Friday, May 16, 2014

Aan Milo Sajna (1970) and . . . The Bombay Superstar (1973)

Despite appearances, I have not only been watching Mithun movies. I recently finished Aap ki Kasam (I watched to the halfway point but didn't have the emotional wherewithal to finish till now) and Aan Milo Sajna. It stars not two, but three of my favorite leads (Vinod, RK, and Asha Parekh), is available on Youtube with subtitles, and is one of RK's 15 consecutive hits. It should have at least been higher on my list. But somewhere in the haze of review-skimming last year, I guess I had gotten the idea that it was a snooze.

I was very mistaken indeed. Probably the one thing that would have made Aan Milo Sajna better? A scriptwriter more attuned to narrative flow. It just doesn't always hit the high notes where it should. But in a lot of ways, this film is far more "watchable" than the more famous RK/Asha pairing of the period, Kati Patang (1970). The latter is undeniably heartwarming and heart-wrenching, but I think it lacks a sense of humor concerning itself or its characters.

Not only does Aan Milo Sajna have that in spades, but I swear somebody with a penchant for levelheadedness actually wrote the plot and the dialogue (which is not something I expect of most films of the period). People behave according to what they know, but also allow for the unknowns in their decisions. They *mostly* muddle through their extreme difficulties thoughtfully, trying to figure out solutions rather than just reacting to their circumstances.

The one thing I was prepared for was the smolder-y Vinod role. Everybody seems to love VK as this film's villain, and rightly so. But beyond his always appreciated glowering and sneering, something else that cracked me up to no end was Vinod's onscreen treatment of Rajendra Nath's buffoon character. There's almost always too much of Rajendra's antics in movies of this period, and it pretty much made my day each time Vinod's scowl and slap zeroed in on the ADHD manchild. There is a desperate need for someone to police the comedy uncles, and Vinod definitely has my vote for that position. Also, I highly approve of the spirited Western guitar strumming that appears whenever Vinod's baddie is planning something extra naughty (reminiscent of spaghetti western scores) AND the visualization of the final hero-villain showdown in a canyon. Now I have to wonder if these artistic details influenced Vinod's casting in future dacoit roles.

I could also talk about Nirupa Roy or Tarun Bose in this film (who both blew me away), but I think others have sung their praises elsewhere.

This film is exceptionally commensensical in its characters, relationship progression, and in *some* of its ideals. And, yay! nobody spends half of the film in prison. The romantic leads (Rajesh Khanna and Asha Parekh) speed past some of the usual romcom potholes (a lengthy "drama" of fake fiance-dom) with nary a word of rebuke or a "nahiiiiiiin." In fact, their relationship is refreshingly playful and flirtatious. Don't expect runaway chemistry . . . this pairing is all about the quiet charm of two people who amuse one another and probably will go on to have an extremely boring (and extremely happy) married life.

Even the parents have layers, thoughts, emotions beyond what the usual weepy "Maaa" background score would suggest. And yet, it does misstep in the middle, perhaps due to the inherent ability of each of the main characters to actually TALK through their problems and mistakes with one another. It takes a superhuman effort by the villain to bring this train back off (or on) the rails . . . and I think it succeeds by the end. I really expected the ratio of fake blood to climactic deaths to be reversed . . . and I was happy to be proved wrong in my assumptions.

And because this is what I do when I review Rajesh movies . . . some "bonus" thoughts about his stardom and global image:

I was watching the "The Bombay Superstar" documentary on Rajesh recently (shout out to RK expert Suhan for sending me in that direction), and beyond the realization that the dialogue and attitude toward Bollywood in the West has probably always been tainted by outright snobbery (frankly, the narrative journalist came off as a pretentious ass), I was again struck by how very much I am fascinated with the man behind the iron curtain of fame. It will forever haunt me, I think, that I never had a chance to meet him or interview him (oh-the-hubris to think that could have happened, but a girl can wish).

Overall, the documentary is a rare window into the "backstage" goings on of Rajesh Khanna's life and career. And there were several small moments in the interviews with Rajesh that pretty near broke my heart. I'm not sure if I can describe why, exactly, but there was something in his voice and reactions that said a lot more than his words. Listening to his cryptic remarks (albeit to a caustic foreign press), some people probably see a man struggling to maintain his fame, others a man who was merely resting on his laurels, and some are probably just left wondering what the fuss was/is all about.

I'll tell you what I see. I see a man who was tired. And for a damn good reason, too. Just a brief look at the number of films the man made in a three year period makes me want to take a long vacation. I can't believe some people had the gall to call him lazy for showing up late on set . . . when he was working two or three films in day, and by some accounts, leading a busy night life as well. Ok, maybe he wasn't the only one pulling multiple shifts, but that doesn't mean it was healthy in any way. [Keeping that kind of schedule would exhaust me at best, destroy me utterly at worst.] Even if he wasn't as introverted as he appears (I will maintain that onscreen bravado does not an offscreen extrovert make), his working hours alone must have led to negative psychological repercussions. Add the blistering magnifying glass of fame, and you have the formula for a spontaneous combustion.

I can't help but speculate that we may be seeing that process in-motion during the "eventful" period of 1973 depicted in the documentary. It would be pure sensationalism to say that he sabotaged his own career (and wouldn't be true, as he continued to command a high paycheck well into the 80's), but I truly think he got tired, cynical, and wanted some of his life back; and yet didn't know how to give up his work. I'm glad he didn't, but I also wonder if he would have been happier if he had.

That's not to say that he didn't reach for fame. But I don't think he liked the way it reached back for him.

9 comments:

  1. Your observations are quite interesting, my father's dialogue something something caught on in a big way with the public.

