There are so many ways to remember this film. Shall I start with the fact that this non-star cast film, directed by Manmohan Krishna, was such a low key affair that the box office was initially not agreeable to open the locks? Remember the second half of the 1970s was all about action, all about multi-starrers. A phenomenon called Amitabh Bachchan ruled the roost. Films by Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra were eagerly awaited, embraced, lived and celebrated. There was just a little corner for those of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Bhattacharya. Manmohan, a character artiste, was not exactly renowned for subtleties. The distributors at many places had to convince cinema halls to exhibit the film.

Farooq Sheikh, so young and affable, was not a formidable name at the box office. He had class, he had charm. His charisma did not amount to much. The ever-so-delectable Poonam Dhillon too was just finding her way in Hindi cinema. She was such a doll, bewitching, fascinating, bewilderingly beautiful. But could she help sell tickets at the turnstiles? Nope.

Yet the film worked. And how! Starting off with barely a ripple, the collections went up steadily. The word of mouth helped. Cinegoers talked of the fresh young couple who brought beguiling innocence to the screen; the hero did not do any stunts, in every day vulnerability lay his strength. The heroine? Wasn’t she the one for feather touches, velvets and silks? The connoisseurs could not help recalling Romesh Bhalla’s cinematography, how almost every other frame looked as arresting as a painting. Those mountains, the sparkling waters, the meadows, the bouncing sheep, the interplay of light and shadow and ah! those chinar leaves. Ugliness could well be an expression for another planet, here on this earth, beauty resides.

But good looking non-stars help only to limited extent. And brilliant frames even less so. So, how did “Noorie” go on to defy all predictions and go on to be a blockbuster? Well, the answer, my friends was blowing in the wind. The summer of 1979 with its hot winds scarring many a face, mercifully came laced with the haunting tunes of Khayyam, an under-celebrated genius, if ever there was one. Initially, people watched the film just to while away their time, they came back a second time in some cases because of the lead pair; mostly though Khayyam’s tunes acted as a magnet. From street-corners, from parties one would hear only one song. “Aaja re o mere dilbar aaja…” sang Lata Mangeshkar. And a million men responded. “Noorie, noorie” complemented Nitin Mukesh – his first shot at 15 second of fame – and young men sang along. Khayyam had once again struck gold. Just as he had been doing, right from the time of “Footpath” in the early ‘50s and that memorable ghazal, “Sham-e-gham ki qasam” by Talat Mahmood to “Kabhi Kabhie”, where he is often given less credit for giving music to poignant lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi and on to “Shankar Husain” and “Umrao Jaan”. Tucked somewhere in between was “Noorie”. He whipped up magic, and like Oscar Wilde’s definition of an artist, his art was identifiable, he stayed behind closed doors.

All that is fine. But shouldn’t a film have a storyline? Well, if you have seen a handful of Hindi films, when was the storyline essential? Here too, Manmohan stitches together a love story based in Kashmir – Farooq’s Yusuf in pathani suits and amulets, is in love with Poonam’s Noorie in shararas with matching head gear. Throw in the wily Bharat Kapoor with his piercing eyes and the usual hurdles to love’s culmination and you have a film. Where Manmohan scored though was he defied some stereotypes. He was bold enough to helm a tragic love story. More was the fun. Many simple souls among the audience wept, the box office smiled. And the film went on to be remembered for its box office collections, its music, its lead actors and their ‘aam aadmi’ charms. The hero was a master at understatements and “Noorie” was his masterclass. The heroine had her graces, her ample charms.

Didn’t we say there are many ways to remember “Noorie”? A fresh swallow won’t hurt.

Director: Manmohan Krishna

Cast: Farooq Sheikh, Poonam Dhillon, Madan Puri, Iftekhar, Padma Khanna, Gita Siddharth, Javed Khan, Bharat Kapoor, Avtar Gill, Manmohan Krishna

Dialogue and screenplay: Sagar Sarhadi

Music director: Khayyam

Lyricist: Jan Nisar Akhtar and Naqsh Lyalpuri (for one song “Kadar Tune Na Jaani”)

Box office status: 7th highest grossing film

Trivia: Was nominated for Filmfare awards in Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Music, Best Lyrics and Best Male Playback Singer categories