Synopsis: To commemorate 75 years of Independence of the country, and to revitalize the glorious history of its people, culture and achievements, the Government of India has embarked on an ambitious programme focusing on the citizens and institutions who have played a catalytic role in the evolution of this journey and prepare the country for India 2.0- a vision of the Prime Minister of India. For the glorious people of the country who made this journey possible, the role of cinema in facilitating the same is an undeniable fact. So through these columns, 75 such themes that have defined the contours of cinema and have given a sense of identity to our citizens would be explored, culminating in 2023, as the celebrations on a grand scale by GoI would be initiated in 20-23.
When Manoj Bajpayee had sung this rap – Bambai Main Ka Ba, maybe he would have been in a deconstruction mode as it was this Mumbai, which established him as a Bhiku Mhatre and made him a force to be reckoned with. Maybe the lockdown induced by corona could have created the sense of delusion and thence the rap.
Mumbai as it has been projected in Hindi cinema has reflected a microcosm of the economic and societal development and evolution of Mumbai during the last 75 years of our Independence. Sometimes referred to as the city that never sleeps, to a city Maximus, over the years’ projection of Mumbai on the silver screen has continued to unravel hitherto unexplored facets of this city. Mumbai is the epitome of capitalism and consumerism and at its intersection unfolds myriad stories that continue to mesmerize audiences all over the country and in different parts of the world.
Dev Anand was one of the earliest actors who showcased the progress of Mumbai and used the city as a character in building the narrative of the film through a series of films made under the banner of Nav Ketan including KALA BAZAAR, BAAZI, CID etc. He gave an element of romanticism to this city through his songs- like ae dil hai mushkil Jeena yahan, to leke pehla pehla Pyaar as also khoya khoya chand. Such was the romanticism imbued into these locations that they became a ‘must dekho’ for the visitors and the residents of the city. He was the first person in fact who shot a completed credit of his film TAXI DRIVER focusing on different taxis moving around different parts of Mumbai. Dev Anand was perhaps the first actor who could discern the character that Kali peeli played in the evolution of the city of Mumbai and his portrayal continued to be experimented with by other stars down the line including Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt who did not have any reservations to enact the role of a taxi driver. Majorly taxi drivers were migrants and the enactment of the character of taxi drivers by the stars fuelled the imagination of many a migrant to kindle the dream of economic wellbeing through the steering wheels of the taxi. One of the most iconic representations that still is unbeaten through the steering wheels of taxi is the song- tum jo mil gaye ho from HANSTE ZAKHM
Mumbai is perhaps the only city in the country where the number of people living in slums is more than those with a decent roof over their heads. The blue tarpaulins dominating the landscape as viewed from the air underlines the premise. The commercial cinema used the slums as a binding element of building the narrative, channelling the angst in the form of success either graduating into the world or the service sector. Slums were and continue to be the entry point in Mumbai for an average citizen in search of a livelihood, and the angst and struggle associated with slums found visual manifestations through a series of films most successful being SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. In most of the films, slum demolition was used as a trigger point for unrest on screen and ANGAAR and PARINDA as also DAYAVAN captured the nuance most profoundly. Most of these films pointed to a surreptitious understanding between politicians, police and administration to hijack the land parcels where slums had been built and continue to create a state of social flux.
Mumbai also gave rise to a new form of cinema, focusing on the angst of an emerging middle class and his eternal search for a decent abode manifested in the films like CHOTEE SEE BAAT, GHARONDA, RAJNIGANDHA, BAATON BAATON MEIN, KHATTA MEETHA etc. These films underlined the spirit of the city, a city that never sleeps and after having lived in the city, the native when he goes back does find the connections that he has developed with Mumbai and the disconnect he has developed from his roots. The most visual manifest of this angst is summed in in Shahryar’s words- kya koee nai baat Nazarat aatee hai humme aaeena hamein dekh ke hairan sa Kyon hai– this is what Mumbai as a character does to an individual- an existentialist to the core.
Mumbai is perhaps the only city, which its own idiom and own grammar and therefore Om Prakash had to requisition a driver from Allahabad to have the sanctity of his Hindi intact as shown through CHUPKE CHUPKE. But the lingua franca of Mumbai which Johnny Walker had introduced in his own characteristic style through various films in the black & white era, found visible affirmation through a series of Mumbai films made by Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra in which Amitabh Bachchan played a big role, most noticeable being AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY, LAWARIS etc. Jackie Shroff built his whole acting template on this tapori language but when the occasion came to display this range to the fullest on-screen Aamir Khan emerged as the chosen one through RANGEELA while Jackie Shroff contended himself playing a South Bombay character (urban, suave and sophisticated character).
GANESH CHATURTHI was another template of Mumbai which acquired a nationalistic halo through the manner in which it was projected on the silver screen over the years. An event which was sort of a Marathi identity, a community festival became grandeur when it was catapulted from the by-lanes of the city to acquire a halo and became a national festival, and it started being woven assiduously into the narrative of cinema. TAKKAR of 1980, the first film under the banner of Padmalaya films was perhaps among the first films that used the imagery of Lord Ganesha during the climax of the film. Subsequently, through AAKROSH (1986), N Chandra used it as a template for a turnaround in the film. But with SATYA (1990), Ganesha Chaturthi became an occasion of the celebration of good over evil, followed by VAASTAV and remade AGNEEPATH (by this time Ganesha Chaturthi had acquired a cult status).
Mumbai also is a city where criminals and police are two sides of the same coin and how they evolve together has been a part of the cinematic construct during the last 75 years. The moment of reckoning traversed through ZANJEER, DEEWAR, DOSTANA, SHAKTI, AB TAK CHAPPAN, SINGHAM RETURNS, and SIMMBA, each of these films analysing the contexts and the relationship between Police and the criminals of the respective times, a sort of evolutionary analysis of the manner in which Policing evolved in Mumbai and AAKROSH was the most iconic representation of the manner in which Mumbai Police has to work.
Mumbai indeed has so many layered nuances that even after the next seventy-five years the city may still continue to have an enigma and continue to entice the dreamers to have a crack at this city.