The tragic death of Kodachrome.

The Taj at Agra. Circa 1965. Kodachrome transparency shot by my late father, restored by me.

Frustrated and angry due to the prolonged lockdown, and unable to get out for bird photography, I was obliged to look for some other way to enjoy photography.

And I found it. In the form of my late father’s collection of Kodachrome slides. He had stashed away a box of his slides, somewhere in the attic, and after a prolonged search, I located it.

Most of these slides were shot on his Voigtlander Vitessa camera. The Vitessa is a rangefinder camera, with a 50mm, f/2 Ultron lens. More about rangefinder cameras in a future blogpost (some day in the future!).

Cacapon Lodge, West Virginia, USA. 1959.

The Voigtlander Vitessa was one of the finest cameras of its time, and in modern terms, as expensive as the Nikon D750 full-frame camera that I own. In 1959, my father was a young spectroscopist, and a post-doctoral fellow, living on a meager monthly stipend in Washington. That Voigtlander Vitessa must have cost him a bomb. I still have that camera, by the way.

Being a spectroscopist and an expert in optics, Dad was quite a photographer. And he didn’t spare any expense in his choice of film, Kodachrome.

Birla Temple, New Delhi, India. Circa 1965.

Kodachrome.

Perhaps the best photographic film ever. Introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1935, Kodachrome became the medium of choice for both professional and amateur photographers through most of the 20th century. Not that they had a choice anyway.

Let me be frank. I am not an admirer of Eastman Kodak. Frequently accused, and rightly so, of technology theft, corporate aggression and unfair practices, Kodak’s grip on the global photography market was vice-like – and ruthless.

Macy’s New York. Christmas, 1960.

However, there’s no denying that as a photographic medium, Kodachrome was in a class by itself. Rich colors, strong contrast, wide dynamic range and near-perfect in its rendering, Kodachrome was remarkable.

Six decades after my father shot his Kodachrome slides, the colors are still rich, and images are still stunning in their detail. Of course, in spite of careful storage, dust and mold have affected many of Dad’s slides, but I know how to restore them and how to digitise them for sharing with the world.

Kodachrome is a color reversal film, also called a diapositive film. A color reversal film produces a color positive image on a transparent base, as opposed to a color negative that has to be again developed into a positive print.

Somewhere in North India, on the way to Agra. 1965.

Color reversal films produce transparencies or slides that can be viewed through a viewer or projected on to a screen with a white-light projector. These transparencies also can be used to obtain sharp and richly colored positive prints.

For example, that famous image, Afghan Girl, was created by Steve McCurry on Kodachrome. Kodachrome was extensively used to document the Second World War and many other major events of the 20th century.

At Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. 1959.

There’s no need to bore you about the technical details and history of Kodachrome, that you can read up anyway on the Net. What I can do as a photographer myself, is to give you a taste of Kodachrome, by sharing some of my father’s slides, as restored by me. Mind you, these slides are at least fifty years old. Many of them were created long before I was born.

It takes me quite a while to restore them and create high-resolution JPEG’s that can be shared, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

My mother in 1960, before I was born. Photographed by Dad.

What a great pity that Kodachrome was discontinued by Kodak in 2009. The company itself almost went broke, due to the advent of digital photography. Which is ironic, when you learn that the world’s first digital camera was in fact invented in Kodak, but deliberately crushed, in order to protect their film business.

Somewhere in Rome, 1960.

I’m not unhappy about what happened to Eastman Kodak, but I do grieve over the demise of Kodachrome.

Well, at least I can still restore Dad’s old Kodachrome slides and share these priceless little moments of history with my friends and family.

Cheers …. Srini.

Bolly Bites … 1,2,3…

And 4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13.

These are the opening lyrics of one of the most popular songs ever, in Indian film history.

If one were to describe Madhuri Dixit’s dance number in the movie Tezaab in one word, that word would be – historic.

There are several Bolly movies that might have flopped, but became runaway hits instead, just because of one good song.

The examples that immediately come to mind are Lata Mangeshkar’s “Sheesha ho ya dil ho“, performed by Reena Roy in Aasha; Nazia Hassan’s “Aap jaisa koi“, for Zeenat Aman in Qurbani; Piya tu ab to aaja, by Aasha Bhosle for Helen in Caravan, Kavita Krishnamurthy’s Hawa hawai, for Sridevi in Mr India; “Dil ke armaan” by and for Salma Agha in Nikaah; Nakhrewali, by and for Kishore Kumar in Nai Dilli.

And there was Ek do teen.

