Monkeys farting from the ceiling …

When a reporter visited him for an interview, he took her to his garden and introduced her to each of his friends, Janardhan, Raghunandan, Gangadhar, Jagannath, Budhuram and Jhatpatjhatpat-jhatpat. Problem was, all these ‘friends’ were trees in his garden.

And then he took her to his bedroom, to meet some more of his ‘friends’ –  a collection of human skulls.

During a hilarious interview in 1985 with Pritish Nandy for the now-defunct Illustrated Weekly of India, he spoke about the famous interior decorator whom he had called to his home. He told the decorator to design a moat in his living room instead of a sofa, live crows hanging from the walls instead of paintings, and instead of an air-conditioner, he wanted ‘monkeys farting from the ceiling‘. The decorator ran for his life.

He hung a huge notice board outside his house that read, “This is a lunatic asylum.”

When a producer paid him only half his promised fee, he turned up for shooting with half his head and moustache shaved off, and told him, “Aadha paisa, tho aadha make-up.”

He would turn up for song recordings in an old lungi, and refuse to start singing until his secretary called him up to confirm that he had received his payment from the producer. Once, when he did not receive that call, he called up his secretary, and asked him if his payment for the movie had been received. “But Sir, it is your own movie, and you are the producer”,  the secretary told him. “So what?”, was the retort.

A film director got a court order against him, for refusing to listen to him on the sets. The next day, the director forgot to say ‘Cut’ after a car chase scene, and so he continued driving for 100 kilometers more, right upto Khandala!

Only one man could get away with behaviour like that, and still be one of the highest paid stars in Bollywood.

Wild, wacky, unpredictable and uniquely gifted, Abhas Kumar Kanjilal Ganguly, or Kishore Kumar Khandwewallah as he called himself, was quite simply one of a kind. There never was another like him, and never will be.

Today, August 4th, is his birthday.

Kishore Kumar started out to be a hero, like his elder brother Ashok Kumar. He had no intention of being a playback singer. He was a huge fan of KL Saigal. One day, he was loudly singing a Saigal song in his bathroom, and was overheard by SD Burman. Burman had come to visit Ashok Kumar and he was impressed by Kishore Kumar’s singing. He took Kishore under his wing and trained him in the art of playback singing.

Kishore Kumar was the only leading playback singer of his time who never had formal classical training. That didn’t come in the way of his becoming an all-time great in Indian cinema.

From his film debut in 1948 till his sudden death in October 1987, Kishore Kumar excelled in every sphere – he was a hero, comedian, singer, music director, composer, lyricist, film maker and producer. His versatility as a film maker was amazing. On one hand, he made badtki naamzany movies like Chalti Naam Gaadi and Badti ka Naam Daadi, that had audiences rolling on the floors. On the other, he made serious and thought-provoking movies like Door gagan ki chaaon mein and Door ka rahi, that were acclaimed by film critics. The last movie he made, Door wadiyon mein kahin, did not have a single song in it.

As controversial as he was in his public life, he was equally unconventional in his personal life. He was unabashed about the fact that he married four times. His first wife, Ruma Ghosh, was a famous playback singer and leading actress of her time. So was his second wife, the beautiful Madhubala, who died due to a hole in her heart. Yogita Bali, his third wife, was a well-known actress too. She left him after a brief

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marriage, allegedly since she could not stand his habit of sitting awake each night and counting his money! Leena Chandavarkar, another beautiful actress of the nineteen-sixties and seventies was his fourth wife, and remained his wife until his death.

For all his weird behaviour and eccentricity, Kishore Kumar was a political activist in his own right. He stood up against the government during the Emergency, by refusing to sing at a political function. As a result, he was banned from All India Radio and TV for two years, but Kishore Kumar didn’t bother. After the Emergency was lifted in 1977, he promptly bounced back.

His sudden death on October 13, 1987 due to a massive cardiac arrest came as a total shock to everyone. Kishore Kumar was cremated in Khandwa, his native village.

For die-hard fans like me, Kishore Kumar will never die. Along with Mohammad Rafi, he is one of the immortals of Indian cinema.

Enjoy this rare song from Half-Ticket (1961), a freaked-out comedy that was typical of Kishore Kumar. I think this is the only song of its kind in Indian cinema. This is a male-female duet in which both parts are sung by the same singer! Who else but a mad genius like Kishore Kumar could perform a duet like this?

Yoodleyoo, Kishoreda!

Cheers … Srini.

Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko …

zeenatShe was a cardiovascular risk factor for men of all ages. Blood pressures would hit the roof, hearts would palpitate, tongues would hang out, grown men would drool as she swayed across Indian screens displaying almost everything she had.

Once upon a time, the Bollywood heroine was a goody-goody Bharatiya type, clad in a demure saree or a salwar-kameez, happy to play second fiddle to the manly hero, content to cook for him and sew buttons on his shirt, sing bhajans for the hero’s mother whenever required and bear as many children as deemed necessary or politely allow her man to marry another woman in case she was incapable. Anything remotely erotic was forbidden. At best, she would be permitted a dance or two in a wet saree. Any ‘bad’ behaviour like wearing short dresses, dancing in clubs, talking to strange men, drinking and smoking, was left to vamps like Helen, Bindu and the like.

And then in 1970, Zeenat Aman burst upon Indian screens and made the vamp unnecessary. With her first appearance in Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Zeenat Aman blew apart the very concept of a Bharatiya naari. Her debut song in the movie, ‘Dum maro dum’, introduced her to Indian audiences with a chillum in her hand, smoking pot with hippies, getting stoned out of her mind.
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‘Dum maro dum’ became a cult classic. Kishore Kumar once said that ‘Dum maro dum’ was powerful enough to bring a dead man back to life. Although Mumtaz was the leading lady of Hare Rama Hare Krishna, nineteen-year old Zeenat Aman stole the show with that single song. And she won a Filmfare award for her role.

Zeenat Aman was born in Bombay, graduated from St Xavier’s college, moved to Germany with her mother and studied in the US, before returning to India. She briefly worked for Femina as a reporter and then got into professional modeling. People from my generation will remember her as the brand ambassador for Taj Mahal tea.

Hare Rama Hare Krishna made a cultural icon out of Zeenat Aman. After that movie, she went from one successful role to another, even as she became typecast as an unconventional, Westernised heroine. Where other heroines wore sarees and salwars, she sported slit skirts and tight shorts. Other heroines would take diction lessons to deliver their dialogs in a pure Northie accent, she spoke in a breezy convent accent. Other heroines were happy to give TV interviews in their homes or in a demure studio setting, she took her interviewer, Bikram Vohra out to a night club and danced the night away with him.

And where other heroines dared to display a small hint of cleavage, Zeenat Aman did not hesitate to drop all her clothes and leave very little to the imagination. The nation watched her in Satyam Shivam Sundaram in stunned fascination, as she went through the movie with hardly a stitch on her curvaceous body.

With Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1977), Zeenat Aman truly broke all the traditional norms, became India’s official sex-symbol and set the trend for other heroines to shed their inhibitions. Tina Munim, Parveen Babi, Reena Roy, Mandakini and Kimi Katkar followed in her footsteps – much to the delight of men across India.

With the song ‘Aap jaisa koi‘ in Qurbani, Zeenat Aman became an international name, and with her role in Don, she became an action-heroine as well. But it was her role as a rape victim in Insaaf ka Taraazu that earned her the respect that she truly deserved for her talent.

Personally, I liked her best in Manoranjan, a naughty comedy made in 1974, in which she played the lead role as a cheerful hooker, happily sleeping with other men in addition to the hero, played by Sanjeev Kumar. Manoranjan made light of the prostitution business, instead of ranting against it, unlike other movies on this theme. No wonder it didn’t do well, but Zeenat Aman was fun to watch.

Zeenat Aman won a Lifetime Achievement award in 1980.  She lives in Bombay now, and is still as active, and as attractive, as ever.

Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye, Zeenatji.  Ah well, one can but dream!

Cheers … Srini.

The Savage Indian

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I am a badly frightened man. With each passing day, I watch the society in which I live descend into savagery.

Ahimsa paramodharma. Non-violence is the ultimate religion.

So said a man whom we venerate as the Father of our nation. He died a violent death himself, ironically. The violence that followed the death of this apostle of non-violence claimed dozens of innocent lives and underlined the importance of his message.

It is a message that never seems to get through in our country.

Mob justice is for savages. Violence leads to more violence. Revenge leads to more revenge.

I’ve seen what happened in India in 1975, what happened in 1984, what happened in 1992, 2002, 2004, 2015, 2016.

I’ve watched buses being burnt, shops being looted, men being hacked, women being stoned, children being terrorised. I’ve had friends sobbing on my shoulder as they told me their personal stories of horror and brutality.

Even in the cyberworld, or especially in it, the savagery is genuinely frightening. Social websites bring out the worst in people. My friends on Facebook post ghastly stuff on my timeline, gory pictures of maimed human beings, scary sermons of savagery.

Recently, some whacko in Chennai did something cruel to a feral dog, and posted a video on Facebook. And the entire nation erupted, as people poured out violent invective against him. Kill him, hang him, castrate him, burn him, throw him off a roof, rip off his head.

The man was arrested, but that didn’t satisfy anyone. The invective just got worse. Jail is not enough, hang him. No, hanging him is not enough, first torture him. It went on and on.

Yesterday, someone posted a story about an alleged rape victim who chopped off her attacker’s penis, before he could penetrate her with it. The man is now in critical care and fighting for his life. And once again, the invective was scary in its intensity. What was even more scary in this case, was the cruel joy that many women showed in their messages. Well done, he deserved it, all men must have their dicks chopped off, and much much worse.

Hundreds of men in India get trapped in false rape cases and are ruined for life. How come no one says we should chop off the private parts of women who file these fake rape cases?

India leads the rest of the world in the number of deaths due to dog bites. Twenty thousand Indians die of rabies each year. How come no one says we should burn those rabid dogs, chop their heads, rip their nuts off?

What’s happening to our society? Mob justice, violent invective, brutality, savage glee. Riding on the pavement. Breaking traffic lights. Running over elderly pedestrians. Throwing garbage into the neighbour’s yard. Chucking beer bottles on the road. Midnight rave parties. Blaring loudspeakers. Bhajans through the night. Firecrackers at odd hours. Defecating in public. Urinating before children.

If someone says something nasty, beat him. Someone eats something that you don’t like, lynch him. Someone looks different and dresses differently, strip her. Someone has a god’s image tattooed on his leg, break it. Kill. Maim. Dismember. Decapitate.

Mind you, not all these savages who bay for their fellow human’s blood are illiterate roadside thugs. Some of them are my friends on Facebook, educated people in corporate jobs, people I eat and drink with, people I share my city and my life with.

And that is exactly what frightens me. It’s only a question of time before these savages turn on me. Only a matter of time before my maimed and mangled body appears on someone’s timeline and everyone posts messages saying I deserved it.

We were always a society that found it easy to justify gratuitous violence. We are rapidly becoming a society that gleefully celebrates savagery.

Mera Bharat Mahaan.