Bioscope: A Frivolous History of Bollywood takes a nostalgic look at Hindi cinema's music, iconic pairs
The book may have frivolous in its title, but it is written with fondness and contains several lesser-known facts about Bollywood | #FirstCulture
It is said that the grand success of Ashutosh Gowariker’s 2001 epic sports drama film Lagaan can be owed to the fact that the makers of the film were able to successfully bring together the three C’s that excite us Indians the most – Cricket, the Country and Cinema. And among these three, nothing else brings us together as a nation in the manner that our cinema does. Every Friday, in the dark recesses of a movie theatre, hundreds of pairs of dreamy eyes witness our larger-than-life heroes and our breathtakingly beautiful heroines work their magic on celluloid. And with all its glories and all its flaws, with every single whistle of admiration we blow and every single time we cringe at an atrocious one-liner, it is true, at the end of the day, that it is our cinema, and that it has shaped who we are and what we want to achieve.
There was a time in the past when films used to be made in certain ‘pockets’ in our country. Before Independence, Lahore used to be an important centre for filmmaking. Bombay has always been the epicentre of filmmaking activities, and Calcutta and Madras used to be its second cousins. But now, with films being made in a number of languages and dialects, filmmaking is no longer restricted to a few hotspots. Despite this, perhaps the most popular, the most recognised and certainly the oldest haven for films in our country is the Mumbai film industry, more popularly known simply as ‘Bollywood’ – a name to which purists take exception even today. Diptakirti Chaudhuri’s new book Bioscope: A Frivolous History of Bollywood in Ten Chapters tries to forage through the history of this famed industry for interesting facts, anecdotes and trivia, and presents them in a systematic manner before its readers.
As the title suggests, the book is divided into ten chapters – perhaps in line with its publisher Hachette’s tenth year anniversary in India. The chapters include one on the history of box office collections (cheekily titled 'Sabse Bada Rupaiya'), another on trendsetting filmi fashion (titled 'What is Your Style Number?') and yet another one on the history of foreigners shining in Hindi films (Pardesi, Pardesi). You get the picture, pun intended.
There’s a chapter dedicated to the hit pairs of Hindi cinema, and Chaudhuri talks about how the pairings of such iconic stars as Raj Kapoor and Nargis, or Dilip Kumar and Madhubala have enthralled audiences over the years, right up to Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in more recent times. Interesting facts are presented – for instance, the one about the famous scene in Mughal-e-Azam, in which Dilip Kumar’s Salim sensuously caresses the face of Madhubala’s Anarkali with a feather, when the two actors were not even on talking terms in real life!
There’s a chapter towards the end of the book that focuses solely on how our cinema depicted various social, political and historical events in independent India. The Partition of 1947, the Sino-Indian War of 1962, the Emergency of 1975, terrorism in Kashmir, the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and its aftermath, and the 2011 cricket World Cup victory – all find a place in this beautifully written chapter, as Chaudhuri describes how the many shades of these events and their repercussions provided fodder for our films.
But perhaps the most fascinating of all the ten chapters in the book is one titled 'Tere Geet Mere Bol' – a magnificent study of successful and often long-standing pairings of music directors and lyricists. Chaudhuri writes, and with great fondness – you can tell – about the coming together of such stalwarts as SD Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi, Naushad and Shakeel Badayuni, RD Burman and Gulzar, and even Nadeem-Shravan and Samir, or Amit Trivedi and Amitabh Bhattacharya – whose soulful lyrics and haunting melodies have shaped Hindi film music over the decades. Their partnerships were, or are, one of trust, marked with a deep and respectful understanding of each other’s art. And it is thanks to them that our cinema – known to audiences all over the world primarily as musicals – has been able to carve out a separate identity of its own.
The word ‘frivolous’ in the title of the book perhaps applies to almost all the chapters, and not in an irreverential way. Even the most inconsequential of things described in the book are bound to give you a warm feeling of nostalgia. For instance, the 'FRIEND' cap from Maine Pyar Kiya! or the fact that RD Burman and Gulzar started jamming in the middle of a traffic jam one day, while sitting in two different cars, separated by another in the middle, whose driver – a complete stranger – was kind enough to lower his windows to accommodate the antics of these two geniuses! If you love films, and are interested to know what goes on behind what appears on the screen, this book is for you. It will make you fall in love with the movies all over again.
Bhaskar Chattopadhyay is an author and translator. His translations include 14: Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray, and his original works include the mystery novels Patang, Penumbra and Here Falls The Shadow
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