Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
“Dum Maro Dum” while you still can, on celluloid at least
Normally, I do not care much for actor Rajinikanth’s bullet splitting or his iconic cigarette flip.
But as the government gears up to implement the ban on smoking in public places, I realise that the “long arm of the law” (apparently an all-time favourite dialogue of the celluloid police) may one day also extend to Bollywood.
Having grown up on the antics of Bollywood’s Supermen with their rakish head tilts and outrageous stunts, I cannot help but feel a twinge of fear at the thought of the censor board ever sanitizing on-screen smoking scenes.
Try as I might, I cannot imagine a docile, law abiding on-screen Rajinikanth sans his unbelievable cigarette stunt.
In my college years it gave us women endless joy to see male classmates end up red-faced while trying to imitate the southern hero.
Why smoke at all if you cannot toss the cigarette in air, let it flip thrice, catch it with your lips and light it with a single match stick scraped carelessly on your boot.
Ajit in those days was the cigar-puffing gentleman gangster in numerous Bollywood movies with henchmen whose collective intelligence was nothing to write home about.
His characteristic nasal twang and deadpan expression became a rage in the 70s.
The cigar between his teeth became as much a part of his persona as his hilarious punch lines directed mostly at his moll ‘Mona darling’.
If smoking scenes are ever censored in Indian movies, I’m afraid the famous “Dum Maro Dum” song from the 70′s popular flick “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” – a soul cry for all smokers of dope – would be the first one on the chopping block.
No film has ever managed to simultaneously glorify and mock the “Flower Children” generation as much as this Dev Anand-Zeenat Aman flick with its vivid scenes of a hippie commune swaying to trance music in a drugged stupor .
I always found it interesting that very few leading men in the 60s and 70s were ever shown taking an occasional puff.
The Hindi film industry has always considered smoking a vice perfected by the villains and vamps.
Bollywood’s poor-but-proud heroes dared to rescue damsels from burning buildings, jump from a 30-feet-high ropeway on to jagged mountain slopes, even wear dandy red spotted scarves around their necks, but never risk their image smoking on screen.
Unless of course he happened to be actor Dev Anand playing the foul-mouthed ruffian taxi driver with a heart of gold.
Audiences were more than willing to forgive the occasional ‘bidi’ of the handsome Anand romancing the innocently seductive Kalpana Kartik in the film ‘Taxi Driver’.
Another 1961 blockbuster “Hum Dono” starring Anand gave smokers their legendary devil-may-care song “Mai Zindagi Ka Saath”.
I think the generation of cigar-smoking suave villains of Bollywood with their three-piece suits is gone.
They have taken with them the classy vamps with their long thin cigarettes in ornate holders.
These days guns no longer look like potato peelers and smoking scenes are more realistic.
This is the age of the Don who carries more than an attitude. Packed with the latest gadgets of devilry, the neo-villain casually lights a cigarette, unhesitatingly inhales the smoke and performs deadly martial arts stunts in Malaysia.
So much so that Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss appealed to superstar Shah Rukh Khan to avoid smoking scenes in his films, citing examples of children who take their first puff of a cigarette to ape their favourite movie stars.
I think it’s nice that the government is finally doing something to save the passive smokers.
I am all for a few additional years to my life by being bullied into smoking less, unless of course I get blown to bits by a bomb first – which seems a more likely ending these days.
But I shudder to think of the day the government directs its zeal towards the celluloid.
If scenes depicting smoking in films are ever targeted, can those with a rustic Amitabh Bachchan chewing betel leaf and singing “Khaike Paan Bana” escape unscathed?
What will stop the censor board from chopping off scenes depicting drunken heroes wooing their leading ladies, since drinking is also presumably bad for health?
But then what is Bollywood without its charming idiosyncrasies and its own share of vices? I will not even go into the artistic freedom debate.
All this is my apprehension of course.
Till the time it happens I will lose myself in the vicarious “high” of Zeenat Aman professing “dum” as the curer of all sorrows.