“Every nation needs its memories. Memories hold in check the possibility of history being relegated to oblivion,” writes filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt in the Foreword to Housefull: The Golden Age of Hindi Cinema, edited by Ziya Us Salam, which was
released in New Delhi on October 30.
In a year that marks the 100th year of Indian cinema, Housefull is an opportune and fitting anthology of writings on the films of the 1950s and 1960s, arguably the era that saw the acme of cinematic endeavours, the “golden age” as it were, with the filmmakers of the time leaving behind “a legacy difficult to match”, as Ziya mentions in his Introduction to the book.
Housefull is an anthology that revisits, resurrects and resuscitates the memory of the cinema of two glorious decades, the films of a past that acted as a “blueprint for the future”. It brings to us a treasure-trove of facts, anecdotes, vignettes and little-known
trivia about films of the landmark decades which saw filmmakers like Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, Mehboob Khan, K. Asif, V. Shantaram and Raj Kapoor, to name just a few, make
many milestones through stories enmeshed in the socio-economic and political realities of a newly independent nation. If Bimal Roy portrayed the “social chasm” in his films, Guru Dutt zoomed in on the “moral turpitude” and Raj Kapoor romanced the “urban angst”.
According to Ziya, the book’s genesis lies with his “fixation” with Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957) which was itself a big milestone for Indian cinema with its “gigantic canvas”. Writing about Mother India in the book, Ziya notes: “Mother India was a watershed in the annals of our film history. It came at a time when India as a nation was taking fledgling steps forward towards unity, development and carving out its own identity in the comity of nations.”
The Features editor of the Hindu says he wanted the pieces in the book not to read like a “review”. So the pieces in the collection go beyond a review. And Ziya, while writing about Mother India, tells you that Mehboob Khan was a devout man who carried his prayer mat to the studios and regarded his work no less than worship. He tells you that some 14 years before Mother India, Nargis had been introduced as a 14-year-old in Mehboob Khan’s Taqdeer. And Mehboob Khan, in turn, had acted with her mother Jaddan Bai in a film called Nautchwali. He tells you that the film’s song, “Duniya mein hum aaye
hain..” brought the three Mangeshkar sisters – Lata, Usha and Meena – together.
The pieces are garnished with little-known sidelights which lend them an insider’s perspective. It, of course, helped that Ziya has been writing on cinema for about one-and-a-half decade. A lot of the nuggets in the book owes to the access and advantage of a journalist as well as Ziya’s association and friendship with the likes of Gulzar, a veritable encyclopaedia of Indian cinema, and Bimal Roy’s son, Joy. Ziya says he wanted to do justice to music in these films which became popular with the masses.
The book is neatly categorised into sections named after directors like Bimal Roy (1909-1966), Guru Dutt (1925-1964), Mehboob Khan (1907-1964), Raj Kapoor (1922-1988) and V. Shantaram (1901-1990). The sections put the spotlight on some of the choicest films that defined the particular school of a filmmaker. The section on Bimal Roy, for example, picks up five of his landmark films: Do Bigha Zamin (1953), Devdas (1955), Madhumati (1958) Sujata (1959) and Bandini (1963). There are separate sections on period films (Baiju Bawra, Anarkali, Mirza Ghalib, Mughal-e-Azam and Taj Mahal), Navketan Productions (Kala Pani, Kala Bazar, Hum Dono, Guide, Jewel Thief), Shakti Samanta (Howrah Bridge, Kashmir Ki Kali, Aradhana) and the Chopras (Naya Daur, Dhool Ka Phool, Waqt). Yet another section delves into memorable solos like Nitin Bose’s Gunga Jumna (1961), Ram Mukherjee’s Leader (1964), Tapi Chanakya’s Ram Aur Shyam (1967) and Jyoti Swaroop’s Padosan (1968), among others. The concluding section gives a glimpse into some of the films that “live on”, from Raj Khosla’s C.I.D. (1956) to Ramanand Sagar’s Aankhen (1968) and some other underrated and unsung films and filmmakers. Besides Ziya, Anuj Kumar, Suresh Kohli and Vijay Lokapally piece the book together, writing about the films and the times they were made in (involving the filmmakers, writers, lyricists, composers and singers) with passion and insight.
The book, says Ziya, gives us a sense of the shared past, a sense of the time when cinema, seeped in the country’s secular and pluralistic ethos, portrayed India as an integral whole. This was the time when cinema was not just a mere form of entertainment, but an instrument of social change. This was the era of all-India hits (Mother India, followed by Mughal-e-Azam) and blockbusters. Today, says Ziya, rural India, so ubiquitous in the cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, has fallen off the cinematic map, with a few exceptions like Peepli [Live], Welcome To Sajjanpur and Gangs of Wasseypur I & II.
Ziya, however, argues that good cinema, whether set in a metropolis or a village, will find its audience. The book, he says, will strike a chord with cinefans with an eye and ear for cinema of the yore.
In his forthcoming book, Delhi: Four Shows, Ziya talks about the Delhi talkies of yesteryears that are now becoming extinct, which will give us a sense of how the single-screen theatres are a part of the city’s historical and cultural heritage.
Housefull is a beautiful evocation of India’s memory as far as post-independence cinema is concerned. Books and anthologies like these should go a long way in “holding in check the possibility of history being relegated to oblivion”.