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    1. I can see why! It wasn't just the dialogue alone--he and Asha (who I think had a gift for humor as well) really ran with that bit. It was really memorable, and was definitely one of the things that made their onscreen interactions more interesting than the average father/daughter scenes.

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  2. This was such fun, wasn't it? :) Loved Vinod - he would have been a fitting competitor to AB if he hadn't gone off to search for himself.

    As for Rajesh Khanna, he became too enamoured of his own superstardom, surrounded himself with psychophants who kept yes-sing him and ignored many of his well-wishers who actually had the courage to tell him where he was going wrong. He lacked the discipline that would have held him in good stead, and appeared to think that his fame would continue unchecked. As Amitabh put it once - he was the first superstar, the one true superstar, who was beloved of everyone - men, women and children. Javed Jaffrey put it quite succinctly in his programme, "Kaake ne patang uddai, toh fillum hit!"

    But he didn't know how to reinvent himself and remained deaf to the changing times.

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    1. Fun is right! Even when it was trying to be tragic it couldn't quite shed the general aura of sunniness. Quite enjoyable. Dear Vinod--I think his desire to get away from it all only proves that he was as angst-ridden as some of his beloved characters. But I miss him, c. 1983. I really do.

      Well, Anu-ji, we all know which side of the Amitabh/Rajesh divide you fall on :) Personally, my favorite Amitabh is the bromance Amitabh--pick a bromance, any bromance, really. His interactions with male costars brings out his best comedy and heart, I think. Nobody does dosti like the B.

      I won't disagree with your Rajesh commentary, even though I think we have different interpretations of some of the same facts. I'm sure you've heard infinitely more gossip and interviews about him than I have, too. I will maintain that I think he was flawed, but also misjudged. You are very right, of course, about the not being able to reinvent himself successfully. In my opinion, he should have just made that occasional filmi mustache permanent, because I think that would have given him the mature bravado he needed to compete (if not win) in the testosterone heavy films in later years. Example: Rajput (1982) where he is only a viable secondary hero post-interval, after donning the mouche ;)

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  3. That comment didn't read well - that was Amitabh talking about Rajesh Khanna being the real superstar.

    I like Rajesh. A lot! Funnily enough, I discovered him *after* I fell in love with Amitabh Bachchan in Sholay. In his heyday, I think there was no one to beat him, especially at romance.
    That said, he was quite an idiot. :) He'd gotten to a point where he believed everything that was said to him (of him); one of the saddest sights in later years was an interview where he admitted to having believed his psychophants over his real friends. He was famously sent back from the shooting of Anand by Hrishikesh Mukherjee who had never had any patience with star tantrums.

    While Raj Kapoor and Amitabh will forever remain my first loves, Shammi, Dev, Dilip, Rajesh all have my affections. (Sigh... I'm not very faithful, am I?)

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    1. I'm glad you appreciate Rajesh after all! I am so used to the spectrum of vague dislike to outright hatred as far as he was concerned, that perhaps I just automatically read that into your comment. You are right about the romance, thing, there's something magical about the style of his early films that just disappeared. Some of that's the relative innocence of the 60's carrying over, probably (as I feel it in some Dharmendra movies from the same five year span, too), but some of it is due to Rajesh alone, I think. I didn't grow up with him, obviously, but I feel like I already have a false nostalgia for those films . . . perhaps because they resemble classic Hollywood melodramas that I enjoyed as a kid. It's really too bad about how fame screwed with his perceptions. I wonder if he gets more press than he deserves in that regard tho--just because he was the "first superstar." (I have to imagine there have been quite a few delusional Norma Desmond-types in Bollywood over the years, just like Hollywood.) As such, I guess he remains the canonical example of the "star rises, star falls" thing. Which, as it happens, makes him more intriguing to me, at least.

      As for faithfulness and commitment (lol!). . . that's for real life, ain't it? In our filmi lives, at least, we can have it all :) And there're a lot of rounds to make between the yummy Indian film leads, for which I am very grateful!

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    2. P.S. I wonder if I didn't see Mere Sapnon Ki Rani at some point growing up, actually, though. It may be a false memory, but I swear I recognized that song/picturization when I first saw Aradhana. I doubt it was looping on the local old movie channel the way I imagine, but who knows?

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    3. I think people are still trying to deconstruct the mystique of Rajesh Khanna. Sometimes I think we try to analyse things a bit too much - most often, in cases like Rajesh K's for instance, it is purely emotional. He was liked by everyone - men, old women, young women, children. His movies (and by extension, he) touched people. Men wanted to be him, women wanted to be wooed by him, older women saw in him the son they would like to have, he was everyone's favourite uncle - it helped that he often acted in movies that had a spectrum of characters who spanned ages. I don't think anyone can analyse the reasons for his success other than that he was who he was - the sheer joy of being him twinkled from his eyes. I remember watching him in Daag - my first film of his - and being blown over. Then I watched Aradhana and Amar Prem and somewhere in a 9-year-old heart that beat solely for AB until then, RK made a little space for himself. AB's romance was tinged with pathos, and he made me ache to make him feel better; the joy of love came through with RK; he made me feel happy to just be alive. :)

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    4. That's just beautiful, Anu, I don't know what else to say :) Sheer joy that can't be explained is probably the closest one can come to the truth. Obviously Daag (I make no secret of my obsession with that film, probably my second or third Rajesh movie) was an excellent introduction . . . he gets to show off a wider range of emotions than the average (thank you, Chopra and Sahir). I think that we in the present are so lucky to be able to balance Rajesh's joy with the emotionally driven action of later years of masala heros. Because when we have too much glorified dishooming and neon-lit lairs for our taste, and our senses can't take any more virtual punches, we have the antidotes of a mere dil mein aaj kya hai, or a kya hua, or a roop tera mastana to put us back together again ;)

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