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Tea in Hindi cinema: served hot

Synopsis: To commemorate 75 years of Independence of the country, and to revitalize the glorious history of its people, culture and achievements, Government of India has embarked on an ambitious programme focusing on the sectors / people who have played catalytic role in 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 and the iconic people associated with Indian cinema who elevated cinema to the exalted status and facilitated creation of bridges to tide over linguistic inabilities 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 2023.

While a heady concoction was brewed politically over a cup of tea around a decade ago, the cue for picking it up as a metaphor to whip up a tea based cinematic oeuvre so far eludes the fans of Hindi cinema. Nothing to fret though, as tea has been an integral part of the cinematic journey of the country. From tea being sipped at a tapri (the roadside shack) to tea guiding the course of narrative, it has created cinematic moments to be remembered for a lifetime.

The primordial representation and one of the most iconic cinematic oeuvres of tea on the silver screen has been in SHREE 420. Tumultuous cascade of rains coming in successions against the iconic Marine Drive- arguably one of the most romantic locations depicting monsoon and against this background just an exchange of a cup of tea and the lover (Raj Kapoor) is energized to unspool his future in presence of his eyes and also through the wishful and shy eyes of Nargis immortalized for posterity through the song- pyaar hua ikrar hua. And many love stories since that time continue to be unspooled with this song humming in the background.

While Raj Kapoor immortalized cupid through this song (Pyar hua ikrar hua), his daughter-in-law Babita got an opportunity to eulogize the virtues of tea through the song- Aahen Na Bhar Thandi Thandi from 1971 movie BANPHOOL. It is one of the apparent paradoxes that while tea gardens all over the countryside have been used as a backdrop for songs in scores of Hindi films, rarely any of them took a break to include a moment of tea-sipping as well in those shoots.

Yash Chopra, after establishing himself as a director of repute used the most iconic manifestation of street furniture of food aka the tea stall- a ubiquitous presence all across the landscape of the country- to build up the narrative of his films in an interesting manner. It was probably for the first time that he used the process of consumption of tea as the trigger to create a situation for action in the movie as he did in DEEWAR. The pent up of frustration which was internalized by bashing the villain finding solitude in a cup of tea became a moment of reckoning as also the arrival of the hero in the narrative of cinema through DEEWAR. The manner in which Amitabh Bachchan enacted the whole scene and the attitude with which he had walked out and asked for tea was eponymous about the importance of a tea stall in the life of workers. VIJAY had arrived with a bang with a storm in the teacup.

Around the same time when he had chosen tea as a manifestation of annihilation of oppression in DEEWAR (1975), in the same year in a scene from MILI, Amitabh Bachchan had famously espoused- Paani ki pyaas. Chai ki chayaas. Ek pyali milegi?’

Yash Chopra took the tea in the cup to tumultuous levels through his KALA PATTHAR where he pitted the animosity of the characters portrayed by Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha over a cup of tea to a crescendo and allowing it to settle down through the character of Shashi Kapoor. Accentuation of confrontation between characters to this exalted status was not repeated with the same intensity.

One of the moments of epiphany for a cup of tea was created when Rajesh Khanna was making his comeback through SOUTEN (1979) and the occasion of bride meeting family of the girl over a cup of tea to formalize a marriage process was given a cinematic approval through the song- shayad meri shaadi ka khayal dil mein aaya hai. Salman Khan took it to a level of anticipation about finding life partners through his film HAR DIL JO PYAR KAREGA (2000) with Ek Garam Chai Ki Pyali ho.

But it was left to Ram Gopal Verma to give a cup of tea as an instrument of plotting, brooding and also strategizing through SARKAR series and it was perhaps for the first time that brooding over a cup of tea graduated to a poster and it became one of the most sought-after posters for the fans. Such was the impact of combined scenes of teacups through SARKAR by Amitabh Bachchan that in subsequent versions of the movie even Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan took to the tea cup to create a storm on the screen.

In this era of instant coffee outlets, which have become a ubiquitous element of developmental ethos, the charm that the tea stalls hold and the charm that the informality it breeds needs to be explored in a much wider detail.


Sidharth Shukla

Rashami Desai

Kriti Sanon

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