The Narrator







    On Friday evening, we decided to see a movie.  The first show, from 6-9, is the craziest and most crowded on Fridays, when new pictures are released.  Tridev, was a mega film made by one of the richest producer-distributors in Bombay, Gulshan Rai.  It was directed by Rai's son, Rajiv, a debutant.  There's a little-known story about Gulshan Rai which Badri told me. Apparently, Rai used to visit a special astrologer somewhere in Himachal Pradesh or Punjab.  This man belonged to an ancient family of jyotishis, going back two thousand years.  They were the Northern custodians of a huge, ancient, palm-leaf astrological manuscript called the Bhrigu Samhita.  This book, supposedly written by the ancient sage, Bhrigu, had the horoscopes of all men who had ever lived on earth, plus of those to be born!

    What the jyotishi or the astrologer had to do was to try to locate your correct horoscope.  After that he could tell you your entire life, simply read it out--just like that!  The Bhrigu Samhita, naturally, was a huge manuscript.  Then when the Muslims invaded India, its keepers feared that it would be destroyed.  So they split it into parts.  One part of it was sent to the South. So what the jyotishi of Punjab had was not the full text.  If your life wasn't in their fragment, then you had to look for it

with other astrologers who had the rest of the book.

    Apparently, Gulshan Rai visited this jyotishi family in Punjab every year.  They had found his life in their book.  But they would only tell him a few things at a time:  telling everything was too dangerous and therefore forbidden.  Over the decades, Rai had had several ups and downs in the film industry, finally rising to become its most powerful and wealthy distributor.  The jyotishi family finally told him not to come to them again.  He had reached the pinnacle of success in his life. Now he was told to slowly withdraw his active participation from the world of business, to enter the third phase of a Hindu's life, vanarprasta or retreat into the forest, to be modified in these modern times to be understood as a voluntary retirement, after the completion of the first two phases, brahmacharya or bachelorhood, and grihasta or householdership.  But before retiring, Rai decided to visit the jyotishis one last time to ask about his son, Rajiv.  Rajiv would have to come himself, they said, and they would have to locate his horoscope.  Rajiv wasn't interested in going.  Gulshan Rai was therefore anxious to know about the fate of his son's first film.

    There were large crowds outside the Zamrud theatre, pouring over into the street and disrupting the traffic. The entire theatre looked like a carnival.  Some people were eating, others chewing paan, which they would later spit under their seats.  The children roamed about and played; babies squealed, pissed, or were hurriedly hushed and offered a teat under their mothers' burqas.  Truly, as Badri remarked, Hyderabad had one of the last great movie-going populations of the world.

    It was no less than a minor miracle that we got tickets. Badri's driver had waited at the advance booking stall for hours. As we watched the film, we knew that the fate of the movie would be decided by the audience of this show--Friday, second show. That is, us.  If we liked the film; it was a hit. Otherwise, it would flop.

    Very rarely did a film begin as a flop and pick up later to become a hit.  Teesri Kasam which the lyricist Shailendra produced, was one such. Poor Shailendra, who wrote most of the songs for Raj Kapoor's films, had sunk all he had into that movie.  Well, when it was first released the film bombed. Audiences booed it and left midway.  Shailendra watched one such show and then committed suicide, convinced that the film had flopped.  He had borrowed a lot of money to produce the film and couldn't bear the thought of facing bankruptcy, disgrace, and ignominy. Later, the film went on to become a superhit, partly because of the news of Shailendra's death.  The audience of the Hindi film is sentimental; that was their way of saying sorry to Shailendra bhai.

    But this audience just loved Tridev.  They lapped up the dialogues, enjoyed the action scenes, and clapped and whistled at the songs. The front-benchers even flung coins at the screen. We knew that Tridev was a hit.  The audience had pronouced its verdict.  We were jostled out of the hall by delighted, sweaty spectators who were sure to throng the hall, again and again, for more of the same in the days to come.  A little after nine, large crowds of humanity streamed out to Abids road.  The shops were shut and the street had become two-way again after nine.  The traffic lights, too, were off, switched to neon.


    We drove to Sampoorna Hotel, near the Moazzamjahi market for dinner.

