Bollywood: Lost and Found Movies

On-screen water woes

Amjad Khan in ‘Qurbani’

Amjad Khan in ‘Qurbani’  

When water and deluge played significant roles in Hindi film scripts

At the fag end of their long sea journey, the happy family of four prepares to turn in to their bunker beds to catch a good night’s sleep, eagerly looking forward to docking in at Bombay the next morning. Nature had other ideas. The Arabian sea suddenly rages and the ship lurches and tosses. Water enters the cabin and it’s a shipwreck. The family gets separated.

While the Indian 2018 monsoon continues to disrupt and devastate the countryside and metropolis alike, let us take a look back at Hindi films where water has played a significant point in the scripts. Water bodies can be lethal as we see in the above scene from Jhoota Kahin Ka (1979) — but thankfully, the members reunite at the end. However, in Dulhan (1974) the couple was not so lucky. Radha’s (Hema Malini) newly-wed doctor-husband (Jeetendra) has to attend to a medical emergency in a neighbouring village. He takes the risk of rushing back to his bride on a stormy night by boat and gets washed off to his death. Goddess Santoshi Maa (Anita Guha) in Jai Santoshi Maa (1975) steps down from the heavens to rescue Birajram who had sunk to the river bed after his boat capsizes. The low budget Jai Santoshi Maa made with little-heard-of or superannuated actors shook up the box office with its unbelievable commercial success. Anita Guha who played the Goddess in the film was somewhat of a mythology specialist, with Jai Santoshi Maa remaining her one of her few career highlights. She is said to have fasted during her fortnight-long shooting schedule.

From real life
  • The character of Vijay here owes its origin to a real-life incident involving the sea liner SS Jeddah sailing with hundreds of pilgrims in 1880 which was abandoned by its Captain Joseph Lucan Clark. The climax scene in which Tunnel No. 4 gets flooded was perhaps inspired by the Chasnala coal mine disaster of the IISCO in 1975.

‘Lost in water’ stories in Indian cinema might go back to Rabindranath Tagore’s story Nouka Dubi. Ramanand Sagar, not yet into the saga of Ramayana, carefully tailored the classic story of a bride landing up in a different in-law’s place into a nice, musical rom-com, replacing the boat accident with a train accident Ghunghat (1960).

Water might

Even a fish tank is good enough for water to exercise it’s might and make one friend suspicious of the other. In a bloody inter-gang rivalry in Qurbani (1980), Raaka (Amrish Puri) is murdered and his dead body is dumped inside a fish tank. This watery death of Raaka was a turning point in the script as it makes Rajesh (Feroze Khan) suspect his friend Amar (Vinod Khanna) of being the culprit so that Rajesh may get framed for Raaka’s murder. States Amrish Puri in his biography The Act of Life authored by Jyoti Sabharwal, “Lying absolutely still in this tank and keeping the eyes open without a blink, with the camera coming for a close up was very difficult. ”

Ironically, another water-body related scene in the same Qurbani had the audience rolling on the floors in mirth. Inspector Khan’s (Amjad Khan, in one of his career-best performances) police car topples and falls into a lake in the outskirts of London. Khan resurfaces, picks up the car-phone from the submerged vehicle and updates HQ on his location, “Victor One calling Headquarters… Position – underwater. I repeat – underwater…”. Inspector Khan survived the fall. So did Producer Feroze Khan. Qurbani’s commercial rescued Feroze Khan from drowning in bankruptcy.

Not all calamities in water can be attributed to nature’s fury. Human beings are capable of turning tranquil ocean depths of the Bay of Bengal into a war zone too. Young Director Sankalp Reddy’s The Ghazi Attack (2016) was about the submarine battle between India’s S21 and Pakistan’s PNS Ghazi in 1971 off Visakhapatnam coast when the two countries were still not at war.

Water and rain Gods sometimes hand out a stern warning and forgive. In Pyar Mohabbat (1966), Prince Naresh (Dev Anand) and Reeta (Saira Banu) are stranded mid-ocean in a rubber dinghy with the harsh sun beating down on their faces. And then the rains arrive and the two sing a duet. Until they realise that there has been a drop too many and the boat starts sinking. And director Shankar Mukherjee sends a rescue ship with powerful torches just in time.

Water also gives an opportunity for men to atone for their past. Captain Vijay Pal Singh in Kaala Patthar (1979) abandons his sinking ship at sea and escapes with his crew on life-boat, leaving hundreds of passengers to their stormy deaths. Dismissed from Navy for his cowardice and socially ostracised, Vijay goes into exile and takes up a job as a coal miner with his conscience torturing him every night. Years later, in a mining accident, water floods Tunnel number 4 of the coal mine. Vijay risks his life and rescues several miners trapped inside. More importantly, the same water heals Vijay of his guilt-trauma.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 4:12:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/aniruddha-bhattachargee-and-balaji-vittal-write-on-hindi-cinema-and-water-woes/article24503414.ece

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