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Updated: August 2, 2012 15:40 IST

Spreading Chetna!

Vijay Lokapally
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A file photo of Salim Durrani.
The Hindu
A file photo of Salim Durrani.

In times when an ‘Adult’ certificate was taboo, writer-director B.R. Ishara, who passed away recently, embraced it to make a point on his own terms

It was bold. And, keeping in mind the era when it hit the screen, controversial too. “Chetna” was a landmark movie. It was a poignant portrayal of a call girl’s journey that ends with her suicide and Rehana Sultan played the role to perfection. The theme was obviously going to earn the ire of the Censor Board. It also attracted the wrath of the teenage fraternity because of the adult certificate. In those days it was strictly enforced at the theatres and such films were played in morning shows attracting students, mostly in uniform. Till then the morning show was filled with racy English films. It was “Chetna” which started a new trend, a trend of bold and provocative themes in common man’s language. Here was a movie that came across so different from the hero singing and wooing the lady. It announced the arrival of writer-director B.R. Ishara on the big screen. It had some cheeky dialogues and scenes that were a daring departure from the routine. The protagonist was a woman who had no qualms about drinking, smoking and mouthing words considered inappropriate in family circles. The audience was stunned but the heroine was hailed. The credit lay with Ishara.

If Rehana was the star onscreen, Ishara was the soul off it. He backed himself to take up subjects that stood out from the rest. Salim Durani, ace cricketer and self-confessed “novice” actor, was given a break in “Charitra”. “I was at the peak of my cricket career when Babu Ramji invited me. I did not know how to say no to him because he was such a practical man. I loved his honesty to his job,” says Durani.

“Charitra” did not fare well at the box office. “I had warned him he was making a poor choice by casting me,” remembers Durani. But Ishara had made up his mind. He picked Durani and Parveen Babi and went ahead with his project. Ishara was known to work on his terms and nothing could detract him from his goal.

How many would have risked a venture with a new face as heroine and a flamboyant cricketer as the hero? But Ishara did precisely that. He was least perturbed with the box office results. “Babu Ramji, as I knew him, was a man of principles and firmly believed in a transparent ideology. He hated hypocrites and hated hypocrisy,” remembers a grateful Durani.

Rehana had made waves with a memorable debut in “Dastak”. It brought her the National Award and paved the way for “Chetna”. She confessed during an interview that “Chetna” did more harm than good to her career. But it placed her among the finest actors of her times. Only, she did not get the opportunities to develop her talent.

“Chetna” was Ishara’s style of exposing the hypocrisy in the society. “Charitra” was similar too. “I played the role of a rich man. It highlighted two facets of his life — in day and night. I enjoyed playing the role,” admits Durani.

Ishara was brilliant when it came to motivating the newcomers. He advised Durani to face the camera just as he prepared to take on the bowler on the cricket field. “He asked me to hit the camera for a six,” Durani laughs. Jokes apart, Ishara made Durani and Babi come up with some decent shots.

In the same year, Ishara brought Rehana and Rakesh Pandey together in “Dil ki Rahein” with the lead actress giving another flawless performance. The love story, involving a Hindu-Muslim couple, ends with a subtle message on religion. Like “Dastak”, three years before, the movie saw the trio of Rehana, Lata Mangeshkar and the music maestro Madan Mohan reproduce magic with memorable ghazals like “Rasm-e-ulfat ko nibhaayen” and “Aap Ki Baatein Karein”.

Rehana was a gifted actor, having trained at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Her hero in “Chetna” was Anil Dhawan, also a product of the same institute. In the movie that was completed in less than a month, Dhawan plays the shy hero attracted towards Rehana. She turns downs his efforts to win her heart but circumstances conspire to pit her against the man she has steadfastly discouraged.

Rehana is paid by a regular customer (Shatrughan Sinha) to entertain his friend (Dhawan). The hotel scene is craftily shot with Ishara at his best. Her dialogues, sometimes crude, left the audience in shock. When she shed clothes, it went into a trance as the shot captured Rehana, her bare legs spread in an inverted ‘V’, standing on the bed in a most provocative manner, with the frame catching Dhawan looking into the camera. Posters made this scene a rage and ensured packed houses for weeks.

Ishara was a hard taskmaster. “I found him simple. On sets, he never wore footwear. And he made cinema to educate the society and remove age-old practices. ‘Chetna’ looked at the rehabilitation of sex workers. I liked the movie a lot because I could see Babu Ramji’s heart in it,” Durani stresses. “Chetna” indeed was Ishara’s stellar contribution to cinema. One remembers it for Rehana, the dialogues by Ishara, and Mukesh’s haunting melody “Mai To Har Mod Par Tujh Ko Doonga Sada”…

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