This one song made a super hit of Tezaab, released in 1988. Tezaab was otherwise a cut-rate gangster movie with little else to recommend it. Ek do teen catapulted Madhuri Dixit to superstardom, on par with superlative dancing stars like Vyjanthimala and Waheeda Rehman. And this one song also took Anil Kapoor to the top, although he didn’t feature in it, thankfully.

The prolific and talented Alka Yagnik who sang the song for Madhuri, bagged her first Filmfare award as best playback singer.

And, a special category for dance choreography was created by the FilmFare awards committee in 1989, so that the first ever award in dance choreography could be given to Ek do teen‘s choreographer Saroj Khan. She went on from here to win the highest number of awards in this category.

I learnt much later that Ek do teen had been written by none other Javed Akhtar. That took me by surprise. Akhtar explained himself in a TV interview, when he said that song writers use “dummy words” to fill in a song, when they are a loss for words. Later, they add in appropriate words into the song to replace those dummy words.

Javed Akhtar explains how and why he wrote Ek do teen.

This was what happened when Akhtar first wrote Ek do teen. The music directors Lakshmikant-Pyarelal had already composed the tune for the song, and asked Akhtar to write a song around that tune. So, to start with, L-P used Ek do teen, char, etc, upto tera, thinking that Akhtar would add in words later. Instead, he liked how Ek do teen sounded and created an entire song around those numbers.

Ek do teen was actually shot before a real crowd of 1000 people, while Madhuri and her troupe danced on stage. The crowd went really wild, and that’s what Saroj Khan wanted.

The crowds in the theaters went wild as well. They would go totally berserk when that song came on. Throw coins on the screen, tear off their shirts, scream obscenities, break chairs. And when the song ended, they would force the projectionist to replay the song, over and over. This had never been seen before in a cinema theater.

The only other movie song that had generated this kind of frenzy was the title song of Jai Santoshi Maa (1975).

The difference was, Madhuri, unlike Santoshi Maa, made men completely lose their minds. I remember my friend Kiran Murthy, who watched the movie on 21 consecutive days. Each day, he would dance to Ek do teen, throw coins at the screen, and come back without seeing the rest of the movie. To be honest, I accompanied him on three of those 21 days!

In spite of all the awesome talent and the huge crowd of 1000, that went into the making of Ek do teen, it was all about Madhuri Dixit.

I do not think any other actress could have done what Madhuri did for Ek do teen. What she did was to transform an item number into all-time classic.

And that’s why, like millions of other Bolly fans, I was genuinely furious with that ghastly modern-day remake of Ek do teen in Baaghi 2.

Good lord, man. What was the eff was that? A half-naked Jacqueline Fernandez, bumping, grinding, thrusting her pelvis at a throng of drunkards. Where Madhuri had class, this woman was gross. Where Madhuri showed her dazzling dance steps, this woman showed her bare thighs. Where Madhuri displayed classical training and skill, this woman danced like she was peddling a cure for erectile dysfunction.

The remake was choreographed by Ganesh Acharya, a man against whom there are a slew of allegations by female artistes. No wonder the remake was what it was. So bad it was in fact, that the original choreographer Saroj Khan threatened to sue him.

I don’t know if she actually did, but she should have.

Moral of the story: You do not remake a classic.

Even today, Madhuri’s Ek do teen makes me burst into dance, my creaking knees notwithstanding. In all this gloom and doom due the lockdown, Madhuri and her Ek do teen bring me a great deal of cheer, a reminder of the good old days – and a promise of better days to come.

Tera karoon gin gin ke intezaar!

Cheers … Srini.

Bolly Bites – Apna Chintu baba.

Chintu is no more. I find that really hard to believe.

The Kapoor family was always special to Chemburkars of my generation. At a time when most filmstars built their palatial homes in either Juhu or Bandra, Raj Kapoor took the unusual decision to build his studio and his home in Chembur, which was in those days a down-market, obscure suburb of Bombay.

Rishi Kapoor’s debut in Bobby.

RK Studios became a major landmark, and a matter of pride for Chemburkars (we had little else to be proud about). I moved to Anushaktinagar in 1975, and that brought me to closer to RK Studios. Day after day, I would gaze longingly at RK Studios, hoping for a glimpse of anyone from the Kapoor clan, as I passed by on my way to school, to college, and in later years, to work.

Raj Kapoor and his family endeared themselves to Chemburkars with their down-to-earth behavior and jolly spirits (literally and otherwise). Their annual Holi and Ganesha festivals were open to the public and immensely popular.

