Last Sunday it was understood that I would write on Rajesh Khanna. How could I not remember the Anand he had brought into our lives? But when in answer to a question about this week’s subject I responded with “BR Ishara?” who passed away last Wednesday, the expressions on the faces of my colleagues took me by surprise.
“Ishara who?” Yes, today’s generation is completely in the dark about Babu Ram Ishara or even Chetna, one of the most headline-grabbing films of 1970 that exploded the decades-old myth that a Hindi film heroine had to be a holier-than- thou virgin.
Story of a call girl It’s the story of a call girl, Seema (Rehana Sultan), who wins the heart of shy guy Anil (Anil Dhawan). He offers her marriage and respectability, but Seema is in two minds about accepting his proposal when she moves in with him. Then, just when she’s convinced that he really loves her and she can make a new beginning, her past catches up with her. She discovers that she is pregnant and has no idea who the father is! Two producers Babuda narrated the story to threw him out of their offices. Finally, it was his editor, IM Kunnu, who bailed him out by agreeing to produce the film, provided it was shot in one start-to-finish schedule. Ishara kept his word, filming in a bungalow in Pune for 25 days, starting at 5.30 am and packing up only at 11 pm. One marathon schedule lasted 26 hours and ended with the cameraman falling asleep in the ‘doli’.
Then it was back to Mumbai for a day’s shoot at the Santa Cruz airport, and a song picturised in Alibaug. And before the end of the month, he had delivered 30,000 feet of exposed film to Kunnu that had cost less than a lakh. Chetna was one of the cheapest films made, and definitely one of the most controversial.
It was bought and returned three times by the distributor of Naaz. When it was finally released, it went on to celebrate a jubilee in the theatres where it was allowed to run. But at many cinemas, it was pulled out, even though the blackmarketeers were making merry. Legs on a poster Earlier, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had warned Babuda that there were 45 complaints from leading filmmakers, who wanted Chetna banned. Surprisingly, the censors themselves passed the film with an adult certificate with minor cuts. Their objections were to shots of a bottle of Vat 69. They didn’t think imported whisky should be promoted in a Hindi film. And they wanted some shots of Rehana Sultan’s bare legs edited out. However, from the ones that were retained, Babuda made those legs famous on the film’s poster.
Jubilee hit Opting for a shock ’em marketing strategy, he used a shot of Rehana’s legs, provocatively planted wide apart, to represent the ‘A’ certification in the film’s publicity, with ‘hero’ Anil Dhavan’s face strategically placed between them. “I have always believed that the only place for a man in a woman’s life is between her thighs. And that was the basic idea of Chetna too,” he told me, 14 years ago, when we met to refresh memories of his trendsetting movie that released in the same year as Anand, Heer Ranjha, Kati Patang, Purab Aur Paschim, Johny Mera Naam, Mera Naam Joker and Prem Pujari.
Every prostitute is a woman That quote would shock many even today. But that was Babuda…Unabashed, unapologetic, uncompromising. Living in Dharavi, he had seen the world from up close and believed it was more decent to show two young people in love in bed together, than have them express their feelings through a boisterous item number full of heaving busts and quivering thighs. He told me that after Chetna’s release, the editor of a film magazine, an outraged lady, asked him in the course of an interview, “Mr BR Ishara, why do you think every woman is a prostitute?” Without missing a beat he’d retorted, “I don’t think every woman is a prostitute but I do think that every prostitute is a woman. And being a woman, she is as much a human being as a man. She has needs to... And desires.” No wonder it’s more convenient to forget BR Ishara and Chetna! Sex and call girls, we don’t need them in reel life. Or do we?