-wielding rich girl called, Rekha Bandookwala, and appeared in weird outfits but the kind that were considered modern then.  She was gauche, could barely speak Hindi or English, her voice had to be dubbed, she squeaked “ask Mummy”  whenever a question was directed at her.  Her appearance was also considerably ‘corrected’, though the thunder thighs were commented on even back then. But she got into blingy costumes and danced to songs like “Ladki nahin hai tu lakdi ka khamba hai, bak bak mat kar naak tera lamba hai.” Maybe what made it easier for her was that she didn’t know what the words meant. That she metamorphosed into a graceful, confident, well-dressed woman, is due to her hard work and total devotion to her career.

Himmatwala also rescued Jeetendra from financial ruin after his overbudget production Deedar-e-Yaar turned out to be a major dud. The films that K Raghavendra Rao and other directors (many of them also called Rao) directed did not need any great acting talent, what they did need was Jeetendra’s Jumping Jack skills and for years, till the Hyderabad industry ruled Mumbai, he commuted regularly to locations in Andhra, did dozens of films with Sridevi and Jaya Prada, a lot produced by Hyderabad’s Padmalaya Studios, which can barely be told apart now.

Most of them had music by Bappi Lahiri, strange Taa thaiya tha thaiya ho  kind of lyrics (many by Indeevar), and crazy choreography with dozens of dancers accompanying the lead pair, and gyrating amidst matkas, fruit, beach balls, and other strange objects.  Many of them starred Kader Khan, who also wrote the Hindi dialogue and formed a comic villain team with Shakti Kapoor.

Today these films are watched for a laugh, perhaps with a mix of amusement  and embarrassment at their garishness and complete lack of cinematic finesse. 

Still, Himmatwala was a herald of this Padmalaya genre of films, that lasted for almost a decade and died out when Hindi cinema started getting a bit more polished and Hollywood-influenced.  There was a kind of innocence to those films, even when the dialogue was crude, the sexism cringe-worthy and the acting loud enough to shatter glass.  They were definitely not classics, but then nostalgia can make anything from the past look good.

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