Even today, if you happen to visit Geetha Bhavan hotel in Chembur on a weekend, the chances are you may spot Randhir Kapoor enjoying idli-sambar there. Dabbu (Randhir Kapoor) has been a regular at this hotel since many many years. Just as his father was.

Rishi Kapoor was born in Chembur, and was therefore our favorite. Our very own Chintu baba.

Rosy cheeked, fresh-faced and rambunctious, Rishi was an icon of youthful rebellion for the young adults of that era (like myself). Just as his elder brother Dabbu was a decade before. As were his uncles Shammi and Shashi, in the 1960’s and ’70’s.

As a child actor in Mera Naam Joker.

He made his official screen debut as a child actor in Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker in 1970. However, most people don’t know that his first appearance on screen was in Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420 (1955) where he briefly appeared in the famous rain-song sequence “Pyaar hua ikraar hua hai”.

Rishi the toddler, at 3.40 minutes.

And then in 1973, came Bobby.

This was the movie that really launched Rishi Kapoor as a young, rebellious romantic hero. Dimple Kapadia made her debut too as the female lead. Bobby also debuted Shailendra Singh as a playback singer, with his hit song “Main shaayar to nahin“. For a short period after, Shailendra Singh became the voice of Rishi Kapoor, just as Rafi was the voice of Shammi.

And Bobby also launched the movie career of another powerful singer, Narendra Chanchal. I’ve written about Chanchal in an earlier blogpost, that you can read here.

Bobby was an enormous hit. Great songs, great performances by the young lead pair, a love story with a happy ending. Not to speak of that famous scene with Dimple Kapadia in a wet bikini. It was a Raj Kapoor movie after all!

Who wouldn’t want to be locked in a room with Dimple Kapadia?!

As an aside: Without exception, in every movie made by Raj Kapoor, the heroine is made to display much more than her acting ability!

Bobby was the top grosser of 1973, and is one of the top 20 all time hits in Indian cinema. Bobby was also a huge hit in Russia, a country in which Rishi’s father Raj Kapoor was already a household name. Bobby, in fact, is one of the top 20 all time hits in Russia as well.

After Bobby, several movies came his way, with most of these movies starring Neetu Singh as his co-star. Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh formed a hit pair, both on screen and off it. Their wedding was Chembur’s biggest event of the decade. I still remember how some of my friends tried to sneak their way into RK Studio, with fake gifts in hand, but were stopped by RK’s security guys.

Popular and talented as he was, Rishi Kapoor seemed unable to deliver a hit on his own. Rajesh Khanna or Amitabh Bacchan could effortlessly carry entire movies on their shoulders, even in multi-starrers, but Rishi Kapoor could not.

Lambuji-Tinguji – with Amitabh Bachchan in Coolie.

Most of the movies in which he was the sole male lead flopped. Zehereela Insaan, Zinda Dil, Raaja (in which he had a double lead role), Rangila Ratan, Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan, for example. All flops.

On the other hand he shone in multi-starrers like Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb and Hum Kisise Kam Nahin.

I can think of just two major hit movies in which Rishi was the main or sole lead, these being Karz and Sargam. And perhaps Naagin and Chandni, although these two movies revolved around Sridevi in the female lead.

Rishi Kapoor in the climax song of Karz.

This was Rishi Kapoor’s problem through his career. He always was Chintu to his fans, who liked him in subordinate roles, like the lead hero’s precocious younger brother, or a rebellious son, and the like.

Rishi and Jayaprada in the hit movie, Sargam.

He did win his fair share of awards. With the exception of his Filmfare award for Bobby, most of Rishi’s awards were for supporting roles.

With advancing age, Rishi Kapoor acted in more supporting roles, and appeared in his first role as a villain in Agneepath (the new version starring Hrithik Roshan), and again as a mobster in D-Day.

Chintu even bagged awards for his work in Do Dooni Chaar and Kapoor and Sons, neither of which I have seen (but I will now).

Personally, I liked his role as the septuagenarian son of Amitabh Bachchan in 102 Not Out. I don’t get Netflix, and so I missed him in Rajma Chawal.

Off-screen, he became a popular and controversial figure on social media, what with his cheeky and pointed tweets, especially his notorious “beef eating Hindu” remark that caused an outrage. He stood his ground though, and stoutly defended his point of view.

That was Chintu for you. Always young, at heart if not in body, ever rebellious, unconventional and unafraid to call a spade a spade. This was one man who could never be, well, cowed down!

We’ll miss Chintu, won’t we?

Hum to chale pardes. Good bye, Chintu.

Cheers … Srini.