    Badri ordered a couple of beers.  I felt light-headed and carefree.

"Do you mind if I drink this evening, Badri?" I asked my friend. "No, go ahead."

"What if I get drunk?"

"Phir to bahut maza aiyega.  That'll be great."  We both laughed.


"Don't worry, I'll take you home.  I'll make sure you don't cause a scene.  Satisfied?"  I nodded.  "Besides," Badri continued, you can't really get very drunk on beer."  This of course, was quite untrue, as I was to soon discover.

    From nine-thirty to about quarter to twelve, I had three beers.  The first one I drank very quickly.  The rest went down with the food and conversation.  I had to visit the Men's room twice more than I'd counted on doing, but otherwise, I was having a great time.

    I told Badri my impression of the movie.  "Everything was predictable, like in Hindi films.  The whole narrative was based on archetypes and myths.  The perennial theme was good versus evil.  There was a voice of God type of pronouncement thrice in the film: at the beginning, before the interval, and at the climax.  This was a statement adapted from the Bhagavad Geeta: `Whenever evil reaches intolerable levels, I incarnate.' In this film, the incarnation took place just after the interval when the three heroes get together to become the trinity, Tridev. In that form, they are invincible.

    "The most interesting thing about the movie for me was the changing attitudes to the state that it represented.  The movies of the first decades of post-independence India, like Naya Daur and Mother India, valorised compromise and reconciliation.  The democratic, socialistic framework of newly independent India could accommodate the aspirations of the oppressed and resolve conflicting interests.  Later, a disillusionment crept in and the state and its machinery, especially the police,

were seen as inefficient and impotent.  So there was space for the private operator, the vigilante, who could deliver justice without getting bogged down by bureaucratic procedures.  The police were, thus, never available when needed; but in the end, after all the dirty work had been done, the criminal wasn't killed, but handed over to the law and order machinery.  The idea was that, ultimately, justice and equity were the responsibility of the state.  Even in a film such as Sholay, the villain, Gabbar Singh, isn't killed by the Thakur, but turned over to the cops. Yes, his hands are broken as a just, Judaic revenge for what he did to the Thakur years ago.

    "In Tridev, and other movies of the late 1980's, the faith in the official machinery of the state reaches an all-time low. We should remember that these are the years of the Bofors affair, wherein the integrity of the very Prime Minister of India was under cloud.  No wonder the police officer in Tridev is shown to be most ineffectual against the villain, Bhujang.  In fact, his son himself joins Bhujang, fed up with the impotency of the guardians of law and order.  He turns against his boss only after

his sister is kidnapped.  In the last scene of the film, Bhujang is not handed over to the police; this time no chances are taken. When he tries to escape one last time, Suraj, the hero, himself once a police officer who has been harrassed and nearly killed for being honest, empties a full magazine from his machine gun into the villain.  Justice has been appropriated by the private agent from the hands of an ineffective and dishonest government. The people seize back the power which they had given in good faith to the politicians when the latter abuse their trust.  No wonder, the movie spoke to the deepest desires and hopes of the audience."

    Badri listened to my animated narration impassively.  At last he said, "Pretty impressive.  Is this how you lecture in class?"

    From Sampoorna, we walked across to Famous Ice-cream.  Their fresh fruit flavours had no additives, no preservatives, no artificial ingredients, and tasted out of this world.  In season one could have custard apple, melon, mango, and chickoo ice cream.  We decided on a custard apple flavour.  The ice cream was made in large pots and sweetened with powered sugar.  You could sit in your car and eat.  Each scoop cost two rupees--really reasonable! We had two scoops each.  I believe the price has now gone up, but the ice-cream is still as delicious.

    It was past midnight when we finished.  We told the driver to wait for us in the parking lot of Sampoorna as we went in search of some paan.  The streets were practically deserted by now, except for some some fruit sellers and other such street people who slept on the pavements with their merchandise.  There were

the homeless too, old beggars, bums, mentally disturbed types who wandered around, rummaging in the garbage for food. Most of the city, though, was asleep.

    We found a paan-wallah near President Hotel, on the other side of the road.


  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape