Synopsis: As we are celebrating the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav (AKAM), through these columns, under the AKAM series an attempt is being made to traverse the journey from historical past when cinema made its debut (subject to availability of the resources) to the present times. World of cinema in India still has not warmed up to the value of documentation in historicity and this initiative is a small step in this direction.
Krishna Janamashtmi, which is celebrated across the country and in different parts of the world generally pays tribute to the pranks of the childhood of Lord Krishna or the love escapades with Radha, his eternal consort. However, the world of Hindi cinema had a different connotation of the manner in which this festival was celebrated and it continues to have the same manifestation in present times, the template of this celebration module mainly concentrated around Mumbai and its suburbs.
The celebration, which the world of Hindi cinema adopted, is a modern version of the prank of Lord Krishna from his childhood, breaking of the ‘matki’ or the earthen vessel perched at the top of an establishment or between the by-lanes of the buildings, locally known as ‘Dahi Handi’.
As the labour was settling down post-Independence around the mill areas in Mumbai, the occasion of Krishna Janamashtmi was used as a test of strength of teams to have a go at the booty or the matki. There was an incentive as well for the team, which could achieve the target.
The first musical to celebrate this vital aspect of social framework of Mumbai in all probability was from BLUFFMASATER (1963) Goivnda aala re directed by Manmohan Desai. Manmohan Desai as a director, as he grew around the Chaupati area in Mumbai, was well versed in the sociological milieu of Mumbai and used them as templates in his cinema throughout his film career.
Surprisingly enough, after BLUFFMASTER not much traction happened on the turf of Dahi-Handi cinematically, until KHUDDAR (1982) happened. (It also is a matter of surprise that though Manmohan Desai made so many epic blockbusters with Amitabh Bachchan, it never crossed his mind to use his acting prowess in the realm of Dahi-Handi as well.)
It was under the baton of Ravi Tandon that Amitabh Bachchan got a song underlining the spirt of Dahi-handi which thenceforth has become a signature song for this occasion- Mach gaya shor saari nagari re… These two songs from BLUFFMASTER and KHUDDAR epitomize the spirit of Dahi Handi in Mumbai and continue to blare out from various pandals all across Mumbai on the eve of Dahi Handi.
Karan Johar took the template of Dahi-Handi to a new level as used it to introduce the main character for his remake AGNIPATH (2012), where Hrithik Roshan’s character was introduced through the Dahi-Handi and his face was shown to the fans after he broke the handi!
The template of breaking Dahi-handi surprisingly has not been picturized on any of the Khans so far. However, following in the footsteps of his PAA, Abhishek Bachchan also got an on screen opportunity in HAPPY NEW YEAR (2014), again a hiatus of more than 32 years.
Cinematically Dahi-Handi was used in VAASTAV (1999) as well for celebration of the life of the chawls of Mumbai, where actually this festival continues to have a place of eminence. It is a celebration of brotherhood, and Mahesh Manjrekar emphasized it through VAASTAV emphatically.
One of the most interesting interpretations of Dahi Handi was used in AANKHEIN where Amitabh Bachchan after observing a group of blind men breaking Handi, trained them to commit a bank heist.
While Dahi Handi may have been used off and on in the Hindi cinema, the character of Krishna has been used one way or the other in Hindi cinema and one of its most visible manifestation has been that in HERO where Jackie Shroff got an opportunity of a lifetime to enact the role of modern Krishna. In fact, the flute became Jackie Shroff’s signature instrument to announce his arrival and his son, Tiger Shroff also basking in the lilt of the flute made his mark on the silver screen through HEROPANTI. Jackie Shroff was the cinematic version of Lord Krishna and there rarely was an occasion where flute did not accompany him in one form or the other in the films in which he had played the lead role.
With this being the reference point, it indeed is an opportune moment to try to pick up some characters from the world of Hindi cinema that have the role of a maverick having akin similarities to the persona of Lord Krishna.
It indeed is one of the apparent paradoxes that the cinema as a medium, which was responsible for popularizing the local culture and weaving into the story thereby giving it a pan India presence, has given the celebration of Janamashtmi either through a Dahi-Handi or as a festival to go by.
The moot point is whether cinema, more so-Hindi cinema as a medium of expression of cultural ethos should abrogate its responsibility of providing the platform for such idioms. In cinema of other languages in the country, local culture, tradition and idioms find copious expression, while in the case of Hindi films; it has become urban and panders to the urban tastes and sensibilities.
It is through the world of cinema that the cultural continuum is provided, and stories need to be woven around the exposition of such cultural expressions. For example, when we are fascinated about making diaspora films, why can somebody not think about making a film where a person who has been staying outside country for a long time, comes back to India during Janamashtmi, and is fascinated by Dahi Handi, and he stays back and prepares himself for the next year, and finally wins the award. After all, we all like the underdogs.
As the pressure of day-to-day existence is mounting on us, it is only through cinema that we can have vignettes of our glorious cultural past. Let’s not allow it to wither away, as cinema indeed has a vital role to play in cultural conservation for the continuum.