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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Xmas In Bollywood Movies

The Christian community has remained largely marginalized in Bollywood movies. Of course, there were several eminently memorable Christian characters in the films gone by -- for instance, Lalita Pawar's Mrs D'Sa in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's "Anari" and, of course, Amitabh Bachchan's Anthony in Manmohan Desai's "Amar Akbar Anthony". But these Christian characters didn't really translate into genuine insights probing the psyche and workings of a community until Aparna Sen's "36 Chowringhee Lane" focused on the desolation of a Catholic spinster. The film's fabulous authentic detailing of the inner and outer lives of Jennifer Kapoor's character served to mirror the entire community's ethos with unparalleled integrity. Bengali filmmaker Anjan Dutta attempted to probe the community in "Bada Din" (where Shabana Azmi played a cantankerous Christian landlady), but with limited success. Similarly Josh is setup with a Hindu-Christian angle in two gangs fighting for their existence.

Initially, Christian characters in Bollywood have appeared in two broad types of roles:

Priest – Usually a solemn person hovering in the background usually presiding over marriages and the occasional confessional, his dialogues have a profusion of ‘my son’ and ‘Lord tumko shanti de’. Made famous by Sujit Kumar in a French beard, they have also been seen enough number of times as Principals of prestigious colleges. Nasirudeen Shah also has a very good role of a Christian priest in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. There are some very nice scenes between Shah Rukh Khan and Nasirudeen. This stereotype got smashed so badly with Vinod Pande’s Sins (in which Shiney Ahuja plays a psychopathic sex-crazed priest in love with a nurse) that Christians erupted in protests!

Drunkard – Generally seen in a street corner, slurring over dialogue and slobbering over life. Pran’s part in Majboor is probably the longest example of this character as he even got to sing a song – “Daaru ke bottle mein tum kaiku pani dalta hain / Phir na kehna Michael daaru pee kar danga karta hain.”
Otherwise they are restricted to borrowing money (Naseeruddin Shah in Ardh Satya) or giving tips to police (Om Prakash in Zanjeer).

The most important signpost of the Christian is a suitably bombastic name. Anthony Gonsalves is undoubtedly the most famous Christian name in India and even overshadows Vijay Verma occasionally. Actually, it is probably Amitabh’s only screen name, which came close to overwhelming his actual name. Post the stupendous success of Amar Akbar Anthony, people actually started calling AB Anthony-bhai on the streets! A story goes that a girl in coma was mumbling ‘Anthony-bhai’ in her unconscious state and AB went and met her after she came about. The second most popular name is probably Bobby Braganza, who spoke like an Indian teenager though her father (Prem Nath) managed to live up to every single stereotype of the filmi Christian!

There were very few successful attempts to look at the Christian community with anything more than a cursory curiosity. Hiren Nag's "Anhkiyon Ke Jharonkhon Se" and Bharathi Raja's "Lovers" tried to pin down a Hindu-Christian romance into a formulastic pattern. But now one notices a sudden resurgence of the Christian community in Hindi films. In quick succession we have Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Black" and Vinod Pande's "Sins" set entirely in the Christian community. And Bengali director Anjan Dutta, who had set his Hindi film "Bada Din" in the Anglo-Indian community, has completed his English "Bow Barrack" which is again set in the Christian community. In debutant director Sanjay Gupta's stylishly assembled "Karam", John Abraham's character John is again a Catholic. Another new release, "Socha Na Tha", is partly located in a Catholic home. Debutante Apoorva Jha, who plays Abhay Deol's fiancee, is Karen. And much of the humor stems from the Hindu hero mock-warning his Catholic girlfriend's parents about the pitfalls of cultural and religious conversion. Like the heroine's grandfather in Raj Kapoor's "Bobby" 30 years ago, the girl's father in "Socha Na Tha" spends most of his time drinking.

Parental opposition to teenybopper romance is more commonly based on affluence than religion in Hindi cinema. Saagar is a typical example, where the rich Hindu boy falls in love with the poor Christian girl but the grand-parental opposition invoked only the girl’s poor background and not her religion. Julie is probably the most famous film on the subject, but the social divide shown between a ‘cultured’ Hindu family and a ‘crass’ Christian family was rather exaggerated. And of course, because it was a Christian family, they sang their family song in English! Thank God for that cliché and we have Preeti Sagar’s wonderful ‘My Heart is Beating’.

Basically, all of the above devices are caricatures of real life people and mainstream Hindi cinema has never done too much to get any tinge of reality. Very few films have done it right. Prahaar is one of those films that have depicted Christians realistically – with their language, milieu and motivations clearly etched out. Madhuri Dixit gave a stellar performance as Shirley Pinto of Bandra village . Baaton Baaton Mein was set in an authentic Christian domain and that was part of the novelty of the film but there was nothing in the story that was exclusive to the community.

It is a good change that films and filmmakers have started looking at setting their films in the Christian community. Sanjay Bhansali who pegged two of his films, his debut-making venture "Khamoshi: The Musical" and now "Black" in the Christian community, feels the ambience afforded by such a setting renders itself effectively to cinema.

"The church, the organ music, candles and candle-lit interiors, the whole discipline and etiquette of the Christian community makes very aesthetic cinema," says Bhansali.

Indeed, a very good reason why more and more directors should follow suit, and we have the joy of watching Xmas in Bollywood Movies.


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