Last Friday night* I saw the funniest Hindi movie of all time. Our TV has taken a break from showing anything that we would like to see. So, Friday night, Mom decided to catch a Hindi movie on DD1 (what else?) She called me for dinner. When I was trying to eat, some chorus from the TV distracted me. When I paid some attention, I heard this song bleating out to 80s disco music:
Dilli ki billi, Bambai ka chuha,
Kuch nah kuch hua (3, 4, 5, 6, 7…. times)
Having decided to stay on, I was not disappointed. My only regret: I couldn’t catch the name of the movie. All I could recognise in it was the villain Alok Nath who played it to the hilt with caricaturish aplomb. I think I saw some NSD actors in the movie. It was obviously a film made on a shoestring budget. But what I found amazing was the use of almost all theatrical devices and clichés. Who says clichés don’t make a film? At every point, the characters exchanged repartee about and on the clichés that bind them. I am reminded of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author at this point.
But as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself: the story first. The story itself is at once familiar and yet different. Two brothers, Harsh and Sargam, make their living by singing. They are classically trained singers who have been forced to prostitute their singing talent for mega bucks by their manager and uncle, Mamaji. Harsha and Sargam feel stifled both creatively and financially. One day, when they are asked to sing:
Jingi la la jingi la la
Pom pom, ping ping
Jhinka chiki jhinka chiki
I am the disco king!
they decide that this is the last straw. A plan to run away to lead the life they want to is hatched. However, they still don’t want to hurt their Mamaji so they leave a note promising to come back after one month, along with some health advice. (Aap kuch zaroorath se zyada mote hain, it says. Literally translated, it means, you are unnecessarily fat.)
Since Harsh and Sargam are very famous singers who have taken the country by storm, an evil genius who always dresses in black , exhibits a Technicolor effect on his face when he gets angry and is called Dr. Yes plans on kidnapping them for ransom. On the night that the kidnapping is to take place, Harsh and Sargam decide to run away. Dr. Yes finds the note and substitutes it with his own ransom note. Harsh and Sargam do manage to get away after accidentally hitching a ride with Dr.Yes’s own chauffer, Kaddu. (Kaddu means pumpkin in Hindi.) They reach a peaceful hamlet singing songs on the way. If the heroes are singing songs, can the heroines be far behind? Rita and Anita spot Harsh and Sargam and take them into their house and life. The wholesome picture is completed when they are joined by Rita and Anita’s treasure hunting Dad and an over-studious bloke – who lost his fuse – called Chottu.
Mamaji, angry at having been cheated out of his millions, calls the police. In a moment of filmi realisation, one sees the entire police force sprawled over Mamaji’s drawing room, not the least bit bothered. They only rush to the telephone when the ransom call comes through. Dr. Yes plans to plant two guys who look like Harsh and Sargam after Mamaji hands over the ransom money. Let’s call them H & S #2. Mamaji in the meanwhile has the same plan of substituting H & S #3 with Harsh and Sargam, the original pair. H & S #3 are dutifully taught to shake their booty while Mamaji plays recorded music. This is Mamaji’s plan to continue earning his millions.
Harsh and Sargam in the meanwhile are surprised that a concert is happening without them. They decide to investigate by landing up at the concert. For the ransom exchange, Dr. Yes and his cronies also land up at the same concert. In short, the public is asked to choose whom they consider to be the real Harsh and Sargam. Harsh and Sargam #3 sing a distorted version of rap and rock combined and are voted out. A rather effeminate H & S #2 do some dhinchak disco and are voted to be the real pair. Harsh and Sargam in the meantime become unrecognisable to their own audience because they have changed their style of music to something more soulful than the pop hit Dilli ki billi.
Sometime earlier, the evil Dr. Yes is shown to be a closet artist (flautist) who was forced into the criminal way of life thanks to his rather strict disciplinarian father who hated all things artistic.
When Harsh and Sargam (the real deal) and Dr. Yes are arrested and jailed, in a twist of plot, bond with each other over their shared love of the flute. A couple of plot turns later, each more improbable than the one before, Harsh, Sargam, Rita, and Anita, Chottu, and Dr. Yes – all dressed in white – sing and dance the multi-instrument, multi-cultural harmony song.
There are several issues that the movie explores. The first and most obvious one is its status as a movie. Can we call it a metamovie? (Akin to Metafiction.) During the mandatory dress-exchange routine between H & S #2 and Harsh and Sargam Sargam asks why should he changes clothes with his lookalike? Harsh’s replies, “The script demands it!” There are many things that the script demands. Some are improbable; most are impossible, yet all are finally seen.
In another scene Rita starts crying because she wants the camera to be trained on her and not on the villain who has tied her up. “Apni footage kha raha hai!” she screams at Anita.
This movie can be read as a parody of Hindi film clichés.
- Two heroines find two heroes in a forest. (Shades of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream?)
- The evil guy wears black till the last scene when he becomes good and wears white.
- The police walk in after the action is over.
- The deadlock at the end of the movie (the characters are appropriately seen moving a circle each one threatening the other in front with a gun) is removed by the god-like narrator’s voice intervening and telling the characters what to do. Definetly, deux ex machina at play.
- The only music director seen is made to look alike Bappi Lahiri complete with gold chains, white outfit and shades.
- The villain’s face changes colour in a comic-book fashion to show his emotion.
What redeems the movie are the issues and themes it considers.
- The true artist cannot be evil: Dr. Yes was not presented as an artist in the beginning of the movie. But the moment he appreciated and embraces art, he is redeemed and we know he is a good man. Mamaji, the author of those inane lyrics, is the real bad guy.
- The use of clichés and parody to parody clichés. The police are seen reading a manual called Police Behaviour Manual for Hindi Film Climaxes by Prof. M.V. Desai. One character quotes section 49, which says, “No police can or should intervene unless and until all the action is over.” (A clever take on the police in Hindi movies.)
- The use of the God-like narrator’s voice. When the actors are challenged beyond their capacity, God intervenes. (Shades of Greek theatre?)
- The non-replicability of true art: True art cannot be replicated. Art is original and will need original voices to express it. H & S #2 and #3 may look like Harsh and Sargam but can never sound like them.
- The madman as the resuer: Rita and Anita’s Dad, the man considered mad and Chottu are the ones who do some brave work. Rita and Anita’s dad breaks the deadlock by invoking God. Chottu carries out dangerous errands on enemy territory.
- Music (Sargam) and happiness (Harsh) as two sides of the same coin. One cannot be without the other.
All in all, I’m never going to forget this movie. Oh, I wish I had seen the beginning and at least seen the name of the movie.
* Friday the 25th of November, 2005.