Friday, June 13, 2008

Mannerisms, not manners.

If William of Wykeham's "Manners makyth man", also the motto of Winchester College and New College, Oxford, has a grain of truth, equally true for the Indian films of yore is the just-coined maxim: "Mannerisms makyth the hero". This profound truth dawned on me while watching a part of Humjoli (1970). This super-hit film had a totally ludicrous Jeetendra with his absurd mannerisms in the male lead. The other two Hindi film stars with distinct mannerisms who readily come to mind are Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna. They were a bit more tolerable than Jumping Jack. Speaking of tolerance, the level of this rather rare quality in the Indian moviegoers of that era must have been phenomenal. Imagine accepting J as hero, buying a ticket and patiently watching him for two and a half hours. Of course, those were the Jurassic Age, pre-multiplex days. You didn't have to pay through the nose for the seat or the snacks. (And, of course, even in those days, the scalpers made avid moviegoers pay prices comparable to what the multiplexes now charge.) Going back to the forties, Noor Jahan too had to make do with timid, insipid, vapid costars. There's a story narrated by Naushad about how she used to make the timid Surendra Nath nervous while recording a duet with him for Anmol Ghadi. She would sing her portion of the song and, instead of yielding the mike to him and turning away, would keep staring at his face. For that matter, even Suraiya's leading men were equally uninspiring. Shyam, Suresh, Karan Diwan and Bharat Bhushan, to cite just four instances. In such cases the willing suspension of disbelief had mainly to be about the male lead, I reckon. P.S.: By the way, Humjoli (1946) starred Noor Jahan who also sang two fabulous songs Raaz Khulta and Phoolon Mein Nazar Yeh Kaun Ayaa which I simply love.