On the morning of may16th, when television channels were screaming and shouting over the success of finally a non coalition government and the defeat of the left and the right at the same time in one of the worlds largest democracies, a small news item hit me , and hit me very badly. A scroll running on the foothills of the main news screen, announced quietly the demise of a film director by the name of Prakash Mehra. In between the hysteria created by congress sycophants, disclaiming Mr Manmohan singhs clean governance over Rahul Babas charm and efforts as the real reason behind the congresses reincarnation, it took me a while to realize what an impact this rather inconsequential news item had on me.
And on millions like me. The entire generation of Hindi movie buffs who grew up in the seventies and eighties owe their allegiance to a style of film and filmmaking, when Hindi films was not bollywood and the hero was the son of the soil and not some vague yuppie meets a Hollywood reject cross .This imagery was created, film after film by films like ‘sholay’, ‘muqaddar ka sikandar’, “trishul”, “deewar”. “zanjeer”, and so on and so forth. Hindi film heroes were real men, men who cared for their mothers and their motherland, who came from humble backgrounds and wooed princesses, who always rebelled against the unjust, fought for the rights of the poor and took revenge of murdered fathers and raped sisters. The crowd tried to emulate every single mannerism of their demi gods, right from Amitabh Bachchans drunken dialogue delivery, to Dharmendras war cry for revenge, from Feroz khan’s stylish hats to Jeetendras white shoes, and from Mithun Chakrobortys haircut, to Vinod Mehras ample display of his hairy chest! The kids knew dialogues from films which they narrated in family functions with great aplomb, and these film stars got harassed, not just by the income tax people, but also by female fans who wrote fan mail in their own blood and who actually attempted suicide when the news of superstar Rajesh Khannas engagement to a certain “Bobby" girl hit the headlines.
But behind the golden curtain of this absolute brilliant imagery, smiled some dream merchants, people, who dreamed and dared to dream, and hence, once having attained the position of some influence, dared to sell their dreams as their stories and their pieces of art .The combined passion of these directors, these story writers, musicians, singers, actors and of course technicians was so strong that the Hindi cinema of the seventies created mass hysteria. Many a student, both in India and abroad have burnt gallons of midnight oil, just trying to decipher, the reason behind this mass hysteria created by the Hindi cinema and its consequent affect on public life.
Ironical isn’t it, that the day, Indian government changed guard and the cries for young leadership gained momentum, a representative of the Hindi films old guard also passed away, maybe making place for the new generation. Prakash Mehra, who combined with Amitabh Bachchan, gave one super hit after another, right from, “muqaddar ka sikander”, and “laawaris”, to “namak halal” and “sharaabi”, breathed quietly his last in a suburban hospital. The master who created many a immortal song and situation, calmly left. Who can forget the batting partnership of Vijay Hazare and Vijay Merchant as narrated by cricket commentator Amitabh Bachchan in “namak halal”, or the death of Zohrabai in Sikandars arms in “muqaddar ka sikandar” which immortalised the most exclusive, and illusive Rekha -Amitabh pairing. ..Who can ever erase the memory of the legend Pran singing 'yaari hai imaan mer yaar meri zindagi 'in “zanjeer”, and which “mehfil” is complete without the rendition of 'salaame ishq meri jaan' .Till date antakshari sequences, which begin with the alphabet m jump start with one group singing mere angane mein, and the other group refuting it by saying that the song actually has a different start ( a rather inconsequential, lalalalalalal )and so not the apt song for the correct start. Needless to say, Prakash Mehra may have moved on quietly, but his legacy breathes, and breathes forever in many ways than one.
But it pains me, that they are all going, slowly but surely and I don’t know whether they are leaving behind deserving replacements. I cannot see the maverick who could replace Manmohan Desai, , the clean wholesome domestic storyteller who could replace Hrishida,the socially conscious maker who could be the B R Chopra or the stylish wild western who could step into the cowboy shoes of our original cowboy Feroz Khan. And now Prakash Mehra has also gone. The film industry which we all looked at and ran to be a part of has changed, not just by market pressures, but sometimes by cruel divine interventions. Silently we bear it and helplessly we stand not knowing how to handle situations where the remote control is in the hands of someone who lives far far away, behind the clouds, up in the heavens, someone who is kind and just , but unfortunately calls back those people soon, whom he loves the most.
That’s what my Hindi films always taught me.